Friday, June 15, 2007

Almost over.

When I was 19 and in college ( a period of my life defined primarily by total narcissism and frequently employed eye-rolls) my mother returned to the career she’d given up years earlier to raise children. When I was 19 my mother became a flight attendant.
She was in her late forties. This decision required her to return to “flight attendant school” and live in a dormitory for six weeks while learning airport codes and plane configurations.
Were I a better child (a better person, for that matter) I would have been excited for her.
I was, instead, appalled. It struck me as about as lame a thing as a person could do…I was knee deep in university and hell bent on notions of coolness and success…air hostess did not, in any way, fit into my idea of who I wanted to be or who I wanted to be related to.
Additionally, I did not welcome situations where-in I was forced to regard my mother as an actual human being…someone with abilities and dreams beyond that which pertained to her role as my primary care giver. (Again, I was not such a nice kid back then…not the delightful ray of sunshine I am today…shut up…stop laughing…I am so.)

You can imagine the utter lack of sympathy and garden variety disgust that I met her voicemails with…I’d come home from school (and my pretentious ideas about life and myself) and be met with messages from my mom about her suspicions that her roommate was using her perfume…about how she was taking all the younger girls to the mall over the weekend…about how her new friend Kathy, from Maryland, had failed her CPR test and would be required to do a make up. She was giddy, my mom, liberated by a future of hard labor, moderate pay, and uniforms.
I didn’t understand at all. Had she called and announced she was going to be a tattoo artist, a philosopher, a poet, a lawyer…well, that would have been different…those are all either cool things or well paid things. Things worthy of doing…society will back me up on that.

(okay, in my defense, I have to add that when I told my parents I was coming here and doing this it was received with the monosyllabic, confused question…”why?” Not even “what” as if they hadn’t understood…but “why” as in “we totally understood what you said and still don’t get it….” They later fleshed out a heftier, more introspective question: “you’ll make HOW much?”)

Returning to my story:
The real kicker was when my dad called and informed me that I’d be required to come home for her “graduation”. Yes, graduation. From flight attendant school. For which we would be required to “dress up”.

When I arrived back in Texas for the big event, I behaved with characteristic disinterest.
My entire family ( I am from one of those clans that gather for everything) shuttled off to a conference room at DFW airport for the big event. As we sat there in folding chairs I did my best not to laugh. The soon-to-be-attendants were lined up in the back of the room waiting to individually approach the small staged area in front and have their wings pinned on their new uniforms. I was holding it together fairly well until they blasted the Bette Midler song “Wind Beneath My Wings” through the speakers. A new level of ridiculous had been summited and I feared I would urinate on myself. With that, I began violently clenching my jaw to keep the impending gales of utter mockery and laughter from escaping me.

As they worked their way up to the last names beginning with the letter “V”, my mother slowly approached the entrance.
She walked up the center aisle and stood in front of us to have her tiny silver wings attached to her lapel. She stood there unfamiliar to me. Unfamiliar because she was teeming with the pride of accomplishment…a success unrelated to anyone else, a success unrelated to anything other than the thing itself. However large, however small. And, suddenly, it didn’t matter anymore what classification of accomplishment it was. It didn’t matter what it paid or what you had to wear doing it… Suddenly, I was clenching my jaw not to hold in a terrific need to laugh, but to hold in an avalanche of emotion.

There’s just something about accomplishment that gets me every time...something about the courage that must preceed accomplishment…must pave the way for it. Probably it moves me because I admire it, because I fear I have a deficit of it. I’ve been alive for 34 evolutions of the planet around the sun and, if you ask me, I have employed painfully little courage in that time. I let all kinds of things pass me by. I have closets full of aspirations and dreams that sit, stagnate, waiting for action, waiting for bravery…waiting for a guarantee that I’ll succeed rather than fail…a guarantee that rejection isn’t right around that mysterious unknown corner. Maybe everyone feels this way in moments. I don't know.

Anyhow, I recount that queer event from my queer life because, at that time, I was certain of nothing save the fact that I would never be my mom. I’d never find myself in a dorm, with a roommate, as a grown woman, learning airport codes, with the promise of practically no money.

I am in a hotel, with a roommate, as a grown woman, learning dialogue, with the promise of practically no money.

I was home last year for Christmas and I opened this drawer in my mother’s dresser.
It was jam packed and overflowing with letters passengers had written to her company about the great job she had done. Seriously, there were hundreds.
And its not like she single handedly saved someone’s life or helped them secure a million dollar deal…she probably procured their beverage of choice…made sure they got their pre-ordered kosher meal…she just did the job she was put upon to do really well and with a genuine interest in the person she was doing it for.
My mom will probably never do hatha yoga. It would mess up her hair. But hatha yoga is only a small part of yoga. Its just the physical part. The deeper practice, raja yoga, is the mental practice…the fulfillment of one’s duty. It is contributing to the collective human experience with one’s singular devotion and talent.
And when it comes to raja yoga…my mother is a master. I might have to get her some speedos and a head set.

So, today will be a big celebration of accomplishment.
I don’t mean to be overly simplistic. There are any number of question-marks in our student body. Not all of us will be great yoga teachers. Some will suck. Some won’t even really try (some haven’t really tried here). Some will be okay at it.
And some will be fantastic. Fantastic.
Right now, its anyone’s guess which group any of us will fall into. I suppose, ultimately, its whichever of those things we, ourselves, decide to be.

I feel pretty sure that some of these kids will be my mom.
The hard part of anything isn’t doing it…the hard part is doing it with a modicum of heart and modesty.
The hard part is doing it again when you didn’t do it so well the first time.
And it is statistically improbable that any of us will do it well the first time......

Anyhoo, enough with the sappy soliloquy …we have a graduation ceremony today. An actual graduation ceremony.
From yoga college. And we are required to dress up. Rumor has it that some of the cute yogis have actually been out shopping for formal wear for this event. Like fancy gowns and such. I’m laughing and loving it already.
And while I have grown and matured since my college days…I didn’t have a lobotomy…I’m still me. I will still—mark my words—be cataloging corny jokes and slight observations in my head about the entire blessed ceremony! I’m pretty damn sure it will be ripe with comedy. How could it not be? And lest I sound unmoved by the experience...please know that 'funny' (in the thesarus of my life) is a synonym for 'beautiful'.

All week, as we slowly gathered for our remaining evening lectures, they've been showing old tapes of Bikram when he first arrived in the States..first began to introduce this 26 asana series to the Western world.
In each talk show clip or dated news story...he is stunningly himself...exactly as he is today...the mannerisms, the impetuosness, the brashness, the enthusiasm, the perfectionism.
It is almost surreal. Spellbinding.

And its really lovely, these small windows into the beginnings of this yoga that we all love and want to's easy to forget that it predated our introduction to it. It is impossible to view these clips without feeling the gravity...the feat of what one person managed to do in the span of only a few decades.
Thousands upon thousands of people do this cultures for whom yoga is a relatively new concept.
Thousands upon thousands of people are made happy by it.

One of the videos is of an old show called "That's Incredible!!". It was a program that featured daring physical acts and shocking physical abilities...a youthful Bikram was on an episode having someone ride a motorcycle over his chest, unharmed...they would always end the program by having the audience, in unison, shout, "THAT'S INCREDIBLE!"

And I agree.
It's incredible.

Monday, June 11, 2007

No she di'int

We finished posture clinics two days ago. On the one hand, I’m ecstatic…I’m relieved to finally be done with all the memorization and recitation. On the other hand, I’m petrified. That’s it? I can teach a class now? Oh, I don’t think so….clearly there’s been a terrible mistake…let’s go back and start again…from page one.

The way things are formatted here, we learn the postures (one by one) and deliver the dialogue in front of fifty classmates and a team of judges/jurists (the visiting teachers and studio owners).
Meaning we only recite each posture once. One time. One shot. One round of feedback. And were that not terrifying enough…we only do first side, first set. So, it is conceivable that I might possibly be capable of getting students through, say, half moon pose on the right side…but the left side is a mystery to me, an enigma…as is the second, condensed set.
I imagine the kids in my first class walking out of the studio doors approximately 42 minutes before class is supposed to end—and visibly unbalanced—because their moron of a teacher only led them through 26 poses on the right side of their bodies…
It could happen. It is not a stretch.
Students might incur astronomic massage and acupuncture bills after taking just one class with me…
I might be the best thing that ever happened to the chiropractic community…

The mere suggestion that I will be able to string all of this together into an actual 90 minute yoga practice makes me laugh out loud. It seems utterly impossible. I deal with my uncertainty the same way expectant mothers must deal with the looming fear of delivering a baby…it does not sound like something a person could survive…and yet there is countless evidence that they do…so maybe it will be okay. Maybe.
One must remind oneself that, time and again, people have done it. It might be bloody, you might not want photographs of it, and you might not speak for days after it happens…but people have taught first classes.

Friday was a big day.
First, the end of posture clinic.
Second, the talent show.
Or as it was officially titled, “TALENT QUEST 2007”.

Much of teacher training feels like an odd hybrid of substance-abuse-program and after-school-special.
We spend inordinate amounts of time sitting cross legged on worn down carpet, nursing paper cups full of cold coffee, and standing in front of one another speaking and freaking out.
A talent show, naturally, fits right in.
When the sign up sheet was set out for the big production they requested you put your name, talent, and what you would need to facilitate your act.
One girl wrote that she would be playing the harp…and that she needed a harp…
Apparently, the double digit budget wasn’t large enough for a harp, so they played a c.d. of her music as we gathered at the start of the show. It was, in fact, a beautiful c.d. I’m sorry they couldn’t afford the harp.

As previously reported, this training is awash with emotional outpourings and break downs.
(The after school special thing really comes into play when you hear the repeated platitude, “you can’t break THROUGH until you break DOWN…”. )
My friend Leslie and I haven’t really been in the thick of the crying jags. We’ve been frustrated, tired, overly sensitive, etc…but we haven’t been sobbing through this training. Perhaps because we are slightly on the older side…perhaps because we’ve both had enough painful real-life experiences to put this into perspective…perhaps because we are uptight unfeeling cold people….whatever the case may be…we simply haven’t been hording the island’s supply of Kleenex.
And, hey, if you make it to the end of week eight without busting up, you’re home free.

Or are you?

With no small amount of shame, I am here to confess...
I broke.

The stress, I’ve managed.
The exhaustion, I’ve taken in stride.
The merciless work, the daily confusion, the boiling hot classes…I kept a smile.

One guy doesn’t touch his nose, another guy poses for a photo ….and I crack wide open.
True story.

Friday afternoon, at the official end of posture clinic, each of the twelve groups sent a representative to deliver the dialogue for the final posture, spine twist, in front of the 310…rock star style…a top the gigantic podium, headset on, and with a group of students gathered into a mock class in front of them.

Our group sent this guy, Govert, to represent us. Govert leads our group cheer. We love Govert.
He is from Holland and he touches his nose. A lot.
We all have our nervous tics, and that’s his. So, from day one, he is getting criticism after criticism for this nose-touching thing. During the first dialogue we delivered, weeks ago, he probably touched his nose four thousand times. By the end, he was down to seven (maybe eight) nose touches a posture…but, still…a lot of touching of the nose.
And, of course, we all have our issue…our stances, our voices, our inflection, our rate, our memory, our volume, our personalities…they feel insurmountable, these problems/these habits/these quirks…they feel like thin, but critical, walls lodged firmly between us and our ever being a halfway decent yoga teacher.

So on the big day, Govert acends the podium, slips the headset on, gears up, and launches into spine-twisting-pose…and he’s fabulous…wonderful…delightful…he's a teacher.
And his hand never even nears his nose.
Not once.
Not one, single time.

The only words I could manage between sobs were “he…didn’t touch…his nose…he…didn’t…touch his…no-ho-ho-hose.”
I cried in the audience. I cried on the elevator. I cried taking off my pants. I cried putting on my shorts. I cried when someone said hello. I cried again when they said goodbye.

And then I headed down for TALENT QUEST 2007.

I have to rewind eight weeks here and write about this one kid. From the get go, he sort of broke my heart. I don’t know anything about him—but I used to see him, early on, walking around by himself. He was perpetually alone, vaguely adrift. He seemed painfully shy and slightly ill suited to this environment. Some people just bear the residue of sadness and history on them. You know? Its hard to explain.
There’s something about the way he walks…slowly and with his lower jaw in the position of defeat…that just breaks me up. It breaks Leslie up too. We’ve been worrying about, and rooting for, this kid from day one…and we’re not certain why…he just has this affect on us.
Maybe because teacher training is rich with huge personalities and bravado, so his modesty and quietness are stark in opposition.
His seeming discomfort stands out against the backdrop of gregariousness and immediate intimacy that everyone else slipped into so naturally, so effortlessly.

As I’m walking into the talent show Friday night, the first thing I see is this kid handing a camera to someone to take a photograph of him with one of his classmates. She’s this cute little blonde girl. They had both dressed up for TALENT QUEST 2007. He was wearing a colorful shirt. She wore sparkly eye shadow.
He had his arm around her shoulder…she had her arm around his waist…and they were leaning into one another, face to face, cheek to cheek, for this little snapshot...this preserved moment of aquaintance...maybe even friendship.
And when it was over he grabbed someone else to get a photograph with them, too.

Were I not pathologically dehydrated, I might have never stopped crying. I’m not kidding.
I don’t even know why exactly. I’m not aquainted with this person in even the most fragmented way. But I swear that I love him. Actual love.
Seeing him mingle with everyone else…comfortable, light, and at ease…slayed me. It slayed me.

As is always the case, my emotional reactions are never in line with the rest of humanity…so it never fails to shame me when these moments hit.
I can’t be the person who wails with the group. God forbid I be normal in any capacity.
The collective outpourings are always at the end of a torturous class…after a difficult posture clinic…post inspirational lecture.
On those days, I might be touched or somewhat moved…but, mostly, I’m just tiptoeing my way around the group hugs and spontaneous therapy sessions. I figure everyone will have to stay in the studio a bit longer until the crying subsides…which means I might actually get one of the first elevators!!! I’m simply not, in general, a sentimental fool. I am many many other kinds of fool, but not sentimental.

Ergo…I find myself, at the tail end of this obstacle course, standing in a room full of happy, giddy, decked out yogis…with an uncontrollable need to lie down in the fetal position and drain my body of all of its remaining fluids. Govert didn’t touch his nose! The lonely kid is going home with film to develop!!! Why isn’t anyone else crying, for God’s sake????

Suffice it to say, it is wildly humiliating--this character trait of mine.
It gets looks, sideway glances. People tend to slowly back away. Things are never quite the same after an ill placed cry.
It is embarrassing, sometimes, being me.

Naturally, I cried half way through the talent show too.
I was on a roll.
The Texas guy is a good guitarist! Waaaa, waaa, waaa
The sweet German girl sings!!! Sob, sob, sob
A poem! That rhymes!!! Sniffle, sniffle, sniffe.
Everyone else is laughing and applauding.
I'm shaking and quivering, like someone who's pet is about to be put down.
I feared the grief would know no end...

Then the entertainment took a decidedly provocative turn and my sorrow quickly morphed into shock.

As is often the case when you gather many young people with flat, exposed abdomens into a room…things got seductive.
The skits and musical acts veered into a noticeably sexy direction…and at a few different points, members of the audience rose and joined the performers on stage in interesting dance numbers. There was a lot of gyrating, a lot of girl on girl moves…and as testament to how very lame I am, I just sat there looking over at Bikram, across the ailse, and thinking, “Oh. Oh my. Oh goodness. Okay guys, I know he’s the self proclaimed Beverly Hills yogi and all…but he’s still in his sixties…he’s still Indian…this is still a quasi educational setting…maybe we should tone it down a notch...”

And as I heard the queer reverberations of my own thoughts pounding through my head, I was once again faced with the reality of how embarrassing it is being me.
If Bikram is the ganster yogi,
I am the grandma yogi.

The night ended with a proposal…yes, a proposal…a visiting teacher had Bikram propose to a girl in our class for him. They’ve been dating a while and he decided to pop the question here, in Hawaii, during her training. She said yes, all is lovely in the world. I was mildly concerned I would descend into the waterworks again…and then the guy took her hand and promised he would “Keep a nice tight grip…(he) wouldn’t lose the grip!!!”
And that, my friends, qualifies as exactly the sort of sentimental goo that makes everyone else weep.
Which meant I was guaranteed a dry eyed escape from the night, not a tear in sight.
People are such saps……

Sunday, June 3, 2007

this used to be a place you'd want to live...

Things are definitely lightening up here at the Ilikai. The end is near and everyone is chilling out.
We are down to learning only a few more postures, we’re significantly better at delivering the dialogue, and the rash has cleared. ( Okay…that last part was only in reference to me.)
Save the fact that I’m pretty sure every tenant, guest, and employee at this place hates the sight of us…the mood is improving.

I wasn’t joking when I said that this hotel is a delicate balance of yogis and the elderly.
Apparently there is an unwritten code that you can’t check into the Ilikai without some sort of floral one piece swimsuit or a walking device.
We all boarded planes thinking we were coming to a swinging island get away. Its more of an assisted living facility near water.
I love the old folks, don’t get me wrong. They make me feel much better about my body than most of my hottie classmates…so, my hat’s off to each of them…but we’re an unusual mix. They are accustomed to lounging by the pool in a quiet Hawaiian landscape…and we now routinely run directly from class into that pool and do theatrical cannonballs straight into the water still dressed in nasty yoga shorts. Why rinse off or put on appropriate swim gear when one can just sprint fully clothed into the deep end while, at the same time, tossing our sopping mats up into the air…careless about where they fall of who they hit and mame…

The elevators (as previously mentioned) are the worst. Our breaks are short and we pile 23 people into spaces meant for 10, maximum.
The first week or so, we’d stand back if an elevator was full or wait to be invited in.
We now enter the already packed space by screaming “MOVE!! I’LL FIT!!” and force our way in, knocking our bags and mats against the current occupants. Its not pretty. I have now seen, on more than one occasion, people return to their suites when they see us gathered in the elevator bank. A nice couple will approach, gussied up for an evening out with the grandkids….and then immediately turn around and go back to their room when they realize we’re on our way to class. They'll see their family another night. Maybe they'll just send a card. We aren't worth fighting. We outnumber the older kids and we’re getting physically stronger by the day.

Were a resident to fall and break a hip in their bathroom…they’d be smarter to tie bedsheets together and scale down from their balcony than wait for the paramedics. The emergency relief team might never get an elevator… not if we have anything to do with it.
If you’re in a wheelchair and on the 25th floor….well, fine, stairs aren’t an option…but if you’re only using a cane and on the 25th floor…you should really just try walking’ll be fine…you have one free hand…don’t worry...we’re sure you’ll make it…the exercise will be good for you….namaste.

My classmates and I will go straight from a long lecture about service and humility and karma—exchanging subtle glances across the room and congratulating ourselves on this noble/gentle path we are embarking upon-- and then jimmy our way in front of someone on a scooter and knock them out of line for the elevator.
A few of the better natured residents will force a smile and ask about this crazy “exercise program” we’re on…but most of them just address us as the new section 8 neighbors the government has forced into their once classy neighborhood.
They’ve never heard of a thing called ‘sign in’. They get normal amounts of sleep. They simply don’t understand.

On Memorial day I saw a few of the elder gentlemen dressed for the ceremony being held at Pearl Harbor. They appeared to be veterans…medals and pins shining from the lapels of the sports coats. I paused and wondered who they were, these people living down the hall from us, these familiar strangers. I assumed they’d served in World War Two and imagined what they’d been through. Maybe we should be nicer to them….but then I remembered how long I’d been forced to hold triangle pose that morning.
War, Triangle. Potato, Potahto.
It’s every man for himself at the Ilikai.

Occasionally a well meaning student will offer up some token of courtesy and make small talk or, better still, suggest they try the yoga. Which is hysterical. If someone who looked like me after class...came up to me...and suggested I try things their way…I’d laugh out loud.
At first, I admired the gesture…now it just strikes me as pointless. The jig is up. Stop pretending we’re decent people. Everyone at this joint knows we smell and we’re selfish…why bother with formalities? Let’s just continue pretending each other doesn’t exist until this seminar wraps up.

Apparently, someone ( a yogi someone) was actually caught peeing on a wall here. We had to have a meeting about it. You can’t reverse that kind of reputation…even if you, yourself, always urinate in a seated position behind a closed door.

In another humiliating story…the Ilikai staff reported that a student had stuck their hand into a vat of cold lemon water set out for the guests and taken out a chunk of ice with their sweaty palm.
Its not exactly genocide, but its not exactly couth either.
We had to have a meeting about that too.

And its criminal because we loved that water. It was the best water. It had not only lemon but mint leaves in it. The mint leaves are key. People could actually be overheard still talking about the water hours after drinking it. Leslie, in particular, adored the free refreshing beverage. She’d get weirdly excited about walking over to get a cup during bathroom breaks. Her face would light up. The last time she went a receptionist boldly stood between Leslie and the pitcher and firmly declared that “this water is not for you people anymore.”
And you could just tell she’d been waiting all week for the chance to say that.
It was her big moment…her chance to finally stick it to the assholes stinking up the elevators. She probably gathered her coworkers around during a cigarette break and boasted about how she’d drawn the line with “those yoga animals”, how she wasn’t going to take it anymore. She was probably the staff hero that day…the envy of bellmen and housekeepers everywhere. Someone bought her a drink that night. Mark my words.

The water isn’t even out in the open anymore. They hide it behind the front desk now. You have to ask for it…and if you’re wearing anything made of lycra, don’t bother wasting your time…the water isn’t for the likes of you. The water is for the seniors, the modestly dressed, the people who know where one should, and should not, relieve their bladder.

Last night, Friday night, was built up as this fabulous deviation from the norm…we would be getting out of posture clinic early! It was official! It wasn’t just a rumor! Someone holding a microphone had said it! You can’t imagine how stuff like that makes us happy. And we did get out early. We were released at 10:45 pm instead of 11:00 pm.
Which meant an extra fifteen minutes of sleep before our 8 am yoga class. Well, assuming you chose to use it for sleep. I chose to use it to bitch about it only being fifteen minutes.
Cuz, you know, I’m mature like that.

This morning’s instructor was one of the teachers here for the duration of training.
He teaches a lot. He’s, basically, in charge of us: the yogis, the wall urinator’s, the public water contaminators, the elevator jerks. In our better moments it probably feels like an important job…guiding many well intended people toward meaningful work…in our lesser moments it probably feels like glorified attempt to keep three hundred idiots from knocking a disabled person down a flight of stairs or breaking things that belong to the hotel.
And, likewise, in his better moments…he is funny and insightful. In his lesser moments…he feels like an older brother who’s been given way too much power by our absentee parents. But, you know…that’s how stuff works here. We’re all lumped together in extreme conditions for merciless amounts of time, students and staff alike…amounts of time that tend to make our shortcomings and character flaws glow and glisten for all to see. We each start off, those first weeks, on our best behavior. Eventually it becomes too exhausting to do four hours of yoga, memorize fifty pages of dialogue, catch an elevator, AND keep up the pretense that we are healthy, evolved, admirable people... so, we drop the act and start being ourselves. Which is rarely so much as spitting distance from admirable, evolved, or healthy. It is also oddly refreshing. And even a little bit beautiful in its own, different way.
We are each of us little poems. But not the kind you'd find in a pretty book or on a greeting card.
We're the kind of poems you find scribbled on the bathroom wall....surprisingly passionate and imaginative compositions considering how unimpressive the canvas...

Anyhow, this guy's big teaching trademark is that he holds the second part of awkward pose for an egregiously long period of time. I have no idea what that’s about.
And I’d really like to know. Is it just the sheer fun of watching us suffer? Was it his dead grandmother’s favorite posture? Does it have sentimental value? Did he lose his virginity to this posture? Does he fancy women with hulking gymnast thighs? What? What is it?
What on earth is this obsession with making people endlessly squat down 'as if in an imaginary chair' while standing up high on their tippy toes….??? Maybe its to prove that we are all wusses, wimps, weaklings. The thing is, WE KNOW THAT. We know we suck. We know we're weaklings.
And if the point is to make clear that we are pathetic pansies...and we totally agree that we are pathetic pansies...can we just come out already? Can we call it even? Job well done. Mission accomplished. Moving on....bring your knees together....
Originally I was a vessel of pure anger through the entire loathsome posture. I honestly can’t hold it the whole time. I fall out. Every single time. It is as humiliating as it is predictable.
Now I stay calm and repeat to myself “this too shall pass” until finally being released. And then I stretch my legs really well in the following poses to keep from getting hulking gymnast thighs.

Today a classmate was down at the beach and overhead him telling another teacher/friend of his (a visiting instructor who’d been in class with us that morning) how glad he was she’d been there…how her presence on the front row had given him energy…she replied, “what energy? The energy of my legs violently shaking???”
That kind of thing is worth the price of admission alone....

Jokes aside, it must be noted here how capable everyone is becoming. Saturday morning’s class was just fantastic. Really. The chronic sitting down and passing out seems to have passed, and the heat is either better (I suspect they took some pity on us and regulated the temperature) or we’re just better at working within it. The barkings of the instructors sound less like harsh reprimands and more like votes of confidence.

Its nice. Lovely even. Not to get too koombya…but its just different when everyone works hard.
I’d like to boast and pretend I’m one of the strong one’s leading the high level effort…but, I think we all know that’s not the case. I am, however, someone who will rally in honor of someone else’s effort. If a kid who is constantly lying down decides that, today, he’s going to stand up attempt the standing series with some gusto…well, what the hell, I’ll stay up with him and muster some gusto too. I can do that. No big deal. And, trust me, when you’ve got 297 people on their feet when its usually 235…its because a lot of folks feel just like me. Its not random. Its not coincidence. It’s a collective, if silent and sweaty, high five.

I promised I wouldn’t bore anyone on this blog with a lot of self involved chatter about my own yoga practice…and I won’t…save a few small sentences.
I have always liked Bikram yoga. Always. But I’ve traditionally been one of those practitioners who values it for what I feel after class, not during. It is, for me, a means to an end…which is fine. I consider that an acceptable reason to practice.
I am daily surprised here how much I find that I like the actual doing of it.
For the first time ever…I don’t regard the postures as crappy shanty towns to mire through in transit to a better, more luxurious destination...but as nice places to be in their own right.
I like being inside of them. 25 of them. I’m still trying to get standing-head-to-knee off the map.

Not every single class, of course, not every single day. But sometimes. And, hey, sometimes works for me. Sometimes is cool.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

He's baaaa-aaaack

After a brief trip abroad, Bikram is back in Hawaii.
You can't help but miss him when he's gone..
Unsurprisingly, he returned with much to say…..
So, we are back in late night lectures.

'Bikram lectures' cover a myriad of topics.
He’ll spend an hour speaking on India, philosophy, yogic practice and principle...and then he’ll launch into a thirty minute explanation of how the Volkswagon Beetle came to be…at one o’clock in the morning….while we sit on smelly, damp carpet…the wetness of someone else’s sweat soaking through the bottom of our pants. Forty five minutes will be devoted to the human body and its miraculous capacities…and then an equal amount of time is allotted for a story about his best friend, Shirley Mclaine. (or as pronounced by Bikram, Shirley MAC laine). Not a new Shirley McLaine story, mind you. A repeat. A rerun. An encore.
At first I thought he was forgetting that he’d already shared the tale with us. I am now absolutely certain that he forgets nothing. We could, at this point, repeat these stories verbatim along with him. Amazingly, repeating the dialogue verbatim still eludes us.

The saving grace of it all is that the guy is hilarious. Honestly. Hands down, one of the funniest people I have ever listened to. The facial expressions alone are priceless. He just plants himself up on the elevated barca-lounger they bring in as his make-shift throne…dressed in something closer to a disco ball than a t-shirt….sometimes he drinks tea, other times coco cola…he ceremoniously smoothes his hands over what remains of his hair before slipping his head-set on and settling in for the night...
And then he talks.
And he talks.
And he talks.
Sometimes, when my exhaustion overtakes my patience…when the hours pile up...when I am so tired I can barely lift my eyelids up after I blink….when I want nothing more than to pull a fire alarm and get the hell out of that room…I swear to myself that I will not—I repeat NOT—laugh at anything he says. I refuse. I will not encourage this behavior. Nope. No way. No how. Not going to laugh. That’ll show him……
Within minutes I am holding-my-side-tears-running-down-my-face- laughing. You can’t not laugh. Its impossible.
And, somehow, the comedy manages to relax you enough to last a while longer. In the same way you can't make a fist while can't hate someone while laughing either...

The other night Bikram was ranting about having invited some of the staff over to his room to watch Indian movies with him until five in the morning…and they’d all fallen asleep. He was impervious and shocked that they would do such a thing…fall asleep at three in the morning!!!…the sheer audacity!!! I can picture it perfectly. A room full of overworked, unpaid visiting yogis crashed out on the sofa and floor of a suite here at the Ilikai—either sleeping or in a clinical coma—while the Indian Energizer Bunny sits in the middle, spine straight position, munching on some popcorn, sipping some soda…he probably vacillated between laughing at the movie and staring, dumbfounded, at the peaceful children napping around him. I bet he threw popcorn into their nostrils and gaping mouths… put their hands in warm water to see if he could make them wet their pants…froze their bras. Trust me, were life a seventh grade slumber party…Bikram Choudhury would be the last kid still awake, eating everyone else’s candy, and pulling pranks.

I’m pretty sure these lectures are 50% necessary wisdom and 50% just keeping Bikram company while the rest of civilization rests and facilitates vital organ regeneration.

On more than one occasion, he has reflected upon his epic battle with the clock. It is the single frustration that seems to genuinely upset authentically bring him down.
He is profoundly upset at the rapid passage of time and how much it limits that which he can do…in Hawaii…in L.A…in Tokyo…on planet earth…as a human being…as a yogi.
He’ll devote only a few melancholy minutes to this feeling (and usually follow up with a Shirley story)…but it always grabs me. I want him to have the time, too. It makes me a little sad. Sad for him. And, more importantly, sad for ME because it tends to indicate that the night ahead will be long and that sleep is for losers…and by losers I mean we, the 310.

Most of us say we don’t have enough time, but what we really mean is that we don’t have enough energy. Our potential is interrupted by our bodies. The one can not keep up with the other. Our physical resources tend to drain long before our mental resources…

For Bikram, though, I believe it truly is about time. Even taking some exaggeration into account, he seems to never stop…he seems to never sleep...seems to never stops working. And he mourns the pace of the clock the way other people mourn the pace of their children growing up. Time is, to him, a thing both precious and slippery, always slightly out of grasp.

Our mathematical equations put him in his early sixties.
And it’s a surreal number to reconcile because his physical output is that of a teenager.
His energy is boundless and rapturous.
It is stunning. It is technicolor. It is enviable...almost magical.

We had a quartet of old school yoga broads in town last week and I loved them all.
They altered the chemistry of the place the moment they landed.

With the exception of Joni, from Texas, they all arrived clad in khaki and patagonia…their faces near free of cosmetics. The have practical haircuts and no-nonsense sensibilities. Joni veers slightly in her refusal to go totally au-natural. She’s a Texas girl. I’m a Texas girl too (born and bred), so I get it.

True story: At the age of twenty, I was on a bus in the jungles of southern Mexico being hijacked and held at gunpoint by four men with bandanas wrapped around their faces. They were what one would actually call “bandits”. Or, “banditos” if you want to say it in Spanish and add some local flavor to the story. As the gunmen were working their way up the aisle, robbing each of us blind…I quickly stashed my passport underneath the seat cushion. And my mascara. I feared for my life. I believed I might die on that bus. Literally. But I hid my mascara in the unlikely event I made it out alive and wanted to look wide eyed and awake the next morning.
We understand each other, me and Joni.

The first one to arrive, Lynn, scared the crap out of me initially. She taught an evening class during which she took the most aggressive “no water” stance of anyone occupying that podium to date. At one point she said she wished she had a be-be gun so she could shoot anyone she saw drinking water. After many people continued to drink, she looked out upon us, disgusted, and said, “I remember a time when the students of this practice actually listened to and respected their teachers.” We sulked and smirked on our mats. Our lazy little minds drifted off to a large rock we’d seen on the beach…which coupled with a rope and a pier meant this problem could be taken care of…cleanly and quickly. We geared ourselves up for floor bow and quietly practiced our alibis in our heads.

I couldn’t sustain my anger. Turns out, she's great.. Lynn is a ten year old boy trapped inside of a full grown woman. She was, at one point, the owner and director of four of the most successful Bikram studios in San Francisco. During lectures, she hovered in the back of the room but quickly leapt to the front, excited and urgent, if she needed to interject something.
Lynn fears no one. She’ll rip the headset right off somoene else's skull if she has a thought to contribute. Her voice is slightly high pitched, quick, and immediate. During one lecture, the topic of the yearly asana competition arose. The guest speaker expressed the opinion that all competition is dangerous and bad. Lynn wasn’t having it. Lynn is one of the primary organizers of the annual event and she thrust her hand up into the air and spoke her mind. Afterwards I saw her bound out into the lobby and grab Craig, the director of education. Frantic and full of energy, I see her arms wildly gesturing and hear her exclaim to him, “CRAIG! THE GUY DISSED MY COMPETITION!!!” It was adorable. Just plain adorable.

She might kill me via death by dehydration, but I will go to my grave still smiling over that momentary exchange.

I twice saw Lynn walk up to students working on their dialogue during off hours and proceed to sit down and graciously help them out. In her free time. Which may not sound like such a huge thing…but it is. It is huge. And (with the exception of personally fanning someone-geisha style-during floor series) it is as generous a gesture as a person can extend in this environment. You have no idea...

In with the mix is Martha, from Minneapolis. Martha is everyone’s accessible older sister.
You curl up in the palm of her hand as she tells you stories of her own training and evolution as a teacher. According to her, no one has ever been (or will ever be) as disastrously nervous as she was. She’s super granola, Martha. You’re pretty sure she squeezed this trip to Hawaii in between a couple of politically motivated sit-ins and a stint as a guest lecturer in the women’s studies division of her local university. She’s hosting some sort of all-femaie-yoga-retreat in Minnesota. We’re all invited. Well, those of us with vaginas anyway….Not liking Martha is akin to not liking peace.

Joni, from the lone star state, is your high school drama teacher in spandex. She’s animated and ballsy. She is pure Texas. She is every woman I knew growing up. The sort who could lift a car off a child while simultaneously maintaining her manicure and only slightly perspiring. She’s blonde. She gives you an equal blend of criticism and hope. She wants you to do well…but at the same time she wants you to do it right. They all do. They all want it done right.

Letitia (Laticia?), from New Mexico, is right up there with the others. She’s the most recent arrival and I haven’t had her in clinic yet. But Leslie did… and she said she’s a maniacal stickler for the dialogue and will level you over one misplaced word. But then she’ll launch into a story about her own training rashes and fever blisters and failures while you sit there laughing your ass off and feeling deeply understood. She’s none too p.c. and won’t hesitate if the word “asshole” is called for…

The striking thing about these women is how much they own this place upon arrival. The staff here, the people we (the students) regard with deference and low grade fear, are just kids some of these ladies saw go through training themselves. The staff was wrapping up their high school finals when a couple of the women were opening their first studios. They’ve been at this a while, they know how it works, they are intimidated by no one, they love the yoga, they’ve dedicated much of their lives to the practice and instruction of it, they want it done correctly, and they regard it as their job (for one, two weeks, whatever) to make sure things are done right around here….and, oh, I just like these gals. I just really really like them. Even when they’re kind of bitchy. Especially when they’re kind of bitchy.

My roommate ran into Joni and Lynn downstairs over the weekend and chatted with them briefly. Apparently, according to the broads, our group has had the least theatrical weeks five and six they’ve ever seen. The suggested that, in L.A., you couldn’t walk into a bathroom during those legendary fourteen days without finding someone breaking a mirror and using the shards to attempt a wrist slit. People weren’t just sobbing on their yoga mats, they were truly borderline insane. I can’t decide if I feel proud of our relative sanity or petrified that what I’ve seen these last two weeks is the new standard of mental health. We all seemed pretty bent to me. I will say that having heard some of the stories…I will never look at those already certified (or as well call them, the poor Los Angeles kids) the same.
I’ll just wonder which of those who’ve taught me all these years was one of the lunatics climbing out on a window ledge and threatening to jump. I have a short list of suspects already. Kyoko?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

as promised

Weeks five and six. Oh my.
As my friend Lydia’s Greek mother says, “why you cry?”

If this training is an emotional rollercoaster (and it is), weeks five and six are the top rail, the highest point of the curve, the slow and stomach-tightening incline before momentum takes over and you speed straight down to the end.

A lot of things play into the intensity. Much of it is unique to who we each are, as individuals. I can’t speak to anyone’s personal experience here, so I’ll stick to the things that affect us on a general and collective level.

The isolated claustrophobia of this environment breeds unparalled desperation and paranoia. It is neither the fault of the organization nor the fault of the students. It is simply how people react when there is no space for decompression, for distance. We spend nearly every waking hour being herded into groups, being told what to do, and being told what to do again when we didn’t do it right the first time. It is almost relentless. Had we a more leisurely schedule…or a fully stocked bar in our room…we’d probably let much of the tedious frustration go more quickly…but all we have is lukewarm water cocktails and time enough to shower. And in the absense of space away from everyone and everything…our minds are like little petri dishes…put a small bacteria inside and watch it grow.

As example:
I have convinced myself that one teacher here hates me. I am all but certain this guy actually scowls every time he looks at me. And I have no idea why. We’ve never had one conversation. Maybe I'm crazy. Or maybe he truly hates me. Maybe the guy thinks I’m annoying, maybe he dislikes the way I wear my hair, maybe he loathes all New Yorkers, maybe I’m just not his cup of tea…but, for the love of all things good and fair, I’m not scowl-worthy. I show up on time for everything. I never nap in clinic. I recite the dialogue word for confusing word. I did once sit down through much of one class, but I had a skull shattering headache. And it was just that once. I’ve taken almost 65 hot yoga classes. I’m not made of steel. IT WAS JUST ONCE! I WAS GETTING MY PERIOD! MY HEAD WAS POUNDING!!! WHY DON’T YOU LIKE ME? WHY? WHY DAMMIT? WHY?”

See how that works? It starts small and, before you know it, the snowball effect moves you further from sharing a bed at the Ilikai and nearer to sharing a cell at San Quentin.

I feel like I’m in the twelth grade again…mentally beseeching someone to ask me to the prom with the silent mantra, “Hey Wait! I’m a really nice girl. Really. I am. And I get good grades. And someday I’m going to grow into my looks. I promise. My mom’s best friend, Linda, said so…Please like me. Please.”

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. But the end of the day is room temperature and I'm asleep for most of it.
The middle of the day is long and its 115 degrees with 80 percent humidity. Crank that thermostat up high enough and reason and rationale are depleted from your system as quickly as electrolytes. The only saving grace is that every single time you step onto an elevator, you hear someone else voicing the exact same fear and agitation that you, yourself, are experiencing. You might be sweaty, you might smell weird…you might feel unloved and you might be covered in an inexplicable new rash…but you are not alone. Thank God almighty, you are not alone.

The second tipping point (midway through training) is the whiplash speed with which you are told one thing and then another.

A benign example:

We, the three hundred, are broken down into groups for posture clinics (where we perform our dialogue). These groups are numbered 1-12. Each group is encouraged to develop a cheer for their section, revolving around their number. I’m serious about this. My group is a laid back, older group. We resisted the cheer. We applaud, occasionally we applaud loudly, but we do not cheer. Some of the younger, peppier groups have not only cheers, but intricate snaps and hand gestures and fancy footwork. We do not. We’re real glad for one another and everything…but we’re not big into rhymes and rhythms. We’re waspy, my group. We internalize our emotions and our cheers. We bring sweaters in case of a draft.

Well, after being daily berated for not having developed our signature cheer (by not only visiting staff, but the head of the yearbook committee as well…yes, we have a yearbook…and, again, I am serious about this) we finally come up with something kicky.
Something resembling a cheer.
So, okay. The cheering is kind of fun, as it turns out…and we get a bit of a rise out of employing it before someone gets up to deliver their daily posture. By week five, no one has so much as a shred of dignity left…half of us have vomited into our towels in full view of everyone else…so, shouting/rhyming/doing-a-hand-jive/whatever is far less embarrassing than one might think.

Are you with me? We’ve been repeatedly directed and ordered to cheer. Cheer, people, cheer!

Tonight our new clinic leader rolls her eyes and informs us that she’d prefer we not cheer because its really sort of irritating and a waste of her/our valuable time. She said this right after an especially boisterous round of our cheer. We were really proud of that round. It was our best cheer yet. Everyone felt it.
In the moments following her reprimand, we hung our weary heads in perfect synchronicity.
It was devastating, this insult. Devastating. How could she not like our cheer?
We worked so hard to come up with it. They MADE US come up with it.

It can be hard to keep up with the rules around here.

And while the cheer thing is a corny analogy…sometimes its larger stuff. Sometimes its listening to a long speech about the noble tenant of compassion from people who don’t seem to harbor anything nearing compassion for us.
Or, at least, not a version of compassion that we recognize… the kind of compassion we could pick out of a line up.

I almost had to take my evening yoga class in a pair of jeans and a blouse the other day because my key card wouldn’t open my room door and I didn’t have time to get a new one from reception before sign-in. And I knew good and well that even if this miserable hotel was to blame, even if my tardiness was legitimate and sound, I would still have to do a damn make up class if I was late for sign in. I would have to take three sweltering Bikram yoga classes in one day.
Had I not run into Shannon Mitchell in the hall and swiped some shorts off of her (which fit me like sausage casings, by the way. I outweigh her by 25 pounds, minimum) I would have done standing bow in long pants with a waistband and belt loops.
And, you know, as funny as that is once you step back from it for a moment…its decidedly unfunny when you’re racing down the hall to take a 115+ degree class in denim.
And as tempting as it is to debate the fairness (or lack thereof) of the policies here—it’s a waste of your limited physical and metal resources.

Every day its something. Its being told you need to be mindful about staying hydrated, then being forbidden to drink water for long stretches in class. It’s one instructor criticizing the gestures of your arms when you speak your dialogue…the next one asking why you aren’t gesturing with your arms when you speak your dialogue. It’s the unbelievable relief of being promised you’ll be getting a refridgerator for your room to make up for not having a kitchen…and then the profound frustration of never hearing another word about it…never opening your door to the face of a refridgerator delivery man.
The examples are endless. And they might be lame. But lame is all we have.

And while I’m not sure the odd execution or reasoning behind this training is altogether right…I’m not sure its altogether wrong either. I simply don’t know.
I mean, look, I would have been extremely pissy had I taken class that night in my street clothes. But I would have survived it. It doesn’t exactly qualify as tragedy. And while I want to say that its freakishly unfair that my key card excuse wouldn’t absolve me from a late sign in…from a certain angle, its actually fair. Radically fair if you think about it. No one gets excused. Ever. Can’t level the playing field much more that that….
In random moments I get it. I don’t always like it. But I get it. And then, in a flash, I don’t. I don’t get it at all.

The trick, of course, is not to care so much. But, in our defense, a great majority of us are here for the singular reason that we are caring people. We want to teach yoga classes, for goodness sake. We care. So sue us.
No one is going to make a killing telling people to lock their knees and speaking pigeon sanskrit. Most of us will work months and months before we even break even on this investment.
And so, naturally, right about now…right here in the middle of camp…we have to crack a little. We have to crack so all the pent up CARING can ooze out of us and mingle on the carpet with our sweat (and according to one particurally chilling rumor, our urine. Surely that didn’t really happen…).

Some people, of course, will go to darker, more difficult places than the norm. But not because of what they found here….because of what they brought here…in their suitcases, in their souls.
And as painful and distressing as it can be to witness that descent…you get the feeling they’ll pull a phoenix on us somewhere around week eight. They’ll rise out of the ashes.
Some of them have already begun their ascent…their shakti shorts covered in soot, their faces slightly a-glow.

For the rest of us, its not so much a meltdown as a summer storm. It goes as quickly as it came…its not long enough to qualify as a natural disaster, not short enough to pass unfelt.
And as unnervingly and constantly observed as one often feels in this environment…our sadness, our frustration is strangely anonymous…tears, you see, bear a striking resemblance to sweat. It can be hard to tell the one from the other.

Anyhow, this traveling circus is wrapping up in three weeks. I'm tired and slap happy. I consider applying for my AARP card everytime I bend over because I make sounds like a 90 year old woman. My skin is scaly from the constant showering and I could cut glass with the rough heels of my feet....and don't even get me started on the non-stop bloat one incurs while drinking ten, fifteen litres of water a day. But I'm happy to be here. And I don't say that in the forced-smile-I'm-supposed-to-like-this-because-other-people-claim-they-did-sort-of-way. I'm genuinely happy to be here.

Our second posture clinic of the day is late at night. We occupy conference rooms that open onto an outdoor space on the second floor of the hotel. Overlooking the water. Its my favorite part of training. I always take a spot by the open sliding doors. And I sit there...fresh out of the shower...full from dinner...relaxed at the end of another long day. Trade winds roll up off the ocean and blow into the room, circulating the smell of my shampoo around me. And I watch my classmates drag their asses up in front of the room and try, once again, to do this thing right. Sometimes we suceed, a lot of times we fail.
You'd never know it, though, if you were standing outside those rooms after class. We're all "you were great!" and "that was soooo much better!" Cuz, you know, whether or not its officially allowed...its hard to stop a cheer once its started.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

apparently its ie

just to reiterate what a total loser i am...i was standing outside a posture clinic room tonight when i heard a familiar voice spelling his name for someone....
the voice was john salvatore.
and he spells his name johnnie...not johnny...which is how i spelled it approximately 4000 times in the previous post.
which proves that i am in no way cool, correct, or connected to anyone of import here.
i'm just the albino girl on the fourth row rolling her eyes and rarely sucking her stomach in.

too tired to write. week six is a doozy. promise lots of good stories in upcoming days.

note to tricia:
if i forget to recount the tale of the odd gynecological lecture, then i do not deserve to teach my first class at bikram yoga lower east side. pretend i don't exist if that story doesn't hit the blog soon. that'll teach me.

good night. good stuff coming soon. i miss you all madly.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

New Yorker in the house

Johnny Salvatore arrived in Hawaii this week.

When first he landed at the Ilikai--when first his name was bandied about--I would be asked if I knew this mysterious visiting instructor from New York. To which I would respond, honestly, that I didn't know him personally but would often take his classes the one evening a week he taught at the studio I belong to.

I was unaware of how weak kneed people get when Johnny shows up at training...but as my understanding of his celebrity status here did my version of the nature of our relationship. No longer was he a casual aquaintance, a mere teacher....we were thisclose, best friends, thick as thieves, madly in love. We vacation together, talk on the phone every night, consult each other about outfits, switch out holidays at his folks place then mine.
I lodged myself firmly in the Salvatore afterglow and set up camp. If I saw him waving, from across the room, at someone he knew...I'd wave back for the benefit of those around me and pretend the affectionate gesture had been aimed in my direction. If he approached me and quietly asked what time the morning class started, I'd cackle loudly and theatrically as though he'd just told me a delicious inside joke. The kind other people must be excluded from. Because they aren't his best me.

I haven't had him for posture clinic yet, but from through the partitions I can hear the kids in his sectioned off room roar and scream with laughter. My group was being politely told to enunciate more or speak from our diaphragm by orderly, well behaved visiting teachers...and, cruelly, somewhere a wall away Johnny had fifty people in stitches. They would unwillingly leave the room at the end of the night...loitering around just in case he might utter one more word in their direction...and then they'd pass me in the hall and look admiringly, even enviously, at me...the way you look at that rare civilian who gets to be best friends with a rock star.
I milked it beyond reason...finally feeling special here. Sadly, while I did succeed at being "special", I suspect it was more the sort of "special" one might say in a whisper at a dinner party or assign to a shorter school bus.

Thursday night Salvatore finally made his way to the podium to teach our evening yoga class. They've been fiddling with the heat all week (see previous post for some insight into how well that endeavor is going) and did a litttle additional work on it that afternoon. I walked through the doors to lay my mat down and knew, immediately, that I'd be practicing in Dante's inferno. It was a heat so stagnate, so freakish, that I actually paused in the door frame and considered dropping out.

I fully expected to return to that room, hours later, and find chalk outlines of bodies on the carpet.

The teachers were distributing doses of pedialite around like waiters. There was no getting it yourself that night because no one could walk or, for that matter, was five star beverage service.
One girl collapsed in front of the room in a wave of full body cramps. She was semi conscious on her mat, arms and legs curling into her torso like lobster claws, when a staff member finally brought her a cup of electrolytes and placed it just in front of her before hurrying off to help someone else. Which was nice and all, but that her hands were so shriveled and contorted she couldn't lift the cup. She just sat there, gimp and half dead, staring mournfully at the untouched cup of liquid salvation...five inches away...renedered undrinkable by her newly crippled hands.

Five unrelated people later informed me that their facial muscles had spontaneously started to spasm during the floor series.

To offer a friend, Leslie, and I were on the fourth row back from the mirror...there were, at minimum, 15 people in front of us.
By camel we had an entirely unobstructed view of ourselves in the mirror. Every single one of them was down.

I saw Joan outside on her scooter after class. Horrified, I asked if she had been in there. She said, "God no!". She took one look at the stretcher just brought in, put the rascal in reverse, and drove away as fast as she could...which was approximately four miles an hour.
At the onset of this training (and before joining us in the room) Joan would gaze at us entranced through the doors.
She must have stared longingly at our good health, our flexibility, our youth. That was before she saw us with drool running down our chins, dragging our legs, gasping for air. The tables have turned now. Compared to us, Joan is the picture of health. She may not move so well, but she can speak...she can breathe. And, above all, she trumps us in the most important way possible...she has her freedom. Joan can come and go at will. Joan, that lucky bitch, has a get away car. Us...not so much.

Before all was said and done, two people were physically carried out, innumerable yogis were leveled and motionless on the ground, the crying was audible, and paramedics hovered outside the room waiting to help this poor kid who'd dropped down in some kind of seizure. Lone voices, here and there, actually interupted class to holler for someone to open the door. Craig, the director of training, stood up and yelled, "I will not tell you people again to BE QUIET". An unidentified yogi screamed back, "WHY DON'T YOU BE QUIET."

I stared up at Johnny on that podium--a tanned praying mantas in day glo swim trunks--and knew instantaneously we would have to fake-break-up as quickly as we'd fake-gotten-together. He had no control over the heat, but I was pretty sure he'd still be put on trial by the walking wounded I refer to as the student body. All association with the accused must be severed.
At the elevator a fellow classmate had collapsed on the marble lobby floor while waiting for the lift to arrive. She looked up at me and said, "He's your friend?"
"Hardly know the guy", I replied before agressively pushing the door-close button, leaving her there for dead.

As it turned out, I had grossly underestimated how unconditional a love John Salvatore inspires in people. They weren't angry with him in the slightest.
I had also, once again, underestimated my classmates ability to bounce back from death's doorstep.

Everyone was bubbly and in good spirits by the time we returned from dinner, their heart rates down, their eyeballs back in their sockets.
Johnny was invited up to lecture later that night and the crowd went insane with approval. (And by lecture I mean be super gay, tell jokes, and skitter around.) Salvatore is the teacher training version of the U.S.O.
They bring him in when we’re no longer sure why we’re here or what we’re fighting for.
During his one man cabaret act, he was repeatedly encouraged to delve deeper into his own story, his entrance into the practice of Bikram yoga.

As is always true of those who don’t, figuratively, enjoy gazing at their own reflections in the mirror for very long—he, first, avoided the topic entirely and then glossed over it quickly, shunning each round of impending applause.
I don’t know the story especially well but (from what I understand) who Johnny is now is largely born out of who he was well over a decade ago…which was an alcoholic. I hope he’ll forgive my directness in that sentence. Like Johnny, himself, I’d much rather use my fancy adjectives and metaphors to celebrate what he is than eulogize what he was.
I find it interesting when I hear him reference that period of his life (which he always packages in fabulous mini jokes, here and there) the suggestion that he “changed”. I say this because that which is so wonderful about this guy isn’t created... its part of the equation from the get go. He was always this person, I am certain. It was just buried under a thick layer of lifestyle dust.

His own training must have been an episode of 'antiques roadshow'…a seemingly common attic relic, suddenly recognized as priceless.
I imagine him in that transition of his life like a snake slithering out of dead skin. He didn’t change, he molted. Or, better still , I picture his life like a Broadway musical. He hit his third act. He moved from the shadows directly into the spotlight...which is where he belonged to begin with. Slouching towards center stage, feeling the warm glow of that illumination upon him, I have to believe he found himself there and had the singular thought:
“I’m home”.
Home, in this case, being a studio podium…the costume, yoga-man-panties…the script, broken English.
In my imagination of this big show stopping number (in the play of his life) I hear the orchestration swell, I envision spandex and sequins, I definitely see jazz hands.

Of all the New Yorkers here I am, likely, the one who knows him the least.
And I am, therefore, the most unqualified to explain him. Its possible I'm getting him all wrong.
But, from where I sit, the guy is indisputable evidence that humility doesn’t have to be modest, that profundity doesn’t need to be pretentious, that joy can be drawn from an inexhaustible source.

John Salvatore will tell you that his life is better because of Bikram yoga.
He won’t tell you that Bikram yoga is better because of him.
He won’t tell you that.
But I will.

And I'm not just saying that because he's my best friend. again.

There's far more to say about week five...but I'll leave it here for now...because, frankly, I'm still too shell shocked to organize it into sentences. Maybe tommorrow....