Sunday, November 13, 2011

Owning Your Confidence and Other Yogic Lessons

Hi all,

I don't think any volume or frequency of blogging could accurately convey all that I've learned here at TT. I've of course learned tons about the postures (e.g. take the full six seconds to move your head forward and back in Pranayama; be sure your standing knee goes straight forward over the toes, not to either side at all, when bending down for Toe Stand; keep your forward hand squeezed flat between your knee and foot in Spine Twisting Pose, rather than grabbing over your knee; use your kick to keep your body from falling over when balance fails you during Standing Bow), but I've also learned that I can go to class on a full stomach, on only 3 hours of sleep, in the middle of an emotional meltdown, with a pulled neck, strained back, aching knees, and in my least favorite yoga gear and still come out of class glowing. I've also seen what it means to be truly patient and compassionate--and eventually I'll learn to sincerely embody these qualities in my own life (admittedly not an easy task for the perfectionista that I am!). I've learned that I can enjoy socializing even when I'm not feeling social, and that alone time can be both therapeutically relaxing and productive. And I've learned to be showered, dressed, and downstairs for the trolley in under 15 minutes (wow). This hardly scratches the surface. I'll surely be gaining consciousness of and articulating the lessons learned here for the rest of my life.

I'm learning a bit about confidence right now. Last week the TT staff and Bikram held auditions for the graduation demonstration team. The graduation demonstration team is a group of 30 or so TT students that demonstrates all 26 postures as a group, in unison, and to music at the TT graduation ceremony. Think dance team meets yoga. I had heard about the demonstration from my teachers back home and had never considered auditioning for the team, not before TT or at all during. Honestly, there are enough students here who compete for and win yoga championship titles with eye-popping poses (meaning that their poses are visually stunning, not that they have the yogic power to pop their eyeballs...) that I imagined auditioning with my albeit steady but-mostly-normal-looking poses would be unnecessary and entirely embarrassing.

Well, on the day of the auditions I started thinking about my dad. I imagined him sitting in the audience at graduation. He is so proud of my siblings and me. He believes that we can be the best at anything we put our minds to. And he taught us to always put 100% effort into everything we do. And as much as I would hate to disappoint him by not making the team, I'd hate even more to betray the work ethic I learned from him by not even trying. And I was thankful for this realization, because while I learned my work ethic from my dad, it is now truly and absolutely my own work ethic and by not trying, I would be disappointing not only my dad, but myself. So, I figured I had no choice but to audition and try my best.

It also helped that my posture clinic group gave me tons of encouragement on the day of the auditions. They offered to audition with me, told me that I must try out, and tried to eradicate any fear that I would look ridiculous for trying alongside the eye-popping types. And everything sounds convincing in group member Lucy's accent!

The auditions began with a demonstration in front of two of Bikram's scariest staff members, Erik and Antonia. Erik and Antonia are wonderful at their jobs, but somehow remind me of the nuns my mom and mother-in-law describe from their Catholic school days.

The demo team hopefuls corralled in the center of the yoga room and in front of the 10-foot tall podium. Antonia and Erik stood at the podium while a few other staff members waited, like hangmen at the gallows, for their queue to cut the unworthy.

With hardly a moment to breath, we were following Antonia's instruction to move from one pose to another - pushing and holding as much as possible in between commands. She and Erik conferred on who should be in and who should be out. We charged through Half Moon, Backbending, Awkward (2nd Part), and the balancing series (Standing Head to Knee, Standing Bow-Pulling Pose, and Balancing Stick). A tap on the back from the staff at the discretion of Antonia and Erik would mean you were either in or out, a whispered exchange would clarify which it was.

I continuously encouraged my body to keep doing the best that it knew how to do. I fought off a couple falls while in Head to Knee and Bow and actually felt a surge of confidence as I stood standing through the 'almost-falling' sensation that has always precluded a fall during class. After one spin through the postures I was untouched, still in it. We rested a minute and started again with the balancing postures. Standing Head to Knee first. I fought to tuck my chin more, to round my back more, to pull my elbows down more. I started to cramp on the top of my extended leg. And I fought again, successfully, to keep my balance. I was steady. Then Antonia tapped me on the back. A quick look back and she whispered, "You're good honey, you're in. Go ahead and sit down."

I was shocked but uncontrollably excited. A few nods of approval and votes of confidence from the small audience that had gathered in the room and I was officially motivated to want to stay in through the end. I realized then that, somehow, I had what it took to hold my own alongside the eye-popping types, and I wasn't going to let that realization go.

From there, we had to 1) take class directly in front of Bikram that night (so that he could familiarize himself with the remaining hopefuls) and 2) go through another round of demonstration eliminations, with Bikram controlling the cuts, after class. Bikram's class was super-charged with competitive energy and hopeful ambition. The demo elimination that followed was insane. We went through almost the entire standing series and much of the floor series at rapid fire pace and dynamite strength. My body was on fire. But I made it through, along with about 40 or 50 others.

The next day we met again to whittle the group down to 30. This round was lead by Antonia, Erik, and Juan, a world champion and serious comrade of Bikram's, and even scarier than Antonia and Erik. The three judges hammered us with commands and corrections. They challenged us to do even better than our present best. My body burned - it felt like I was finishing the last 4 miles of a marathon, but my mind felt like it was just out of the starting gate.

In the end, I was still standing, along with 30 or 31 others. Erik advised that we would call it a day (thankfully, for my muscles' sake!), but that they would likely need to cut a couple more people come Monday. Though there is speculation that they'll be able to fit us all on stage and not need to make any more cuts after all.

Surviving three rounds of elimination feels fantastic. It's helping me understand that there is an element of confidence missing from my practice. I'm not sure whether the lack of confidence is a learned behavior, stemming from the societal training that girls be modest, lady-like, or whether it comes from genuine ignorance or insecurity, or somewhere completely different. But I do know that I was raised to be confident in my abilities and, even more, in the fact that I am deeply loved, by my family and God, no matter how much I might fail before succeeding. I hadn't realized until this demo team experience that I was not owning the confidence that is already mine to harness--like having a shiny Corvette in the garage but taking the bus to Vegas. Maybe I won't make it all the way to the graduation demo, but 1) I've made it this far (which tells me that my practice is worth more than I had known), and 2) the love that surrounds me every day is, as Bikram would say, bullet proof, fire proof, money proof, and, yes, even demo team elimination proof!

I will hopefully know tomorrow whether I'm officially on the team. I'll update my Facebook status as soon as I know either way. :)

Thank you all for all of the continued support through this incredible experience. I cannot wait to share what I've learned here with you in person very soon.