Aaaaaaand begin.

When I first started this blog, it was mainly for the purposes of writing about acting, yoga, and baking… which is pretty much all it’s been used for. Until now. For the next couple of months, I won’t be writing much at all about those topics. This blog for now is about a very different part of my life, one that I haven’t written about on here but which is just as important to me as the things I have shared with you, if not more so.

For those of you who don’t know, my dad is a guy called John French, professionally known as Jay Jay, and he is a guitarist in the 80s hair metal band, Twisted Sister. Since I was a kid, the band has been on an extended reunion tour that was only meant to last a couple of summers. It ended up lasting 14 years. And this leg of it will be their last.

I have the privilege now to be with them for most of their final shows, and I will be keeping this blog in the meantime as a record of this tour not just for those of you who are interested, but for myself. Read it if you really care to know the ins and outs of all this tour lark, or don’t. I don’t particularly mind. But I’m writing all this down because I just can’t bear to forget all the funny one-liners the band and crew will inevitably come up with, the insane flight schedules that the tour manager, Danny, has no doubt signed us up for, and the precious last few times I’ll hand my dad his guitar and give him a fist-bump before he takes the stage while “It’s A Long Way to the Top” by AC/DC blasts in the background.

When this whole thing (re)started almost a decade and a half ago, no one involved had any idea how long it would last. It was kicked off by a one-off reunion show done for a party for their friend Jason Flom. Then 9/11 happened and they agreed to get together again to play a show called New York Steel to benefit the Widows and Orphans Fund. It was relatively fair to think after that show that a whole tour was out of the question. Tensions still ran pretty high amongst the band, and whether they could deal with each other for an extended period of time was questionable.

A 2-week tour for the USO in South Korea was later organised in order to test the waters, as it were. The band wanted to see how successful a reunion tour had the potential to be, and my last memory of life before the band was such a central part of it was standing at the door of my apartment building with my cousin, Becca, waving goodbye to my dad as he got in a cab for the airport.

My knowledge of what the band was up until that point was limited. My first introduction to it was as a pre-schooler, when my dad turned up to collect me one day with Dee in tow. It was the first time they’d met in person in years, and they talked for hours until my dad realised it was time to go get me, and invited Dee to come along. My dad at that point had started to look like a fairly normal dad. He wore baseball caps just about everywhere and had said goodbye to his mullet when I was an infant. But Dee still looked like Dee. And when this huge guy dressed in all black with waist-length peroxide blonde hair turned up to my pre-k at pick up time, I was far from the only person to look a little confused.

Spurred by their meeting, my dad decided it was finally time to show me what he used to do for a living, so he showed me a music video of theirs. Which one, you ask? No, not “We’re Not Gonna Take It” or “I Wanna Rock”, but instead the video for “Be Chrool to Your Scuel” featuring Alice Cooper. The video had been banned by MTV and VH1 when it first came out because of its violent and graphic nature… And my dad decided that should be my introduction to his band. I was 3 or 4. I still wonder to this day how and why my mother let him play that for me. It didn’t scare me, though. It didn’t even impress me. When my dad asked me what I thought, I apparently said, “You look stupid, daddy.” When he told me that that’s how he paid for my preschool, I said, “But I hate school, daddy.” (NB: I have no recollection of this conversation, but my dad has recounted it to most people he knows.)

After their Korean tour, things really started to kick off. I started attending sleep away camp in the summer, and would receive packages every week filled with tour posters and backstage credentials from festivals, mainly around Europe, with Twisted Sister’s name in the headlining spot. But it wasn’t until a few years later when I actually started going to these huge festivals with them that I understood the extent of the fanaticism that their fans showed. After the first time I saw them play in London, I was absolutely gobsmacked. “They treat you like Elvis, daddy!” I kept saying. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Here was this guy who put me in time out and yelled at me if I didn’t do my homework and bugged me to eat something besides junk food, and yet thousands of people were losing their minds over him and the band. They thought he was cool.

And then when I was 15, I got to tour with them full time. I became a de-facto member of the crew; learning to re-string and tune guitars and how to set up the stage. I gaff-taped the setlists to the floor next to the mics, I ran out with a back-up guitar for my dad or Eddie when they broke strings, I passed time with the guys during layovers by playing Obscure Rock Trivia to see who knew the most random shit about Queen (I did pretty well). Not to sound overly cheesy – because they would massively take the piss if I got overly cheesy – but they became family. Being on tour with them was like having 10 dads… Who were all equally as keen to break the legs of any guy who came near me. Fun fact: at my dad’s birthday party one year, they all teamed up to physically throw my then-boyfriend out of the restaurant and lock him out. For absolutely no reason. So it was also just as embarrassing as you’d imagine having 10 dads would be.

Of course we all knew that this was going to come to an end sooner or later. They’re not exactly getting any younger (sorry, guys) and they spend an awful lot of time laughing at bands who cling on until their death rattle – my dad’s favourite joke to make about the Rolling Stones is that they’re so old that their fans won’t clap at their shows because they’re afraid the lights will go on in the arena. And having the last tour this year does seem to bring things to a natural end. The band celebrates their 40th anniversary this year, so it would give them a nice round number of years of existence. But, perhaps more notably, they are now a man down. A.J. passing away last year changed everything. They were already discussing ending things in 2016 before he tragically died of a heart attack last March, but his passing solidified the idea.

Twisted Sister is not Twisted Sister without all five of them. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t sound the same. Mike Portnoy does an amazing job of drumming for the band, in all fairness. He is a truly great musician and a great guy and he fits right in with the band, making as many dumb jokes as the rest of them do, and it is so wonderful to have someone as talented as him able to see the band through their final tour. But going on in the long run without A.J. just couldn’t happen. Now is the right time for things to come to an end.

And so here we are. I’m sitting in my hotel room in Lund, Sweden writing this as we look towards the beginning of the end. In two days’ time, the band will kick off this last run of dates by playing Sweden Rock, and I cannot quite believe this is the last time we’ll all be in Sweden together after the amount of shows they’ve played here. There are no metal fans on this earth quite like Scandinavian metal fans, and they have shown the band an awful lot of love over the years. Friday night will be special. And then we go on to some of the biggest festivals heavy metal has to offer; Hellfest, Graspop, Bang Your Head, Wacken Open Air, Rock Fest, Bloodstock, and then some. We’re going on one last trip to the great Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus, and I’ll be blogging my way through the whole thing. This is going to be one hell of a summer.

Aaaaaaand begin.

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You can’t please all of the people all of the time

So I hit a teaching milestone last week. I had my first complaint filed against me by a student.

Well, maybe that’s the wrong phrasing. It wasn’t filed against me, as such. The student in question wrote a very long, detailed email to the general studio email address that was addressed directly to me. And it didn’t exactly say complimentary things. He evidently has issues with almost every aspect of my class and my teaching style, and felt that I needed to know he was unhappy with me. And not only that, but that some aspects of my teaching are, to him, just plain wrong.

To clarify, the student has been coming to the studio where I teach for a very long time and has, himself, been to Bikram Teacher Training (although he has never taught), and he feels he knows a great deal about the practice. Evidently, he also felt he needed to take it upon himself to right my teaching wrongs, by essentially writing me an essay on everything I’m doing incorrectly.

Now don’t get me wrong. I do not consider myself a perfect teacher, by any means. I am far from it. I still stumble over the occasional line, I make lots of awkward jokes, and I’m still not totally comfortable in my skin whilst standing on that podium. And I am always looking for constructive criticism from my fellow teachers. I have learnt that teaching is as much of a lifetime practice as a yoga practice. Every class I teach teaches me something new, and I don’t think I will ever stop learning. So had this student’s email been a few points on how to make my classes better (or had he spoken to me directly instead of emailing the studio), I might have been a little less thrown off.

But that’s not what the email was. What it was was a direct assault on everything I do and everything I say whilst teaching. From my occasional jokes, to the fact that I like to offer a few personal stories of how the practice helped me… He wasn’t down with any of it.

And at first, I was insulted. Then I was angry. I ended up sobbing at home later that night, fuming to my other half. “How DARE this pompous ass who’s never even had the balls to teach try to tell me how to do my job?!” It felt like my worst teaching nightmare had actually come true. Because when you get up on the podium to teach, you’re totally putting yourself out there for your students to see, warts and all. There’s no act to hide behind. It’s just you, in a sports bra and leggings, trying to help a room full of people achieve their best in their practice whilst simultaneously wearing your heart on your sleeve. And I already second-guess every damn move I make and word I say when I’m teaching, so having someone confirm those criticisms completely tipped me over the edge.

I wish I were about to tell you that I had a sudden yogic epiphany at that point that made me see the light about the situation and calm down, but I totally didn’t. I’m still kind of mad. I guess I have a ways to go to reach my enlightenment. Hey, I never said I was perfect.

BUT what I have realised (and the reason I’m writing this blog post) is that his whole email is actually not my damn problem.

So, my teaching isn’t perfect. I know it isn’t. I’m still a baby in the teaching world, it shouldn’t be! But I do know that I have students who really like my classes and who turn up to the studio especially to be taught by me. I have students who laugh at my stupid jokes and thank me for class on their way out of the studio. I also have a lot of students who are totally ambivalent to me, and that’s great too! As long as they’re turning up to practice for themselves and for the love of yoga, I am more than happy to teach them. I’m not there for them to love me, or even like me, I’m there to facilitate their practice and help them improve. And as for my teaching? I’m fine with the way it is right now, but I always look to get better, which is something I will do with time and experience.

I was also reminded by the freesia tattoo on my arm (long story) of something my favourite teacher once said to me when I was an emo 13 year-old getting bullied at school. “If you ever change yourself to please somebody else, I will be severely disappointed in you.” I am not about to change my teaching style to suit this student. Plenty of people like it, and if he doesn’t, then that’s too bad. You can’t please all of the people all of the time. The fact that he feels the need to assert superiority over me and try to make me feel belittled or lesser-than is about his own insecurities and issues. It has nothing to do with me. So I’ll keep teaching my classes the way I have since I left training; by being myself, and learning from my mistakes.

 

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

Weeks 8 & 9 (finally)

  
I suppose I should start off with an apology. I realised only the other day that I’ve now been on a 2 month hiatus from this blog, which was honestly never intended. I actually wrote an entry for Week 8 in its entirety whilst I was still at training, but never got around to actually posting it. Time seemed to slip through my fingers in the last couple of weeks, and I began to spend my every spare moment either sleeping, eating, or practicing dialogue. There was really no time for anything else. But anyway, I’ll fill you in now. Better late than never, eh?

Of course, the down side to waiting so long to write this post is that I’ve forgotten a lot of the details of Week 8, but I suppose it’s only the important things that matter, anyway. The big thing was that posture clinics finally ended, albeit in a very rushed and hurried manner. The last few days they went on, they lasted 4 hours as opposed to 3, and entailed most people reciting 2-3 postures at a time, which was totally unexpected and totally daunting. I have vivid, almost traumatic memories of memorising Spine Twisting (the final posture) actually during PC, after I’d delivered Head to Knee with Stretching (which I had just learnt earlier that day). It was not my finest moment from an organisational point of view, but I figured if I could pull off writing 3 end-of-term essays within 24 hours whilst I was at uni, – yes, I did do that once, and yes, I did live to regret it – I could learn 20 lines of dialogue in half an hour at TT. The reason for speeding PCs up so much? To make way for Bikram’s own posture clinics, of course! But these ones had nothing to do with dialogue. 

Instead, they entailed Bikram entering the lecture room in a tracksuit and announcing to us in a particularly hokey, pantomime-ish voice, “Oh no! I seem to have forgotten my posture clinic outfit… Oh wait!” And, giving us a cheesey grin and wiggling his hips back and forth, he would proceed to strip off said tracksuit to reveal a succession of sparkly lamé outfits that all included shockingly tiny shorts and matching wife beater tops. Admittedly, the first time he pulled this stunt, I did crack a smile. It was probably one of the more ridiculous things I’ve ever witnessed, and like I’ve said before, if you don’t laugh you start to go insane. But after the third time it started to get old. And whilst many other trainees would unfailingly give him the desired reaction every time – whooping, wolf-whistling, and singing the tune to that strip-tease song everyone knows but no one knows the title of… you know the one – my patience started wearing thin. I started fantasising about the day I would never have to set eyes on Bikram again, having grown increasingly tired of his inappropriate jokes and dependence on admiration. And, to top it all off, his posture clinics weren’t even bloody helpful. Looking back at my notes from those sessions, I realise now I barely wrote anything besides the occasional obvious tip like “Make sure the feet don’t inch closer together during 1st part of Awkward”. As opposed to offering us any real wisdom or insight into his yoga, Bikram just spent his posture clinics asking the people with the best examples of each posture to come up and demonstrate, just so he could yank them into more extreme expressions. 

The rest of Week 8 also included a number of “lectures”, once again, during which I managed to complete an impressive number of sudoku puzzles and coloured in a very detailed elephant from my friend Heidi’s adult colouring book. I have the occasional bulletpoint in my notebook of a gem that managed to shine through the rest of the bullshit Bikkers was spouting that week. But for the most part, I was just done. Mentally resigned. Totally fucking fed up. My eyes were on the prize: the certificate I would finally get my hands on after 9 weeks of struggling. I think we also watched a couple of films that week… One of which was one of the “Step Up” films, which was justified by the fact that Bikram had apparently helped to choreograph it, despite the fact that his name was suspiciously absent from the credits. I believe it was during this film screening that I ended up collapsed on the floor at the back of the lecture room sobbing my eyes out. The exhaustion had finally gotten to me, and after weeks of thinking I might just make it through without having a full-scale meltdown, I broke. Honesty, had I not only had just over a week to go by that point, I’m not sure I would have made it. 

But Week 8 did end with a saving grace, in the form of Thanksgiving. On the Thursday evening, after having pushed us through yet another grueling class, Bikram announced that he would give us the next day off, besides the one morning yoga class, essentially granting us a three-day weekend; a move that was apparently totally unprecedented and wholly unexpected by staff and students alike. So, although I missed out on my beloved turkey and sweet potato with marshmallows, I nevertheless found myself exceedingly thankful. And overwhelmingly relieved. 

All the same though, I feel it worth mentioning that I started to have two pretty constant anxieties going into Week 9. The first was that I was going to feel overwhelmingly lonely after training. After getting so accustomed to constantly being around 124 other people, I worried that going back to my normal life, which entails being alone for at least five hours per day, would drive me into a depression. It wasn’t an irrational fear, either. I spoke to numerous TT graduates who all reported feelings of intense loneliness, and one of whom who strongly warned me against staying at home alone for any amount of time in the month or so following training. 

“You’ll feel jet lagged,” she warned. “You’ll want to do nothing but sleep, you won’t want to to leave the house. But you have to. Go to the yoga studio, go sit in a cafe, go be around other people, for your own sake.” 

These conversations really started playing on my mind during the extended weekend between Weeks 8 and 9, and grateful as I was for the extra rest, I found distracting myself from these trains of thought was just another exhausting form of work. And trying to discuss it with my other half only gave way to my second anxiety: that I’d never be able to explain any of this to people back home. Yes, I had my blog. And yes, I’d been speaking to people in the outside world pretty regularly. But I still felt that what I’d been put through during those months would never be truly understandable to anyone who hadn’t actually been there with me. I was worried I would get home, fall into a depression, and be unable to explain why. It was the weirdest mish-mash of feelings; on the one hand, I wanted nothing more than to leave that fucking place already, and on the other, I wasn’t sure I even knew how to exist in the outside world anymore. Looking back on it now, those fears seem irrational and ridiculous, but at the time they were very real and very scary. 

But Week 9 began soon enough and quickly distracted me from those thoughts, mainly because it was the longest and most painful week of the entire training programme. I was expecting it to fly by, after all the staff tells you not to count the last week because it’s just the “wrapping up” week. 

“Don’t count it”, my ass. 

The days were longer, the bedtimes later, and my muscles sorer. Not a single evening lecture was dismissed before 2 AM, and the Thursday night saw us trapped watching a Bollywood film until past 4 AM. If Week 8 was starting to wear my patience down, then Week 9 served as the final test of my sanity. The only thing that kept me going was the knowledge that the end was near, and that I was mere days away from getting my certificate and being able to come home a teacher. Which I am immensely proud to say I did. 

On 5 December, 2015, I put on make up for the first time in 2 months, put on a dress instead of yoga clothes, stepped into a pair of heels in lieu of my Birkenstocks, and got my teaching certificate. I remember trembling a bit when walking across the stage to shake Bikram’s hand, feeling a mixture of nervousness, excitement, relief, and sadness. (I also remember feeling immensely weirded out when he complimented me on my dress, telling me he and I were matching… Let’s just say I didn’t find that much of a compliment.) 

  
Not sure if you can make out exactly what Bikkers is wearing there, but in case you were wondering, yes, those are purple satin trousers and snakeskin shoes. So you can maybe see why I wasn’t thrilled to be told I matched him. 

But there was a weird atmosphere that hung over the graduation proceedings, and that I couldn’t really shake for the rest of that night. I suppose it was a bit somber, really, and a bit surreal. I couldn’t help but notice that the ballroom was barely half full, with a lot of empty seats. I was reminded that only two training sessions previously, when there would have been over 300 graduates, it would have been packed. This time, it seemed sad and empty. And all the staff members had odd smiles plastered on their faces, as though they were trying to pretend everything was fine whilst being acutely aware that ours might be the last ever Bikram TT graduating class. There was a sense of grim finality about all of the proceedings. And relieved as I was, I was also uneasy. Looking back on it now, in the light of recent events surrounding Bikram and his empire (which I won’t go into here), maybe there was some foreshadowing going on there. But whatever it was, it felt like we were going out with less of a bang and more of a fizzle. 

Of course, that’s not counting what a lot of us got up to at the beach bar later that night, but that’s another story for another time… 😉

That’s all for now, readers, but stay tuned! Tales of teaching and the post-training come-down will follow shortly. Thank you all for sticking with me through this weird and wonderful journey. Namaste, bitches! X

Week 7 round-up: Just keep swimming

Exhausted does not even cover it. I slept 11 hours last night and that still was not enough to allow my body to recuperate fully. Apparently there’s a sleeping bag that someone has designed that will actually make you look like a hibernating bear, and I have decided that it is the only thing I will need for the rest of my life. I miss sleep. We were such good friends before all of this. I feel like a fool for leaving it. I promise, if it will take me back, that I will never be unfaithful to it again.

I don’t necessarily think that week 7 was physically any harder than previous weeks have been. We still had our standard two yoga classes per day, and the latest we were kept awake was 12:30 AM. I just think it’s the cumulative effect that 7 weeks of extreme physical exertion and very little sleep has had on me. I was waxing and waning all week in yoga class, going from a really strong class on Tuesday night, to a class so bad on Friday night that I spent final savasana in the foetal position. Seriously. My roommate almost had to call someone to help carry me out of the room. It wasn’t so much that I was dizzy or nauseous, it was just that my body had decided it had had enough, and my muscle strength basically gave out on me. It started with a pins-and-needles sensation in my left arm after Camel pose, but I didn’t want to allow myself to sit out any of the rest of the postures for fear of getting yelled at by Bikram and of making everyone else’s class that little bit longer. But I definitely paid the price for it. I just felt really, really done.

Luckily, however, not all of week 7 was quite so miserable. In fact, I had quite a few highlights this week that definitely helped speed things along a bit. Bikram was away Monday and Tuesday, so left us in the hands of a senior teacher of his from Mexico named Ulises. Ulises taught the evening classes on both Monday and Tuesday and, although I started out not liking him very much (his pacing during class wasn’t exactly what I would call “snappy”), I ended up really valuing his input by the time Bikram returned. He tends to approach this yoga from a more spiritual perspective, which I something I found really refreshing and comforting at this stage in the training, when things have started to feel a bit soulless and institutional. Ulises lectured us on Tuesday in the afternoon and the evening, and ended his evening lecture by playing a chanting track and allowing us to meditate for about 15 minutes. Monday evening was even more special, though, as Manali (who is basically the headmistress of Bikram Yoga TT) chanted part of the Bhagavad Gita whilst we all meditated. It was such a special and beautiful experience, and it offered us some peace, which I really think we were all in desperate need of.

But, just as quickly as he had left, Bikram returned once again. And he returned with a vengeance. His classes were hotter, his yelling was louder, and it seemed at times like he was on a one-man mission to steal our peace. He has become quite enthusiastic about accusing us all of being stupid, and about giving people corrections that they don’t actually need, seemingly just for the sake of being intimidating. And while I continue to enjoy his classes because of his almost infectious energy, I was getting too tired this week to be willing to make an effort for him anymore. The fact that we were forced to watch yet another two episodes of the Mahablahblah on Wednesday, and to listen to another one of his “lectures” on Thursday didn’t help my feelings either, and just served to put me in even more of a shitty mood. However, for all you future trainees out there, fear not! I have come up with the following, just for you…

Watching the Mahablahblah: A helpful guide

-The subtitles are not in grammatically correct English. I know this is annoying, but it’s not worth getting frustrated over. Choose to find it funny.
-When in doubt of what the fuck is going on, just assume that the kingdom of Hastinapur is in some sort of danger.
-Contemplating whether the costumes were made out of spray painted plastic or aluminium foil is a fun way of side-tracking yourself when you get bored.
-Whilst watching the Bhagavad Gita section (which is a 3 episode long conversation between Arjun and Krishna), ignore the subtitles and make up your own ideas for what Arjun and Krishna are discussing. Our ideas included, but were not limited to: The best places to shop for jewellery, the benefits of colonic irrigation, and whether they would rather shag Sofia Vergara or Megan Fox.
-Make up your own sound effects for when people start beating each other up in the big battle scene. My personal favourite was the doing sound I made every time someone hit someone else over the head with an oversized Christmas bauble. (You’ll see what I mean when you watch it.)

Seriously though, if you don’t do something to make light of the situations you get put in here, you could quite easily go mad. You really have to fight in order to stop anything from disturbing your peace, and having a good laugh goes a long way in that battle. A lot of what we do here is ridiculous. When I tell people back home what an average day here entails, they tell me they think it’s insane. It is. But there’s no point getting frustrated. We’re here for another two weeks yet, and I’m noticing more and more that peoples’ success here is very highly dependent on their attitudes. Those who go with the flow and stay in good humour are having a much easier time than those who have become more cynical. So try to avoid taking things so seriously. Whinge a little, sure, but laugh a lot, and enjoy spending time with so many wonderful people.

Just like Dory in “Finding Nemo”, we must all just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. Because, lord knows if we take our eyes of the ball and start flailing about, we’ll all fucking drown.

Lynn Whitlow, who is one of Bikram’s senior teachers who is currently visiting us, and who lectured us on Friday evening, said something that really struck a chord with me. Whilst discussing the merits and draw-backs of running a studio with very hard and fast rules, she explained to us that, for the majority of our future customers, coming to yoga is something that makes them happy and that helps them to love themselves. Really, that’s what this yoga does for all of us. So what is the point in taking it so seriously to the point where you’re making people miserable? We come to yoga to feel good, to fall in love with ourselves. And it is so much easier to do that here at TT if you just laugh, love, and focus on the positive. Even when there are negative things bubbling up around you, it is important to keep in mind that paying attention to them will not serve you here.

The name of the game is to get through these 9 weeks alive, in one piece, and (somewhat) happy. And we are so close now. Those certificates are within our grasp, many of us have already scheduled our first classes, and we are preparing to go home. So on we charge into week 8. Tired, sore, but determined as hell. Put on your war paint, people. Let’s do this. x

Yoga classes completed to date: 76
Hours of the Mahablahblah watched: 8.5
Current position in posture clinic: Camel/Rabbit
Latest bedtime this week: 12:30 AM

P.S. Here is a still from the Mahabharata. You can tell how sophisticated the special effects are, can’t you?

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Week 6 round-up: What doesn’t challenge you doesn’t change you

Note: Apologies for the horrible lateness of this post, but I spent this past weekend celebrating my birthday and have had veeeeery little free time since. Anyway…

Week 6. Goodness me. If week 5 was a roller coaster ride of emotions, then week 6 was akin to the Tower of Terror ride at Disney World. But we got through it, all in one piece, and it even seemed to go quite quickly.

What made the week quite so emotional completely eludes me. In a way, the pressure was actually taken off of us a bit, as it was re-certification week (in which teachers return in order to get re-certified, which you’re meant to do every three years). This meant that all the re-cert teachers were forced into the front row for every yoga class, and Bikram spent far more time yelling at them than he did at us. Honestly, there were times at which he gave the re-cert teachers a harder time than he’s ever given us… Which would make me completely petrified of the day I have to get re-certified, if it weren’t for the fact that you can also get re-certified at Rajashree’s annual women’s retreat. He spent most of the week ridiculing one (heavier) gentleman who had a consistently difficult time in the hot room, nicknaming him “Fat Ass” for the entirety of the week and forcing him to do third sets of a good portion of the postures, and he also spent a lot of time speaking Japanese to the five or so Japanese teachers who had come to re-certify. Of course, I have no idea what he said to them, but from the looks on all their faces I can only imagine that it wasn’t exactly complimentary.

As for his lectures last week? They were mercifully kept to a minimum. He only really lectured on the Monday evening. Tuesday evening was spent watching more Mahabharata, and Thursday and Friday evenings were spent in our Posture Clinics, during which we finished up the standing series and got down to the floor. As for Wednesday evening… it was Diwali! And what does that mean at Bikram TT? It means a great big party on the lawns of the resort, followed by a dance party in the resort’s night club (which was apparently right next to the hot room this whole time and none of us even knew about it). And not only did Bikram attend this dance party. Oh no. HE ACTUALLY DANCED WITH US. Yep. I made some seriously shit attempts at Bollywood dance moves right next to Bikram, whilst his son, Anurag, blasted his favourite Bollywood tracks from the DJ booth. I know, I know – pics or it didn’t happen. But seeing as we weren’t allowed to take photos, you’ll all just have to take my word for it. It was probably one of the weirder experiences of my life. But I do have to give the man credit. For a 69 year-old with bad knees, dude can still bust out some moves.

But unfortunately all this alleviation of pressure and bits of fun didn’t stop week 6 from being an emotional hell hole for a lot of us. Maybe it was just something in the air, maybe it was just plain exhaustion, who knows. But it seemed like a switch had been flipped all of a sudden, and we all started to feel everything a little bit deeper. Physical pains seemed to become more intense, especially where my knees were concerned, and some people had to resort to merely lying down in the back during class just to get themselves through the whole thing. The psychological pains that people started to feel, though, were even worse. Issues that people thought they had dealt with and had put in their pasts began to boil up again, and seemed to come back even stronger. Some of us (including myself) started to burst into tears mid-class for no apparent reason.

I don’t necessarily think this was happening because any of us wanted to throw in the towel and give up, though. On the contrary, I truly believe that we are realising more and more every day how incredibly strong we all are, and how fully capable we are of making it through this. Rather, I think we’re all just getting to the point here at which we’re realising that we can’t hide from our previous injuries anymore – mental or physical – and that they need to be brought up again so that we can deal with them once and for all. Not that that’s a nice thing to be aware of. It sucks, to be honest. My brain is constantly pushing my most hurtful memories to the forefront of my consciousness here, just when I thought I had buried them for good. So of course it hurts. But I also really do believe that we will all be stronger for this experience, painful though it is at the moment.

If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.

And oh boy, are we being challenged here. When you are this emotionally and physically exhausted, the littlest things seem capable of setting off a meltdown.

Here is a (shortened) list of things I came close to crying over in week 6:

-How badly the wifi sucks
-The fact that the food is the same thing every damn day
-How much I miss tea
-The fact that I’m missing the final series of “Downton Abbey”
-The dogs on the beach who look underfed
-I really miss drinking white wine
-How shit my Bow pose is because I think my hips are out of alignment

So, basically, week 6 was a glass box of emotions that all 126 of us were trapped in. The good news? It ended with my birthday and a trip to Moo Moo’s Cabaret in Khao Lak, where we watched a bunch of ladyboys lip sync to Mariah Carey songs. Every cloud, eh?

All stats here are relevant to week 6

Number of yoga classes completed: 65
Hours of the Mahablahblah watched (cumulatively): 6.5
Position in Posture Clinic: Wind Removing Pose
Latest bed time: Midnight

 

Week 5 round-up: My best friend, my worst enemy

Tl;DR This week was literally just emotions. All the emotions. The end.

Week 5 is over and we’re now more than half way through our training! HOW DID THAT EVEN HAPPEN? No, really. I’m asking you. Because I do not know the answer to that.

This week went by so quickly I almost can’t actually remember what we did each day because the days have all started to blur into one another. Bikram is back, yes, but he actually hasn’t been in the least bit horrible to us, so week 5 was also much easier than I expected it to be (in that respect). The longest class he taught was on Monday night and lasted two hours, and he actually stuck to roughly 90 minutes for most of the rest of the week. Not that he was going easy on us during those classes in the slightest, though. On the contrary, the heat was cranked up even further almost every night, and he upped the amount of corrections he shouted at us from his podium by about ten-fold. He even made one student, whom he has affectionately nicknamed “Mr. Manchester” (because – would you believe it – he’s from Manchester) get up on the podium one night and start off teaching Pranayama breathing because Bikram was pissed with him for doing it so badly in every class.

I have to admit, though, that to some weird, masochistic extent, I kind of like Bikram’s classes. Maybe it’s the fact that his energy when teaching is infectious, and makes the classes seem shorter. Maybe it’s the fact that, even when he’s yelling at you, he’s still trying to be kind of funny. Whatever it is, though, I think I’m far more scared of the idea of his classes than I am once I’m actually in there. The sight of his saffron coloured towels draped over the chair on the podium every evening most certainly inspires fear in me, but that fear quickly dissipates once he starts saying things like, “We have 35 billion brain cells but we only use 3 billion. That’s why most people are so weird.” (It’s little conversation points like these that he enjoys adding into his own version of the Dialogue.)

But Bikram being back doesn’t just mean that he’s returned to the hot room; it also means he’s back to lecturing us. And that, to me, was the real torture last week. Yes, Bikram’s lectures do include some pearls of wisdom. The problem is, though, that his lectures are so random that it’s very difficult to sort through all of his stories about his various famous students in order to understand what he’s really trying to say. Add to this the fact that he’s only been lecturing at night from 10 PM until Midnight, and you have the perfect recipe for making sure no one is entirely able to follow anything he’s trying to articulate. He’s also gone back to telling us more about the story of the Mahabharata, (which we have not yet returned to watching) interspersed with him going through his bag and showing us all the different things he likes to carry around with him. (He did this because a girl in the front row had dry eyes and he offered her his eye drops. This was accompanied by a demonstration of how he can put eye drops in his eyes without blinking. It was a really wonderful use of fifteen minutes.)

Whilst Bikram’s lecture series was treading water a bit this week, though, posture clinics were going full steam ahead. We had them every day last week for three hours, and blew through six postures as a result. A visiting teacher told me she thinks we went ahead with PC’s so intensely because we lost all our time to do them in week 4 due to Rajashree’s earlier-than-normal visit to our TT. I’ve mostly heard that PC’s tend to wrap up at the end of week 7, so if we keep going at our current pace, we’ll likely still be bang on schedule. And I’m happy to report that reciting the dialogue has been going a bit better for me as of late. My feedback was consistently good this week, and I’m pleased with how quickly I’m able to memorise all the postures. My next hurdle, though, will be to stop concentrating so hard on getting all the words perfect, and instead on being a more fast-paced, genuine teacher, as I tend to lose my pacing when I concentrate too hard on being word-perfect. Which, considering I’m a perfectionist, will be difficult for me. But I am here to learn, develop, and grow. And I have to seize every opportunity I am given to make changes in my mindset, and to stop being so hard on myself.

Speaking of which, this week has been a complete emotional MESS for me. Which is something I’ve literally just realised as I’ve been writing this. I heard different reports from different people regarding when the emotional breaking point of training tends to be, but the general consensus is that it comes somewhere between weeks 4 and 6. Now, I’m not saying that I have necessarily reached that point, but this week has definitely been an emotional and very confusing one. I fluctuated between being absolutely in love with this whole experience and with everyone here on one night, to waking up the next morning wanting nothing more than to go home. I had some seriously great classes (including one in which I managed to lock my knees during Padahastasana!), and a couple in which I came very close to crying for what felt like absolutely no reason. Sometimes I look around the hot room thinking there’s no place on Earth I’d rather be than with all these wonderful people, and the next minute I’ll mope about not being back home with my friends there. I also feel like I’m progressively going slightly mad without getting cuddles from Boyfriend and without being able to hear his voice every day. Meanwhile, having to look at myself in a mirror for 3-4 hours a day whilst wearing tight, unflattering clothes is really doing a number on me. There has been the odd occasion on which I’ve felt really good about myself and how I look in class, but most of the time I just stare ahead at all of my body’s imperfections. It is frustrating, discouraging, and mentally exhausting, but for whatever reason I can’t get myself to cut it out.

Bikram has said quite a few times during class and during his lectures that, “The mind is your best friend; the mind is your worst enemy.” And that is so, horribly true. Of course all of us have our little mental battles that we fight in our day-to-day lives, but being at teacher training magnifies those battles and forces you to deal with them. And it sucks. We have a unique opportunity here to spend nine weeks focusing on ourselves, and I’m quickly learning that that is definitely a curse in some senses. There is nowhere to hide from yourself or your insecurities here. So, for now at least, my mind is mostly my enemy. The good news is I have 4 more weeks to try to make it my friend.

P.S. Bikram made us watch another Bollywood film this week. It was 3 hours and 28 minutes long. I have zero recollection of what it was about.

Yoga classes down: 54
Number of Bollywood films watched to date: 2
Current position in posture clinic: Tree Pose
Latest bed time this week: 1:30 AM

And because we’re (over) half way through now, here’s an earworm for you all: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDK9QqIzhwk