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....

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

sweet raj, gentle raj

During our first week in Hawaii we had the pleasure of spending many hours in class and in lecture with Rajashree, Bikram’s wife. We were, all of us, immediately smitten. Tanned and delicate, she floats when she walks and wears flowers in her hair. I can only describe her as half angel, half coquette. She’s very measured…very soft…and a wee bit flirtatious and girly. And she giggles…a lot. Her laughter, like everything else about her, is refined. Its sounds like a distant windchime…”tee hee hee hee…tee hee hee”

Bikram is an alarm clock,
Rajashree, a lullaby.

As we eased into our training, it was Rajashree graciously pleading with us to “take care of ourselves”and not “push too much”. She spoke to us in her lyrical and lilting Indian accent about our gastrointestinal systems and repeatedly let us know that we might find ourselves gassy and/or constipated. She said ‘gassy’ and ‘constipated’ in the comforting way a mother might…someone who’s love for you is greater than the blatant discomfort of such words. She cared, that Rajashree. She knew how painful a urinary tract infection could be. She was the sort of person you wanted holding your ponytail up while you vomited, nearby during a pelvic exam, or standing bedside when you came out of your coma.

Sweet Raj
Gentle Raj

After her daily thirty minute monologue about diareha, irritable bowel syndrome, or how we might find ourselves victim to month long menstrual cycles…she would talk to us about yoga and love and compassion and acceptance and joy. Listening to her speak is like having someone brush your hair. Hypnotic and soothing. Tingly. She’d lead us through challenging, but bearable, yoga classes and finish by reading us Hindu scriptures or sublime Rumi-esque poems. We’d lie there in pools of our own sweat, entranced, while Rajashree slowly brushed our collective hair.

Sweet Raj
Gentle Raj

It was with great distress that we watched her leave. A few people grabbed her ankles or clung to the hem of her floor length skirts until she finally shook free and headed off to the airport. We were being left alone with 'dad'…someone we knew couldn't be counted on to feed us dinner or put us to bed at night...someone who wouldn’t even think to ask if we’d had a bowel movement that day…..and, worst of all, he was a talker.
Suffice it to say, it was hard to see her go.

But we control nothing here…especially the arrivals and departures of saints. So we stood on the sidewalk waving long after her car had pulled away…eventually our arms tired and we turned around and went back inside.

Sweet Raj
Gentle Raj

You can imagine, therefore, the wave of excitement that ran through the student body when news of her impending return hit the halls of the Ilikai. She was coming back!
Christmas was coming early this year!!!
This morning we would all be reunited in the 8:30 a.m. class!
I set my alarm early so as to be my best for Raj. I fixed my hair and dabbed on lip gloss before slipping in to the shakti shorts I’d pressed the night before and lay prepared on the edge of my bed. I couldn’t wait to see her…sweet Raj, gentle Raj.

I always fall in love too fast.
You should really get to know a person first…..

The class was a massacre. A blood bath. An exercise in misery. The heat was catastrophic, immeasurable. Rajashree held the first backbend (at the inflexible hour of precisely 8:43 in the morning) for a stretch of time so significant that four students celebrated birthdays before we were allowed to release the pose. We even had time to sing to them…not as a group, but individually. She tormented a room of 300 plus people without blinking an eye or a breaking a sweat. All the while steady and calm as a tree. Turns out, Raj is a sociopath. Who knew?

People were dropping like flies…vomiting inside the room…balled up into the fetal position and crying on their mats.
I spent at least half the class in a state of hysterical blindness.
But, while I could no longer see, I could still hear…and what I heard will haunt me all the days of my life…
The giggle. The “tee hee hee”.
Every few minutes our well manicured instructor (in head to toe pink) would acknowledge the concentration camp revival being played out in the room. And then she would giggle.

“Oh my!” she’d say in her honeyed, melodious accent, “look at all dees crying! Tee hee hee. Tee hee hee”
“My friends, so much the vomiting! Tee hee hee. Tee hee hee.”
“Someone in the back left corner just lapsed into kidney failure! Tee hee hee. Tee hee hee. You guys!!! You’re getting slimmer, I can see!”

In the few quiet intermissions between dry heaving and sobs you could hear the subdued symphony of our hearts breaking. Not her. Please, God, not her too.

Et tu Rajashree?

I passed the delicate dominatrix in the lobby after lunch. She was standing near the elevators, posture perfect, heavy braid hanging down her back, cool as a cucumber…I tried to think of a way back in time--back to our old relationship--but I’m pretty regular these days. My bowels work fine. Things are different now and I have no choice but to move on.
I guess I just have to accept this new Raj.

Frightening Raj
Scary Raj

She’s teaching class again tomorrow. I’m going to go, but I’m not ironing my outfit again.
And I might put on some lip balm, but there will be no gloss. There will be no gloss.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

This might hurt a little....

Another week down.

By all accounts, the weeks ahead (five through six) are memorable, primarily, for the tsunami of meltdowns the student body starts experiencing. Even taking the natural human propensity for exaggeration into account, it sounds like total anarchy and chaos. For me, the mere notion of such a thing is my worst nightmare come true. What? Violently sobbing in front of a room full of people I've only recently met? I'd rather hang myself. I don't even do stuff like that in front of people I know and like. When I die, my tombstone will read, "she kept it together pretty well." Which I equally appreciate and mourn. On the one hand, I can source out some strain of dignity in such a statement...on the other hand, its maybe not an especially passionate way to live one's life. Its definitely a guarded stance. But, by and large, for better for worse, I am not someone who enjoys such exposure.
As people are wont to do, I tend to assume everyone is exactly like me. That assumption is repeatedly disproved in this experiment I call life.

Last week, during a Q&A, a girl actually raised her hand, excitedly stood up, and asked if she'd be having a "break down next week??!!!" with the sort of glee a child expresses when asking if Santa is coming soon. I almost fell over, but that I was already half-way lying down, mid cat nap. Her arms stretched out stiffly by her hips, all five fingers opened, extended, and tense. I leaned over to my friend, Leslie, to make sure I'd heard right. The emcee of the evening, a studio owner from the Northwest, paused and said, "um. I'm not sure. A lot of stuff starts coming up in the following two weeks. It might, um, happen." He said this with hesitation...neither wanting to encourage nor discourage her experience here. I'm probably making this up, but I'd swear she followed his statement by pressing on with her inquiry, cornering the guy into being more specific, and said, "Maybe Wednesday? Do you think it will happen Wednesday? I have A LOT of issues with my family!!!!" And I swear to you, she was smiling ear to ear when she said it. It was as if she were looking at her datebook, really wanting to nail this exciting event down, and offering up times that would be good for her. I don't think I blinked once during this entire exchange. My blood began to run cold......

I have prepared myself for a certain quotient of organic emotional outpourings. The kind a person can't control. The kind that just happen sometimes, whether you want them to or not, when the exhaustion overtakes the mind. I can roll with that. I can sympathize. I'm not totally dead inside. It had not occured to me, however, that there might be an entire contingent of people waiting, with bated breath, for their moment of utter dissolve...their emotional apex...their swan song. I've thought of it as something one couldn't hold down...not something one tries to conjure up. Oh no.

I continued to sit on that floor, long after everyone else had packed up and left the room, staring off into space and scared for my life.

I have a good friend from college named Cary. I adore Cary--she's a wonderful, kind person--very sensitive, very emotive.
She's an absolute angel.
And she's a break down afficianado...doesn't even matter if its her own breakdown...she's game for her breakdown, your breakdown, a complete stranger's breakdown....all breakdowns are good breakdowns. I intentionally would not go near Cary if I was having any kind of problem/bad day because I'd get four sentences into my issue and her eyes would get huge and teary...and the next thing I knew she'd be bawling, clenching my hand, and encouraging me to let it out. No matter what I was telling her....

19 year old Cary: "hey, what's going on? You look sad. What happened? Talk to me."

19 year old me: "I'm really upset, some jerk took my laundry out of the dormitory dryer before the cycle finished."

Cary:" Let it out, Christy. I KNOW IT HURTS. Do you think its really about something that happened to you in high school, this reaction? Let's go back..Who hurt you? Don't be afraid, I'm here for you, tell me everything, I've got all night, I'll cancel my dinner plans...."

And, ultimately, even if my problem was legitamately sad or if I was sincerely broken up, by the end it would be me talking Cary down off the ledge. Her freakish capacity for empathy is both her greatest attribute and her achilles heel.
A number of years ago, her mother died after a tragic and painful battle with ovarian cancer. Cary, both beautifully and unsurprisingly, singlehandedly nursed her mother daily through the final months of her life. She didn't duck out once, no discomfort too heavy to outweigh her compassion. That's all you have to know about Cary to love her, sight unseen.

That said, approximately one year after her mother's death, Cary was asked to leave her grief group. She was getting addicted to the edgey high of having weekly forums wherein she, and others, were not only allowed--but encouraged--to decsend into emotional oblivion.

Cary visited me in New York shortly after I started my yoga practice. So, I took her to class. Thought nothing of it until...

Nearing the end of the series, the instructor began to lead us into camel pose. For anyone who does Bikram, its often said and understood that the act of bending one's spine backwards might be somewhat emotional. Its a position we don't often find ourselves in, its a massive opening of a very protected cavity (the chest), and it can stir stuff up. Some teachers will guide you into this posture by verbally preparing you for what you may, or may not, feel during the pose....
That day, ours did. And as soon as I heard the words come out of his soon as I heard him say, "you might experience some profound emotional release..." I knew exactly where this was headed. I looked over at Cary, saw her eye's widen with delight, and thought to myself, "here we go."

The sobs could be heard round the city. Our post-camel sivasana lasted almost ten minutes that day while the teacher sat at the edge of Cary's mat and tried to soothe the avalanche of tears streaming down her cheeks, her thighs, her feet. I rested there on my back, staring at the ceiling, blaming only myself for this disaster.

Cary and I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out "where this was all coming from." She cried at the Gap, she cried in the subway, she cried at the resturant, she cried in the cab. She cried when someone said "heillo", she cried again when they said "goodbye".
Because I happen to really love this girl, I somehow managed. But she was one person, one day. There are over three hundred people at this training...and we are here, no exit in sight, for five more weeks.
I am afraid. I am very very afraid.

Pray for me. Or rather, pray for them. I'm not sure I'm the maternal, kleenex dispensing presence you want to have around when the water works start....but I'll try my best. Much like with everything else here...all i can do is try.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


I can’t believe I forgot to post this!

Joan has been in our evening yoga classes all week.

Her name, as it turns out, is Joan….the woman I wrote about last week…the one watching us practice through the door. The woman in the mumu, on the ‘rascal’.

She parks (quite literally) in the back of the room and does just the arm movements of each posture from a seated position.

At first everyone applauded her entrance and exit. Now, though, it seems the entire room starts applauding every time Joan converts oxygen into carbon dioxide. The clapping is a little over the top. I suspect Joan agrees and is back there thinking, “enough already…no more applause…I’m not that pathetic….Good God people, its just a motorized scooter, not a coffin.”

I could see her behind me in the mirror tonight.
We were doing that posture in the floor series--the one where you lift off your stomach, arms and legs in the air, as if you were flying.
And I see Joan over my shoulder…her eyes focused steadily into the middle distance…arms lifting up and above her head.
Flying in her mumu.
Flying on her rascal.

So sweet.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


The first time I caught wind of the fact that people at teacher training are required to do two ninety minute classes a day, I knew immediately I would never do it.
My exact, verbatim thought was:

“I will never do that.”

As it turns out, that was false. We do not take two ninety minute classes a day. We take two “I’ll-finish-when-I’m good-and-ready-to-finish-and-making-faces-won’t-stop-my-story-any-sooner” classes a day. They can easily run up to two hours. And, hey—what the hell—as long as we’re going to be here anyway—why not be doing something while the clock ticks! Three minute eagle pose for everyone!!!

Here in Hawaii, capsules of time are not dictates but, rather, suggestions. You could hold something for thirty seconds…it’s a good round number…it fits well into the general orchestrated time table of a class…but, if inspiration hits and you want to round it up to, say, twelve minutes while you read the class four poems from your favorite native American poet and tell us a story Bikram himself has already told us four thousand times…well, okay….not a problem…namaste.

The elevators here work off much the same platform. When you press a floor you do so with a devil may care sense of urgency. Maybe it will stop on your floor, maybe it won’t. You’re welcome to ask, though, so don’t be shy…push that button!…best of luck to you!…we’ve all got our fingers crossed!
And, hey, if it decides to skip your floor or, on the opposite end, stop on every single floor between 23 and 1…well, that’s just lovely too.

It might not be so bad but that the punishment for a late sign-in is devastating.
If you’re four seconds late you have to take an additional class at 6 am…bringing your total 90 minute (or two hour classes) a day to three. Three classes a day. Unless you’re late on Saturday. On Saturday, if you’re late, you get the pleasure of doing two make up classes.

If I sound like I’m hunting for petty/luxurious afflictions in a world full of poverty/illness/and suffering, I am. A funny thing happens here around week four…
Early on, we’re all still moderate participants in our former lives. What we perceive as “problems” are primarily related to life outside of teacher training…which is healthy… because really, this training may be jam packed with frustrations…but actual problems here exist in very small denominations.
That said, now that we’re further into this, and further away from our legitimate lives, our desperate human need for conflict and misery must be fed by something in our new reality….and all we have is this…so, like the resourceful and flexible people that we are, we bend and adjust until we find things to be angry about here. At a nice hotel. On the island of Hawaii. Where we do a little yoga, learn a little dialoge, and bask in the tranquil trade winds.
Damn yoga, damn dialogue, damn tranquil wind.

The other day I was waiting for an elevator and one arrived, opened, and closed before I could get in. I was on a tight time table and needed to make sign-in. You should have seen me when those doors closed…I fell to my knees, ripped my sarong from shoulder to hem, balled up my fists and beat the floor while low gutteral moans eminated from the deepest part of my interiors. Anyone passing me in the hall would have thought I’d just received the worst news of my life. I had missed an elevator.

If our lunch break is cut short by so much as three minutes, petitions start getting drawn up and people gather in corridors mumbling about whether or not we are eligible to unionize. Someone’s cousin is married to a labor lawyer…he’ll “call her tonight!”

Stories circulate with rapid speed. And they grow. Someone might have had a sneezing episode in week one…and by week four the official story is that it was an epileptic seizure in the middle of class and “no one even offered her water!!!”
An example of the frenzied rumor mill and thought progression and how it daily grows:

The Bikram staff doesn’t want to help us.
The staff doesn’t like us.
The staff HATES us.
They HATE us and are given specific, deliberate instructions to BREAK US DOWN.
They don’t care that we don’t have kitchens.
THEY KNEW we weren’t getting kitchens.
They did it on PURPOSE.
There are empty rooms with KITCHENS and they are HIDING THEM FROM US.
And they are being MEAN to us on PURPOSE by INSTRUCTION from BIKRAM.

It is rabid. And it is insane.

The extent to which it becomes personal is classic.
To pull from my own juvenile existence here:
Maybe two weeks ago I said “good morning” to a staff member who responded by looking at me quickly and saying nothing back.
Two, three, four times a day I continue to bring it up. I have milked this two second interlude into a gut wrenching Greek morality play wherein I am the mythological representation of all that is good in the world and he, the teacher, is a human manifestation of pure malice. Every time I begin the now well-crafted monologue again, I pause longer and stare off into space for greater dramatic effect. When one of my 309 audience members says, “That is sooo rude. You are soooo nice." (which is exactly the response I imagine while I rehearse my story in the shower each morning) I look them in the eyes and say (with subtle, but other-wordly compassion), “you know, its really okay, he’s just not a happy person. I feel bad for him to tell you the truth…”
Which is just rich. The guy commits the heinous crime of what? Not graciously accepting my three syllable greeting at 7:30 in the morning? And now I, a woman who can be found randomly screaming at an elevator shaft, am suddenly an armchair psychologist?
I wouldn’t skip a beat if I knocked someone out of a wheelchair if it meant getting to sign-in on time. It stands to reason that maybe, just maybe, I’m not qualified to be the final word on who is, or isn’t, a “happy person”

In posture clinic, any number of criticisms from the visiting teacher/judges are met with terse, defensive versions of:
“well, maybe I could learn this if I was able to sleep more than four hours a night”
“do you have any idea how nerve racking it is to speak in front of people?”
To which the visiting teacher—someone who has done training, the exact same training, with the exact same sleep deprivation and fear of public speaking—just stares back, incredulous.

First of all, this is not news to anyone. Some of them finished training years ago and are still trying to catch up on their sleep…..
And, second of all, when we move our lips they don’t hear actual words….all they hear is a Don Ho song being played at a luau.
Moving this training to Honolulu was the worst thing that could have happened to the 310 of us. We qualify for no sympathy now. None.
At least twice a day we are herded into a group meeting. They’ll tell us to shower before entering the pool or pretend to have an announcement to make, but I’m positive its just a guise so someone can grab a microphone and remind us that they had to do training in Los Angeles and we get to be in Hawaii and we have no idea how lucky we are. The phrase “YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW LUCKY YOU ARE” has actually overtaken “TRUST THE PROCESS” in sheer volume.

To understand the gravity of such a feat, know that the Ilikai reception staff now answers our front desk calls by saying “Hi. Front desk. Trust the process.”
If you buy a bottle of water in the general store, the will ask you for money and for trust in ‘the process’.
Try to order a pay-per-view movie on your hotel room t.v. …the options are comedies, romance, porn, and ‘trust-the-process’.
So, for an assembly of words to actually out-do ‘trust the process’ is chilling.
“YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW LUCKY YOU ARE” pulled ahead in the race Tuesday afternoon at exactly 4:47.

I like this, though. I’ve almost exhausted my other laundry list of fake problems…this YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW LUCKY YOU ARE thing will easily carry me through another week of bitching.

There is a subcategory of the miserable here. They are professionals, these kids.
They even get mad about the good stuff. They are indiscriminate in their complaining.
Every few days the instructors will organize an advanced class for themselves. We aren’t involved in this and it pushes our afternoon sign-in back fifteen minutes.
The truly dissatisfied will rally against even this. They demand explanation as to why, WHY, these people think they can take OUR fifteen minutes for a yoga class we can’t even participate in.

This is where I draw the line and get reasonable. I want to splash cold water on these people, take them by the shoulders, and scream, “Wake up, man! Get a hold of yourself! They said they want to extend our lunch and have a yoga class that we DON’T have to go to…For God’s sake, people, WE MUST NOT LOSE SIGHT OF THAT WHICH IS GOOD. I KNOW YOU’RE SLEEPY…I know…I know…shhh…shhh…its okay…shhh…”

Between our pitiful bouts of righteous indignation, we kid ourselves into thinking we have some sort of actual spine. We’re all “Look, if I need to sit down in class tonight, I will. Mark my words. I’m not intimidated by this crap…I don’t care if anyone here LIKES me”
And then class starts and none of us sit down. Because we are intimidated… and we do care…and we want to be liked…and we don’t have spines.

The most consistent, glistening, and charming expression of compassion at yoga camp is the basic kindness we all seem to manage in precisely these moments. We allow one another the tiny delusions that, good or bad, make us feel better and get us through the day.
The delusion that we are somehow in control.
The delusion that our failures are circumstantial...not of our own fault.
The delusion that, had we slept more last night, we would have been really good at delivering our dialouge.
The delusion that we “really don’t give a shit” what any of these people think of us…when it is so painfully obvious how very much we do.
Some might argue that perpetuating such fraud on each other is untruthful or negligent.
Maybe calling ourselves out on our pretenses would be better.
But from the little I know of life, I'm pretty sure we know we’re full of shit without it being said. We just do.
And, if by chance we don’t, someone wielding a microphone will surely tell us before all is said and done.
So its alright for us to handle one another gently. We’re all in boxes marked “fragile”, getting tossed around enough as it is. Every night I raise a non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated toast to my own sweet and sustaining delusions. And every morning I get up, embrace reality again, and go to class. My first class, that is. We take two each day here.

Monday, May 7, 2007

i promise i won't let go.

Our final late night (or early morning, I guess, since it ended at almost 2 a.m.) lecture was heavily devoted to the concept of detachment.

I am a person who revels in long, tedious philosophic discourse. I really do.
Thankfully, I have one friend equally game for these kinds of heady conversations. These people are hard to find...normal people don't mind ten of fifteen minutes of chatter about the meaning of life and the softer points of ethics/morality/purpose/intention/God/etc...but I'm not talking fifteen minutes...I'm refering to five hour discussions, wherein you might not come up with so much as one single satisfying answer, about incredibly subtle stuff. It isn't exactly what you'd call a good time. It is almost requrisite that Lynn (my friend) and I go to a resturant that stays open until the wee hours of the morning and serves decent red wine to even embark on one of these nights. Trust me when I tell you--once you get midway through one of these verbal endeavors--you can not stop until you've finished. No matter how huge your headache has grown, no matter how many circles you seem to turn in, not matter how much you want to bang your skull against the wall--you can not stop until it is finsihed.
The discussion of anything philisophical is like swimming across a river.
The exhaustion and frustration hits at exactly mid point...and it will take just as much energy to turn around and swim back to the bank you started on as it takes to just bear down and finish the cross.

So, while I really wanted to be released by Bikram at an earlier hour...I also, begrudgingly, understand why we weren't.
We were in the middle of the river.

My single most loathed esoteric topic is detachment. So, naturally, we had to linger endlessly on that particular concept.

The mere word "detachment" makes me profoundly sad. I don't even know why exactly.
My basic attitude towards it has always been, "nope. don't wanna and you can't make me."

Paritally, I guess, its because I am, by nature, a highly emotional and involved person.
If a cabbie tells me his daughter is starting college during a ten minute ride from the east side of Manhattan to the west side of Manhattan, I will spend the rest of the day worrying about how he, a taxi driver, will afford the astromical expense of higher education in this country. When one of my parents casually starts a line of thought with, "well, if one of us dies before.....", I want to crawl into the fetal postition and rock myself to sleep. If I love someone, they pretty much have to literally, or metaphorically, kick me in the stomach to make me finally go away... I do not like detachment. I do not like letting people, or my ideas about how things should be, go. And, of course, that tendency leaves me ripe for all kinds of disappointment and frustration. I know this.

Now, with that said, were I to witness this crazy "detachment" thing successfully performed around me, I might be more open to it. But I never do. Lynn seems to get it pretty well...but the girl meditates daily, spends all of August, every year, at teachings with her Buddhist guru, and hangs out in India at ashrams for months at a time. I'm not even sure she's so much detached as she is just out of the city. She might well be in India stewing over someone or something that happened years ago, totally not letting it go, being a huge unevolved baby, and I just don't know about it because I can't see her.

I knew this guy, in my mid twenties, while I was living in Rome. We only overlapped there one month, but became immediate friends. When you live, day to day, in a place where you are incapable of sustaining really substantial conversations in the local language, the oppourtunity to speak in your mother tongue is like hitting nirvana. We skipped the chit chat and headed straight into desperately important, maniac talking. All day. About everything.
I adored this kid.
He was hilarious, thoughtful, introspective, sensitive, self effacing, and imaginative.
He might have been the first person to ever really introduce the concept of being detached, an obsession of his, into my consciousness. Even at a first and basic introduction, I knew I wouldn't like it one bit.

Now, under those circumstances and at that age, one subject of inquiry tends to consume the majority of one's energy ...especially on Italian summer nights. That subject?


Sparing absolutely no details, we delved into our romantic resumes, psyches, and seventh grade journals trying to figure out who we were and what 'it' was.
I told him all of my stories, he told me all of his.
And in every vignette of his romantic history, there were two girls.
One, the girl he was in love with. The other, the girl he chose. Every time. He was only comfortable being with the person he knew he wasn't overly attached to. It was a blatantly obvious theme. It was as if every one he chose...he chose instead...of the one he wanted more. So, okay.

The upside to his approach was that, in the ensuing break ups, he was never really bloodied up or injured. He prided himself on his ability to detach from the relationship, and person, so well. But the problem with such trippy thinking was that its not really a succesful bout of "letting something go" if you didn't really hold it closely to begin with....not so difficult to give up something you never really wanted.
He was just standing in dead space. Never going inside, never leaving. Holding nothing, releasing nothing.

What he called 'detached' struck me as just a fancy synonym for frozen. Also sterile. And lonely, I think.
Which was so criminal, because he was definitely one of those people for whom epic love would not be a stretch. An exquisite guy, that one.

So, I am sitting here now writing this boring blog entry. I know it isn't funny. I've done way better. My apologies. I'm tired and now I've got this damn lecture in my head all week. Nothing buzz kills my good time like the word "detachment."
Its like the lochness monster, detachment...everyone claims its real but who ever really gets to see it?

Actually, I take that back. I might have witnessed it once. Sort of.

My grandfather had a gigantic cancerous tumor in his leg when i was a small child.
It was vast and the chances that he was going to get through the operation without amputation were marginal, at best.
Before they put him under, he met with the surgeon and said only this:

"If there is any way for me to keep my leg, i really really want to."

I would venture a guess that that simple request was the single most genuine thing he ever asked for in his life.
A man wants his left leg. He just does.
Hard to be more attached to something than that....

When I think of detachment, well executed, I think of him. He didn't check out emotionally. He wasn't unwilling to long for the best possible outcome. He was keenly open to all of the fragile and potentially devastating effects that are inherent in investing in anything, hoping/wanting/needing/loving anything. He didn't "detach" by standing far back from the precipice of feeling...he walked right up to the edge of it and stared it down. He allowed the experience, outcome unknown.

The next day he woke up without a leg. And in the two and half decades I knew him, I never once heard him whine about the leg that was no longer. In fact, I don't recall him so much as mentioning it. He wanted what he wanted, and he got what he got. Both of those things beautiful, Both of them necessary and true.

So as not to leave on a serious note:
A few days ago on the elevator, about 20 yoga campers were piled in, talking loudly, and dripping with sweat, heading up to our rooms after class. An Ilikai staff member got stuck in with us. She was friendly and good natured about it. One yogi said, 'sorry. I know we must be hard to get used to." She said, "'t worry. I understand. I used to teach special ed...."

not making ths stuff up.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Freak show

Today in anatomy class Dr. T did the unthinkable.
He had a student demo a yoga posture not included in the asana series we are here to learn. Maybe in someone else’s yoga college that sort of thing would fly.
Not here. We do, learn, speak, practice, and perfect 26 very specific expressions of hatha yoga. No more. No less.

And you do not mess with the formula.

At the exact moment Dr.T finagles this kid into the posture, we see the silhouette of Bikram reflected through the glass door. He’s paying a surprise visit. He’s entering the room while the totally well intentioned, but momentarily ill advised, Christian chiropractor is introducing a non-Bikram asana into the lecture. No good will come of this. I want to spare the sweet man in front of us--the mediocre comedian, the bible study teacher ,the sometimes-deeply-paranoid Dr. Frank Trapani….I want to stand up and scream “ABORT MISSION DR. T! THE HEN IS IN THE CHICKEN HOUSE! ABORT MISSION! SAVE YOURSELF!”

But its too late. The inventor of disco is already in the room. And his expression is not one of pleasure.

He stood back there for about 45 seconds and shook his head, not saying a word, then finally left the room.

I imagined a security detail hovering just outside the Ilikai waiting to take poor Dr. T away.
An unmarked van would be parked around the corner, the motor quietly humming, ready to swiftly whisk the anatomy teacher to some undisclosed location. I thought about his wife and grandchildren and how much they’d miss him. I especially thought about his adopted grandchild…the one he, himself, had concocted a homeopathic baby formula for…because he doesn’t trust the F.D.A and the nutritional assault he believes they’ve launched against
American toddlers (for more background on Frank Trapani and his crusade against the Ferderal Dietary Association, see a few posts back)…I thought about the time he checked his wife out of the hospital hours after she gave birth to their first daughter…because his wife’s O.B. wanted to treat her (gasp) with antibiotics for a staff infection she’d contracted.
He doesn’t trust any doctors or any medicine and promptly took his wife (who had an infected breast and 104 degree fever) home to their apartment in Brooklyn.
Once there, he gave her chiropractic adjustments and fed her juice made from the rind of a lemon until she got better. He might be crazy, that Dr. T, but his heart was always in the right place. You just knew that about him. You knew it the minute you met him.

I imagined myself standing in the tire marks and exhaust fumes of that van speeding away…the van he’d surely be carried away in…crying, “why? Why Dr. T? why’d you do it? why’d you show us that renegade version of triangle, trikanasana?? It wasn’t worth it…(sob sob)…it (sob) wasn’t (sob) worth it….”

Hours later, after my dinner break, I saw Dr. T lounging poolside.

He suffered a severe stroke a couple of years ago, all but destroying his powers of proprioception and balance, and now relies on swimming for most of his exercise. He's always at that pool. He walks with a marked limp and my heart breaks just a fraction with every fresh step he takes.

He was sunning himself and appeared to be reading the newspaper and eating some pineapple. He seemed perfectly unharmed.

Bikram did mention the incident in class tonight—and he definitely wasn’t down with what happened—but I guess when all is said and done, he still loves the good doctor. They met decades ago, on the yogi’s first trip to Hawaii. Dr. T (ever the progressive thinker) was trying to introduce yoga to his clientele back in the 70’s. He met the small Indian and begged him to teach him yoga, old school style. They’ve been friends ever since. The affable doc with his clean jokes and pleated khaki pants…and the bite sized yogi with his cannon of curse words and his speedo.

We’re on round three of posture clinic. Teachers (amazingly) are pouring in from all over, crossing oceans and slathering on sunscreen, here to volunteer their time and help us learn to deliver the Bikram dialogue. So far, every single visiting instructor has been generous and great.
We all still sound like total morons…but, quite honestly, that’s what makes it fun. I’m going to be shattered when people get comfortable with these words, these postures.
Its so much better watching all the shaking and seizures we incur during the anxiety attacks we suffer every single time we have to stand up and speak. It is truly one of the most ridiculousfabulouspathetic things I’ve ever experienced. A room full of grown adults….many of us educated and accomplished, confident and well adjusted…brought to tears by the paramount frustrations, and subsequent humiliations, of trying to remember if the line is
“throughout the posture”
“throughout the ENTIRE posture.”

Two of the visiting instructors are the kids who won the international yoga championship last February.
They performed their award winning ‘routines’ for us Tuesday night. I don’t know either of these people personally. Emotionally/intellectually/whatever …they might be horrible human beings…but, physical, they were awesome. Incredible. Transcendent.
And, of course, they look like people who win yoga competitions. The girl weighs about 80 pounds soaking wet and is so white she makes ME look like the Hawaiian Tropics girl…and the guy walks around in glorified underpants.

As I sat on my mat and watched them perform, I was reminded of something.
Something I haven’t thought about in years.

I spent the first 12-18 months of my practice cringing at men in tight short shorts. I just didn’t understand why anyone would do that…why anyone would wear something so embarrassing, so weird, so just-plain-wrong in a public setting. I would lie in savasana and quietly will them to go buy a pair of real shorts already. Baggy shorts. The baggier the better. I’d lend them the money if cash was an issue (which, frankly, seemed like the only plausible explanation for a man wearing something tantamount to PANTIES in class.)

I am neither proud nor kidding when I tell you that, back then, I would have taken one look at the both of these people, their legs contorted like pretzels around their necks, clad in really goofy yoga outfits, and I'd have wrapped my review up in one syllable: freaks.

So it is not lost on me that I am here now. I am surrounded by men in glorified underpants and I rarely even notice.
And while 3% of me still wants to feed her a steak and tell him to put some pants on…..97% of me, the larger part of me, just wants to see them do their demonstrations again. I want to see them do these impractical and magical things with their bodies. I want to sit there, breathless, at the execution of surreal physical feats (feats I, personally, am wholly incapable of) that are at once queer and dorky…graceful and gorgeous…wicked and totally radical.
Its the coolest uncool thing. If that makes any sense....

One more story and then I’m off to memorize incomplete sentences while watching the sunset.

Every night this week, during evening class, a woman sat outside the glass doors and watched us. She is a very large, older woman who moves around on one of those motorized scooter-things. (For some reason I want to call it a “rascal”but I have no idea why I’d know the brand name). She just sits there and observes us, fascinated.

Thursday night, his voice amped up and pounding through the speakers, Bikram made reference to her outside. He said she should come in and take class. He said she was fat and he could get her healthy and walking. The energy of the room pitches a bit when the word “fat” is thrown out…which it is…a lot. He actually told us we were, collectively, the fattest group of teacher trainers he’d ever had. In the award ceremony of most employed negatively-perceived adjectives, the results were tallied as follows:

Coming in third….”fat”
Edging ahead in second…”idiots”
Leading the race by a margin….”stupid Americans”

At this point, we’re used to it. When he’s calling us fat, its bearable. It really is. No pity parties, please.
We signed up for this…no one showed up in Hawaii without a debriefing…trust me.
But you couldn’t help but hope the woman outside wasn’t hearing it. She was an innocent bystander of sorts. And she appeared unable to walk. Clearly, she had enough struggles without a stranger calling her fat. I devoted a lot of energy to low-grade worrying about this woman….which turned out to be unnecessary because…

After class I was walking to collect my shoes and leave. I saw our controversial leader through the windows. He was on the other side of the glass talking to the woman on the rascal. He was facing towards her, and away from me—so I couldn’t see his face—but I could see hers. She was smiling ear to ear at whatever he was saying. She was riveted and glowing in his company. The visual was impeccable…Bikram from behind, his speedo pushed into a wedgie between his butt cheeks, dripping in sweat, and holding a one-woman audience with an enchanted stranger in a mumu on her motorized scooter. And while the odds of that mumu ever getting traded in for a spandex sports bra are negligent, at best….if anyone can pull it off, its this guy. Believe me. Its this guy. It just is.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

i tried.

One of my greatest fears about teaching is the terrifying possibility that the students will stage an uprising. Meaning, the great majority of kids in my class will be people who’ve had the utterly uneventful experience of watching my own practice year after year. They know good and well I have zero credibility.

Sure, the occasional first timer will wander in and take me seriously, but that will be the exception not the rule. Of this I am sure.

My most twisted worst case scenario fantasy (well, my second worst case scenario fantasy…my first worst case scenario fantasy is forgetting my top and having to teach in a sports bra with my abdomen exposed. The mere thought makes me tremble and shake) is that I will find myself standing on a small carpeted podium directing ‘standing head to knee’ and shouting “KICK YOUR LEG OUT! DON’T WAIT! KICK YOUR LEG OUT! IF YOU’VE BEEN PRACTICING A WHILE YOU MUST KICK…”

While I say these words I gaze out on a small crowd of sweaty, half naked students just standing there…not doing a single thing I’m telling them to do.
They are sipping water, staring out the window, cocking one hip to the side in defiant stances. Once again, thinking maybe they haven’t understood me, I say the dialogue a second time and more forcefully. KICK YOUR LEG OUT FROM THE KNEE. Still they stand, unmoved by my words.

Suddenly, one of them steps up, girl gang style, all head rolls and finger snaps and says, “how’s about you kick your leg out, bitch, and then we’ll talk. Until you can bring it, spare me the crap.”

I see no reason why this couldn’t happen.

Simply said, there are a few postures that—quite frankly—I’m not especially good at.
Foremost among them, Dandayamana-Janushirasana…aka standing head to knee pose.

Back in the autumn, when the initial and sporadic thoughts of doing this training started rearing their ugly heads, I began addressing my issues with this pose. I have, basically, been operating (for years now) off the hope that somehow, someday it would simply disappear from the series. It would finally be recognized as the sixty seconds of pure evil that I firmly believe it to be. An urgent memo from headquarters would appear at the studio door…carried by a messenger and hand delivered…demanding we cease and desist with standing head to knee immediately.

Maybe a student somewhere would have to die in standing head to knee for the winds of change to finally blow.
This would be fine with me.
Throughout history, many a solitary life has been heroically sacrificed for the betterment of mankind at large.
I accept the necessity of such human sacrifice. I accept the brevity of life.
I just do.

But revolutions take time and I only had a few months. So, I knuckled down and began the arduous process of stretching my pathologically tight hamstrings.
Class after class, week after week, I worked on this hateful endeavor. And, finally, after much misery and hard work I managed not a fantastic success…but, rather, something vaguely resembling competency and total mediocrity.
That was enough for me.

I arrived in Hawaii certain that I’d experience a wash of flexibility unlike anything I’d known before. Two classes a day in heavy humidity. I’d take my posture to the next level and return to the lower east side of new york city totally entitled to holler out orders at anyone stupid enough to show up for one of my classes.

My hamstrings are now so tight that I can barely walk. I can not touch the ground without bending my legs and my ass is in perpetual discomfort. The posture of pure evil has once again sucker punched me and beaten me down. I am furious.

We are not supposed to rewrite the dialogue. But I have.
Here is my new version of dandayamana janushirasana…which I will be reciting, verbatim, upon arrival home:

“Inhale breathing. If you like, you can kick your left leg forward to the mirror.
You don’t have to if you don’t want to. No biggie. I totally understand if you don’t.
And, listen, it doesn’t mean you aren’t a great person if you are still holding your foot.
You get 100%…no, wait! You get 110% of the benefits from just holding the foot.
Everyone still likes you if you just hold the foot. No worries guys.
Take a deep breath.
And change.
Now the right side……”