Week Two

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October 1

(Our class: TRIANGLE) 

WEEK TWO

Greetings from Bikram’s Torture Chamber. Thanks for the emails this week, they were much appreciated. I promise this won’t be quite as long: I am beat and have a lot of studying to do (famous last words, we will see what happens once I get rolling).

This week’s most FAQ (No, I am not insane): Yes, I am already starting to see some physical effects. I’ve lost ten pounds. And at this point, it seems to be legitimate. I am not sure how much more I will lose; we are having to eat so much, I actually can see some of us gaining weight. And I do hope to gain some muscle as I lose fat, which will counter the weight loss. Even more than the weight loss, however, are the changes inside the body we are all starting to feel. One thing they have stressed that I really like is that Yoga is not about fitness, it’s about health. Which is why we have some plump, middle-aged women in our class who are amazing and can do the classes right along side some of the bodies that look in the best shape. Actually, some of the leaner people who are seemingly the most fit are having the toughest time.  Those of us with a little more, um, flesh to draw upon don’t always have the toughest time. Ha,ha. Give me a few more weeks to sense out what is going on inside and I will relate some of the changes. I know already I am doing things in class I never thought in a million years I would be able to do.

Since I did not get to him last week, let me give you a brief description of Bikram himself. Rather than go on and on about him, I will tell just one story about him that I think sums him up pretty well.

One of the main focuses of the training is, obviously, learning to teach the class. So a lot of our time is and will be spent getting up in front of everyone and teaching a posture, and then we are critiqued. We are now being broken down into groups to expedite the process. But the first posture we had to do in front of both Bikram and the 300 people in the training, one by one. It was pretty nerve wracking, even for someone like me who is used to getting up in front of people and, well, pontificating. This really terrified some people.

In general, Bikram was incredibly giving to everyone, focusing on our strengths rather than how badly we may have screwed up, and in a blunt but polite way, addressing what we need to work on. At one point, this woman, mid 20’s probably, got up to do her teaching. She has a condition that causes her voice to have a tremulous quality on every word. This was exacerbated by how nervous she was. Imagine Katherine Hepburn at the end of her life times 100. The minute she started, Bikram stopped her and said, ‘What the hell is wrong with your voice?’ She explained and he said, ‘You can’t be a teacher if you talk like that.’ She said she knew and that that was part of the reason she came, to try to stop talking this way. He shrugged and said, ‘Go on.’  It took this woman about 10 minutes to spit out what should have taken well under a minute to say. It was tortuous, for her as well as for all of us who were listening. But she plowed through and showed amazing courage, even as she stood there with this weird voice and visibly trembling so hard she could barely hold the mike. She was so brave that when she finished, everyone burst into applause and cheers, some people even stood up to clap.

Bikram jumped up, whirled around and began screaming at us. ‘Don’t applaud failure! She’s a failure. That’s such a stupid American thing to do, applauding failure!’ He went on like this for a little bit. It was shocking and mortifiying, and you could feel the room just hate him for being so insensitive. She’d just done what for her was a pretty amazing triumph. After he yelled at us, he whirled on her and started in on her. Very forcefully, he worked with her, yelling at her, cajoling her, trying to find a way to snap her out of this speaking pattern. He asked her if she had a sister, she said yes. ‘Do you ever get mad at your sister?’ he yelled at her. ‘Yes’ she said. ‘Then perform the dialogue but yell at her!’ he yelled.

She could not even at first yell. But he worked and worked with her, about 15 minutes (much longer than he even spent with anyone else) and by the end of her time, she had made huge progress. As one of the guys in the locker room said afterwards, Bikram made her worst nightmare come true and she found out it wasn’t so bad. That’s Bikram. He’s funny, charming, sometimes mean and slightly insane. But he is very effective at what he is doing.

I thought it would be fun to throw out some of his quotes from the week. I neither endorse nor reject any of these, I just throw them out for you to judge on your own:

“99.5 % right equals 100 % wrong. ‘I’m doing the best I can’ is an stupid excuse that will keep you from moving forward.”

“Falling out of a posture means you are human; getting back into the posture means you are a yogi.”

“When you look at the world through your own personal problems, you see the world as bad, needing to be fixed. A drunk sees the world as blurry, for instance. If your eyesight is bad, the problem is not the book you are reading, you either need glasses or to get your eyes fixed.”

“To kill a mosquito, western medicine uses a cannon.”

“My father never bought me a bike. That’s why I have 5 Bentleys.”

“I sell pain.”

“The heart is a toilet; every time you use it, it flushes your system. If you don’t use it enough, the crap stays in the toilet, your body.’

“Flexibility hates Strength. Strength hates Flexibility; Balance hates them both.”

And then my personal favorite, which will probably only make sense to those who have done Bikram:

“You want the key to success in life? Lock the fucking knee.”

The people from other countries are amazing to me. I am in awe of them, particularly the Japanese. Most of them speak no English, and they go home and have to get the lectures translated to them. And most of them get up and teach the dialogue word for word, with great inflection. They are amazing. And also some of the most beautiful women imaginable.  You get hints of the stress in their culture. A couple of the women got up to do a specific posture and, as we all have done, froze or went up on the dialogue or missed a word or phrase. And when their time was over, they would just burst into tears in front of everyone, devastated they made a misstep. It is heartbreaking and intense to watch.

Ok, that is enough, so I don’t overwhelm everyone like I did last week. It is intense, physically brutal and at times, oddly, about as enjoyable a thing as I have ever done. The people within our group of 300 continue to be some of the most genuine people I have met. Sometimes I feel a little embarrassed to be in this with them. But I am so glad to be doing it.

Hope everyone is also doing well, Thanks for listening.

 Week Three

tomprovost@khartoumfilms.com