As you might be aware, if you were born in Modena, Italy, you’re automatically entitled to get a Ferrari, when you turn 18. I, of course, was no exception.
I remember that day like it was yesterday or never.
The excitement, the anticipation… the adrenaline rush, as I was stroking the beautiful metallic red, at the thought of finally being able to compensate for my small nose.
Sergio Zanella, the owner of the garage my dad took me to, to receive what was mine by birthright, looked me in the eye sternly for a while and then broke out in a benevolent smile, as he handed me the keys, saying: ‘Treat her right, my son. Take care of her and make sure you take her out for a spin regularly. That’s what she’s meant to do and that way the engine will remain in tip top condition.’
I eagerly nodded my head, grabbed the keys and then ran to enjoy my very first Ferrari drive.
Little did I know that what that gentle fellow had told me, was all lies.
You’ve heard right. Yesterday, after 15 years of idyllic companionship, I had to send my beloved Bufala (yes, that was the name I gave her) to the scrap heap.
And why? Well, it must have been all those regular spins I took her on. There’s no other explanation. Because that’s when it happened: the day before, I put the key in, turned the engine on and my poor Bufala, after a loud cough and splurt, made a hiss, like a deflating sound and then died completely. Therefore, the ignition itself must have been the cause of her demise. Because she’d always been fine, when my friend Luca and I had played “Hammer of God” with her, by hitting Bufala’s engine with a sledgehammer as hard as we could, and determining the score according to how big a dent we would leave on the metal. And all the time I made her run on water, instead of petrol (we all know how expensive petrol can be), she was as happy as Larry… Of course, there were a few weird sounds coming from her and the drive wasn’t always smooth, but nothing more than that!
Then, the other day, I just turned the key and she was gone. With a tank full of petrol too!
I would go back to that cheery old man in Modena and give him a piece of my mind, but he’s dead now. Or never existed.
There’s no physical, artistic or intellectual activity (in the world) that can’t be improved by bringing presence and awareness into it.
Proof of that is Jason Derulo, who wrote that song just looking at her.
He should have been concentrating on what he was doing.
The heat in a Bikram class is like the movie ‘The Wolf Of Wall Street': some of us hate it, some of us love it, but it’s Jonah Hill who has the last laugh.
And suddenly, out of the blue, it’s February.
Yes! We made it. It wasn’t easy, what with all our resolutions and everything, but we soldiered through. Now, we can finally relax! And go back to our old ways.
NO, COME ON!! KEEP GOING!! Or, rather, KEEP COMING!! TO YOGA!!
At the beginning of the year, here at BYC, we always experience a great influx of new people – after all, it’s the perfect time to start a new regime. And they’re often brought in by friends, eager to introduce someone they care about to a practice that might have actually changed their life.
And that’s fantastic.
However, if the challenge for a new student is to go through the class itself (we’ve all been there), the challenge for the friend/relative/partner introducing them, is to do their own yoga and not their friend’s! Of course, it’s understandable. We want them to have a nice time. We want them to do it right and get the most out of their experience. But, let’s be honest, can you really have a ‘nice’ time in a Bikram class? Not really… Regardless whether your friend shows you how to cross your arms in Eagle or not. You might have an INCREDIBLE, LIFE-CHANGING, WONDROUS time, that makes you say, at the end of class: ‘I’ve never done anything so hard in my life… It was actually fun!!’ But not a’nice’ time. It wasn’t like that for us in our first class, why should it be different for them in theirs? It’s part of the process. So, when we are introducing someone new to Bikram yoga, we must embrace our challenge and let them get on with theirs. Interacting with people to show them some funky moves, is not helpful to us or to them, for various reasons. It’s not helpful to us, because, whether we admit it or not, talking or gesticulating to our friend – whilst we ‘inconspicuously’ mouth “T H I S I S H O W Y OU D O I T..!” – is a way for us to let our mind wonder out of our class and stop dealing with whatever unpleasant sensation or experience we might be going through. And if we do that, we miss out on the opportunity to grow stronger. It’s not helpful to them, because, first of all, if they’re listening to us standing next to them, they’re not listening to the teacher, so we’re actually making their life harder. And also, they have the right to be wrong too. Just like we were in our first class. And just how we probably still are in our 10982735th class..! Being wrong and realising it for ourselves, is the only true way to get it right. The reason why the teacher is not correcting them, is not that they haven’t seen them or they’re not taking care of them: it’s because they’re letting them learn gradually. There’s no point in correcting or addressing a new person on everything wrong they do… Class would last two days and the new person would probably feel overwhelmed and quite embarrassed to be constantly singled out. Usually, as long as they’re not in danger of injuring themselves by busting some crazy move, students on their first class are best left in peace, just providing some positive encouragement, from time to time. Because, ultimately, if they’re trying their best… Then they ARE doing it right!! Like everyone else. So, if we really want to help our friends in their first class, the best way to do it is to be even more focused, even more in the moment, listening even closer to the teacher’s instructions and work even harder. Let’s lead by example. Let’s show them how it’s done, by doing it ourselves, with even more commitment and dedication. Let’s share the class, by experiencing it together, rather than interacting with each other and missing it. Then, after the 90 minutes, after final Savasana, outside the yoga room, we can go crazy: let’s talk, recount, ask and explain to our heart’s content. Chances are, we’re now even closer friends.
Hopefully, never.’Oh, good grief, why can’t you just give a serious answer, for once??’
‘I can’t tell, anymore.’
I know. Sometimes, neither can I. But this time I am.
‘Right, I give up.’
Because then it would get easier! But not really worth it.
‘No, I meant I give up listening to you!”
I’ve always been fascinated by the French language: so soft, so beautiful.
I turned up at this language school in Oxford Street, just next to a hot dog kiosk and something else, eager to start learning!
I got there very early, so that I could get the best seat in the class room. Three rows back, near the window. That’s ALWAYS the best spot. In every classroom.
My soon-to-be classmates started to arrive, one by one, and they all seemed pretty nice people! Except for the lady who asked me to move my bag from the chair next to me, so that she could have the last seat left in the room: I pointed out to her (very quietly and respectfully) that, since my seat was right next to the window, there was no space for me to move any further and I always have to have my bag to my right, because I’m right-handed. She didn’t seem to understand this.. It might have been the pregnancy. Anyway, in the end a guy at the front offered to stand, so she could have his seat. It was very nice of him to help me out.
Finally, the teacher arrived and class started.
The teacher seemed really good! Boy, was I in for a surprise…
Right at the beginning, she said that she would speak to us only in French and that we would have to answer back in French too, but that there’s was nothing to worry about, because the questions would relate to the relevant section in the book that we had in front of us, where we would also find the right vocabulary to use. Straight away, I thought that method was great, and I was really looking forward to jumping right in! However, this is where it all went wrong.
As the questions came, I soon realised that, quite often, the right word to use for the answer looked very similar to the equivalent word in Italian (which is my first language). However, the pronunciation was different and quite difficult, actually… So, I decided to answer in Italian! It was easier and it just made more sense to me. Well, it didn’t go down well, did it? The teacher just wouldn’t understand my situation!! She kept asking me to answer in French.. to stick with my fellow students, ‘because learning is so much more effective as a collective effort’… That even if Italian and French were both languages, they were ‘different’ languages and I was there supposedly to learn French… And a whole load of other demeaning and humiliating abuse. She made me feel so small and inadeguate. It was awful. I had to leave there and then.
I didn’t even ask for my money back. I’m not that kind of person. And it was a coupon, anyway, so a hassle to retrieve, once put through the system.
I’m never going to a French class again. I’m sticking with Italian. English at a push.
That’s right. This month’s FedExpressed was too hot for this newsletter.
Or maybe it was the humidity.
‘Your teachers must love you!’, I laughed.
‘I’m going out with one of them, actually.’ He replied.
There was a long pause.
If any contemporary American stand-up comedian had been there with us, he would have described that moment as ‘awkward’.
Provided he understood Italian.
But it was just me and my friend. No one else.
Luckily, my friend swiftly carried on with:
‘But that’s not surprising. I mean. Look at me.’
Bloody typical Italian man. I thought. Checking myself in the mirror nearby.
‘What I’m REALLY surprised about’ he reprised ‘is the fact that my tendonitis in my left elbow is still there! I mean, isn’t this yoga supposed to help that kind of thing? I’ve been doing it for three years, now!’
I was taken aback. I knew he’d always suffered from tendonitis, since his younger days as a semi-pro junior tennis player and I really hoped the yoga would help, at least alleviating it a bit.
‘Haven’t you noticed even a slight improvement?’
‘Nothing. As bad as it’s always been.’
‘Weird.. I’m sorry. I mean, Locust Pose is basically designed to heal those kind of injuries.’
‘Yeah, my teacher always says that.’
Did he mean in the bedroom? I refused to listen to myself.
‘Right.. You know, by bringing both arms underneath the body and compressing…’
‘But I never do that, anyway.’
‘Oh… You don’t?’
‘Of course not, it’s too painful!’
‘But have you tried even just lying on your arms, without lifting your legs?’
‘Yes I have, but when I lift my legs.. ‘
‘No, WITHOUT lifting your legs…’
‘Yes, but when I lift them, it’s too painful.’
I took a deep breath. Then:
‘How’s your tennis going, then?’
‘Great! Still play three, four times a week. Really hurts afterwards, though. I reckon I’ve been pushing myself too hard, recently… I think I’ll take a break from the yoga for a bit. You know. And go back to it when I’m better. What do you think?’
‘Makes sense.’ I said.
But it didn’t, you see.
You managed to do every single posture, working really hard?
Great, you strengthened your body.
You managed to do almost every posture, but you had to sit down a few times, feeling dizzy, and you find balancing difficult?
Great, you improved your stamina and took your practice to a new level.
You spent half the class thinking about the buses passing by on Chiswick High Road, constantly forcing yourself to bring your attention back into the room?
Great, you strengthened your mind.
You had to sit down after Pranayama and didn’t get up until the end of the class, feeling sick, with your mind screaming ‘GET OUT OF HERE NOW!!!!!!!’, but never leaving the room?
Great, you strengthened your Spirit.
As our yoga practice evolves, we come to realise that there’s not much we can control in a Bikram class. We can’t control the heat. Or the humidity. Or the brightness. Or the length of the postures. Or the teacher. It can be quite frustrating, but that’s kind of the point. We’re obliged to try and cope with whatever ‘external reality’ – or is it just a dream – we have to face in the room.
With whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.
Leaving our frustration at the door.
The goal is to become more adaptable: to reach that point where we become virtually untouchable. It’s just us, our mind and our body. And our breath.
Because, of course, there is at least one thing we can control in a Bikram class: our breath. It takes time and practice to coach ourselves to breathe in and out through the nose, but that’s all part of the class. I’d say the most important part. Because when we do manage to control our mind and bring attention to our breath, our focus shifts inwardly, rather than outwardly. And we discover a place of acceptance. Which is constant. It never changes. And it’s always with us, because it belongs to us, or – perhaps – it is us.
And once we get there, there’s no need for us to look for the coolest or the hottest spot; for the first or third row; for the middle or the sides of the room. We can finally just do our yoga.
And we can give out a huge breath of relief. Through our nose.
When I was just a little girl (I remember that like it was yesterday), I asked my mother what should I do in order to learn how to write, as I was getting a bit bored of talking and not being able to put down in words how wonderful life was back then.
My mum said to me: “Well, darling, why don’t you give it a go? Start with your name.” So she wrote it down for me and asked me to copy it as neatly as I could.
Quite excited at the prospect of being able to write in just a couple of hours, I started working straight away, pausing only to have a maccheroni cheese and change my own nappy. However, I soon found out that writing malaki was difficult stuff… The pen kept slipping from my grip, my eyes got a bit blurry from staring down at the piece of paper for so long and my hand would hurt by the sheer physical strain caused by calligraphy. Also, the outcome looked unintelligible: a series of confusing lines, which had no resemblance whatsoever to what my mum had beautifully penned.
Since it had been already half an hour, I asked my mum for help, explaining my situation. My mum asked me: “Have you been trying to write your full name, straight away?” “Yes.” I replied. So she said: “Why don’t you start with a letter at a time, or even just a part of a letter. Practise that several times, until you’ve got it nailed and then move on! Any time you feel tired and your hand starts aching, stop, have a break and then try again when you feel better. You’ll see that, gradually, your hand will grow stronger and you’ll be able to carry on working longer and longer.”
I pondered that. It definitely made sense, but it sounded like a lot of work and, also, a long long process.
So I ventured: “Is there anything else, from all that, that I could do?” “Well, yes…” she continued “Another way of doing it is forget about trying to write, just whistle really loudly for a couple of hours each day. Or perhaps go fishing.”
(from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
The Unicorn is a legendary animal from European folklore, that resembles a white horse with a large, pointed and spiralling legprotruding from its body, and sometimes a goat’s beard and cloven hooves. Unicorns are not found in Greek mythology, but rather in accounts of natural history, for Greek writers of natural history were convinced of the reality of the unicorn, which they located in India.
It was commonly described as an extremely wild woodland creature, a symbol of purity and grace,which could only be captured by a virgin.
A New Year. Another great opportunity for change. If we want it. Or need it.
A good time to make some resolutions. Which last for a whole two weeks.
Bikram yoga has taught me two very important things (amongst many):
1. Change does happen.
2. Sometimes, it can be bloody hard work.
It’s funny how easy it is for us to accept that our body has changed for the worse and, yet, so hard to believe it can change again for the better. This is the first realisation we have to come to terms with. And it’s sometimes counterintuitive, as, unfortunately, we’re so used to hearing people say to us:
‘No. You will never be able to do that.’
But it’s nonsense.
If you have a moment, have a look at this and prepare to be amazed:
I truly believe we could ask our body to do anything and, if we kept at it, it would eventually do it. One of the lines of the Dialogue for Triangle Pose says: ‘You’re going to touch the ceiling pretty soon’, referring to how much we should stretch our ‘right arm’ up. And I personally believe that – depending on what your idea of ‘pretty soon’ is… – we would eventually touch it, if given unlimited time and the will to persevere.
But it’s going to take a lot of effort. And patience. And sometimes it’s going to hurt (remember: never ‘no pain, no gain’, rather ‘ no stretching or compressing discomfort or ache…no gain’).
But it’s ok. Because that’s the way it’s supposed to be. It means you’re already changing. It means you’re learning something new and that’s already worth the labour.
On the final week of my teacher training, somebody asked Bikram:
‘Boss, can you explain to us exactly what the benefits are of locking the knee?’
Bikram was silent. He scanned the room with wide, incredulous eyes for a few seconds, then replied:
‘Benefits? Benefits?!?!?! What benefits?!?! JUST LOCK THE F******G KNEE!!!’
If I had heard that reply before going to training, I would have been appalled by it. But spending nine weeks with the man had the effect of basically installing a Google Translate directly into my brain: I understood exactly what he meant.
Here’s the official translation:
‘My dear child, there are so many physical and medical benefits to locking the knee, it would take me a week to list them all to you and we’re supposed to be finished by tomorrow afternoon. But it’s ok, because you have a lifetime to discover them in first person and, also, you’ll meet plenty of other teachers who will be more than happy to help you in your journey. However, realise this: locking the knee is the most difficult thing (after listening) that I ask my students to do in my class. If you can do that, the main benefit is….that you can do it. You’ve overcome your obstacle. You’ve won against the odds. And, even more importantly, you’ve learned how to do something that you couldn’t do before. Now let’s watch Hrithik Roshan’s latest movie.’
I know, right? What a guy. And Bikram is not too bad either.
10 years of BYC, then. Wow. Time flies in Bikram’s ‘Torture Chamber’.