Week One

Oh My.


Week Two 

September 24


Ok, this is going to be a long one. I think there is some interesting info and some cool pictures below, but no hurt feelings if you don’t want to suffer through it all. Please feel free to email me. I might not have time to respond directly, but I loved getting the emails this week; they mostly all hit at just the time I needed to get them.

First, let me answer a few FAQ’s:

1 – To answer the most frequently asked question: No, I am not insane.

2 – Yes, there are health benefits, even if people are passing out and paramedics are being called the first week.

3 – As for ‘what in the heck are you doing from 9:00 in the morning ‘til midnight five days a week,’ see below.

4 – Again, No I am not insane. (Yeah, yeah, I guess that is what most crazy people say…)

Before I get into the week, I think I should give a brief description of this particular type of yoga and why I decided to do this teacher training.

Here’s the thing with Bikram Yoga: it’s not what I always perceived yoga to be, i.e. strange, spiritual, with people chanting and burning incense and meditating in a room. Each of the 300 of us in the training had to introduce ourselves the first couple of days and as I said to the group when I did my intro, ‘Before I started yoga, I thought yoga was something just weird hippies did’. Bikram is nothing like what I expected yoga to be. When you go to a Bikram Yoga class – the fastest growing yoga in the world, and yoga in general is apparently spreading like wildfire – you enter a room heated to at least 105 degrees and do a 90 minute workout that is purely physical with no mention of spirituality. The workout usually is, well, brutal. Bikram himself always starts his class saying ‘Welcome to Bikram’s Torture Chamber’; as someone who played football in high school in 95 degree heat and 95 % humidity, I can say it is about as intense a workout as you can get.

I have come to think just about everyone should at least try Bikram, and having gained so much from it, I’d love to give back a little and do what I can to get people to enjoy the health benefits. I also love to teach, and as most of you know, I don’t quite mind a forum in which to pontificate. In Bikram classes, the teacher never stops talking for the 90 minutes – again, not a typical meditative experience. The class is set up so the teacher is almost like a drill sergeant, instructing the whole time, bringing the class through a set and never changing series of 26 yoga postures, always the same postures, always in the same order. This is one of the reasons the teacher training is so rigorous.

This first week was indeed very intense. As tough as the physical challenge has been and will be, it is the mental challenge that will be the most difficult, at least for me. Even the times we are not doing the actual yoga (twice a day, more on that later) the training can be mentally taxing or numbing. This entire week, for instance, when not in twice a day actual class, was spent with each of the 300 people introducing themselves individually.  After that, each of the 300 had to individually teach the first posture, for Bikram himself and the rest of the 300. (We still have not finished this first posture; that will take up the rest of the day Monday.) Watching 300 people do the same thing over and over is a bit numbing, to say the least. But it is a great way to get to know each person a little bit.

 The people in this class are perhaps going to be the greatest part of the training. Of the 300, probably 95% are not local to Los Angeles, and about 40-45% are not from the US. There are people from Finland, Switzerland, Poland, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Italy, Spain, Prague, Estonia, Germany, France, Britain, Israel, Ireland, Canada, The Philippines, Thailand, Greece, Estonia, Korea, and a 50-person contingent from Japan. (In Japan, they start the class with the room at 140 degrees – no lie. So don’t call me insane.) 4 of the group are soldiers recently returned from Iraq (3 men and one women, all having come independently). There are policemen, lawyers, doctors, schoolteachers, housewives, accountants, you name it. Some are in incredibly amazing physical shape, others, ahem, are not. The youngest is 22, the oldest 62. There are quite a few people older than my 41 years, actually.

These people are in no way what I again in my misjudgment perceived ‘yogis’ to be: flaky, hippy-ish people. Many of these people are successful, type A personalities who have put their lives on hold to do this training because their minds and bodies have been so affected by the workout. Some have left very successful careers, even, to hopefully open a Bikram studio in their towns. (You can only open a Bikram studio if you have done the training and then been a teacher somewhere for at least 6 months.)

Hearing these people’s stories and hearing the physical effects the yoga has had on them has been extremely cool. Over and over again people were telling stories about having had severe injuries and who were told they would only, say, walk with a cane and had no hope of progress, only to now be flipping over backwards or forwards and happily running around. You can see scars on some of these people’s bodies from multiple surgeries. One guy even swears it cured his Turret’s syndrome. Whatever the case, they are a remarkably sane and incredibly genuine bunch of people, people who love life and want to make a small bit of difference in the world by helping people get healthy in mind and body. Having been thrown into this hell so suddenly, we are already bonding remarkably fast and the people I have come to know this week, both sexes, all ages and nationalities, are such a pleasure to be around. They are going to be a really wonderful influence on me, I am sure. There have been times already during both the actual yoga classes and then the lectures and posture clinics when I look out over this sea of people -- all together in this huge hot smelly room -- and get a bit emotional, it is such a remarkable and inspiring sight. It’s a genuine honor to be in the midst of this with all of them.

As for our days, we do the actual Bikram class twice a day. This is one of a number of the aspects of the training that is so difficult.  The first class starts at 9:30, and you need to be there by 9:00 to sign in and get ready. Normally the classes are 90 minutes but ours are running about 2 hours each, as they are giving us a lot of information within the class and they are also giving us more time than normal to rest between some of the postures since the room is so hot and we are all struggling to get used to the reduced level of oxygen. 

Here are two pictures from last year's training to give you and idea of our classes. The picture above was from last year as well. Keep in mind we have about 40 more people in the room:

During these twice a day classes, they have been opening the doors to the room occasionally, since it is our first week, but starting Monday, the doors will never open and we have to get our lungs used to the reduced oxygen level in the room. This has been the most difficult aspect for me, much more than the heat. You get dizzy, which can lead to a bit of a mental panic: ‘Get me out of this room now.’ One of the purposes of the training is to get us to hit some mental and physical walls and develop the strength to burst through them, rather than succumb. For instance, Friday morning I woke up and felt pretty crappy. I was sore, tired and grumpy. Had I been living life normally, and had I planned to workout that day, I just would have skipped the workout that day and stayed in bed. But of course I could not do that and I had to get out of bed and go. As the morning class began, I was thinking, ‘How the #$@% am I going to survive the next 2 hours?’ And then I ended up having the best class of my life. It was a really good lesson in mental discipline, something I sorely lack and which will be my biggest challenge in the training. I have my life set up in way where I don’t really often have to do something I don’t want to do. Already this training has been a shock, being told when and where to be, having to sign in and be accountable all the time, being in a situation where I have no choice but to follow the discipline and, even if I don’t agree with what is going on – or simply don’t want to do it – I have to do it. It is a bit disorienting and not all that pleasant but it is in no way a bad thing.

As for the drama that occurred this week, about which some of you heard – the fainting, the paramedics coming, my own experience of my feet getting cracked and dry and beginning to bleed – it is just part of the first week or so of us trying to get used to the workout. It is no different than, say, a soldier in bootcamp, a football player going through 2-a-days or a ballet dancer having to tape his or her cracked and bleeding feet in order to get through another practice. These are simply hurdles we have to get through and I believe we will all be much the stronger and better for them. No, they are not pleasant. I have hit a wall or two already. But the discipline is a good thing for all of us, myself in particular, and as intense as this all is, our bodies are going to be the better for it by the end. We just have to take a week or so to get used to how rigorous these 9 weeks are going to be.

The staff has been very adamant about our bodies and health and how we approach the training. There have been RN’s present this entire first week. The staff has been relentless regarding how to eat in particular. It was eye-opening the first day to hear some of the warnings. We were told to be sure to come to them immediately with any problems. Craig, who is running the training, said Monday, ‘If you are unable to eat, if you stop being able to chew, please come see us immediately.’ Good Lord, unable to chew? (It’s called Mastication, as I now know. ‘Please come to us if you are unable to masticate.’ Yikes!) I had to laugh at the admonition to be careful not to eat. As you all know, that is about the least of my worries. And yet the world came to an end Wednesday at lunch when I had to force myself to eat. Seriously. I just had no appetite and the idea of food made me ill. But I knew I had to eat or I would not make it through the afternoon class. They’ve instructed us to talk to ourselves like children at such times and force ourselves to eat, which I had to do. Me, Tom, not hungry. The mind boggles. And yet within such times we all have to eat at least two times our normal caloric intake in order not to keel over. And yes, a few people have indeed keeled over.

As for direct health benefits, as some of you know, I really screwed up my ankle a week before the training and was scared I was not even going to be able to participate. The doctor told me I needed to be in a large cloth brace for 3-4 weeks at least and that I would have to nurse the ankle the whole time. I started the training Monday with an ace bandage and then a smaller brace and then the larger brace all around my ankle. I am already down to the ace bandage. The swelling is gone and so is most of the pain. As we say in Texas, ‘This shit works.’

Given this is dragging on, I will save more for next week. I haven’t even started in on Bikram himself. He is hilarious, a showman, a great storyteller, a total egomaniac, at times quite maddening and yes, probably in some way crazy…wait until next week’s email. I will also be able to go more into some of the people. The Japanese students in particular are mind blowing for a number of reasons. So all of that to come.

Because so many people asked, though, I will end with a brief description of each day. The day actually begins around midnight when Adam and I get home. We have to lug everything back up to the house: ice chest, water bottles, clothes, food remnants. Before we even think about sleeping we have to rinse and refill the water bottles – we are both going through about 3 gallons of water a day minimum, often more – clean the food containers, start a load of wash. So I have been getting to bed about 1 AM. My alarm goes off at 6:45. I have to eat by about 7:15 in order not to get nauseous during the morning class. And we have to leave the house by 8 am in order to get there in time. In the morning, then, before we go, we have to eat breakfast (Adam is making a great protein shake each morning and we are both also having toast and peanut butter or toast and hummus.) We have to prepare the food containers for the day, fill the ice chest for the day, finish the laundry, get everything ready. It is taking a lot of discipline to do all this in a short period of time.

We hit the road at 8 and have an hour commute, because of the traffic. Adam is teaching me the intricacies and subtleties of hip-hop music on the commute. It’s a lot better than I thought. I haven’t had much to ‘introduce’ to him: he is a music fanatic and came, at age 24, with a wide knowledge from his beloved hip-hop to all kinds of jazz, latin and classical music. We are trading great groups, though: I love a latin group he plays called Cubaniso, and my favorite is a group called Sublime. He is loving a lot of what I play, such as Zero 7, Cachaito, Nuyorican Soul and the like, and has become addicted to Bernard Herrmann. As hellish as the hour traffic filled commute has been, we’ve had a great time in the car and it has helped me wake up.

Anyway, we get to the studio at 9 and get ready for class. Class 1 is from 9:30 to about 11:30. We get an hour to shower and eat and then posture clinic begins. We have posture clinic from 12:30-4:30, which is where everyone has to teach the postures. We will be split up into groups next week so the process will go faster. From 4:30 – 5:00 we get ready for class number two of the day. 5:00 – 7:00 is class 2. (So far the afternoon class has been easier for me than the morning class.) We then are off until 8 or 8:30, depending, for dinner. No one leaves, there is not really time, so most of us are living out of our cars. Adam and I have a whole rigorous set up in the back of my truck, including wireless internet in the car and he has even rigged it up so we can use the blender in the back of the truck. Then we have another posture clinic or a lecture from 8:30 until 11 … if we are lucky. One night Bikram was on a roll and would not stop talking and we did not get out until 11:40. Then it is back home to get ready again. And we are eating a lot of food right before we go to bed. It is the one time of day, currently, when I am truly hungry.

So that is going to be my day, Monday through Friday, for the next 8 weeks. We are thankfully off on weekends, though they too are filled. Saturday morning we had to make runs to Costco, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Target, to get the food for the week and some other necessary items. Much napping was involved. And today Sunday was spent to a large degree cooking the food we then leave in the fridge to fill the food containers with in the morning for the meals we have to eat all day.

Ok, enough. Again, I so appreciate the support and as crazy as it might seem – and as hellish as it already at times has been – it is already turning out to be a remarkable, rather mind-bending experience. No great sign off. I’ll send out an update next week – and try to be more concise.
Week Two