It was now the mid ’80’s, there was the burgeoning gym life, Jane Fonda was everywhere, and the waft of some mysterious yoga practice was emanating from California to our eastern shores. During all of this I found myself losing perspective. One day I noticed that I was pretending to know what I was doing. It wasn’t intentional, because I had placed myself, no, allowed myself to be placed in the position of teacher. I was therefore being treated like I knew what I was talking about and the next thing I knew I believed it myself.
I had gone from neophyte to guru in a few short years without having read the sacred texts or even knew of their existence. There was only so long I could get away with this deception without bringing the law of karma crashing down on my head. So, I did what many yoga teachers of my generation did, I went looking for other yoga teachers who seemed to know what they were talking about. What I discovered was that they were in the same silly predicament I was in. All we wanted to do was learn about this practice called yoga, as it called to us on such a deep level and we were each getting the same information, from books, from our practice, or from an occasional encounter with someone from India.
I could regale you with some pretty funny stories that would put me in jeopardy with the do-no-harm, do-not-gossip tenants of the sacred laws of Yamas, so, suffice it to say there was some serious ego monsters walking the few yoga studios I attended, as well as, some kind hearted teachers generously sharing their practice with others. Florida was just kicking off in those days. The Cubans had flooded into South Florida filling in the empty spaces and building developments that were being consumed by an older generation come to die in the sun. It was a cheap place to live, and we lived for an easy life, barely clothed, with plenty of time for surf and sand. It was all about the body, the tan, looking good and the gyms exploded into a life of there own cultural making.
As I was also dedicated to the worship of the body as buffed and tanned, teaching yoga at the gyms was a no brainer. Plus it gave me the advantage of having a free membership to every gym in town. It also provided me with a diverse group of males and females, in all shapes and sizes, willing to try this new thing called yoga they had read about.
I have run a bit ahead of myself here and must step back to a few months previous when the same friend who introduced me to Bikram, (ah, that sacred moment!), returned from an exploratory trip to Los Angeles with the news that there was more to yoga than Choudhury’s 26 yoga postures. If we had thought Bikram’s program was kick ass, than what she was about to reveal was in a league all by itself. Remember, we were young, filled with energy, egos flaring from our nostrils like fire, and suddenly the second piece of the yoga puzzle fell into place. Ashtanga yoga had traveled west and landed on our shores. If there was ever a perfect style of yoga for the gym culture it was the Primary Series set down by Sri Pattabhi Jois. Of course he didn’t intend it to be such, but even today hiding under the guise of Power Yoga, Flow Yoga, Hot Flow Yoga, Dynamic Yoga, or any of its many monikers, it reads GYM like the red dot between a matrons eyebrows.
Why this was is very simple. First of all, according to some legends that continue to make the rounds, a vinyasa flow style yoga was taught to young teen age boys to better control their bursting hormones and focus their student brains. Take issue, if you will, with the story, it does make sense. Secondly, Bikram’s yoga was difficult to control in a gym setting because the air conditioner was always turned up high and those heaters had never had to exceed 68 degrees F. Pushing them to 105 F would have forced yoga right out the doors and into a studio where they are and have stayed. Third, and most important, Ashtanga yoga got you buffed, strong and sweaty in less time than it took for similar results with a boring weight lifting routine. Lifting your own fat derriere over and over again could produce some serious biceps and some serious injuries as well.
For me it meant pretending was over. I began to read more (new books were coming out all the time), and learn, actually learn, the Sanskrit names of the postures. An ambitious undertaking with a southern drawl and a brain not credited with its ability to pick up languages. So, what did I do? I wrote down my classes on note cards in English with the Sanskrit name next to it, plus a stick figure, (a nod here to Cindy Lee and, possibly to her beginnings), to show me what I was teaching. By this time I had added the University of South Florida, New College campus to my itinerary; and the students turned out in droves (Teenagers? Hormones? Focus?). I had to turn them away at the door the room was so packed and the latecomers were the professors and administrative staff that wanted in at the last minute. No chance. We were mat-to-mat bodies and the crush of one more would throw the whole balance out of whack.
I was moving between the two worlds of academia to narcissism, full on detoxification of the mind/body wrapped in T-shirts, Tai Chi pants, Capri tights and thong leotards and/or a variation thereof. It didn’t matter. Wives would bring their pot bellied husbands in hopes of sharing what they loved and the husband would transform his body, and become the Adonis of the gym; or the kick-sand-in-your-face reed thin student who could manage the just emerging Intermediate practice of the Ashtanga series with some ease, became the leader of a band of young yogis (read pretty blond girls) and was walking the campus with a whole new swagger. Oh, it was an amazing thing to watch, and my own practice? I would prepare my classes at home on the plain wooden floor of the living room, the cheap first edition of yoga mat shredding and tearing under my hands and feet. Then I would do it again and again throughout the day as I made my way across town and across the multicultural dimensions of students set on fire by the practice of yoga.
Now, almost 30 years later, from time to time I encounter another yogini who has traveled this road. What we speak about now are our injuries from those days of over training, pushing our 30 year old bodies through several classes a day, with teachers who pushed us, in their own curiosity to see just how far a body can stretch when enough heat is present to mold the muscles. Over time I have slowed a bit, although not completely, and my classes are more about teaching a student how to respect his/her body and not to push it over the proverbial edge. We are such a greedy culture, so spoiled and always wanting more of something. What I want for my students is a long, healthy life free of injuries caused by impatience and greed. It took me a long time to find that for myself and now I can offer that wisdom to others. Do they listen? Ah, now that’s a lesson for another time. To quote the Master himself, “In time all is coming”.