“My book is a story of the process of self-actualization, me as the central real-life character to whom others might also relate. It’s about how yoga provided me this portal to enter to deeper consciousness of my own life, my self and therefore my purpose, my identity, my existence. It’s also about how this portal is available to all of us, to individuals, to make our lives more meaningful through fostering our own growth, our own individual process of nurturing ourselves and our own vitality, to embark upon the hero’s journey consciously and most deliberately.”
I participated in two extensive, insightful, inspiring, and concretely practical and helpful conversations with my fellow Bikram Yoga Teacher Training buddies (a.k.a my “litter mates,”) this week– one by phone and one via FaceTime. Neither one of my fellow teachers are writers or authors, but they are yogis rooting for me to express myself — and are supporting me in my effort to be the change I want to see in the world. After hours of great dialogue with these extraordinarily ordinary wise sages, I am one tiny step nearer to birthing a book. The writing process isn’t only about sitting at the computer and writing as I am doing at this very moment, it’s about listening to other people, connecting with people, connecting with self, and observing and learning more and more and more. In the end, my book will have been a collaborative effort, despite me being its sole author.
Anyway, funny thing was that yesterday I listened to a wild and weirdly interesting conversation between Duncan Trussell and Paul Selig, a well-known “channeler” who hears voices that he calls the “The Guides.” These Guides speak through him and he has written five books dictating what they say. He called himself, not so much an author of the books but a stenographer or recorder. I have no idea whether or not the guy is a highly-skilled manipulator or a conduit of truth! And I know! I know! — this is a bizarre comparison, but I believe my book will be a similar sort of compilation of wisdom gained from the conversations I’ve been blessed to have with people, whether in person or through engaging with their work (books, videos, podcasts, etc) and all my shared experiences with others. I cannot possibly take all the credit for the final product. I was worried that being a writer would be a lonely endeavour (and although technically I am alone a lot if you don’t count my dog as company) but it’s anything but! I have my Guides to help.
My book, Like a Flower Petal Blooming, is still in its first trimester, I would say, but the seed is a definite being and is growing, slowly but surely. And to feel like you are going forward when creating a work of art is very encouraging, especially when those very few moments of inspiration and confidence are buried beneath loads of self-doubt and resistance, or squished in between days where I am feeling entirely disillusioned by the project, myself, other people, the state of the world.
But, at this point in the book gestation process, I believe I have written all of the words necessary for it to come into complete fullness– all of the content has been created already (I have a gazillion separate Google docs and thousands of journal pages from years of writing). So, I am currently, today, working on a central organizing principle/strategy, a central theme. And, maybe I am procrastinating a little bit by writing this blog post or maybe this is part of the book drafting process.
So, using a tip from one of these friends with whom I spoke with this week, I created the following word wall using post-it notes. Such an English-teachery thing to use a graphic organizer, isn’t it? My son called it “so cliche.”
After arranging and consciously ordering the various ideas and motifs on my wall, I noticed that the sticky note, “DIALOGUE” landed exactly in the middle. The foundation of my book, it’s central ordering principle and theme, finally, came into clear focus, in a concrete, useful way. I now have an anchor around which I can order all my other ideas. I have a structure into which chapters can live and be strung together– “the beads of a pearl necklace.” I have real, dependable guidance to navigate forward. Now I can work on one chapter at a time, building brick by brick until it’s done– “like a flower petal blooming.”
For me, “Dialogue” has multiple literal and symbolic meanings as will be revealed and discussed throughout my memoir (I can’t give it all away here), but it’s primary meaning is a reference to Bikram Yoga and how it’s taught, that is, through delivery of a Dialogue which is the yoga series’ foundation, its organizing principle, and most honest expression. It is the thing that differentiates it from other forms of yoga. It is what makes Bikram yoga, Bikram yoga.
Actualizing one’s possibilities and potential as a human being is an ongoing process, and the degree of actualizing that is possible through becoming more flexible and strong by doing what is HARD and doing what is RIGHT/HONEST defines what it means to be fully alive— it’s dealing with suffering—and this is what is written in the Dialogue. In my small, insignificant opinion, I believe this so happens to be the meaning of life.
The purpose of Bikram yoga, what gets expressed in individuals who act out the dialogue, or who actualize, is: Vitality. It is a process of continual death and rebirth. A constant coming-into-being or becoming. It is blossoming. Hence, my book title, “Like a Flower Petal Blooming.” My book is a story of the process of self-actualization, me as the central real-life character to whom others might also relate. It’s about how yoga provided me this portal to enter to deeper consciousness of my own life, my self and therefore my purpose, my identity, my existence. It’s also about how this portal is available to all of us, to individuals, to make our lives more meaningful through fostering our own growth, our own individual process of nurturing ourselves and our own vitality, to embark upon the hero’s journey consciously and most deliberately. My landscapes for learning blog is about creating conversation, a dialogue, in the realm of education about this process of self-actualization, the hero’s journey, and how to help young people (and their parents) develop skills to embark upon such a journey early in life rather than later.
The practice of Bikram yoga is meant to be physically and psychologically hard; it is difficult, challenging. It requires “tremendous focus and concentration.” It is a discipline requiring you to be still, focusing on oneself in a mirror, concentrating and meditating. It requires honesty and it demands commitment to self— it’s about trying, honestly, to discover your limitations and push beyond them (“beyond your flexibility”) and realize your strengths in order to fully actualize as an individual person. But ultimately YOU decide whether or not you want to make that commitment to yourself and to do what is hard. You decide to try. You have all the responsibility to try or not try, to do or not do, to cheat and cut corners or give your honest effort, whether that means you end up doing 1% of the posture or 99% on any given day. Only YOU can hold yourself accountable. The yoga isn’t about the postures– the yoga is about YOU.
This is why Bikram teaches his teachers to emphasize trying the right way, the hard way. There is no other way. It’s this philosophy that is rooted in the words of the Dialogue. And it’s also what makes this yoga less appealing, to some people, who don’t want to be uncomfortable or have to face themselves and their limitations. The truth can be difficult.
This yoga was designed and written to be forceful-–a force for good—a force for healing and growth and self-actualization. It was not intended to invite people to merely go through the motions to get a little workout and go home unchanged as the same limited, sick, and crazy person they were when they walked into the studio (and we are all these things to some degree or another because we are human). As Bikram says, “We don’t sell cheesecake.”
Growth is change. Change is hard. There is no other way—- and this is the truth. You are born alone and you die alone, so it’s a solo mission to become stronger, wiser, reach your untapped potential, find your limits, explore possibilities that are uncertain, and to face your fear and to face yourself and what you might learn about yourself– it is the unknown and the unknown is scary. The unknown about yourself is unchartered territory and you might not think you are capable of handling it. But you just might find what you’re made of and your strengths and capabilities also can become clear. It’s up to you how you want to be you– how you want to be in this world, how you want to live and be alive. Nobody can be you. Nobody can make you healthy. Nobody can make you come try Bikram Yoga. Nobody can make you stay. The yoga cannot cure you without your voluntary entry into the conversation and your honest participation in the Dialogue. Only you can do that, and you must do it alone through your own honest effort. Your teachers will be there to invite you into the discussion, the conversation, to Dialogue.
If you were to analyze the Teacher’s Dialogue as a text, that is, closely examining the diction, syntax, and tone, you would discover its meaning and the Bikram Yoga philosophy becomes crystal clear. Bolded words or phrases are almost entirely adjectives, adverbs, and verbs— all of which are terms of either ACTION or refer to QUALITY AND DEGREE. This is about you and how you are– the degree and quality of how you act, behave, do, or do not. You can see yourself for who you are or you can continue to avoid or lie to yourself usually in the form of excuses and justifications and elaborate, well-spun stories, or through blaming. As I said, it’s a forceful practice, most times a hard, healing process of slow and difficult transformation.
The purpose and meaning– the forcefulness and the healing, growth process of self-actualization gets muted and nullified if teachers merely parrot the words of the Dialogue to students. If a reader dispassionately read the words and repeated them aloud without proper emphasis– that is louder for bolded terms— or without the proper tone (Tone is the author’s attitude toward the subject) or without inflection and clear articulation of the specific words given, in their intended order, the philosophy and the meaning of Bikram Yoga gets lost, compromised, lessened, improperly applied, and weakened and watered-down. It loses its force. Fewer people change, fewer flower petals blooming, less vitality.
The meaning of Bikram Yoga is the Dialogue and a teacher’s role is integral, essential to its delivery. A Bikram yoga teacher must be an experienced student of the Bikram yoga practice rooted in Dialogue and its inherent philosophy to properly understand the degree and quality of energy required to implement it effectively with students.
Proper understanding of the meaning of the Dialogue with all of its emphasis on action words as well as the essential nature of its energetic delivery– including tone– and not just tone of voice but the teacher’s attitude toward the subject and Bikram’s original intent as the author–is essential to its integrity, to its existence and its essence. The text is alive and a teacher’s proper understanding and delivery are crucial to its continued existence, degree of liveliness, its effectiveness for students, and its potentcy to foster individual change, growth, and self-actualization. Teachers must embody the Bikram philosophy, which IS the Dialogue, to maintain their own integrity as well as the integrity of the yoga and to preserve it for the future.
It’s hard to care about the details in life– the seemingly little things that take effort to preserve and care for. It’s hard to preserve integrity (your own or something that matters ) when many people think what you care about is insignificant or unimportant, or they are passive due to fear or ignorance or apathy. It is hard to stand up for what matters. It is so much easier not to care or be honest or stand up and do what’s hard, what’s right. It’s easier to stay home on the couch and zone out eating Twinkies than it is to go practice yoga or do something that is hard. It’s also so very easy to become nihilistic, as I sometimes do. I have moments and days when I wonder why I even care about yoga at all, or writing, or people (all of which are full of complexity and details and challenge!)– and I begin to slide down the slope of “nothing really matters” (I actually start humming Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody). But then I know that doing something hard makes me feel more alive. I come alive when I move and breathe and exert my energy with purposeful focus and concentration to nurture my own growth. And I am here, so why not try to be as alive as possible— be vital rather than just take up space, and do what is honest and difficult to the highest degree and quality possible? Why not do my yoga? I know it will make me better, stronger, and that will certainly improve the quality of my life now and in the future and more likely the lives of everyone around me.
My friends who I spoke with this week told me how inspired they feel each time they step onto the podium to teach a Bikram Yoga Class– to lead people through their practice, and I share those feelings of inspiration. It’s overwhelming to be part of people’s individual journeys. It is actually a physical rush of energy in my body that arises when I acknowledge the individual energy of each body in the room and their honest commitment and effort. This is what I witness as I ask people to look into the mirror to begin the Pranayama Breathing. It is not coincidental that the definition of “inspiration” means the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative, and the drawing in of breath; inhalation. We are literally, intentionally, filling our lungs, our bodies, our inner worlds, with life and the life force. Each person’s individual promise, their commitment to themselves, the sacrifices they make on behalf of themselves, their willingness to enter into the space of discomfort that is necessary for change, and to participate, honestly, in the yoga— which is a Dialogue– is a good faith conversation— an entryway into themselves to become more alive, to blossom–just like a flower petal blooming.