8 simple rules for surviving Bikram TT

Well readers, just a couple of short weeks after I posted my last entry about my experience at Bikram Yoga Teacher Training (in which I expressed my suspicions that mine might have been the last one), the next TT has been announced. For the spring of 2016, Bikram’s torture chamber is relocating to India, and I’ve already heard from a good number of people planning to take the plunge. So if you’re one of those people, this post is for you!

My definitive list of what I think you should know before going to TT (that no one told me)…

1) There is no way of adequately preparing yourself for TT. 

Before I headed off to my training, there was no end to the things people told me I should do in order to prepare. I was advised to undertake 30-, 60-, and 100-day challenges, I was told to try eating “raw” for a few months before, a few teachers told me to put myself on an insane daily intake of vitamins and electrolyte supplements… the list goes on. But I didn’t do any of those things. You know what I did do? I slept. A lot. I practiced maybe 3 times per week, and in my spare time, I snoozed. 

And I am so happy I did. 

Walking into Bikram’s first class of my TT, I was absolutely terrified. My fellow trainees had spent the previous couple of days telling me how they’d been doing pretty much non-stop yoga for the last three months, and many of them prided themselves on how many supplements and tubs of pink Himalayan sea salt they brought to meals. I thought I was fucked. And I was (just read my post about it for the full story). But so was everyone else. No one left the room after our inaurgural 2.5 hour yoga class in anything but a completely shattered state. In terms of how strong people’s practices were, we were all pretty much at the same level as one another, save for a few exceptions on either end of the spectrum. So, please, don’t kill yourself pre-training. You’re not doing yourself any good, I promise. 

2) Vet your roommate. 

I was lucky with my roomie. I hit the damn jackpot. Yvo wasn’t just my roommate, she was my TT soulmate, and I couldn’t have made it through without her. Seriously. But many people weren’t so lucky. In fact, there seemed to be no end to the roommate drama at our training. 

Bear in mind that Bikram TT attracts some – for lack of a better word – eccentric people, so try to do your best to ensure that whomever you request as a roomie is somewhat sane. You don’t want to end up like one of my friends who was kept awake until 4 AM every evening by his roommate, who insisted on doing headstands in the middle of their room at all hours (except normal, waking ones)… with all the lights on… with music playing. Or like another one of my friends who ended up with something of a manic depressive. 

So when you post on the TT Facebook group looking for a roommate, don’t just accept the first person who responds. Give them a good old fashioned FB stalk, message with them, get to know them, then decide. It’s not a foolproof method of finding someone compatible, but it at least gives you a better chance. Oh, and for the love of god, do not leave it to chance and get assigned someone random. Who you room with can make or break your training experience. Choose wisely. 

3) You have nothing to prove. 

Actually, someone did tell me this right before I left for training, and it was the one piece of advice that really stuck with me. TT is not the time for heroics. If you have to sit down, sit the fuck down. If you feel like you’re about to puke, leave the damn room. You are embarking on a 9 week boot camp that involves 97 yoga classes in a room that is hotter than any other yoga room you will have ever been in. It’s so hot, it’s probably actually the real-life Purgatory. 

Getting through training is about playing the long game. There is no point in pushing yourself to your limits and ending up with an injury that you then have to deal with for the rest of training. And there is no point in exhausting yourself any more than you already have to. You are there to leave with a teaching certificate, not to show everyone how bendy you are. 

Somehow, I managed to make it through all of training without once leaving the room, and I stopped sitting out postures around week 3. But I began every class by reminding myself not to be a hero, and giving myself permission to do what I needed to do to make it out with my sanity and my health. I pretty consistently gave about 25-40% effort in the morning classes, and 70-85% in the evening classes (except when I was positioned right in front of Bikram, in which case I killed myself in order to avoid being yelled at). I have no regrets about that tactic. I made it through. That’s all that mattered to me. 

4) Bikram…

…Says a lot of offensive shit. Racial minorities, Jews, Muslims, Christians, women, LGBTQ people, the list goes on. He says absurd crap about them all. How much of it he actually believes, I have no idea. But do not take any of it personally. He says it to fuck with you and to try to steal your peace. Don’t give him the satisfaction. Laugh, roll your eyes, whatever. Don’t bother getting angry. It isn’t worth your time. He gave us one particularly rousing lecture one day on how “Western women only need gynaecologists because they don’t stay faithful to one man and they end up with diseases… But men can be with as many women as they want” (paraphrased). My inner feminist was flipping the fuck out, and had I possessed less self control, I would have screamed. Instead, I wrote one line in my notebook: “India clearly has VERY poor standards for sexual education.” And when he’d finally decided to shut up, I merely turned to my friend Jenny, laughed, and said, “I’m SO glad I know all that now!”

Also, be prepared for lectures that go on until the wee hours. And by prepared, I mean bring lots of sudoku puzzles, crosswords, even an adult colouring book. You won’t be missing anything. All he does is chat a load of bollocks about how he and Quincy Jones invented disco. 

5) Reciting dialogue in posture clinics is NOTHING like teaching. 

I found posture clinics terrifying, especially at first. You have to get up in front of a massive group of your peers and recite the dialogue for a posture, after which you get judged American Idol-style by a panel of visiting teachers and staff who basically predict whether or not you’ll be a successful teacher. I did not find this exercise enjoyable. I suppose it is a necessary evil in order to make sure everyone knows the full dialogue by the end of training, but it bares no resemblance whatsoever to teaching in real life. In posture clinic, fucking up is easy to do. You’re acutely aware that you’re being judged by everyone in the room, and you get too focused on getting every word right. So I’ll tell you a secret about what it’s like to really teach: your students don’t give a rat’s ass about the dialogue. They’re hot, sweaty, out of breath, and sore. All they want is to be guided in and out of the postures with as little drama as possible. If you blank on the dialogue whilst teaching, make some shit up that will roughly ensure that they do the posture correctly and exit it safely. And guess what? None of them will notice a damn thing. 

Do not beat yourself up if you’re not a superstar in posture clinics. It is no indication whatsoever that you will be a shitty teacher. You will be a shitty teacher if you don’t care about your students, not if you find it difficult to memorise a script. 

6) Most people arrive at training at different places in their dialogue learning. 

And that’s fine. Don’t be the idiot that shows up not knowing any of it, because you’ll only make your life there more difficult. Don’t be the overachiever who arrives knowing the whole thing, because you’ll just make people hate you (lookin’ at you, Kramer). Just learn what you can manage before you arrive. Yes, the more of it you’ve learnt in advance, the more free time you’ll have, but equally most bonding at TT occurs over learning the dialogue together, so don’t separate yourself from that. Find a good balance. As a general guide, learning up to Standing Bow pre-training is a good place to be, but it’s by no means a rule. You do you. 

7) Don’t wish away your time at training. 

Which is so easy to do. You’ll be homesick, missing your friends and family and significant others. You’ll miss life before you had to do yoga literally every damn day and you’ll long for the days when you got to actually sleep instead of take night time naps. But you’ll get back to that, and sooner than you think. Life after training does exist! I know! I’m writing to you from it RIGHT NOW! And though you may not miss training once you’re home (I bloody don’t), don’t take your time there for granted. You will likely never again get to spend such a long time with so many people from so many different places and walks of life who, regardless of cultural differences and language barriers, all share a love of yoga so deep that they want to share it in their communities and around the world. It’s really kind of an extraordinary thing, so relish it. Real life will still be there when you get home. 

You may make friends for life at TT, you may not. You may enjoy every moment in Bikram’s presence, or you may wish to throttle him by the time you leave. You may love having the opportunity to practice twice a day, or you may find you’ve (temporarily) fallen out of love with Bikram yoga once those 97 classes are done. But you will certainly never find yourself in quite such an extreme environment with so many different people again. 

8) Teaching is the best job in the world. 

Seriously. It is satisfying, fulfilling, difficult, frustrating, elating, exciting, and nerve-wracking all at once. I love every minute of it. I even love teaching at 6:45 AM when I’m half asleep and wondering to myself why I have 16 insane people in front of me who all woke up so early to come to class. I even love it when I get my lefts and rights mixed up and my students laugh at me (which happens a lot). I even love it when a brand new student shows up 2 minutes before the start of class with no mat, towel, water, or remotely appropriate clothing, but still leaves class with a sweaty glow and says “thank you” all the same. 

When a student of mine gets both legs up with their knees locked for the first time in Locust pose, or when I get someone to crack a smile instead of looking so miserable during Triangle, or when someone finally gets their forehead to their knee in Standing Head to Knee and spends the rest of class looking SO pleased with themselves, I am reminded of why I went to TT and why I wanted this job to begin with. For those moments. They are wonderful. There is no other way to describe them. 

So, future teacher trainees, go bravely forth and kick some ass. Laugh, cry, sweat, throw up, fall asleep on the floor during Bollywood movies, enjoy some moments, loathe all the others, never lose sight of why you went in the first place. You will be fine. And, when in doubt, I am available for pep talks over Skype. 

Good luck. X

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