A Week of Emmy

Posted April 18, 2008 by mariamayhealth
Categories: Teacher Training

Emmy Cleaves, a Principal Teacher of Bikram Yoga, arrived at training this Monday. Emmy is somewhere in her 80’s but does not look a day older than 65. She is originally from Latvia and survived one of the concentration camps during World War II. She has been teaching yoga with Bikram since the 1970’s, and her classes have been some of my favorite thus far through training.


Her teaching style is quite different than Bikram’s; she strays from the dialogue but still gets the important points across about each posture. I have really enjoyed the information she includes in her classes as well. For example, today she talked about fast twitch and slow twitch muscles, and how practicing Bikram Yoga can actually convert some fast twitch muscles into slow twitch muscles which will help maintain strength and endurance throughout the class as well as the nine week training. She speaks in a serious Latvian accent (I’m guessing what she has in a Latvian accent although hers is the first I have ever heard) and her personality and teaching style seem to make everyone student push to his and her limits. It’s like we don’t want to disappoint her, and when she goes off on a subject of medical benefits of Bikram Yoga while we are in Triangle Pose, we all remain in Triangle Pose until she tells us to come up.


Emmy has also given us some interesting lectures this week during the daytime lecture block, specifically one about pain. She explained that oftentimes when athletes from different sports come to Bikram Yoga for the first time, they think they are experiencing so much pain in their bodies when they first begin when really, what they are experiencing is just different sensations that they have never felt before. During hands to feet pose, where we stretch our bodies down to the ground and the goal of the posture is to eventually touch our heads to our feet, I often am guilty of complaining to myself about the pain in my hamstrings. After Emmy’s lecture on pain I really tried to label what I was feeling as more of a sensation and to be honest, I actually enjoyed the posture and maybe stretched a little further.


Some of the other interesting “pain” points she touched on were that real pain is actually important for our survival but yet distraction makes us not even feel pain. Obviously ignoring serious pain is not a good idea, but recognizing that the feelings that we are quick to label as pain may not actually be that bad for us.


On a different note, I am feeling much more like myself this week in yoga class. Don’t get me wrong, it is still extremely challenging, but I have not felt nauseous or dizzy once, and I’m actually starting to push myself a bit. I think last week my nerves just got the best of me and the nauseous and dizzy feelings were caused by stress and anxiety. (I’m knocking on wood right now…)


Only three more yoga classes for the week…woohoo!


The First Weekend of Teacher Training

Posted April 14, 2008 by mariamayhealth
Categories: Teacher Training

Twenty four hours have passed since our last yoga class and it feels like a week! Basically the weekends at Teacher Training go like this: A killer yoga class at 8 a.m. on Saturday followed by brunch and then free time! In the Saturday class you can feel everyone working his and her hardest because when class ends, we know we have the rest of the weekend to ourselves.


In the weekends to come I have a feeling that every second will be taken up by studying the dialogue. Yesterday, however, I went off the hotel grounds and into Acapulco for a little bit of shopping. It felt great to get away from the hotel just for a few hours.


I did decide to dedicate a few hours today (Sunday) to studying the dialogue. The weather here is so beautiful that I sat in one of the swimming pools and just read over and recited the dialogue. I don’t think that many of the people on vacation at the hotel spoke English (at least the ones swimming near where I was studying) so they probably wondered about this crazy person mumbling disjointed sentences moving ever so slightly into yoga positions glancing at several pieces of paper stapled together.


I’m hoping that my nausea subsides this week and I’m actually able to push and challenge myself in class this week. I definitely feel anxious about it which is not a good start. My mantra for now whenever I feel nervous has to be “it’s just yoga, it’s just yoga, it’s just yoga…”

Week One Wrap-Up

Posted April 13, 2008 by mariamayhealth
Categories: Teacher Training

10 classes down, 89 to go…


Or maybe it’s 88, but who’s counting?


This past week has been probably the most challenging week of my life. Before I came to Teacher Training, I wondered how it would compare to running a marathon. While the two things – running 26.2 miles and doing 99 yoga classes in nine weeks – are hardly comparable, I was curious just the same. The first week of teacher training alone is, hands down, far more difficult than running a marathon…even Boston. While I mean to take nothing away from Heartbreak Hill and the pain it inflicts, Teacher Training is a whole different story. So far in yoga class I have felt nausea, stomach cramps, tingling in my hands, tingling in my feet, numbness in my feet, dizziness, headaches, and obviously HOT. The Bikram Yoga staff tells us that all of these feelings, as well as others, are so normal for Teacher Training – especially in the first week.


The very first class with Bikram was extremely difficult. I think that my nerves and anxiety had a lot to do with the intensity and difficulty; however, the room was hotter than I have ever experienced. Little by little throughout the week he seemed to get easier (well not easier, maybe less hard is a more accurate way of putting it) or maybe I just am getting accustomed to his teaching style. This past week, Bikram taught all of the afternoon classes and his wife Rajashree taught all of the morning classes. They have extremely different styles; Bikram is far more intense in an in-your-face kind of way while Rajashree’s class is a bit more calm. Calm does not necessarily mean easier, and I can still feel that she remains energized throughout the entire 90 minutes.


Yoga classes in the first week have been very frustrating. I find myself getting nauseous before the standing series is completed which makes the floor postures all the more difficult. I want to push and challenge myself, but not at the risk of throwing up in the yoga room. (On a side note, the Bikram Yoga Teacher Training staff has little blue buckets lining the exit of the hot yoga room in anticipation for people who can’t make it to the bathroom, so they pretty much know what to expect).


The other part of Teacher Training that has been taking up a large chunk of time this week is posture clinic. Posture clinic is when we actually recite the dialogue from memory while other students perform the posture. As we get further into the training, I believe we will be breaking into smaller groups for posture clinic; however, for now, every single person has to say the dialogue for the first pose, half moon pose, in front of Bikram and in front of the rest of the trainees. We have been doing this twice a day for at least two hours at a time since Monday and we still are not finished. To be honest, this part of the program is tedious and boring. On the positive side, I’m sure none of us will ever forget the dialogue for half moon pose which, Bikram says, is the most challenging dialogue to learn. I successfully said the dialogue this past Tuesday – I wanted to get it over with early in the week – and no matter how well I knew it, I was shaking like crazy when I got up on stage. Thankfully I made it through sounding confident and engaged…according to Bikram. Basically what he does is listens to the speaker give the dialogue and then critiques it – the style, tone of voice, how the speaker interacts with the “students.”


I’m jumping around here a bit, but another aspect of this training that is so different from practicing at home is my appetite. At home when I finish a class I am ravenous. Here, practicing twice a day, I mainly just want fluids. I crave juices of all kinds, soda, Gatorade, water, water with EmergenC (electrolyte replenishments) and fresh, juicy fruit. The food that the hotel provides for us is a lunch buffet everyday and thank goodness they always have a huge spread of fresh pineapple, oranges, grapefruits, papayas, watermelon, and cantaloupe. The food in general is delicious and completely adequate; I just have been craving such different things here, at least in the first week.


I’m hoping that next week I will feel better in class and feel less tired in posture clinic. We shall see!

Doubles Begin!

Posted April 10, 2008 by mariamayhealth
Categories: Teacher Training

The double classes begin! We started the day yesterday with the 8:30 a.m. class taught by Rajashree, Bikram’s wife. I felt quite sore from Monday afternoon’s 5 p.m. class with Bikram himself (more on that later) and I struggled to make it through yesterday morning’s class without leaving the room. Between Monday’s class and the first of the doubles, you would have though I had never practiced Bikram Yoga before. One of the most frustrating parts of that whole feeling was that the room was not overwhelmingly hot in the least, yet the class was doubly challenging. Countless times at the studio at home or in Ithaca the room has several degrees hotter.


The room itself is enormous; it comfortably fits over 300 bodies. The studio was built specifically for this training, and anyone who is staying at the Fairmont Hotel in Acapulco can take a class for free. A large podium sits at the front of the room with a comfortable armchair for Bikram (or whoever is teaching) to sit in. When teaching, the instructors were a microphone attached to a headset so to reach the far corners of the gigantic room. Beginning next week I believe we will have assigned places in class that rotate so everyone gets a chance to be in the front (or the back, depending on how one views that priviledge!) but for now, spaces are first come, first served.


Classes themselves are intense. At home, I usually make it through the entire 26 postures without sitting down and certainly without leaving the room. Everyone told me to come to teacher training with zero expectations about how I will perform, and that was fantastic advice. While teacher training classes are the same 26 postures, two breathing exercises, and dialogue as classes at home, something about them is just plain harder. Maybe it’s Bikram. Maybe it’s 300 people sweating on top of each other. Maybe it’s all mental…who knows. One thing I am certain of: surviving nine weeks of double Bikram Yoga classes is going to be one hell of a challenge. And today is only Day 3…

Hola Acapulco!

Posted April 7, 2008 by mariamayhealth
Categories: Teacher Training

Over a month and a half has passed since I completed my 30-Day Challenge. Throughout the duration of the challenge, I had been planning on attending the Spring 2008 Bikram Yoga Teacher Training program. The Teacher Training is a nine-week intensive course of yoga, posture clinics, and lectures by Bikram. If students successfully memorize the 90-minute dialogue and complete the nine-week course, they are then certified Bikram Yoga instructors and are able to teach at any Bikram Yoga studio in the world. Originally, this spring’s Teacher Training was scheduled to be held in Honolulu, Hawaii. About three months ago, we learned that the plans for Hawaii fell through but that the training was not going to be canceled. Throughout my 30-Day Challenge, I knew that I was going to be traveling somewhere in the beginning of April, but I had no idea where. L.A.? Cancun? Those were just a few of the places that we were told Bikram was researching.


About three quarters of the way through the 30-Day Challenge, I received an e-mail from the Bikram Yoga Headquarters telling me and the other yogis who signed up for the training that Bikram and his staff had finally settled on a location for the spring Teacher Training: ACAPULCO, MEXICO.


Someone, please pinch me.


I arrived here in Acapulco yesterday afternoon around 1 p.m. I was greeted by a lazy, muggy breeze the second I stepped of the airplane reminding me that I was worlds away from home. Technically spring appeared on the calendar in late March, but in New England, any sign of real warmth usually does not set in until May. After a seven minute cab ride from the airport, we pulled up to my home for the next nine weeks. That’s when I began to feel like I was dreaming. As I waited in line to check into my room, a refreshing sea breeze blew through the hotel lobby. Luscious palm trees lined the view to the ocean beyond the lobby and two flamingos waded peacefully by one of the pools.


After checking in, I dropped my bags in my room which, by the way, looks out over some cliffs with smalls villas scattered on them, as well as the tops of those luscious palm trees and the roaring ocean. The first thing I knew I had to do was get down to the ocean. I hadn’t seen the Pacific for about six years, and the waves are more intense here than anywhere I have been on the east coast. While on the subject of the ocean, let me just mention the temperature: it is sublime. When the waves touched my feet for the first time, they felt cool enough to be refreshing, especially after a hot Bikram class, yet warm enough to welcome swimmers to get completely wet without any hesitation.


So when does the yoga start? While so far this entry may seem like quite the nine-week vacation, the real work begins tomorrow. I don’t know exactly what to expect; I do know that we practice the 90-minute Bikram series twice per day, once on Saturdays, and have Sundays completely off. In between classes we attend posture clinics where we actually learn how to become teachers. Then in the evenings, Bikram gives lectures.


I am still in awe of this magnificent place, and I am anxious to really begin this program.

30-Day Bikram Yoga Challenge – Day 27

Posted February 20, 2008 by mariamayhealth
Categories: 30-Day Bikram Yoga Challenge

Friday February 15, 2008 – Day 27; Class 30

12:00 p.m. I decided to stick around the studio and do a double for my final class of the Challenge. I have only attended a handful of the noon classes since I began practicing at Yoga Crossing, and I assumed that the class would not be full given the middle of the weekday time slot. Much to my surprise, three spaced-out rows filled the studio. In my opinion, this is the absolute perfect amount of people. There are enough yogis to get a positive, contagious energy circulating throughout the room, yet not too many people that we are smooshed in next to one another so we constantly have to worry about not bumping into those practing close by.

A word about the heat: This quite possibly could have been the most perfect Bikram class – temperature wise – that I have ever taken. The room was all warmed up from the earlier 9:15 a.m. class, and the decent number of people practicing heated the studio up to its perfect, swealtering – but not too swealtering – temperature. I started sweating almost immediately, and my body loosened up in the first set of hands to feet pose. (This also could have been due to this being my second class of the day…)

As for the 26 postures, I felt as though my strength, balance, and flexibility worked effectively together throughout the entire 90 minutes. I knew this was the final class of the Challenge, so I undoubtedly tried extra hard to concentrate, not fidget in between postures, and just perform everything as well as I possibly could. During one of our savasanas, the instrustor Ami told us that in each posture, we have to go to the point between too much and not enough. I’ve come to appreciate how well I know my body and how far it can go. Since we come into class with a different body from one day to the next, only I really know if I am pushing as hard as I can. Ami also told us that even though we all may be in different places in the postures, if we are all working our hardest we are receiving the same benefits that the Bikram practice offers. I love the fact that just because some people are more flexible, or stronger, or have more stable balance than others, if we exert the same effort we receive the same benefits.

I left the studio feeling physically exhausted but overcome with a huge feeling of satisfaction. I think that I sweat out every toxin humanly possible over the past three hours. I am glad to see this 30-Day Challenge come to an end – what a huge accomplishment – but I don’t think I will be taking too long of a vacation away from the studio.

30-Day Bikram Yoga Challenge – Day 27

Posted February 20, 2008 by mariamayhealth
Categories: 30-Day Bikram Yoga Challenge

Friday February 15, 2008 – Day 27; Class 29

9:15 a.m. As the second to last of the 30-Day Challege, this class made me realize the improvements I have made, yetalso how challenging this yoga really is. For example, earlier in the Challenge I wrote about how I would probably be able to straighten my kicking leg in standing bow pulling pose by the end of the 30 days. After 29 classes, I seriously underestimated the difficulty of straightening that leg. Making that sort of an assumption or goal in regards to Bikram Yoga is not how I should approach this practice. Because I learned so well that I come into the studio with a different body day after day, and that I may not always improve from one day to the next, putting a time limit on perfecting a certain skill is an unrealistic, discouraging way to practice. In regards specifically to the standing bow pulling pose, surely some days I was able to kick high and almost straighten my leg, while others I could barely hold my balance for more than 15 seconds. I suppose I made that (incorrect) assumption after a good class for standing bow pulling.

One posture in which I consistently have been feeling more flexible is fixed firm position. I try to get into this posture as quickly as possible because once I create the human bridge by slightly arching my back, the posture really feels relaxing.

I felt strong throughout this class with decent balance, though my flexibility was below my average; possibly this was due to relatively early class. Nevertheless, this class was a great way to head into the 30th and final 90 minutes of this challenge…