Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Six Weeks in Cleveland: I Have Become Mr. Rogers

Who's ready for an update on learning to be a good Bikram Yoga instructor?  It's been a fascinating, busy few weeks, and I wanted to share a bit on what I've learned and experienced.

But first...I'm finally living by myself!  I have a cute little carriage house in Cleveland Heights.  The previous tenants were: a fellow who was commuting back and forth to Detroit for a year...and before him, a woman who lived there for SIXTEEN YEARS.  Well, first she lived in the house (according to oldest of the three young daughters who live in the main house, she "came with the house") and then she moved to the carriage house, where she gradually went a little bit crazy.

Yes, I have taken over a crazy cat lady's home.  It's already furnished, which is SO fantastic, but every once and while I'll notice that the mug I'm drinking from has a cat painted on it or says "Retired, Not Expired!" and wonder if the spirit of the crazy cat lady is the reason that I'm suddenly obsessed with getting a kitten...so thanks a LOT, Stephanie, for introducing me to this blog.

My other obsession over the past week has been finally becoming the proud owner of my very own Vitamix.  As you probably know because I couldn't stop talking about it last week, I successfully traded a batch of peanut butter cookies, proofreading a few papers, and almost HALF the price the dude on craiglist was asking for his six-month-old barely used Vitamix.   I have since made wonderful breakfast and lunch smoothies, the best gluten-free pumpkin spice muffins ever...

To sum up, I now spend many of my non-yoga-ing hours looking at photos of adoptable kittens, drinking tea from a "Retired Not Expired" mug as my baked goods are a-baking.  I AM turning into a crazy cat lady!

 You can actually buy this costume online.  Lame.  Although I think I just figured out a possible Halloween costume...SEXY crazy cat lady?  Along the same lines as the classic sexy Abraham Lincoln?

Speaking of yoga-ing, that's been going GREAT.  While I miss my SF friends so much sometimes it hurts (and I'm so proud of them all...Kelly is rocking 14 classes a week, Renata ran a freakin' HALF IRONMAN, Stephanie moved to Chicago for a bigwig nonprofit job, just to name a few - yeah, I only make friends with awesome people), I've been enjoying my new lifestyle here in Cleveland. 

Its been fantastic to see how our students are already growing and blossoming (like a flower petal blooming!).  I'm also grateful for the three lovely ladies I'm working with every day - I never, ever leave my house thinking "I really don't feel like working today."  I'm learning so much about teaching and doing yoga, I love it!  Here are just a few recent revelations:

I feel obliged to point out that I stole this adorable image from a stranger's family blog via Google image search.  Creepy.  But she's so happy with her image in the mirror!

Bikram Yoga is great for overcoming self- consciousness.  Bikram studios have mirrors - big, floor to ceiling mirrors, like a dance studio, covering one whole wall and at least one side wall.  These can take a little getting used to, and I often see new students looking here, there, everywhere - at the students in front of them, watching me on the podium - rather than following the instruction to look in their own eyes, even smile at themselves, at the mirror.

They are baffled by the skimpy clothes that we have available for sale, because they'd never be caught dead in them - they're too fat, skinny, veiny, etc.  You're just not pretty in Bikram yoga...no one is! (except for THESE people.  As my mom used to say, Jeez Louise!).

But what's wonderful to see is when beginners start to overcome that initial self consciousness - when they're confident enough to move closer to the mirror, when they stop watching other people all the time and start seeing themselves more clearly, when they buy a pair of tight short shorts because let's face it, it's hot in there and if other students see my muffin top, so be it.  Bikram ultimately forces you into a self-acceptance that I think is a really beautiful thing...but it takes time.

Thus I found the cheesiest phrase leaving my mouth last week - "You're all beautiful in your own unique way." And I was COMPLETELY sincere.  Because I could see people getting frustrated, sighing in exasperation, shooting me a look when I tell them "eventually, two knees in one line," because they think that will never happen for them.  And I felt at that moment that maybe they didn't fully appreciate just how beautiful, strong, and flexible they really were!  But the Mr. Rogers (or god forbid, BARNEY) moment was maybe a little much, earnest as it may have been...

I've had my own lessons in overcoming self consciousness recently.  I finally bought a pair of the Tonic booty shorts (kind of like these) that we sell at the studio, and Erica was exactly right - they're not cute, but damn if they don't stay in place the whole class.

I also stopped saying "I'm not very good at this posture" before demonstrating a posture for my class - because I'm as good as I need to be, they're getting the information they need regardless of how high up I can kick in Standing Bow, and ultimately that sort of self-deprecation is exactly what I'm reminding them to avoid!

After all...Yoga is fun.  Yoga is a practice! One of my new regular students in Cleveland (who deserves some sort of fashionista profile in a happenin' Cleveland magazine or something (is there such a thing?) given that she has the best outfits) told me that she carries a lot of tension in her shoulders and hunches them in class (the same problem I used to have). She felt like the yoga was working but wondered if there was anything she could do, other than just relax them when she saw it  happening.  And...that's exactly what she needed to do! 

Yoga is not a magic potion that will suddenly, immediately cure what ails you...it takes time, and practice, like any other physical discipline or sport.  Patience and compassion for where you are right now is all you need in Bikram Yoga - the rest will come in time (as long as you're still using your English bulldog determination and Bengal tiger strength, of course!)

Speaking of patience, slowly but surely I've been improving my teaching in Pittsburgh, where I now teach 3 times/week on Thursdays and Fridays (and thus get to hang out with my mom and drink wine while I raid her refrigerator...good times!).  It's different from what I'm used to, not just in practicalities like teaching from the back/sides of the room instead of on a podium at the front, but the students themselves! 

Allison can translate this for me but it's got something to do with the tree calling tree pose "Boring!!"

I've become more comfortable with the genuine stillness and silence in the Pittsburgh studio that the owners have cultivated and the students have achieved over the past 3 years, and thus am better able to share that stillness with the students in Cleveland.  

From taking classes with Zeb and Shannon, the yoga rockstars of Pittsburgh, I'm starting to better understand the intricacies of postures and can then share them with my advanced/advancing students in Cleveland...but what I'm learning from Jeannine and Erica and with the students in Cleveland helps me be compassionate and effective towards new students in Pittsburgh.

Basically, the contrast between these two studios - and the sheer amount I get to teach now - means that I think I'm becoming a better teacher!

You may be surprised to learn this but...there's a fair bit of yoga going on in this fair city!  And I've had some fun exploring it when I can.  I always like trying out other yoga disciplines, to remind myself what it's like to be a beginner, to push myself a little harder with the unfamiliar, and to see where my students are coming up with some of their own wacky modifications on the Bikram series.

For example, bubbly front desk lady Sarah invited me to my first Cleveland Yoga class, where I very much enjoyed the teacher's informal vibe, the six hour long partial pigeon pose, and seeing Sarah rock out the power flow.  I was not such a fan of phrases like "nobody co-signs your shit" (um...what?) but to each his own...

I also drove out to the middle of nowhere to check out Chagrin Yoga, where I discovered that my arm/ab muscles are stronger than the last time I tried to hold plank in vinyasa yoga, and that I'm still thrown when yoga teachers grab my sweaty back without warning to push me deeper into a posture - there's far less (if any) touching in Bikram than in other forms of yoga. I could have done without the Dave Matthews band too...but it was fun!

I went to a second class in Chagrin last night with an admittedly less open mind, given that it was their "Bikram Style Yoga," and a student had responded to our claim "we're the first official Bikram studio in Ohio" with "no, you're not."  There are a lot of requirements in order to use the Bikram name, particularly using only certified teachers and teaching only Bikram in the Bikram studio, neither of which are true at Chagrin (if you're curious, you can see the whole list here, but keep in mind that very few studios have the wherewithall to follow EVERY SINGLE RULE.  Did you know in Canada it's a health code violation to install carpet in a Bikram yoga studio?).  It's hard not to get a little uppity about "fake," unaffiliated pseudo-Bikram classes.

 Yeah, I don't know. Apparently I find pictures of kittens funny now.  SAVE ME!

So.  Anyway.  What is this Bikram Style Yoga so clearly masquerading as REAL Bikram yoga?  Well, let's see...it was a small class of three people, nice and hot and humid - although bizarrely, the (wood) floor was cold.  I was wondering if I was having some sort of weird illness or blood pressure issue every time I picked up my cold foot with my sweaty hand, but once I lay down in savansana I realized "wait a minute...it's the FLOOR."

The teacher used a mix of dialogue and not-dialogue, and a mix of Bikram-style jokes with deep thoughts like "You're not really here.  This studio doesn't exist."  I spent much of the class in an obstinate and offended state, coming out of postures early when he held them too long, frowning when he made a suggestion or correction that I thought was "wrong."

But then...I talked to him afterwards and he was a perfectly nice fellow.  He was honest about the fact that he hadn't been able to attend training and had learned from other teachers.  He shared some of the details of his newfound Kriya Yoga path with me and suggested I check out an upcoming public lecture in Cleveland (which I plan to!).  He was in fact the one who had introduced Erica to Jeannine earlier this year, and made that connection critical to getting Bikram Yoga Cleveland off the ground.  He'd introduced a fair number of people to the idea of Bikram yoga, and since BY Cleveland has opened, his classes have shrunk significantly - which he didn't resent, since he was glad we were here.  Well, after that, obviously the holier-than-thou attitude I had built up through the class dissipated.

Also I left a SEA of sweat on that wooden floor thanks to a less-than-effective rented towel and the condensation caused by cold floor/warm Danielle, so I owe him!

More next week...on possible yoga asana competition news, and the stuff I cut out of this blog post because it was just too damn long!  Love you all and see you in the hot room!

P.S.  My Mr. Rogers nostalgic googling led me here...hope this brightens your day as much as it brightened mine!


  1. When am I going to get homemade cookies!? And did you see the new kittie blog post - an adorable kittie named Lucy is up for adoption :)

  2. Hi Danielle -
    After meeting you on Wednesday and taking your class - it was so fun to read this post! I like your honesty and all the images you interspersed through the post. I'll be stopping by often!