Week 2 round-up: Invisible battles

Well, guys, here we are! Week 2 is over, and I still have a whole free day to look forward to tomorrow!

I would love to sum up this week for you all in one word, but there is absolutely no way I could do that. I’ve had some wonderful yoga classes this week, and some truly awful ones. My hamstrings have gone in swings and roundabouts from being the most flexible they’ve ever been, to being so tight that I feel like the damn Tin Man. My spine is not happy with me, my hips are not happy with me, and my knees are considering staging an all-out rebellion. I remain completely unable to kick out in Standing Head-to-Knee, my back bending feels almost non-existent, and yet I am now able to get my forehead on my knee with my legs straight on both sides in Separate Leg Head-to-Knee, which I have never been able to do before. The conclusion I have come to about why all of this is: my body is weird.

Everyone I’ve talked to this week has reported feeling things in class they’ve never felt before. People are experiencing pain in joints they’ve never had problems with, and crazy flexibility in ones they previously thought were totally stiff. Everyone’s reactions to the Torture Chamber (with a capital ‘T’ as in Tulandandasana!) are also continuing to vary. Yvonne has spent most of this week feeling nauseous in class, and many others are also starting to have to sit out a lot more, whereas I actually spent the majority of this week’s classes not having to sit down at all. So I guess the lesson to be learned for all you future trainees is that there is absolutely no rule that applies to every person here. I can’t tell you my experience and guarantee that that’ll be how you experience things, because there’s a 99% chance that you’ll feel something completely different.

Luckily, though, we have had the privilege this week to be taught by some teachers who are extremely sympathetic to the changes we are all experiencing, and whose positive outlooks got me through what were otherwise very tough hours in the hot room. Rajashree arrived this week, and taught most of the morning classes and one evening class. And, my god, I love that woman. At the start of her first class, she expressed the importance of listening to our bodies and not pushing ourselves to our absolute limits – a view point that is quite drastically different to that of her husband, who told us last Friday after 10 gruelling classes that TT hadn’t even really started yet! Rajashree is such a beautiful and inspiring woman, and knowing she was teaching every morning gave me the motivation I needed to drag my ass out of bed, despite my steadily increasing exhaustion.

We were then taught this morning by a visiting teacher from Australia called Ben, whose caring energy was exactly what I needed today. He prefaced his class by saying that there are only two things you have to do when practicing Bikram yoga: focus on your breathing, and listen to the words. Such simple instructions, and so obvious. And yet, in three years, I had never thought in those terms. I often spend my classes dwelling on how badly I’m doing, how tight my hamstrings are, how I’m feeling about something in my outside life. But Bikram yoga is a moving meditation, and it should be kept simple. Ben’s instructions really helped me to understand that, and they couldn’t have come at a better time. I had to do a Humira injection last night (which, for those of you who don’t know, is the medication I take for my eye disease – it often makes me nauseous and makes yoga class the following morning very challenging). Because of this, I was fully expecting this morning’s class to be absolutely unbearable, and I set my mat up in the back row so that, if I ended up having to bolt out of the room, I could do so relatively unnoticed. But it wasn’t that at all. Yes, I was in pain. Yes, I was nauseous and dizzy. But instead of thinking about those things, I just thought about my breathing, and I followed along with the words as and when I was able to. I needed that.

In terms of how the rest of the week went… well, I am happy to report that we didn’t have any late nights. We were let go by midnight every night (and even slightly earlier last night), although we did have to spend 5 joyful hours this week watching episodes of the Mahabharata, which is the TV series adaptation of the Hindu holy book that explains how the world began. Apparently every TT class is forced to watch around 10 hours of this thing (the TV series is 92 hours in total), and oh boy it’s a doozy. It’s basically a more ridiculous version of Game of Thrones, complete with East Enders-worthy acting and worse production values than a high school film project. The plot covers everything from infanticide, to relationships between gods and humans, to immaculate conception, all interspersed with voiceovers from the Lord Krishna who is apparently also Time and also like 5 other gods. How on earth this is meant to make us better yoga teachers, I have no idea. But apparently we’re meant to “trust the process”, so fuck it.

One thing we did do this week that will make me a better yoga teacher, though, was a good old game of sharing. Yesterday afternoon, Rajashree asked us all to share our stories of why we started practicing Bikram yoga, and why we decided to come to Teacher Training. We spent 2 hours on it in total – 1 in the afternoon, and 1 in the evening – and probably only a third of us got up and spoke, but the things people revealed about themselves and their personal journeys were truly astonishing. I won’t share any of them here, as Rajashree continuously repeated, “this is a safe space”, and I am not about to divulge anyone’s life stories on their behalf. (I’ve had that done to me, and it sucked.) But what I can tell you is that I have honestly never heard so many heartbreaking and inspiring stories in my life, one after the other, all coming from people in the same room. We have heard quite a few times recently that not just anyone can walk off the street and come to Bikram Teacher Training. It takes a special kind of person, who embodies the Bengal tiger strength and English bulldog determination that Bikram talks about in the Dialogue, to come here. And everyone who spoke is exactly that kind of person. We have all fought through hell and high water to get here, and we continue to fight every day that we’re here, because we all know that there is a light at the end of this 9 week-long tunnel, and that that light is the promise of a better life for ourselves and our families. This is not for the faint of heart. Of course I knew that before coming here, but I don’t think I understood just how true it was until yesterday.

There’s a meme that I’ve seen shared on Facebook about 147833588690654 times about how everyone is fighting a battle you know absolutely nothing about; yesterday’s exercise proved that to be absolutely true. You never know just by looking at someone whether they have an invisible disease (like I do), or whether they have struggled with depression, have lost a loved one, are recovering alcoholics or drug addicts, or are struggling with family problems. As a yoga teacher, that is such an important fact to remember. Your students may write on their registration forms that they take certain prescription meds, or that they had knee surgery a few years ago, but they won’t tell you about their home lives, their mental pain, or their inability to love themselves. So the best you can do is be kind, push them when they can be pushed, and show them some sympathy and love when they’re looking a little worse for wear. Granted, this isn’t exactly Bikram’s personal style, but I know it will be mine.

Bikram himself wasn’t bad this week, though, besides the fact that we were lucky enough to be lectured by him for 2 hours on Monday night. And despite reading my notes 10 times over, I still have no clue what he was trying to tell us. He does love his tangents, that one. Besides that, though, he kept his yoga classes to under 2 hours each, and continued to give everyone corrections. Of course, his corrections often sound like he’s just yelling at you (“Are you stupid? How many times I have to tell you to grab your heels? I HATE LAZY PEOPLE!”), but I do think he means well by it. As his daughter, Laju, explained to us last week, when he does that, “he just wants to make you better.” And I do believe that. He doesn’t strain his voice like that because he enjoys it – on the contrary, he’s had 3 throat surgeries and knows it isn’t good for him to shout. He does it because it’s his way of motivating us to push ourselves even when we think we can’t be pushed any harder, because he knows we could do better than we let ourselves think.

We do, however, get a 2 week reprieve of these generous shouting sessions now, as Bikram has gone back to LA until the start of week 5. Whilst he’s away, we’ll be starting our posture clinics and anatomy lectures, and (I think) we’ll also start having yoga classes taught by more visiting teachers. The good thing about this turn of events: we have 2 weeks off of watching Bollywood films! The bad thing: Dialogue learning has to start getting serious now, and I’m really bad at it. But a big lesson I’ve learned here is that you cannot predict how anything is going to go, and there’s no use trying to. Whatever happens here, happens; the good, the bad, and the ugly, and the only way out of it is through. So on we go. X

Classes completed to date: 21
Bollywood movies watched: 1
Hours of the Mahabharata watched: 5
Latest lecture finish to date: 1:30 AM


2 thoughts on “Week 2 round-up: Invisible battles

  1. Making progress; moving forward; always optimistic, searching for the light; getting closer to the goalpost. Love your progress reports. Keep them coming.
    Uncle J


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