Let’s Get McKinley Bikram Teacher Trained. Please.

If you have that one remarkable friend you feel the need to ring or tweet immediately after class, whether outstanding or a total wash-out, who you know will always be pleased to hear from you and be true and supportive in response? Then chances are you already know McKinley, who tweets as @ilovesweat. He’s a hugely important part of the bikram twitter community that I have grown to love over the last year or so, in fact I might even call him President of Twitzerland. Anyway, McKinley recently launched an online campaign to fund his Bikram Teacher Training. He and I have talked about training in the past but I’m no longer sure that is my path, so – impressed and inspired by his conviction that it is his, I’m trying to get the campaign in front of as many people as possible.

Please, please, please, watch his video, wonder open mouthed at his toe stand and then reblog this or tweet this or post this to your facebook or whatever – is skywriting still a thing? – so we can get McKinley to teacher training so that he can be the exceptional teacher the world needs.

Crucially, this is an appeal for cash so please also make a donation. Thank you so much. And with that, some words from the man himself.

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Caz: You and I became friends on twitter and for me personally the online community has really supported my practice. But in terms of cash in hard times like these – what are your expectations for your indiegogo campaign target?

M: I’m not sure what to expect. Bikram has taught me to have no expectations, so I’m working from there, right? I often remind myself of a line MCA has in “Alive,” “I’ll give it my best and come what may….” I’d rather *try* then not do anything, even if it means I might fail. When I first started bikram, I would never try toe stand. then, one day, I realised, that I was cheating myself. If you don’t try, you never give yourself a chance to succeed. I’m gonna give it my all and hope for the best.

Caz: because we’re friends I know you’ve had a tough recession-related time recently; without wanting to pry, I’d like to ask whether your ambition to teach has waxed and waned at all during this time?

M: If anything, my desire to teach has only increased because of the recession. There aren’t many jobs where you can go almost anywhere in the world and have the opportunity to work right away. Becoming a bikram yoga teacher gives you access to studios around the world. @MeiNg has taught bikram yoga worldwide and it’s inspiring to know that that opportunity is there.

Caz: can you talk a little about how bikram yoga has enriched or otherwise changed you, or your life, since you began practicing? What are the top three things that come to mind?

M: Bikram yoga is physical therapy for the body, mind and soul. Before bikram, my body was a wreck. I was malnourished, sickly-skinny and had bad posture. Bikram has changed my body with better posture and alignment and even given me a little bit of tone. I’ve also changed the way I think, making better decisions for myself, craving healthy foods instead of bad, learning balance in and out of the hot room. Before bikram, I was a negative person with a low self-image of myself. Bikram taught me to open my heart and find love for me and my body, and, hopefully someday, some body else.

Caz: knowing what you do about bikram teacher training, do you anticipate any challenges being a student and a film-maker at the same time?

M: The real challenge will be to keep a balance between the two that doesn’t compromise the other. For me, as some one who loves to document everything photo-wise, I can already see myself limiting how much I document, just because I do want to enjoy the journey and get the most out of my experiences down there.

Caz: How long was it after you started practicing bikram that you started feeling you would like to be a teacher?

M: Probably after about 6 months, I was already in the midst of what would become my 2 year challenge and nothing else even seemed right in my mind, it was like, I just have to be a teacher and help people, that’s all there is to it. it still feels that way actually.

Caz: What do you feel within yourself are the strengths that will make you a good teacher?

M: Probably my patience, understanding and compassion. Which, I think, are the same things that make me a good student.

Caz: I imagine, like me, there have been teachers through the years that you have particularly responded to. Can you share with us a few things you have found particularly inspiring in your relationship with your own teachers?

M: My favourite teacher was always the hardest on me, pushing me, picking on me, but she was really just bringing out the best in me. My least favourite teacher became one of my favourites when I finally let my ego go—the pose is as long as your teacher says it is! Learning to love every teacher’s class, because each one is amazing in their own way.

Caz: So, you get qualified; describe your life five years from that point in time?

M: Teaching around the country, taking great photographs along the way and selling t-shirts and tank tops. I really believe my standing bow design could become to yoga what “tap out” is to MMA, so I harbour hope that it will eventually catch on and bring me good things.

Caz: If you had three minutes of free advertising airtime during the most watched show on TV next week, what would be the lead of your advertising pitch?

M: “My name is McKinley. Don’t hold it against me but I like cats.” and then have 2:50 of cat-stacking, cat-breading and cats with tennis ball helmets. People would like that, right?

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If anything, let’s make sure McKinley becomes a bikram yoga teacher and not an advertising executive. It’s up to you.

Questions About Resisting Change

Day 16 threw up something very surprising and not a little crappy.

I have a crummy old armchair which sits kind of low and I got up from it to go to class and my left knee just went. It just went. It was really painful, really burning. So that was worrying. But I was already dressed and packed for class so I went to go out but I could barely get down the stairs and then once I was out on the pavement the limp was so bad I realised I wasn’t going to make it to class on time.

Not that I am scared to practice with it or around it, but I was headed for the 8pm class and I wouldn’t get there on time. If I had booked for the 6pm I could have just waited for the next one but I had no contingency.

But besides all the missing class bull – on day 16 – where did this pain come from? I do have a friend whose opinion I respect greatly who would say there are no accidents. So what role does this pain play? It stops me from going to class, it makes me feel bad about missing a day’s practice, I miss a day’s practice, it makes me self conscious, it makes me pause in achieving my objective rather than being a class and a day closer to my objective.

So, the question becomes, if this is not spontaneous, not an accident. Is it self-sabotage? This good friend of mine would likely suggest that this pain was invented by a part of my brain/mind/whatever that wants me to fail, the part of me that is resisting the change that I seem to be so taken up with right now? That I constantly self-righteously tweet about? Damn, I read my tweets sometimes and they make me want to puke.

What if I worry about not knowing who I would be, this changed version of myself? What if I don’t want to confront the change because it would force me to think about the things in my life/body/appearance/personality/circumstance that I am unhappy about and I’m not sure what would replace them? What if I found out change was actually easy and therefore had to take the rap for tolerating the unhappinesses for so long without taking accountability for them? Or worse, what if I put all this huge physical and emotional effort into this change and made it happen and my life turned out to be just as imperfect? If I’m a failure right now, after all, I know what to blame. If change and I’m still a failure then I am categorically the failure. Me. So right here in the comfort zone is safer, thanks. I’m good with the blaming and the tolerating – maybe Day 15 is as far as I get. What if changing is just too effing hard?

The truth is I don’t know. I just don’t know. I don’t know and not knowing means that this is a leap of faith to some degree. Maybe all of this is just self-indulgence and I just need to do the work, already. Jeez, I’m such a whiner! Whatever, it doesn’t have to be part of a giant life plan, the yoga is good for me, so shut up and go to class, right? All I know is that this happened at exactly the half way point and that is too big a coincidence for me.

The Hot One.

Do you remember in LOST when Jack was about to operate on Sarah (was her name Sarah?) and he came back from running the stadium steps, where he’d met Desmond and twisted his ankle, and he was sweating and he says “I showered but I guess I didn’t cool” and she gives him a quizzical look and he says “I’m intense”. Which at the time drew a quizzical look from me, and I felt validated later when the TWoP recapper more or less called him a douche for saying that. Anyway, THAT.

I have showered and I am still sweating. Poor Jack. Sorry, my love, I take it all back. Hey, I’m intense.

Yet again I was home all day and only got my act together and got to class ‘cos I had booked online. Otherwise I would maybe have skipped. But, yet again, I am thrilled that I went to class. I feel I am, not to speak too soon, getting my standing series groove back for the first time since my bikram hiatus. Lots of things came up for me in class this evening which would make good blog material but the only one I remember is the sweat.

In a class which brought my half moon back to where I left off in early January and my first pain free spine twist, I also rediscovered my deeper sweat response. This class was, ladies and gentlemen, what we technically refer to as a hot one. By the end of pranayama I was more or less drenched. It was the kind of sweat that comes off you in sheets rather than trickles. The kind of sweat that gives you friction-free skin and makes it hard to keep your elbows wrapped in eagle. Indianna Jones in the jungle kind of sweat. Sweat that makes you think washing won’t do for this yoga kit, you’ll have to burn it. Sweat that makes your fingerprints so, so, so wrinkly that you might have well just swum the Channel. Sweat that makes you think you’ll be able to speed skate to the changing rooms ‘cos not even the soles of your feet are dry. Sweat that makes you think those nude yoga practitioners really had it right all along. Sweat that makes you frightened that you’re losing so much DNA that by the end of class your personality will be dramatically altered. Perhaps permanently.

Well, too bad, ‘cos I’m going back tomorrow. Unlucky class 13?

Reblog Number Two

This perfectly succinct post from Wannabe (Bikram) Yogini – which, by the by, in itself is a very strong suggestion that a rethink on the blog title might be due – got me thinking about two things. A) the most feelgood feedback I have had is from teachers complimenting my weakest posture – at the time, triangle; and B) if I were designing a flag for bikram what would I put on it?

Wannabe (Bikram) Yogini

Okay, I could write a recap of class but it would pale in comparison to what my teacher said to me when I walked out of the hot room. It is the best feedback I have ever received.

“If they made a flag to represent Bikram Yoga, it would have a picture of your locked knee on it.”

Whoa.

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Reblog Number One

The online bikram community has given me so much that I am not sure where I would be without it. I love it – i.e., all of you – desperately. Except when I come across a post I wish I had written. I know; that doesn’t sound like me, does it, since I have no ego. Puzzling. But even so, when I find a blog post that manages to trump my own blog objective of being 100% honest even when it’s uncomfortable I almost can’t stand it. Anyway, yoginis and yogimen, I give you Lisa Jones and her blog post (and her 59 comments and counting – hmpf) proving that she is a better bad yogi than me.

Just here. Just now.

Let’s be honest, everyone lies on their blog.

O.K., that might be an exaggeration but only a slight one. Everyone leaves things out or pretties up the truth.

I realized something disconcerting the other day. My blog makes me out to be a pretty enlightened, kick-ass yogi.

So not true.

I am trying to be an enlightened, kick-ass yogi and that is why I write about the things I do. This blog has kind of become my version of those dorky manifestation boards. But between the back-bending and the advice (hey, she asked!) I am sort of strutting around here.

So, let me clear some things up and let you in on the ugly bits.

But first, here’s a photo of me falling down.

18 Reasons I am a Bad Yogi

18.  There are a lot of yoga postures in which I look like a disoriented octopus, however, you…

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The Start of a Love Affair

Yesterday at lunch with a couple of friends I was talking about my 30 day challenge and I said “this is the time I make it, I’m going to complete it this time”. And I totally meant it and believed it. (The closest I have got to completing before is 23 days.) And today, if I hadn’t been booked in to class online and missed the six hour cancellation margin, I wouldn’t have gone. Why? I don’t really remember except it was so comfy and cosy in the flat, and also I was booked into class with the Daddy’s Yacht teacher and I was a little apprehensive, I didn’t want another class like Friday. Which is hilarious considering yesterday’s post.

But I went. Yay me. Whatevs.

Anyway, so, it turns out class was outstanding. It was great. This guy is a really great teacher, though I might concede not to everyone’s taste and not too conventional with it but I guess that is the impression I get about Bikram himself, too, so perhaps that is all beside the point.

Again we got a slight lecture before class started, and he said some very interesting things. Summarising: we come to class to look for weakness and confront it with stillness and discipline and we come to class to learn to love ourselves unconditionally, weaknesses and all. If we discover a weakness and run away from it then that weakness will simply maintain, but if we try then over time the weakness will find the potential to become a strength because our bodies are miraculous.

His style is very dynamic, he prowls around class and is relatively hands-on. And he has dash and theatricality – he did this little skit which I won’t put in quote marks because I can’t remember it verbatim but basically he was like: why do you want to drink water in class? Why? Why do you want to drink water when you should be breathing in oxygen which is what your body needs. Your body hates water – you’ve had 24 hours to drink water, your body wants oxygen. I haven’t had a drink of water in seven years, here let me try it. URGH! It’s disgusting, why do you want to drink that, you’re all crazy!

It was pretty funny, I started to think he was deliberately trying to make us giggle to then get a chance to tell us off for losing our focus. He also did another little monologue, again, not verbatim: why are you looking at me like that? Have you been out all yesterday drinking lager? No? I was up all night drinking gin but you lot are so boring: ‘oh, no, I couldn’t possibly go out on a Sunday night, not with yoga tomorrow’. Boring. Bloody yoga has RUINED the social scene.

He’s pretty hard-line, too, calling people out for any fidgeting at all, not letting people in the front row sit out postures, forcing the newbies to try spine twist. He made those students sitting out toe get up and stand toes and heels together before savasanna, too, which I haven’t experienced before. But he said, we start standing series together standing and we close and honour it all together standing. And I thought, right on, brother. That’s awesome.

He even showed me where my toes should be in triangle, and helped me not lose my balance whilst I got them there, and said my back was “beautiful”. And he called me babe. Beamer! Anyway, I have decided that by next Monday my back and hips should be opened up more and I hope to be in his class then and be able to attempt at least one set of each floor pose. My gift to my favourite new teacher!

To conclude: a sidebar. Today was my 7th class of the 30 and the difference from day 1 and 2 is marked. I have less pain; I am more comfortable in savasanna; I can reach my heels in separate leg stretching; I’ve started to really open up and let the heat in again; there is NO daylight between my biceps and my ears; I fidget less and smile more.

If you’re going to class tomorrow, remember: you’re not on Daddy’s yacht.

My Challenges for the Next 24 Days

The biggest thing I have learned so far whilst doing my challenge is this: if you want to go to class, don’t spite yourself, just go to class. Often times the biggest challenge is just getting to class. So, if you want to go to class just remember your one and only responsibility is to get to class. Unless the journey to the studio will actually put your life at risk, just get to class and once you’re there the yoga will take care of itself. Twice this week I have felt absolutely exhausted and in days gone by I would have said to myself “too tired”. But now I’m thinking, if you have the energy to get to class, use that energy getting to class and once you’re in class you’ll find your reserves of energy replenished. Abracadabra. Just get to class.
Also: make sure you pee before Pranayama. Teacher no like student leave room. She say: no pee, sweat out instead. Ick.
I am one fifth through my challenge, this is what comes to mind when I think of the next 24 days:
  • Listen to the dialogue not the teacher. (I think we may already have covered this.) Can I keep breathing through everything, including my emotions?

  • I am going to ask you to visualise this one with your mind’s eye: *this* is yoga, *this* is waiting at a bus stop. Can I stop fidgeting completely between standing postures? 

  • There are times when my reflection in the mirror disgusts me still. Can I fall more deeply in love with my own reflection and understand my body as a miracle?

  • I can’t do this but I’m doing it anyway. Can I take my faith in this process to the other mechanics and paths in my life?

  • I’ve come to accept that 9 times out of 10 my mind will give up before my body does. Can I train my mind to trust and follow my body?

  • Lastly, can I forget about setting myself a load of pious challenges and have some fun celebrating my achievements so far? I’ve been to class six times in my new studio now and only just realised there is no clock in the studio and I don’t miss it. Yeah, baby.
Yoga means union.

Just being honest.

We are well accustomed to hearing in class that it’s normal for postures to bring up different emotions; to be taken by surprise by emotions – and the advice I have always tried to heed is that I should not fight them but rather acknowledge them and let them go. By tasting what emotions my practice brings up for me on any given day and by relinquishing it I can help myself let go of the stresses and traumas held in the tissues of my body.

But what if “what my practice gives me today” is pain? We’re told don’t push through pain. But what about the emotions that the pain brings us? I think I am realising over the past few days that there is as much emotion in pain as there is in a stretch or a compression or a tourniquet release. Why this should be a huge revelation to me, I have no idea, as if you just think about it for roughly 40 seconds you realise that this is totally logical.

I heard a lot of interesting things in class yesterday. Teacher started by giving us a slight scolding about leaving the room during practice. It seems that the studio is getting a “reputation” (what? who cares? doesn’t the whole “reputation” concept appeal to ego?) for people leaving the room during class. I have to say I have been to class there five times now and haven’t noticed that happening. Whatevs. But the interesting thing comes next, teacher said that – I’m paraphrasing – many people, especially in the West, go through their lives never hearing the word “no”, so to hear “no, you’re not allowed to leave the hot room” can be the biggest challenge of all. I thought that was really interesting.

Class got underway and a couple of people were sitting down before warm up postures ended. Teacher said “if you are sitting out, are you focusing on your breath? Are you judging yourself? Or are you filled with love for yourself? We all love you so you should love you, too. You’re doing great.” And I thought, wow, that is awesome. That’s so awesome, truly. Sit out if you want, focus on your breath, don’t judge yourself, know that we love you. I thought, this guy is amazebags.

Then we got to tree and my back pain kicked in as it has been doing so I had to sit that out. Then we got to tortoise and I couldn’t do the sit up and I ended up sitting out the rest of the class til spine twist.

Now, bear with me ‘cos this is just how my head works, I knew I would have to sit out some floor series so I deliberately went straight to the back row that class. I’m already self-conscious because I’m new to the studio and I’m overweight. And I always think that when I can’t do a posture or have trouble with my back and sit out that people think it’s because I’m fat. Or, I should say “fat” because whilst a part of me self-identifies as “fat”, there is another part of me that self-identifies as “Helena Christensen”. I also think that when I don’t have a date on a Saturday night (a.k.a. Saturday night) or don’t get that last job I interviewed for, that people think it’s because I’m “fat”. “Fat” gets a great deal of blame in this house. Just so you know. Or hadn’t worked that out for yourself. If you hadn’t, it’s probably because you’re fat.

So there’s me, fat Helena Christensen, laying on my fat back with bent fat  knees in no small amount of fat discomfort with fat tears coursing down my fat face, focusing on my fat-person breath in order to quiet down the self-hate whilst the rest of the thin class is releasing thin emotions in thin camel. And teacher says “if you’ve been sitting out of postures, try and get back in, think of the group energy. This is bikram hot yoga; you’re not lying on the deck of Daddy’s yacht.” And, without losing a second of my inhale-for-six nor moving a muscle, I fly into a RAGE.

No offence but you’re an idiot if you think for one SECOND that if my Daddy (or Mummy. Sexist.) 0wned a yacht I would be caught DEAD within 500 miles of smelly London Bridge or London for that matter let alone you and your SMUG yoga class. If there is ever a yacht in my family you will know that there was one HELL of a fight and I went down swinging because that money should be spent on buying ME a house in Oahu which I only DESERVE. And what happened to “we love you” by the way? We only love the WIMPS  that sit down before the end of warm up? Cos that makes sense. Yeah, I believe it was Buddha who taught us to have compassion only for those who can’t do the easy bits. You hideous person. That’s it, screw you, there’s absolutely no way I’m getting up now. Even if you HAD asked at the start of class if anyone was working with an injury or condition (which you hadn’t) and even if you DO walk over and see if I’m ok (which you won’t) there’s no way I want to be a part of YOUR group energy now, thanks all the same. AND your tattoos are ugly. I’m in pain, you DICK.

It took me 24 hours of being offended and angry to figure out I wasn’t angry at him, I was angry at the pain. Which was stopping me from practicing and making me feel even more self-conscious. I didn’t even see his tattoos.

“You love it, don’t you?”

I’m learning to tell the difference between a tough class and a class which is sub par because my back pain is too restricting. The last three nights I have been so stiff and sore that I have sat out tree, toe, and everything after cobra series – or rather my modified cobra series. I feel very self-conscious although I have stopped feeling like a failure. Strangely – but in a positive way – it never occurs to me to leave. Perhaps partly because getting up off my back is so painful Whatevs.

For the second night in a row I had a new teacher – new to me, but clearly a veteran teacher. It was a very good class; dynamic and up; bright and relaxed with a lovely group energy.

Afterwards I just happened to be right next to the teacher in the changing rooms – our lockers were side by side. And she turned to me and said “you did great”. And I must have looked at her rather dubiously because I thought, I clearly did NOT do great, I only did about 50% of class. But I said thanks rather blankly, not wanting to appear rude despite being yoga stoned. And she said

“You love it, don’t you?”

“I love it”

“I can tell. You can tell. You did great”

“Thank you, I do love it, even if I can’t do it.”

“You can do it, you did it. Don’t worry – everyone’s on their own journey”

“Thanks a lot. I have a tilted pelvis so I get discomfort sometimes. And I haven’t been to class for four months, so. That’s my journey, I guess.”

“Yeah, seriously, don’t worry, it’s fine. You’re here.”

And we talked a little about loving the heat and then said see you next time and that was it. But walking to the tube I thought, she made the – probably minuscule to her because she is clearly someone to whom kindness comes naturally – decision to say something encouraging and kind to me. No drama, just a few nice words but clearly sincere. And that made a huge difference to me. To my experience of that class and my whole day. I do love my yoga and to think it was evident in my practice brings tears of joy and humility to my eyes. (I want to be clear that I waited to get home before welling up, I’m not totally losing my shit.) Not to mention the perfect example she is setting regarding respecting and encouraging fellow students’ practice for everyone earwigging in the locker room!

Anyway, know that if you make the split second decision to say something true and nice and encouraging to someone, you are doing a good thing, even if it seems merely like passing the time to you.

I believe it was Gandhi who said “Be excellent to each other. And. Party on, dudes.”

Triumph turns to tears (not really, I’m being dramatic)

This post is going to be so postmodern it will actually be post-postmodern. You should hurry up and read it before the postmodern element achieves critical mass and begins to exert its own gravitational force, pulling all the other elements towards it until they all collapse in on themselves and disappear into a black hole of self-referential meta-narrative and get commissioned by BBC FOUR, and I spontaneously transform into an episode of LOST.

In the last 24 hours since my studio review I have learned of the dizzy heights and the crashing lows of internet notoriety (netoriety? Can I make that a thing? Your homework is to use that in a sentence, straight-faced, by Friday).

1. Dizzy Height

The owner of the studio I reviewed yesterday got in touch and we had a lovely conversation today. She asked me if I would like to guest blog for their website at some point in the future and – AND AND AND!!! This is the good bit – added 10 complimentary days onto my 20 day intro ticket so I can do a 30 day challenge! How awesome is that? That’s like, share my joy! So, so gracious and kind. I’m a lucky girl.

2. Crashing Low

When I was leaving the studio this evening the happy and smiling guy who greeted me yesterday was reading out my blog – the bit about how he was so unfeasibly happy and smiling. He was smiling as he read it out, but I ain’t too sure about happy. He said to his friends “Is that a compliment?”  So, the person I was describing was reading my description of him and, having written it, I was listening to it being read out loud, and he was unaware I was the person who had written it but he knew I was listening or at the very least could hear him. This, dear reader, is the postmodern part. Large cracks are starting to appear in the walls of my front room and the lights are flickering. I think I just crossed the streams. As postmodern boundaries go, Russsell Brand should be looking for new representation.

So, here’s the thing. I am SO, SO, SO, SO, SO sorry, happy and smiling guy, for making you doubt yourself and probably for giving you that sick feeling in your tummy when you realise someone is talking about you and you’re not 100% sure it’s not quite mean. I didn’t mean it to be mean, I truly didn’t. It’s just a cheap gag. I’m sorry. I’ve been reacting to quite a lot of stuff recently and had kind of free-floating anger and I’m often so pleased with myself and how I can turn a phrase that I incur some collateral damage. I’m sorry. I hope you get to read this as it’s sincere.

I might also add that your friendliness did genuinely take me by surprise as the reception staff at my old home studio, which I won’t name (Old Street) generally avoided eye contact at all costs and only learned “hi” within the last 8 months or so.

Long story short: a) judge not lest ye be judged; b) fame’s a fickle bitch.