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Entries in teacher (9)


Don't die like a Zebra...

No.. not about wildlife.. it is just another Yoga post.

Wrote this post last year almost around the same time.. this week we almost had a repeat of sorts.. 

Given the US changes time for Daylight savings and my compadres in Asia don't, I get to do yoga on Tuesdays only after 8PM between November and April, if at all. Given the Yoga studio has teachers who are also creatures of habit, knew it would be one of two guys teaching that class. 

Last week being Chinese New Year, I got to go to a 6:30 PM class and planned to do a double. As usual I didn't check the schedule and the Lioness showed up..

When signing in at the lobby she asks me "Did you know I was going to teach? Surprise ?!"  

If you just visualizd a smiling woman saying "surpise",  United airlines air hostess style  .. visualize Samuel Jackson walking out from a door with a gun saying "surprise !#$^&**&^%$!!!" instead. She said it the former way, I reacted as though I had seen the later..

The probability of doing a double halved instantly.

The class itself was interesting.. Heckling was apparently allowed in that class, but for some reason, I did not get the memo. The entire class was put on notice that she was compared to a lioness, but they did not get the context. 

Little did they know, that what was more important was that they were Zebras... or Gazelles.. As long as everyone was doing the pose in unison, things were okay. The minute one person went out of formation, they were going to get picked on. They were dead.. 

There were a lot of facts thrown into the class.. like the length of a human colon being five feet. We even got the dialogue in Spanish for a few mintues.. I have heard the dialogue in Japanese once and Russian once.. and they didn't make a difference. You know what you are supposed to do in the sequence, and as long as the teachers voice modulation is right, push sounds like push in any language and relax or change sounds like an exit strategy in any language.. 

I did not do the double after that killer class and postponed it for the next day. 

It has been an interesting week at work and home with meetings that go late, calls that make it difficult to juggle yoga. We had a guest teacher the next day. A popular teacher who is like a pied piper for yogis. Have been in his class before a few years ago. He has been gifted with an amazing hypnotizing voice and he puts it to good use. You go into a trance and do things you would not normally do. Every now and then you look in the mirror and go "is that really me doing that stuff?".  

Between the Lioness and the Pied piper, the doubles were getting postponed almost on a day to day basis. I desperately needed to cheer myself up to go do that double to get me back on track for the sixty day challenge. 

This year, I had not planned on putting stickers after every class. It was going to be a silent challenge. I had a good 20 minutes between the classes. So I pulled up a stool and sat in front of the challenge board and decorated with the stickers. After slowly sticking a good 37 stickers, felt really good. 

Admired my handiwork for a few minutes and spoke to some of my challenge buddies. They were laughing at my decorations. Walked back into the hot room and did the second class and did justice to that class as well. My friend who knew I was doing a double taught that class. He gave us serial instructions with a short pause after each instruction. Given my brain had limited processing ability, it was great to do it one step at a time! After class I told him and he goes "you have a small RAM?". Given my job is to give people more RAM.. that was funny!

Two thirds of the way into the challenge this time. As long as I don't pick up germs on travel, there is a good chance I will finish.

This year started on a bad note.. and the first three weeks were going from bad to worse to the point where I was just hoping Feb would be a better month than Jan, on a personal and professional side.  So far the last ten days have been better than the first 30 for the year.

The very first class this year started with my teacher saying "Intention is better than resolution guys. If most of you are here on Jan 1st because of a new year resolution, change that to intention. If you have intention, you will get there sooner or later. It is a lot better than a resolution". A few days later, picked out an Angel card at the lobby and it was "intention". That was some coincidence. 

Last year was brotherhood and sisterhood..

Definitely have set an intention for this year.. will get to where I have to eventually..

A golfing angel is far from the intention I have in mind.. but time will tell. 

The yoga journey continues to be interesting. My teachers make it interesting. They push me and I let them push me because I have implicit faith in them. They are my real angels watching over me.. quite literally from the podium. My friends and yoga buddies make it fun. The hi fives, the fist bumps, the words of encouragement keep me motivated. The family is also arranging schedules around to make sure I get yoga done, even if it is late in the night or twice a day over weekends. 

There are always ups and downs, but I feel blessed to be surrounded by folks who wish me well. 


Like a flower petal blooming

As most of you know, I have been doing Bikram Yoga for the eighth year running. You also know that I make it a point to do Yoga at least 200 times a year and there is always some new thing that I learn with respect to the Yoga, myself, and the connection between my self and the yoga. 

It is a never ending practice to find new edges, improve on posture, breathing, reaction times and being able to listen and implement directions.

Today we had Joseph Encinia come teach a workshop at BYSJ. This is the second time he is teaching this workshop at BYSJ. Two years ago when he came, got to attend his talk but could not attend the workshop because of travel. This time I was lucky to be in town. 

It was a four hour workshop which would have gone on for 5 hours were it not for the fact that there was a regular scheduled class after the workshop.

Have posted blogs on special classes and workshops in the past at BYSJ and every one of them has been eye opening.  For example, I learned that drinking water was not a necessity in class after the last workshop. Have not had water during class since March 22nd and it is almost been six months. Putting that into practice and sticking to that for day after day to make it the new habit is one of the things that this Yoga teaches me. 

Yes, you do something for ~1600 classes (excel spreadsheet says 1597 to be exact) and find out that you are still not doing something right or you are not using the right muscle to do the right thing (it might look okay in the mirror but you are not doing it right) and you start correcting it. Maybe after another 200 classes there will be another correction, but it has to be made the new habit or else this doesn't work.

Joseph was amazing today. He did a demo before class to go over the entire sequence in under 10 minutes. Then he broke down every pose and explained the do's and don'ts. Some of us also got to go show him our poses that we thought were messed up and he helped figure out what was wrong and what needs to change. 

When he started doing this and everyone took our their phones to take videos, I looked at it through the iPhone and said "no. I just want to record this in my brain.". You know how sometimes you are in a national park and you just put your Camera back into the bag and just stand there and take it all in. It was like that. Have the beginnng few minutes of the workshop in this video. (I am sure BYSJ will post more information or Joseph will post information on his website)

He was not going to show us fancy poses but how the breath moves through the body and that he demonstrated in 4 hours with is own body as well as ours with amazing clarity.

As in most classes, even if I learn a 100 things, only 5 stick to my mind and can be made into a habit. The rest wait. Folks who know the yoga poses will be able to follow the below. Someday when I can show the difference between pre and post, will post a video of myself doing things the right way. That day will come sooner than later.

Ardhachandrasana or Half Moon pose: Have always struggled to push myself at the end of the half moon pose because of my attempt to keep up the breathing at 80/20. Keep 80% of the lungs full and just breathe 20% in and out. However, my lungs have had difficulty doing that, towards the end, trying to breathe. Today I learned that the trick is to use a lung, instead of both lungs. There is one lung that is compressed and one extended in Half moon pose. Use the extended lung to breathe comfortably. Apparently the "flower petal blooming" is to help drive that point home when the teacher says it in every class! The flower petal blooms from the inside out.. that lung was supposed to do that. I never got that in all these years. 

Dandayamana Janushirasasana (standing head to knee) : The second thing I learned today was that the three bandhas or locks have to be done for a lot of poses. In some poses only two are used, in others three. But the pelvic lock is mandatory. You lose that, you might as well come out of the pose and start all over again. I had no idea how many times I was unlocking it and trying to relock. It simply doesn't work that way. There are also poses where that lock implies pulling your navel straight back in vs. pulling your navel back and up. Again, these are things that you get to see only when you see a teacher demonstrate this up close and personal. I was on the floor and Joseph was standing 6 feet away and I understood. Many teachers have tried to show us this from the Podium and I still could not see the difference.

Purna Salabasana (Full Locust pose) : The third thing I learned was the shoulder joint when rotated outwards makes it easier for the neck to curve upwards. This might seem intuitive to some, but it was not obvious to me.  There is always a balance between strength and flexibilty, and maybe my body is different or my brain is, but it was another thing that I understood only after watching this close.

Tadasana (Tree pose) : Number four was that, a little pull in the inner thighs can straighten your legs and knees in multiple poses. Locking the knee by default pulls the legs outwards and to compensate, pulling in your inner thighs up works wonders. 

Janushirasana and Paschimotthanasana (Head to knee pose and stretching pose) : The last one was ingenious. When doing a separate leg stretching pose, if you push the bone below your big tow away from you, it magically straightens your entire leg on the floor. Just recently one of my task masters, Brad, taught me how to pull my ankle bones towards each other to rotate my feet right. That correction has been going on for almost two months now..and this gets added to it!

Those were things to remember and apply. Then again, there was what he left us with. No amount of teacher instruction, workshops is going to improve what we do unless we OWN it and work hard for it. 

We had a girl in the class who has been going through severe arthritis for 20+ years and we could literally see the surgery marks on her for various corrections, and she showed us what real dedication, drive, intent and intensity meant. I have no excuse after seeing that. 

Joseph himself had a heart attack at the age of 13 after he had a lot of treatments for his Arthritis and he turned his life around. He is vegetarian and does Yoga every day! 

He almost choked when he said "some of you lucky to be here without any chronic conditions. some of us are here because of chronic conditions. Doesn't matter why you are here. Own your practice and you will see results. Some of us have to work a lot harder and overcome challenges, but at the end of the day it is the same for everyone. don't be stubborn. don't be too patient. Dont be too determined in a stubborn way. have the right intent and intensity in your practice"

On a side note to my wife and kids and other close friends who keep asking me "how come you do all that yoga and never have six pack abs?".. Joseph answered that one too. Six pack abs are good for body building but it is difficult to back bend with those and back bending is key to a healthy spine. So I would rather have my back bend than a six pack, not that there is anything wrong with a six pack.

The thing that impressed me most was how down to earth Joseph is and how sincere he is in spreading the knowledge he has acquired over time and by experimenting with his own body.  

Was really happy that BYSJ brings teachers like this for such special workshops, so regular students can learn more and improve. We also get to see stuff up close and personal and understand body mechanics, something that is difficult to do watching Youtube videos or even teachers on the podium doing the occasional demonstration.

This was a beginner workshop, but in a way I was glad to take this workshop now and not six years ago. Most of the stuff he said would not have registered then, as I would have constantly doubted if I had certain muscles he was talking about. Takes a few years to realize that we all have the same muscles.. just that some are never used or activated in normal life, and we use the most dominant ones to make the poses look like the end result without doing it right. . . slowly things normalize and the body changes.

The learning and discipline continues. Maybe the next time Joseph shows up, the top five things that I managed to remember at the end of class will be the new normal!


A new marker on the yoga journey

On Sunday, an experienced and expert Yoga teacher, Mary Jarvis was to visit Bikram Yoga San Jose and teach a class at 10AM followed by a special posture clinic class from Noon to 4 PM... at least that was the plan.

She did come and the regular 90 minute class at 10AM went till 1:15. Almost everyone in the room just stayed the entire time trying to grasp every little detail of what she said. She chose her words carefully and she gave us perspective on the Yoga practice itself. It was a window to what was possible and why. The how of it was secondary. It was personalized depending on the student and the day and time of class, a function of everything else in their mind and life.. but she was not going to judge us as long as we tried. 

We got a 15 minute break and continued. There have been a few special classes over the years as part of practicing Yoga that helped improve the practice and produce light bulb moments. This class was up there on that list.

At this point everything in class looks like "BM" and "AM" .. Before Mary and after Mary, which is why I call it a new marker on the Yoga journey. 

Since Sunday I have been in three classes including tonight and I started thinking of some little things first. 

1. No fidgeting in class. You stay still in the pose and in between poses. Apparently she ate flies that sat on her face just to avoid fidgeting. Her teacher(Bikram) threw her out of class for fidgeting in between poses.

2. No water during the class. If you breathe through the class, you don't need water (her words, not mine). Apparently there were no water bottles allowed in the days she learned yoga and in her studio she asks teachers to lead by example. However she doesn't insist on students giving it up but asks them to try. 

3. 4. 5. ... 655.. the rest can wait. I was going to try 1 and 2 first. 

First class AM, too much fidgeting but at least I was conscious of it. Also avoided water till half way point when we got to the floor series. 

Second class AM, 3 fidgets and they were pre-meditated. There were many that were subconcsious but didn't know it. Also almost made it without water for 80/90 minutes. Just before we went to the final stretching pose I caved. Went for the water bottle. 

Today was class 3. I did not fidget knowing it. There were 6 instances where subconsciously my hand was going to my forehead to clear sweat and every time my hand went up, brought the other hand up to do a Namaste in front of the mirror.  I am sure the folks around me were thinking "what a narcissistic asshole Namastaying himself after every third pose... but it doesn't matter. What was important is that I was in "eyes wide open" mode the entire 90 minutes. It is amazing to realize that there are points in the class where I had no idea what I was doing.. at least prior to this class, and I have been in Jesssica's class a gazillion times and I think I pay attention to her. Apparently not a 100%. It is not easy to be conscious of every little movement. 

One thing that was sacrified to be that conscious was my face had this intense stare throughout the class and I did not smile. Maybe that is the next step in the evolving process. Stay alert and smile.

As for the water bottle, didn't touch it today. It was there, inviting me all the time, taunting me, tempting me.. but made it through the class and all the way home. Drank water after a shower. Nothing bad happened by skipping water. So far so good..

Sometimes a special teacher can make a world of a difference. Mary Jarvis has made two small dents in my practice within a week. Will see how many of the rest of her words of wisdom sink in and make a difference over time.


A few words..

After the last Asia trip, I came home okay. Then we ate at an Indian restaurant, which we have only visited once before more than a year ago and both me and MIL ended up with food poisoning. Wife and kids did not get hit although the little one complained of tummy pain, went into a fart spree and then declared herself okay. MIL and me were not that lucky. She was throwing up and I was feeling like an over pressurized cannister that did not know how and when it was going to explode for most of the weekend. 

So my yoga attendance in the last 5 days has been spotty at best. Finally made it back to class this evening. Walked in with low expectations but as usual there is the "now that I have made it past that door, better make the most of it" philosophy that kicked in and started doing the best I could.

It was almost the end of the class and we were doing the final stretching pose on the floor when the teacher mentions my name and says "pull your little thighs just above your knees up and towards each other and then stretch"!

Was trying to process that on the fly, given I have never heard anyone say that to me or another student before. 

The first question was "what are little thighs?" then my brain went "it is something between your real thighs and it is above your knees.. so even if we don't know what that is, just pull whatever muscle you can pull up and towards each other in that region!" 

So I tried to locally clench something in that area upwards and inwards and sure enough, like magic, my body went down a good six inches lower and towards my feet! It was MAGIC !

When we got a chance to do the second set, gave those "little thighs" a big inward curl and was able to repeat the stretch!

Have been doing this for 5 plus years. All it takes is a few words to click at the right time in the right way and there is a world of a difference in the result. 

Have come to the conclusion that teaching yoga cannot be an easy thing. Even if a person can do the poses and internalize how to use their anatomy to make changes, it is very difficult to communicate that cause and effect to another person using mere words. 

For all I know, what was moved may not be little thighs, but the learning continues. 


Walking the walk, talking the talk

Before we begin, this is a yoga post.  Not the usual experience in hot room post but rather a perspective on how the world is reacting to Yoga today based on latest media reports.

Three things sparked this post and I will list them in chronological order:

1. A friend of mine who knew I do Bikram Yoga but not much about the Yoga or Bikram recently told me "dude, I saw in the news that the guy who came up with this yoga you do is accused of a lot of bad things. So be careful with the yoga you do!"

2. Indian media reports in last month have a flurry of articles on Shri Shri (Art of Living), his recent event near Delhi and his tweets on cricket matches and articles on Baba Ramdev, another popular Yoga teacher/activist for his statements on what constitutes patriotism and the follow up internet memes about "does yoga help grow a brain?"

3. An article in YogaInternational which claims to debunk Bikram Yoga

Here is my perspective from personal experience.

Bikram Yoga worked for me. It continues to do the job for me. It has been nothing short of a miracle for me. By extension, I can say "Hatha yoga worked for me" and "the heat worked for me". Now what do I mean by "worked"?

Walked into the hot room for the first time, five years ago,  being 18-20 lbs over weight, depressed and having a range of other health issues after an accident in what can only be described as a downward spiral at work and home. Within a month I was back at my normal weight and feeling positive. With a fresh energy that made me a better person, it helped me through even tougher times at home and work over the next few years. Bikram Yoga turned that downward spiral into an upward spiral with positivity reinforcing more positive things. 

Could this be just me? The answer is No. It was definitely the Yoga. It is true that I work my ass off in the hot room and give it everything I got,  but still, it was the Yoga that made a difference. There is something magical about the way this sequence is put together that it worked, for me.

Does this work for everyone? The answer again is No. I happened to be at the right place at the right time in the right mindset. Had nothing to lose by walking into the room and everything to gain. The visual and non visual changes made me go back into the room, over and over and over again. More than 20 people have joined or tried Bikram Yoga after seeing me change over the last five years, but only 4 are still doing it. They all have their reasons for dropping out. Don't like the sweat, the smell, don't like to wash my hair so often, it is too long a time commitment, I am already flexible enough, etc. etc. None of them told me they stopped coming, because they injured themselves or they were afraid of their image because of what they hear in the news about Bikram or any of the other prominent Yoga teachers. 

Does it have to work for everyone? Hell, NO! If you are not serious about making a change and cannot take an opportunity to turn your life around, no yoga is going to work for you. The folks who have issues with the heat have tried other yoga and it works for them. The folks who have issues with 90 minutes have tried other forms of yoga for shorter times and some of them are very happy with the improvements. 

Does Bikram Yoga work? The answer is Yes! Have seen many miracles like me out there over the years. The folks who see the benefit come repeatedly. It seems to be a hit or miss thing. Based on the stats I collect, chances are, if you are a type A personality, Bikram Yoga has a higher chance of working for you. 

If you want to get results from Yoga you need the following basic ingredients:

- Right Teacher :There are tons of youtube videos on the poses and how to do them, but there is no substitute for a teacher who goes over the nuances. The devil is in the details. It is very easy to hurt yourself by doing the wrong thing in a yoga class (I am told it is easier to injure oneself in normal temperature classes compared to hot room classes) and blame the yoga for your injuries. A teacher who is qualified and has been through this learning experience first hand works better than a Youtube video. 

- Right method : Know what you are doing.  Not based on what you think the right thing is from your mind or just from your bodies feedback. If I only listented to the voice in my head that told me what my body was capable of doing, should have quit yoga after day 2. Listen to the teacher.

- Right commitment : Consistency and sincerity in any practice will help move it in the right direction. That goes for any learning. Practice makes perfect and in this case it is an asymptotic relationship towards perfection. 

- Right mindset : Keeping an open mind to learning new things first hand as opposed to infering from other people's experience definitely helps. 

I have only done Bikram Yoga in the last five years but the things above are generic enough for learning anything new, be it a musical instrument or a new language and chances are, with any type of Yoga, a right teacher, technique, dedication and mindset will go a long way. 

All that said, all three of those things that prompted me to write this post go towards three things.

Do not link the Yoga to the Yogi:

Yoga has not changed over the years. Pretty much every posture that you can do with the hardware a human being has, is out there in all its variants and documented extensively in stone to paper to 0's and 1's.

Over time, folks have come up with routines that are optimized towards different results. The most popular ones seem to take a "greatest benefit for the average person" approach. They are like Children's Tylenol. Works great for most kids for most ailments. Then of course you cannot expect to cure cancer with it. 

Do all Yoga teachers who have created a successful routine or a successful franchise or following, required to be perfect human beings? It is a fallacy of human kind to venerate and elevate humans to god status and then see their gods go down in their own eyes. Goes for politicians, sportstars, movie stars and definitely Yoga gurus! People may be fallible and not perfect all the time. That does not mean the works they create are bad. It is very much possible that someday I will lose my mind as an older person, but that does not take away everything I do till I reach that age. 

Before you decide to believe others on Yoga's efficacy, try it yourself : 

Yoga in this context is like religion. There has to be faith first. Then there is the way. Then again, there is no "one way". The way you want is the one that works for you and that doesn't have to work for everyone. 

The difference between Yoga and religion is that in Yoga, a set of physical exercies and breathing has the ability to transform minds even though nothing is being said about the mental transformation in the class. You come in day and and day out and do the exercises, but it changes the way you think, about yourself and your relationship to everything around you. You know it is the exercise because, you get these brilliant moments of clarity in the middle of struggling through the exercises.

You have to try Yoga with the right pre-requisites. If someone else got injured doing yoga, died during yoga training (first time I heard that was in this Yogainternational article) etc. etc. one of those pre-requisites was not there. If you are not the type who is good at taking instructions from a teacher, chances are you are likely to injure yourself. Same goes for the other pre-requisites.. right teacher, right method, right commitment. 

Don't take my word for it : 

We live in a world where the lines between opinion and fact are being blurred by Like buttons and 140 characters at a time, a world where it is difficult to differentiate between a genuinely researched news article and an infomercial. It is also a world where people with responsibility, following, power and money are the ones most likely to abuse it.

I can request you go to find a Bikram Yoga studio and try a class with a teacher who went to teacher training with Bikram himself, to ensure you are not going to injure yourself and come out with a positive learning experience. Chances are you might end up in one of the 1000's of studios that claim to be Bikram Yoga but have teachers who teach whatever they want for however long they want. It is like buying coffee at the Starfucks store, where the lady on the cup looks very similar, but you drink at your own risk!

Finally, Yoga is getting a bad rap either because of some Yogi's words and actions, mistakes by the press or people like you and me believing blindly in what others say or do. The fact that Yoga has survivied for thousands of years is a testament to its ability to prevent ailments and enable faster healing, not to mention its ability to open minds for a lot of people. There are some who say it will work for everyone. I am not going that far. It might work for you. 

I for one, am happy that it works for me!