Posted by: kerryalina | 21 March 2013

Rollercoaster

I have been ROCKING it lately.  Cooler weather and no humidity makes for a happy kerryalina.  I was even more excited once I heard that Juan Manuel Martin Busutil (the current world asana champion) was coming to my studio for a Master Class!  I’ve done master classes half a dozen times – they’re generally the usual beginners’ class but with short breaks for demonstrations, corrections, explanations and tips interspersed throughout.  Afterwards there’s a Q&A session followed by a demonstration of the visiting champion’s competition routine.  I LOVE master classes – they’re always packed, the energy is amazing and I’ve learnt so much from them about extending and fine-tuning my practice.  I couldn’t wait!  It was going to be great!  But then I arrived at the studio and was reminded once again that the number one rule in Bikram?  Is NO EXPECTATIONS.

First problem: One of my teachers pulled me aside when I arrived and asked if I’d be willing to demonstrate some poses for the class.  My first shocked reaction was “But I suck!”  I quickly realised from his reaction that he probably interpreted this as fishing for compliments, so I panicked and immediately followed up with “…but okay, I’d be happy to!”  I smiled, walked away (glowing with the unexpected ego-boost)… and immediately started freaking out.  I mean, it’s one thing to continually fall out of Standing Bow in class; it’s another thing entirely to do it in front of approximately five million yogis.  What if he wanted me to do Standing Head to Knee?  I can’t even kick out properly!  And it would be not only in front of all my fellow students, but also every single teacher!  I was already feeling stiff and uncoordinated today; there was no chance I was going to cover myself in glory.  And that’s when I realised:

I've made a huge mistake

Second problem:  Juan’s definition of a Master Class was substantially different to everyone else’s.  Instead of giving us the benefit of his years of experience and in-depth knowledge of yoga… he stuck to the dialogue, cranked the heat, maxed out the humidity and worked our asses off.  Which is great and all… but I can get my ass kicked by pretty much any Bikram teacher.  I don’t need to pay $35 for the privilege.  His Q&A session consisted of a few life stories (every question about yoga or postures was met with a lacklustre “Well, it depends.”) and in the end, he didn’t even do his demonstration.  I can honestly say that I didn’t learn a single thing yesterday, which left me feeling frustrated and resentful.

Third problem:  When we were already struggling with the overwhelming heat (half the class had dropped to their mats by Party Time), what does he throw at us?  THIRD SETS.  Of Half Moon (“Lol, okay.”), Standing Head to Knee (“…srsly?”), and then Standing Bow (“You have GOT to be kidding me.”).  By that stage I was so overwhelmed, exhausted and frustrated that I wildly kicked up and up and UP… and suddenly crumpled to my mat in pain as I felt my inner thigh muscle strain and my leg give out from under me.  You guys.  It felt like I had been STABBED IN THE THIGH.  I honestly thought I had torn my muscle in half.  And as I’m curled up on the ground, clutching my leg and sobbing in pain, Juan looks straight at me and says “We’re not moving into Standing Bow until everyone joins in.  It’s a team exercise!  So stand up, miss.”

Which brings me to my fourth problem.  It’s one that is completely down to personal opinion, and I’ll admit that I obviously haven’t had enough time to have in-depth conversations or really get to know him.  But as far as I can see?

Juan’s kind of a dick.

Here’s a tip for teachers everywhere: if your student limps from the room in tears to get ice for her battered muscles, don’t mock her.  If somebody else runs out and loud vomiting sounds can be heard from the bathroom shortly thereafter, don’t laugh that he just can’t handle your class.  And if you come across both these wayward wannabe yogis sitting together after class and feeling sorry for themselves, try to show at least a little compassion rather than berating them for leaving the room.  Because once you’ve done all these things (and more!), the only impression you’ve left is that of arrogance and an overwhelming lack of understanding.

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Responses

  1. Wow!!! I’ve taken a bunch of those too and never had an experience like that!!! How horrible and disappointing! How are you feeling now?

    • Sore! But I can put weight on it now, which is an improvement over last night. I’m going to baby it til the weekend, I think. Enjoy some couch time instead of going to class :)

  2. Bummer. Juan does sound like a dick. I’ve done 3-set classes before, and I despise doing 3-sets of anything before Party Time. 3 sets of Awkward makes for very grumpy yogis (and very grumpy thighs)!

    But, always remember; it is *your* practice! IF you ever need to sit out, or if the class just isn’t working for you, or if the teacher is a dick, then just sit out a few. No shame. We all do it. And if he mocks you, then kick him in the shins! ;-)

    • Oh, I did/do/will happily sit out poses. After my muscle imploded, I sat out basically everything after Standing Bow. Tentatively tried to join in again with the floor series, strained my thigh again in Bow and that’s when I left to get some ice. Next time I’m DEFINITELY going to go for his shins!

  3. Wow! That experience sounds totally opposite from anything I’d expect in my experience of yoga… They’re always very reassuring, “If anything is too much, you can always rest in child’s pose” while at the same time encouraging us to stay with the pose just a few breaths longer before coming out of it. I really love that the teachers are constantly reminding us that “It’s OK if your Tree is swaying” or “If you’re having trouble balancing, put a hand to a block or on the ground.” The perfectionism and demandingness of what I imagine Bikrum to be kind of scares me. I’d like to try one day, but your experience doesn’t sound at all like what yoga is like for me. :-/ I hope you are OK ! !!

    • Oh no, no, no, this is definitely not indicative of a regular Bikram class. It wouldn’t be worth a blog post if it was! This guy was a conceited twat and had absolutely no connection to what was happening in his class. That said, I’ve had Ashtanga teachers who were just as disconnected from their students. Don’t make the mistake of equating one bad experience with the yoga as a whole :)

      The vast majority of teachers I’ve practiced with (at five different Bikram studios) have been the most caring and dedicated people I’ve ever met. They’re constantly pushing us to better ourselves, whilst at the same time staying mindful of our struggles. They know the difference between me sitting out Triangle because I’m lazy, and falling out of Standing Bow even though I’m working my ass off… and they won’t hesitate to call me out on the former! But on the rare occasions where I explain that I am sitting out due to injury or illness, they’ll smile, nod and suggest modifications that won’t aggravate my condition.

      It’s a very different environment to most other yoga streams, but my studio is still one of the safest and most caring places I know.

    • I have been doing Bikram for 15 years in more studios than I can count! This is extremely atypical!!! I’ve practiced in places where the teachers would walk around and give foot massages during the savasanas, one where the teacher hugged everyone (maybe not the new people) as they came in and before they left. When I was a kid, I was afraid of stick pose, and the teacher would come hold my hand before going into it. And last night, my teacher crawled between my legs to give dialogue laying on the floor where I could read her lips. Even in other champion classes like this one, the experience is usually supportive, loving and inspiring. Every one I’ve taken the champion has explained in his or her own way, that competitive yoga isn’t about out doing anyone, but inspiring everyone. That they are only delegates to represent all of each practitioner’s best attributes. Juan’s behavior is shocking and unusual. I’m so very disappointed to have someone like this representing ME.

  4. oh my…wow. it sounds like all of his “greatness” has gone to his head, big-time. )either that or he was an ass to begin with lol.) how is your leg feeling now??

    • Sore! But much better than yesterday. I iced it on and off all night and kept off it as much as possible, which I think helped :)

      • i’m glad it’s feeling better at least – any kind of sharp pain is always so scary! have a nice restful day on it! : )

  5. He sounds like a TERRIBLE teacher! So what if he can do all of the poses to perfection?! The whole point of a “practice” is just that…practice! I’m sorry to hear of your injury on top of the ball of angst you probably had in your stomach before class even started. There will be other classes – and hopefully not many with that arrogant prick. :-/

    • Thank you! Looking forward to having the weekend off to rest my leg and then getting back to class with my regular (lovely!) teachers :)

  6. Oh noo!! I’m so sorry you got injured. I hope it heals quickly!

    The guy sounds like the perfect example of how things can go terribly wrong when the ego takes over. I have actually felt this way about Esak as well after a seminar. If he ever comes to town again for a workshop… no thanks. Reading Hell-Bent confirmed my impression. Sad that these folks were chosen to represent the yoga and then they turn out to be terrible examples themselves.

    Take good care of your thigh. Hugs!

    • He actually discussed the fact that he was (in his words) overwhelmingly stubborn and controlling before starting Bikram, and that while he’s not all peace and flowers now, his demeanour is much more “manageable.” So I don’t doubt that he’s actually improved over time; it’s just that his ego was so far above everybody else’s to begin with that even with 15 years of yoga, it’s still skyhigh! But you’re right, it is definitely disappointing that he’s representing Bikram when he doesn’t embody any of what I love about the practice.

  7. Oh, yuck. I’ll remember not to take his class ever!

    • It might be more rewarding if you go in knowing what to expect… I think part of the problem was just that I thought it would be completely different! And it’s possible he was just having an “off” day. But… yeah. From what I’ve seen, I honestly wouldn’t recommend his classes :(

      • I have always had great master classes. Don’t want to ruin that!

  8. As a new Bikram yogi, who is absolutely in love with the practice, I find this really sad, since the whole point of this yoga is to not just become a master, which is a nice benefit if you get there, but to become a better person. I aspire one day to be able to teach, but the thing that inspires people to learn, develop, and grow in their practice, and in their life, is a genuine love of the practice and love for your students, and a desire to see them grow. I’m sorry that you didn’t benefit from the master class, and that you got hurt (that sucks!). I’m more sorry that this supposed “master” has apparently lost his love of the practice and now is just a “champion”. I think the idea of competitive yoga seems to be a bit of an oxymoron. Feel better soon.

    • It sounds like you’ll be a wonderful teacher! I’m so excited when people who are passionate about Bikram decide to take the plunge and do teacher training.

      On another note, this idea of competition being antithetical to yoga is one that I’ve come across a few times… mainly from people who haven’t experienced an asana competition ;)

      The vibe at the events is VERY much not competitive AT ALL. When you meet the competitors and see them helping each other out with their routines before the comp, you realise that very few people are really trying to “win.” They usually just want to show what they’ve accomplished over the last year. Or they wanted a goal to work towards. Or they just want to inspire others, or they love the atmosphere, or they want to improve on their performance from last year. Whatever their reason for attending, it’s rarely about winning. They’re cheering on their competitors every step of the way.

      In a way, it’s similar to piano or ballet exams – nobody thinks of music or dance as a competition, yet it can still be useful to be scored/graded every now and again to see how you’re tracking and what you need to work on.

  9. Wow!! Ok so I’ll never complain again about the extra few seconds we’re held for!! I’d have been miffed already at half moon.

  10. LOL! I just read this post today and it made me laugh so much.

    Not because of your injury – I do hope it’s all better now since it was 9 months ago!! BUT I laugh because Juan is our teacher every single Tuesday evening and we love his classes!

    I laugh because you’ve described exactly what he’s like except the perception is so different!

    Yes, he kills us EVERY time! He has absolutely no sympathy, no mercy. He cranks up the heat, cranks up the humidity, half the class is always on the floor during standing series, he holds us in postures forever so the class takes longer than usual and he pushes you to your limit and beyond.

    Once he held us in utkatasana so long, it was the one and only time I actually got angry at the teacher. I almost swore at him out loud but only managed to mouth out “you asshole” without the voice…. I was too scared to say it out loud in case he made my life hell for the next month!!

    He bagged out this 6″4 rugby player for the duration of the entire class once (it was the guy’s 2nd class, I was feeling sorry for him!) and you know what? The guy continues to attend his classes and I can tell you his practice has improved SOOOOO much, he is so much more focussed, it’s awesome.

    We all keep coming back – Juan’s class is one of the most popular and full classes at the studio. It’s a lot more tough love than it is ego ;) He actually is a really good teacher, one of the best we’ve had, one of our favourites…

    I must admit he doesn’t connect to students the way most other teachers do (as in he doesn’t sit around to have a chat and a gas bag, not to me anyway) but he is very aware of what’s going on with his students.. he sees everything in class and everyone! You do not get away with anything!

    My very first class with him, I was looking for approval, you know… the “you’ve got a nice practice” comment or something… he said NOTHING… in fact, he said nothing to me and kept calling me “miss” and telling me off for being “late” either to class or to doing my postures. He did this for a few weeks until I finally stopped caring and just got on with it… and as soon as I did that, that very day, he made the effort to know my name. Before that he wouldn’t even say hi to me!!

    The following week, he started correcting my postures (he only corrects the ones I think I’m good at even though I never told him which ones I think I’m good at.. it’s very humbling). So that’s when I realised that he does know his students (not their names) but… he knows what they need and gives it to them…

    He never gives praise and he doesn’t molly coddle… He’ll always call people out for their bad habits and he pushes. The best compliment or praise you will ever get in class is “not a bad effort” and he’ll never directly say it to anyone specifically so you never know if he’s talking to you!

    Doing a class with Juan makes you tougher! We’ve got a lot of tough teachers in this studio, he’s the toughest but I doubt you’d win an asana championship if you weren’t just as tough, if not tougher, on yourself. The dude has worked with Bikram for a really long time, so much so, that the other teachers have told us that taking a class with Juan is almost like taking a class with Bikram (without the innuendo of course).

    Also, his jokes are very dry, sometimes so sarcastic you think he was serious but we find him hilarious, he cracks us up during class quite often. One time he said something like… many people commit suicide, so If you want to die, then there’s no better place than here and now, so go ahead, try to kill yourself.

    And Tony and I were like WTF??! and cracked up because it was so inappropriately hilarious. Here we were on the floor, doing the spine strengthening series just after a hard-ass standing series and feeling like we were dying and then he says that and you realise… it’s not that bad.

    In the end, he makes you push harder than you’ve ever pushed before and you end up improving with every class.

    Yes you feel like dying in all his classes, you spend the entire 1.5 hours with him trying to kill yourself and any spare second you have wanting to kill him… but you improve so much and feel so great after class that you end up coming back for more!

    Some other students have commented that once you’ve done Juan’s class, every other class is easy! You always need one of those don’t you think?!! :)


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