Monday, February 28, 2011

I told her what was happening.

I told her what was happening.

I'm a person who likes to project a certain image. I like to seem cheerful, easygoing, and when someone I trust gives me a direction (i.e., "Lock the standing knee!!"), I try to do it. I tend to do it in all walks of life, and it shows up in the hot room too.

Lately, though, it hasn't been quite so easy to be obliging. The yoga teachers say, get up and do the pose. They tell us to kick harder. They tell us to stay in the room. I want desperately to oblige, but some days I just can't do it.

I finally talked to my studio owner. I told her I had a lot going on in my life right now, and that I've been carrying my anxious burden into the yoga room. It was hard, telling her that. She's a steely, tough woman herself, and she doesn't invite a lot of that touchy-feely stuff. But I'm so glad I opened up.

"I can get really, really anxious," I told her.

"I know!" she responded. I was kinda surprised. I thought I hid it well. I forgot that the hot room strips away all guises. I ended up telling her some of what I was going through, and that I was so anxious some days I didn't think Bikram yoga would be good for me. Hearing her respond kindly was enough to make me realize it was good for me.

She reassured me that it was OK if I left. Interestingly, she understood that in some situations (not just extreme physical conditions) it might even be in my best interest to leave the room, especially since it isn't a chronic thing and is tied to what tends to be going on in my life. I walked away thinking progress would happen at its own rate.

So, I opened up. And I'm glad I did. The next two classes I had were amazing. Not even tempted to leave the room, not even tempted to skip a posture. Opening up to my studio owner and saying, "Hey, I'm uncertain and unsure that this is right for me" was just the move I needed to make.

I think that underneath the hard-core boot-campy talk that some teachers tend to bring to the classroom, this is a pretty compassionate practice. And if you don't believe it, ask your teacher!

Monday, February 21, 2011

What Makes a "Good" Teacher?

I've been appreciating good teachers lately.

I've been thinking of the qualities the teachers I value as "good" have in in common. When I was still in school, I thought good teachers had to have an air of confidence and a developed ability to read the room. I thought they had to be brilliant--many steps ahead of the students they taught. When I started teaching composition, I thought this, and I also thought a sense of humor would endear the students to me and thus, learn the material better.

Now that I've taught for a few years and been a student for over 25, I know of no universal checklist of qualities that one can aspire to. We never get the chance to sigh satisfactorily once they've been attained. I know plenty of people who are intelligent, funny, and who initially appear confident. But the teachers that reach me again and again seem to have a well-defined sense of who they are.

There's a fairly new yoga teacher in town who helped me see this. I remember the first time she walked into the room. She looked young, geeky, and did not have a strong, commanding voice. She didn't force herself to be cheerful or firm. She continued to seem young and geeky and didn't pretend to have a commanding voice. But damn if she didn't get the best class out of us. And I've seen her do that again and again.

This teacher has a particularly gentle way of encouraging us to try. Rather than make it seem like we're rockstars if we do the pose and not trying hard enough if we sit it out, it seems she simply points out that it's possible to do the work. Last week, she singled me out in Standing Bow pose. Normally, I'm falling all over the place in that posture, and teachers who know me don't bother to correct me or offer encouragement. (I don't mean this in a "those teachers suck!" kind of way. Let me make my point.) It takes a real act of bravery to offer them encouragement in just the place they need it.

I think it was the last side of Standing Bow when I realized she was talking to me. "Yep, you've got it, E," she said. "Just keep kicking." I don't remember what else she said, but it was so nice to really feel her reach out to me in just the posture I feel the weakest in. It was exactly what I needed to hear, and I finished the pose pretty strongly.

As a teacher, I too know that it's hard to take a leap of faith like that for a student. I see now that it's because that yoga teacher was not a drill sergeant, because she was being her normal, geeky, joking-about-a-book-I-read-last-week self, I knew it would be OK if I fell out. That was the exact thing I needed to go forward--I needed someone to reassure me it would be OK if I "failed." It was like the criteria for being a good student had dissolved, too.

Like all those self-help messages that emphasize that we should be who we are, we need to give ourselves permission to be ourselves when we teach, when we work, when we parent, etc, even if we are nervous, silly, or irritated. There's no need to force yourself to act a certain way--you're already OK as you are. This is the message we need to hear again and again. Maybe that's why it feels so wonderful to get a teacher who sees this!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Oh God. Here it comes: A Valentine's Post.

"Happy Singles' Awareness Day, dude."

I overheard a student commenting sarcastically to his friend as I walked through the hallways today, feeling kinda grumpy about Valentine's Day. Jeez. It's a cliche to point out what a useless and industry-generated holiday this is. For those of us who aren't in a relationship, seeing the ads of happy couples, people walking around with pink gift bags, flowers, and balloons can be a painful reminder of what we think we don't have. For those of us who are in a relationship, the holiday can make us feel pressured to express emotions we may not actually be feeling, or buy a bunch of crap we can't afford that the other person probably doesn't even want. Corporate bottom line? For the win! Individual? FML.

There was something about the student's comment--which actually resonated with what I'd been feeling in the buildup to this "holiday"--that actually snapped me out of my self-righteous sarcasm. It does suck to be reminded of loneliness or feelings of disconnection. It does suck to feel like we've got to please our man or woman by buying or doing things.

Even the cynic in me, though, must grudgingly admit that the holiday has at its essence a good message. While at the grocery store yesterday, I saw little pots of flowers that made me think of a couple of really great women friends I work with, so I bought 'em and put 'em on their desks this morning. It just... felt... so.... good!

Of course, the TV ads tell you to buy a diamond ring for your girlfriend, or your family tradition says buy some chocolates from See's. They don't show two platonic female friends exchanging flowers. But that "I'm glad you're in my life and I'm thinking of you" message is one we all deserve to hear, and one that feels really good to say!

So, let's use the skills we develop in yoga and meditation. The message is perfect! The delivery might not be so good and may even be driven by the bottom line, but go back to the message and let that drive our action and thoughts instead. Doing so is what makes us feel connected and loved.

Dare I say it? Happy... Valentine's... DAY. I'm thinking of you.

Heather/a South African flower

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A New Challenge

Scared. Wrung-out. Confused. Elated. Joyful. Sick. Powerful. Irritated. Uncertain. On any given day lately, it seems like I experience all these emotions, often within the span of a very short period of time. As someone who values steadfastness, I'm looking to bring a little more equanimity into my life, so I've undertaken a "challenge" of a non-Bikram-but-very-Bikram-related kind.

I've been incorporating meditation into my life lately. I've been studying it in books and listening to talks on meditation and Buddhism from sites like Yoga itself is a form of meditation--I often think Bikram is a meditation trial by fire: learn to be in the moment or you're a gonner.

But I've been feeling like I've been in the "learning about meditating" phase for a long time. It's time to really roll up my sleeves and establish a routine that I stick to unfailingly, like brushing my teeth in the morning or greeting my kitties when I come home from work.

Sharon Salzberg, a well-known Vipassana (I think!) meditation instructor, has a new book out called Real Happiness, and in it, she challenges people to take up meditating 15 minutes or more a day for a month. On her website, she's asked readers to begin the challenge at the start of February, and invites people to blog about what they're experiencing and share in a sort of online sangha (Buddhist community).

Admittedly, I don't actually have her book. But I have read others and have met her in person and listen to her talks, and I've undertaken the challenge of meditating 15 minutes a day.  (15 minutes is a long time.) While I don't plan to blog about it all here, I'm sure future posts will be influenced by what comes up.

So far, it's been very ... interesting. Just like in practicing yoga, when meditating, you never know what's going to come up. Sometimes you can get a sense of real peace and joy, sometimes demons wake up and rattle their cages, and sometimes it can get boring. One of the keys I've learned from exploring Buddhism is a lesson I don't think most of us get: not to judge. As stuff comes up, it's inevitable we want to attach judgment to it. "Oh her. She was so cruel to say that. Didn't she realize how thoughtless she was being?" And then I am mad at myself for feeling judgment when I should be feeling nothing but warm, fuzzy lovingkindness. Sometimes I am able to remember: don't judge... not even the judgment part.

I'm trying not to set rigid goals for what I'm going to "get" from this little challenge. I'm trying not to have expectations. But I am pretty sure that looking into the pool of my mind, watching the mud settle, and seeing what lays on the bottom is a good place to start.