Week Six

Anger Management 

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October 29 - Anger Management

(Life during posture clinic) 

You might remember a couple of weeks ago I wrote about Mike, who taught us during the beginning of training; at one point he mentioned that in week six, he had to shave his goatee to make sure he wasn’t going crazy. Well, hello week six! Wow. Tough. I don’t think I have ever seen so many people cry in one place, not even at a screening of E.T. or some such. All during the week, walking to the bathroom or to go get my yoga mat, I would just look left or right and see someone huddled in a corner crying or racing to get outside, away from everyone, tears in their eyes. Sometimes you stop, sometimes you don’t, when you can tell they don’t want any comfort but JUST WANT TO BE ALONE.  A number of teachers mentioned that Week Six is often dubbed Anger Week and for many of us, that was certainly appropo.  Even a lot of the stalwarts in class were hitting walls of frustration and soreness and feelings of ‘get me the %$# out of here’. Adding to this was the fact that our end time each day was extended from 11:00 PM to 11:30 PM, in order to try to get all the postures in by the end of week eight. (Week Nine is reserved almost exclusively for lectures…oh joy.) Most people are lucky to get 5 hours of sleep a night.

I did not think it was possible, but I was even sorer this week. My backbend is getting really good, at least for me, but anytime I have to bend forward I feel 110 years old.  My feet also started bleeding again this week, mostly because I have been so tired when I get home that after all the prep at night we have to do, I forget to rub my feet with this really intense cream I bought. When I do the cream, the feet are better. But I just fall in bed and forget and then they bleed the next day. Not profusely, but I have definitely left little stains on my towels some days. This weekend I have been taking care of them. 

All that said, I am still so glad to be doing this and to have the chance to continue to get to know these remarkable people. Don’t get me wrong about the week: even with the anger, frustration and tears there is continual laughter in the group, even if it is laughter about how awful we are feeling. And the time is flying by. I was stunned by how fast this week went and I know the remaining three weeks will be even faster. It will be wonderful to graduate and get back to life as I once knew it (though I am realizing it isn’t quite ever going to be the same again) but at the same time it will be so terribly difficult to leave this group, particularly knowing that I probably won’t see 80% of these people ever again, even some I have come to know very, very well. At the same time, it is so cool to know that for the rest of my life, most anywhere I travel in the world, I will probably be able to take Bikram and quite possibly from someone in my class.

I am so glad everyone was moved by Luke’s story last week. There is no way I can top it this week. Here is a picture of him, though. He is on the right. The man on the left is John Salvatore, who I also mentioned last week. John is also a pretty amazing guy.

 
The highlight of my week had to do with Emmy. Each class creates a yearbook, with photos, quotes, etc and the people who volunteered to plan and create the yearbook decided to devote a page to each of our four main teachers. When they asked for someone to write about Emmy, I immediately volunteered.  Emmy agreed to let me interview her and I spent 15 mind-blowing minutes with her, sitting in her car, talking. Or rather, Emmy talking and myself listening. Less than a minute into the time we spent together, I realized I was a complete and utter fool for not recording it. She said more to me in 15 minutes than most of our lecturers said in three hours. But I scribbled madly afterwards and was able to get at least some of what she said down. In lieu of any more rambling from me about my week, below is a slightly extended version of what will be in the yearbook, along with a repeat picture of her doing the Camel Pose. By my estimates, she was about 78 when this picture was taken in 2003.



EMMY CLEAVES

(Two short passages taken from AMERICAN YOGA by Carrie Schneider and Andy Ryan)

Two weeks before our training began, I started practicing at the main headquarters on La Cienega to try to get used to the heat. One day as I entered the ‘airplane hanger’, as I like to call our yoga room, I noticed an older woman, early 60’s maybe, in a black leotard, at the back of the studio. ‘How nice,’ I thought to myself. ‘It’s great to see the elderly in class, keeping fit.’ 90 minutes later, I lay on the floor, gasping for breath, trying to remember my name. Such is the force that is Emmy.

Born in Latvia, Emmy Cleaves came to America as a WWII refugee. She was separated from her own family at the concentration camp Danzig, where “the food was 75% sawdust, mixed with 25% flour. My stomach stopped functioning, it was all jammed with sawdust.” A sponsorship by a family in Michigan enabled her to come to the USA.

It was 1950 when she took her first Yoga class. She had been pestering her jazz instructor for more of the slow stretching exercises he taught as warm-ups. He told her to try Yoga, the first time she heard the word. When she went to her first class, “I was like a dry sponge, suddenly filled with water, soaking it up.” When I mentioned I felt a similar sensation the first time I took a Bikram class, she nodded. “Yes, because your body instinctively identifies something that’s good for it, something within its design template. I used to take jazz, I used to play tennis, but I knew I would not be doing those later in life. Most athletics are not compatible with your body or with yoga. They are counterproductive. There is a dark, damaging side to most athletics. There is a protective side to Yoga. Of course, there is a process to be observed. If you are a beginner and go into a class where the teacher tells you to stand on your head, RUN. First you need to learn to stand on your feet.”

She does do headstands, by the way. In fact, as teacher of the advanced class, she must both examine/teach her own body as well as the others in the class. “I’m standing on my own head, thinking about my body, how it feels and what I need to do, while I bark out orders to the others in the class.” When I asked her how Yoga affects her daily life, she said, “It’s on par with breathing. Look, it’s like taking a bath, it’s basically hygiene. The days I don’t do Yoga, I can tell, my body can tell.”

In 1973, after more than 20 years of exploring various kinds of Yoga, Emmy went to a demonstration given by a 26 year old Yogi named Bikram Choudhury. ‘I was fascinated by the energy and precision of his demonstration.’ Bikram began reteaching Emmy everything she had learned. ‘We argued, we really argued. I had done Yoga for a long time, none of it the way he demanded it be done… 'The posture is not the object,’ he would say, ‘your body is the object.’ I began to get very frustrated. And that heat! I said, ‘Bikram, if you’d turn down the stupid heat, this room would be much more full.’ He said, ‘An empty barn is better than a barn full of naughty cows.’” After visiting India and discovering that many medical research centers there did the postures Bikram’s way, she returned to Beverly Hills and immersed herself in Bikram’s logic of his 26 specifically designed postures, intended to tone the endocrine, lymphatic and digestive systems, increase blood flow, expand the lungs and produce a strong and limber musculoskeletal system. To attain the benefits of this series, the sequence of the postures is paramount, which is why Emmy defends Bikram’s controversial decision to copyright his method. ‘If you take the formula for penicillin and leave out one of the ingredients, you no longer have penicillin.’

As for her inimitable teaching style? “I believe in giving physiological instruction in the class as well as physical instruction. It helps the body learn. Bikram and I argue constantly about my style. He wants me to teach more like him. He yells at me, I yell at him. But Bikram himself used to give a lot of that information and it is important...I never do advance planning. The bodies give me the information I need to teach the class; I simply react to what I see. This occurs on both a physical and a mental level; each class has its own physical and spiritual energy. I teach to what I see. Sometimes people come up to me afterwards and ask, ‘How did you know I needed to hear that?’ The bodies tell me.”

I think my favorite memory of Emmy will be the first class she taught our group. You all remember…it was the first class where the side doors didn’t open, even after they carried out that poor girl who fainted. I could sense all of us thinking, ‘Emmy has to open the doors now!’ Emmy, however, just asked for her to be carried out (“Oh, for God's sake, somebody hold her head up”) and the class continued. And the doors stayed closed. Remember the first 15 minutes of Saving Private Ryan? I don’t know what it was like in the women’s locker room, but the men’s locker room looked like the surviving cast after that Normandy Invasion. There was none of the usual joking and laughing that goes on. Heads drooped, guys stumbled around, there was just a lot of grumbling and near silent muttering. But I think it is safe to say she has earned all of our respect and admiration.

The beauty of Bikram Yoga is made continually apparent to Emmy, through the many therapeutic miracles she has witnessed in the 30 years she has taught it, with remediation of Type 2 diabetes among them. Emmy herself has witnessed it in her body, from recovery from a devastating brain hemorrhage, similar to the one who killed her father, to being able to eliminate various types of medication she was told she would have to take for the rest of her life, including thyroid medication. “What gives me such pleasure is that I am able to share this potential to better people’s lives and to heal whatever is not working for them,’ she says. ‘That is the ultimate accomplishment of my life and will be to the end of it.’

Emmy, by the way, is not in her early 60’s, as I thought when I first saw her. Word is she is 81. She finally found her mother in the 1960’s, whom she was then able to bring to the USA. Her mother lived to be over 100. Let’s hope Emmy is around at least that long.
 

tomprovost@khartoumfilms.com

Week Seven