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.
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.