Friday, April 29, 2011

Crisis Narrowly Averted... subtitled Why Electrolytes Suck.

Everyone keeps talking about it, there are all sorts of theories and suggestions about maintaining it, everyone around here is constantly thinking about it, and it somehow seems to work differently for everybody.  I'm not talking about some esoteric, philosophical topic like life, yoga, or human relationships.  This is a far more basic and immediate (for me) concern: Electrolytes.

Ok, the basics as I understand them, for the uninitiated.  You sweat way more than usual, you lose essential ions (salts) like sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium in greater quantities and faster speed than you are used to, and your body starts shutting down.  Unless you manage to replace them in the appropriate quantities at the correct speed.  That is where things get tricky.  Doing double hot yoga classes every day results in a staggering amount of sweat (one trainee calculated that he loses 10 lbs of water through sweat during one class... maybe a slight exaggeration but even if it's 5 lbs, that's still insane!).  And it is key to replace fluids not only in the form of water, but also water charged with the electrolytes that are lost.  Also important is to not overdo the proportion of electrolyte replacers to water or you will be the lucky recipient of stomach cramps and other unpleasantness.

Sooooooooooo last week I was diligently using my Ultima brand electrolyte replacer powder during every class to combat this demon, but ended up with stomach cramps and a crash/burn on Friday anyway.  Too much digesting going on I think and an unpleasant, manufactured taste to boot.  So decided to switch to a mixture of lemon, sea salt and honey to keep myself in balance.  I thought things were going well (back issues aside, of course) until yesterday and today (Wednesday and Thursday) when I absolutely could not keep my eyes open.  I was a zombie, wanted to sleep every second of the day, couldn't function, could barely move, and essentially felt like I would not be able to get through one more class.  Out of desperation I took a couple of electrolyte replacers in pill form right before afternoon class today and dragged myself down to the "torture chamber" without any idea how I was going to make it through.

Then the magic happened.

Little by little, even before class started, I began to perk up.  I was able to hold conversations again (this had been totally beyond me for most of the day), was able to look around and note my surroundings (also a superhuman feat during the previous 24 hours) and get a little bit excited about class.  Then I proceeded to have the best possible class I could, despite having to sit out or not go too deep in the forward bending or front-side pulling postures (thanks to my stupid back).  It was amazing!!!  And during this class I realized that my sweat for the last few days hasn't tasted salty while it dripped into my face for 90 minutes.  I can only presume that I was so low in salts that I was sweating pure (or mostly pure) water.  This despite drinking multiple liters of sea salt-infused water.  No wonder I felt like reheated crap for the last two days!

The energy that came back to me continued after class, into the evening, and during and after lecture tonight.  I am back to myself, perfectly fine, and re-inspired about being here.  I had no idea how bad I was feeling until I started coming out of the stupor.  It is scary to be in that place, everything seems dark and hopeless, your mood is completely shot, and it feels like you can't possibly move your body any more.  Electrolytes.  Arg.

In conclusion, many thanks to John from my home studio in Northampton for hipping me to the tablet electrolytes.  They truly saved me today.   Now if only I could calm down and get some sleep.  The positive side of being so lethargic was that I was able to sleep like a rock at any moment of the day.  Now I'm back up again with this crazy energy!  Well, at least I have a loyal readership I can entertain while I sit with my insomnia.

Hi Mom!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

And cue the new/old/weird injuries.

This week has presented some fairly big challenges for me so far and it's only Wednesday night!  Something unpleasant is going on in my back that makes all forward bends rather painful by the afternoon class.  Might just call that massage therapist I've heard such good things about because dealing with this kind of pain during class (and while sitting in lecture) is exhausting.

On the flip side, there is a great deal of opening in my shoulders, hips, and neck that I wasn't at all expecting!  That is also painful (oh, my right hip!) but it's pain of the positive, moving-forward, achieving more flexibility kind.  Stupid back.  Get with the program.

The Today Show special taped in part on the first day of training aired yesterday:

Fairly well balanced and they didn't highlight all of the trainees who died small deaths during that class (like me!).  If the non-initiated had watched that entire class, they'd be terrified to actually participate in their first one!  It was *that* hot.  I did not make the video cut, so no images of me sweating away in the hot room. Probably a good thing.  That first class was brutal.

Speaking of the heat, the hot room here at training has been fairly moody.  It bolted out of the gate last week, an inferno, then cooled to merely an industrial furnace.  Then it went cold for a full day to the point that I could feel cold air blowing on my body.  But have no fear, the HVAC elves went to work and as of today, we are all the happy recipients of the real "I kill you more" treatment in the proper heat.

Last night was another late night (3:30am) and tonight isn't much better.  Hopefully five hours is enough time to recover enough to get through morning class.  Glad I have a solid few years in grad school under my belt to prepare me for these late nights.

As long as I can keep eating, staying up late isn't too bad.  Gotta front-load those carbs for tomorrow, right?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Week 1 done!

Done, over, gone forever.  In a way it's like playing music.  That gig is over and the playing is done.  Maybe you sounded great, maybe everything went to hell but either way, you'll never hear it again and it has no bearing on how you'll sound the next time.  And that's a good thing.

The process of learning is always very organic and often not exactly linear.  This week has demonstrated to me in so many ways that this training will wholeheartedly embrace a variety of processes to teach us some important lessons, both for getting through these upcoming weeks and for taking out into the world.

What I started learning about this week:
1. Be kind, compassionate, and open to everyone because you *never* know who that person is, where they're coming from, or what they might teach you.
2. Patience will be one of the most important qualities to cultivate during these next 8 weeks. 
3. Removing the ego will be another one.
4. Yoga works so much better when the brain is not allowed to make decisions anymore.
5. Time is very valuable, every moment is important, and a whole lot of stuff can get done in five minutes.
6. My body is apparently hardwired with receptors in the brain that respond to potatoes like they're drugs - at least while I'm at training.  :::currently in very satisfied potato stupor:::
7. Sometimes there is no greater feeling than to sit and do nothing and think nothing.

There are lots more but I plan on taking advantage of this time for some well-deserved sleep.

A few shots of the hot room before class today:

Mike, Dia, Adrienne (my roomie!!)
The Torture Chamber
 Aren't those crystal chandeliers amazing?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Let the sleep deprivation begin

Things have really started rolling here in teacher training and I'm beginning to get a small glimpse, maybe just the tip of the iceberg, of what my teachers were trying to tell me (warn me, advise me, caution me) about before setting off on this journey.  I knew there would be lots of yoga, late nights, and Bollywood films, but knowing and actually living through it are dramatically different activities.

Last night were were treated (and it really was a treat after all the half-moon recitations) to a film called Kaho Naa Pyar Hai (think this is "Tell Me You Love Me") and it was everything you might expect from a real, dyed-to-the-wool Bollywood film - Overly dramatic facial close-ups, large groups of people spontaneously breaking out into song and dance, clothes that looked like they came directly from a Sir Mix-A-Lot music video, a rather fluid interpretation of time, place, day and night, and more costume changes in one film than Paris Hilton goes through in a year.  It was amazing.  Still not sure if I would have enjoyed it as much if it hadn't gone on until 3:30am.  Something about the late hour tends to make what the rational mind might consider "cheesy" a small bit more entertaining

And tonight is another late-ish night (out at 1:30 this morning) so I need to make this brief or I will be flat on my mat tomorrow morning.

Tonight was the most amazing yoga class I have ever, ever, ever experienced in my life.  By the time afternoon class rolled around, all 400+ of us were exhausted, disoriented, sore, discombobulated, overstimulated, and just generally feeling out of sorts before class began.   Boss was teaching so I imagine there was some anxiety about where we were all going to be able to find the energy to get through and, hopefully, not produce too much yelling from the podium.  Personally, I like it when Bikram yells but perhaps not so much when I'm in such a delicate physical state.

But the most amazing thing happened when class began.  Things - just - crystallized.  The entire group moved together, we all tried very hard in every posture, we all held postures much more consistently than we had in any class leading up to this one, and the focus in the room was just incredible.  It was a phenomenon of total submission, giving up control, and it worked.  Our minds were too exhausted to give conflicting information to our bodies (ok, mine was anyway, I suppose I can't speak for the remaining 425 yogis in the room).  I was blown away, even as it was happening, and in some small part of my brain I was able to note what was going on, even as my body was moving through the postures.  I didn't even have a view of myself in the mirror but it didn't matter!  If I hadn't been there myself, I wouldn't have believed that such a thing was possible. And there was a beautiful demonstration of standing bow from one of the trainees today that goaded me push harder in that posture myself.

So if any of my fellow trainees read this, congratulations on doing something truly amazing (on only 3 hours sleep) and keep it up!

If you're a Bikram Yoga student, seriously consider doing this

If you don't practice Bikram Yoga, go do some yoga.  NOW!  (I think that works better with an Indian accent).

Now to go chase some sleep, wake up, and do it all again tomorrow!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Hot as 100 donkeys... what-ing?

Not only was today the first class we had with Bikram, but there was a film crew from the Today Show present the entire time!!  I think I caught a glimpse of one of those poor fellows, dressed in very practical street clothes of course, after having given up on his sopping wet shirt and filming without it on.  But I died a small (very small) death in there so it could have easily been a hallucination.  The show will air on April 26th at 8am on NBC.

It will be fascinating to see what hits the cutting room floor and what is kept intact in what I presume will be a fairly short television spot.  There were a number of choice phrases thrown around today by Boss, so it's kind of a crap shoot as to how it will turn out.  Hopefully will paint a representative picture as they have over 90 minutes of footage.

The first class today was exciting and amazing.  It was also incredibly hot.  I mean hotter/more humid than any class I've ever ever ever taken in my entire life.  No joke!  During the meat of the standing series people were not only dropping like flies but they were leaving the room!  At least 1/4 of those people left the room at some point during class, in particular when transitioning to the floor.  My own experience was intense and it took some incredible determination to stay in that room today.  The humidity alone made it feel like a real-and-for-true steam room, complete with a heavy mist in the air.  I set up third row, left hand side, and didn't have nearly enough water.  Tomorrow will be better!

Speaking of tomorrow, things really begin in earnest come 8am so I'm determined to get some last precious hours of sleep before killing myself again in the morning.

Feeling very grateful tonight for the opportunity to be able to undertake this incredible challenge.  Knowing that there are 425 (the number went down by a few yesterday apparently) other yogis on this path is overwhelming and really serves to bolster my own sense that this is, indeed, the right challenge for me to undertake now.  

Have to add that I'm loving the mini dialogue practice sessions that have popped up randomly in the hotel lobby.  The reactions of the poor guests who have to deal with all of us sweaty, incessantly reciting, and ubiquitous yogis as we go about our business here is just priceless.  Can not begin to imagine the impression we make on them as one person recites Half Moon and two or three others move into the posture in tandem.  Love it!

All stocked up, organized, and ready to be ground into (vegan) hamburger

Today was such a long time coming that all the events, even as they transpired, felt very surreal.  It feels like I've spent the last few months preparing for today and that this was the final - really final - I truly and absolutely mean it final - preparation before we begin Teacher Training.  Even just the process of driving from Long Beach to LA (via a stop for supplies), unloading, and getting checked in was epic!

Orientation was scheduled for 3pm, but due to the record-busting number of people, we were delayed at least an hour while the check-in process wrapped up.  Bikram's daughter (Laju?) kicked off the afternoon and we were introduced to a number of individuals that I've only either read about, like Emmy Cleaves, or corresponded with via email, like Sharon Clerkin (amazingly organized woman) and Shelly Kopel (loved her!!).  Jim Kallett was just fantastic at conveying a context for the yoga we are about to become completely immersed in and forever changed by.  What a wonderful character and lovely spirit. I hope I have the chance to talk with him a little.

On a lighter, more frivilous note, my requisite TT haircut below.  If you hadn't met me before today, this photo probably doesn't hold any meaning for you but it's a good few inches shorter.  No more sweat pouring into eyes and nose during forward bends!!!!

Diversion over, back to the events of the day.  Once I was finally all checked in and sorted out (thanks in no small part to my amazing roommate), and orientation over, I was able to pick up a number of essentials: Fruits, veggies, tofu, hummus, chips, cereal, OJ, etc.  After spending a few hours organizing space and a sizable array of appliances (juicer, blender(s), hot pot, coffee maker...) things are feeling much more calm in my own mind.  There is a fridge, food is in it, water is plentiful, yoga clothes are clean, I didn't do something ridiculous like forget to bring my dialogue, and things are as right with the world as they can be in this strange, artificial environment.

Notable firsts today:
1. First kale salad made in a hotel room.
2. First time seeing an entire table of people doing seated half moon while someone practiced dialogue
3. First catered, completely vegetarian buffet (thank you Radisson LAX!)

4. First time utilizing the media cabinet in a hotel room to house food

5. First time sitting in a room with 429 other people aspiring to become Bikram Yoga Teachers!!!  Yes, apparently 430 is the final count for this training.  All speculation can now be put to bed.  While practicing at my local studio in California, I was told that the rumor was a number above 500.  
6. First look at the famous Bikram shop

Now going to take the advice of all my yoga teachers regarding the lead-up to this training: "Sleep while you can."  

Yes, boss.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Out with the old and please stay out

Sometimes it takes a dramatic life event to prompt yourself to reassess your life direction and priorities.  Whether this observation has long since passed the point of being pithy and should now be relegated to the land of tired cliches is irrelevant since it has meaning for me at present.  So there.

Specifically, I've been thinking about this during the last few days while staying here at my family home in California as a result of some major water damage in one of the rooms.  We discovered the leak/sopping wet carpet late on Saturday night and spent the better part of two hours clearing the room of the most important items, in particular some fairly important artwork that is related to my family's side-business.  The next morning, reinforcements were called in to assist with the clearing of this "gallery" room and it took almost two full days to pack and clear everything out.  Not fix the water leak, mind you, but just to clear the room.

It was during these two days that the thought occurred to me: I do not want to *ever* own that many things.  Ever, ever, ever.  The stress related to the obligation to care for these items, these things, overwhelmed my father and radiated out to affect the rest of the family as well.

When I made the decision last year to move, sell my house, leave the country, and, ultimately, come to LA for Bikram teacher training, I knew that I couldn't "take it with me".  So everything had to go.  Everything.  I used craigslist, ebay, and had a major tag sale that lasted the whole weekend.  Salvation Army was the lucky recipient of a number of items I couldn't unload for cash and I gave a number of things away to friends.  But this process was a liberation for me and it became very clear to me that the Western focus on acquisition and consumerism as a barometer for happiness and success is completely f#@ked up.  But remembering this is very difficult and a constant battle since I live in this culture and will continue to rub up against it no matter where I go.

All of this brings me in a roundabout way to the laborious act of going through a number of boxes from my childhood and diligently selling what I can on ebay.  The parents have been bugging me about these damn boxes for years and I thought it best to just suck it up and deal with it while I'm home.  So if anyone is interested in acquiring an extensive set of unicorn figurines, an awesome pink and gray Polaroid camera (with carry-case), or an charming Alice in Wonderland toy tea set (circa 1989ish), I'm your gal.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Arms out like airplane wings... so why does my plane need a gas station?

Well, I made it to Logan Int'l Airport (Boston, Massachusetts) and am waiting patiently at my gate for the flight that will take me to California, 3,000 miles closer to Teacher Training.  In an interesting development, it looks as though my carefully considered and consciously chosen nonstop flight into Long Beach has acquired an extra stop.  For gas.  That's right, my 747 will need to stop at a gas station in Phoenix, AZ due to strong headwinds.  Should I take this in stride or read some kind of metaphorical significance into this stop? 

Arms out like airplane wings... so why does my plane need a gas station?  Since reality is really a matter of perception (love that I can make sweeping statements like this and not have to defend them at every step) I have decided to interpret this rather unusual turn of events as a personal directive to make sure I take a moment to pause during the upcoming TT craziness and "refuel" my mind/body/spirit/energy.  I can only imagine that after the first few weeks of moving along, slavishly learning dialogue, moving from task to task with zombie-like obedience, forcing the reluctant body through class after class in the hot room, that the autopilot probably starts to take over.  This is a survival mechanism and very important for the whole getting through piece of the experience.  But maybe this odd little hiccup in my travels is meant to be a reminder that pausing to refuel, to reflect on the process, may be important as well.  Now if I can hang onto this thought past week 2 I'll be mightily pleased with myself.

Now we've reached the portion of our programming devoted to the obligatory packing photos.  What would this Bikram Yoga Teacher Training Blog be without it?  It's like a rite of passage.  I didn't post my packing list, as it's still evolving, but I did have to do a fair bit of packing to get from one family house (Western Massachusetts) to the other family house (Long Beach, CA).


5 sets of hot room clothes
4 sets of posture clinic/non-hot yoga clothes
2 pairs of sweatpants (the uniform I will probably wear whenever not actively in clinics or hot room)

(not going to comment on how aggravating that particular requirement was - whoops, guess I just did)

Time has passed and have since starting this post, I have arrived in Los Angeles.  Going to try my luck at a few Friday afternoon yard sales to see if I can find a juicer, blender, and electric tea kettle at a deep discount.  

Anyone else having anxiety dreams about delivering dialogue to a class full of people only to have two things happen:
1. Go completely blank after the words "Everybody together"
2. Have a teacher prompt you with dialogue you have never, ever heard before?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

First Advanced Class - Ouch City

This is a first.  A first of many firsts to come, I'm quickly realizing.  This is my first blog, my first post, and the first day I have ever practiced the Advanced Bikram Yoga Series!  Well, perhaps "practiced" is a somewhat glorified description of what I looked like flopping around on the mat attempting to balance only on one toe, an elbow, and my fingertips.  And occasionally my head.  I will freely admit that it wasn't pretty, graceful, or even amusing enough to be considered comical by the other practitioners, but even the attempt felt amazing.  My back has definitely never bent like that before, and I've been blessed with a fairly bendy back.

Let me back up a moment.  I'm assuming that anyone reading this blog will have at least a passing familiarity with the Bikram Yoga Beginner's practice of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises in a heated room (approx 105 degrees, 40% humidity).  This series is meant to be practiced by anyone and everyone, always a challenge no matter how often or how many times you've done it. 

But gaining access to the Advanced Series has always been elusive, the holy grail of yoga practices for Bikram students, open only to teachers or students training for competition.  Today I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time (not to mention so close to TT that I can feel the heat from the "torture chamber" billowing down the back of my neck) to be personally invited to practice the 84 Asana Advanced Series.

I won't blab on about this experience too much, except to say that I feel newly humbled by this practice and am excited in a completely new way about the potential for change in my own body.  The Advanced series allowed opening in my hamstrings that I've never been able to achieve and it also, magically, addressed a stubborn issue I've been struggling with in my leg/hamstring for months.  To watch the experienced teachers execute these postures was profound and inspirational.  Thanks so much Diane!!

Oh, did I neglect to mention that I hurt all over and that I think I suffered a mild allergic reaction to either the carpet in the hot room or my sweaty x 2 towel and yoga clothes after class(es) were finally done?  No so important, but just don't want anyone to think I'm SuperYogini just breezing through both Beginner's and Advanced Series with no repercussions.  The real pain will be felt upon waking in the morning.  Good times.

Another first along this weird, sweaty journey towards teacher certification occurred yesterday: My first double!  I had never before seen the benefit to two classes in one day so had not given the matter much consideration.  But with TT just around the corner, it seemed like a good idea to get myself a taste of what I was in for.  I tried to approach it without expectations but, as everyone knows, that's nearly impossible.  The morning class was fine, uneventful, fairly strong.  Come 3:30pm, the time I needed to leave for the studio, the fatigue was overwhelming.  Since there was no choice involved (so nice to not think) I just left the house and went to the studio where I practiced dialogue with the mic (another first!) until it was time to set up for class.

As it turned out, I had the same wonderful teacher for both morning and afternoon class so was able to have a very balanced perspective on what was same/different between the two experiences. Much love to Jennifer for this one.  What I noticed most was a distinct lack of personal drama in class #2.  Bend all the way back?  Ok, no problem.  Touch forehead directly on the knee?  Sure, I can do that.  It was as if my body had been wound up and was just puttering along while my mind observed its progress and form.  Sooooooooooo strange and freakishly cool.  Now how to make every day of doubles during training just as enjoyable... Nope.  Probably not going to happen, but a sweet and optimistic thought nonetheless.  I have a feeling that those types of warm-and-fuzzy intentions might go the way of the dodo in the coming days so best give them life now to inspire my future self.

Hear that, future self?  You like doubles.  You looooooooovvvvvvvvvvveeeeeee them.  Now repeat that to yourself 45 times and you'll be done in no time.