Sunday Signs & Symbols: In the Event of a Tsunami

In College Point, a NYC neighborhood on the northern shore of Queens, this sign is in the town center (14th Avenue & College Point Boulevard) away from the shore.  No other sign with this image can be found in the neighborhood so I am left to wonder what it means.  Is this location where people are to gather OR escape from in the event of a pending tsunami?  What do you think?  Leave them in your comments below.

Sunday Signs & Symbols is a weekly blog event, showcasing a picture and an explanation on this broad topic.  Every culture uses signs and symbols to interpret their environment, inject meaning to life, and attach value to an object or practice so that its people share a common understanding of the world and the social rules that dictate the behavior within it.

Reflections on Bikram Yoga Teacher Training: First Class with Bikram Choudhury

“Check, check.  Check, check.  Let’s rock and roll!” said the slender Indian man into his microphone headset.  There he stood with a broad smile, atop a 7-foot mirrored podium in front of the room, rubbing his hands eager to start.  “Welcome to Bikram’s torture chamber where you kill yourself for the next 90 minutes,” he continued.

My teachers at home rarely started class this way.  If they did, they would surely strike fear in the hearts of their students especially the first timers.  But in a room of 400 yoga students training to be teachers, it was appropriate and even welcomed.  The energy in the room was electric.  Most of us never took a class taught by the guru who created the yoga series we sought to teach.

Bikram Choudhury wore his signature teaching outfit:  a black Speedo-like bikini bottom, a black headband across his forehead, and his long thinning hair tied up in a small knot on top of his head.  On the podium was an over-sized chair, covered in orange towels.  An adjacent small table hid a plastic bin of ice to keep bottled water and Coca-Cola cold.

Just a few hours earlier, Bikram stood before us in the lecture room in a fitted shirt, slacks, an expensive wristwatch, and Italian leather shoes.  “This first week, take it easy honey!  Don’t kill yourself now.  Don’t worry, I will kill you later in week 4!” he joked.  We all laughed…nervously.  Later, I would learn that this man loved to tell jokes and stories…and that he always kept his promise.

A day after our arrival, we now faced him like an army, arranging our mats and distributing ourselves along ten white lines that horizontally cut across the floor of the Radisson’s main ballroom.  The high ceilings, glass chandeliers, and wood paneling were further accented with fluorescent lights and floor-to-ceiling mirrors on the entire front and left side of the room.  Several large air ducts at the back of the room transported heat.  Fellow trainee, Steve Landry, shot this one-minute video revealing the transformed ballroom where we would practice eleven times per week for the next nine weeks.

I looked over at Lala for reassurance. She stood on her mat next to me and smiled. We had enough balls to choose to stand in the front row, right next to Bikram and the podium! I was nervous and excited. It all felt so surreal. I dreamt about this moment for so long and it was hard to believe my dream became a reality.

I looked around the room.  My fellow trainees hailed from 40 countries (see list below)*.  About 85% were women and ages ranged from 19 to middle age and beyond.  Some trainees had a head full of silver hair.  We were single, engaged, married, straight, gay, Christian, Hindu, agnostic, atheist.  We were parents, social workers, carpenters, doctors, psychiatrists, dancers, actors, and graphic designers.  Find a label, we represented it.

Bikram was ready to begin.

Start please.  Toes on the line.  Pranayama breathing.

The opening breathing exercise requires students to inhale by the nose creating a snoring sound and exhale by the mouth creating a “HA” sound.  Its purpose is to open up the lungs to its maximum capacity thereby preparing students for the next 90 minutes of class.  Bikram was in a great mood.  On the podium, he danced, smiled, laughed, and joked.  After 20 minutes, Bikram sat down in his chair, crossed his legs, and taught the remainder of class with the same energy he had when he started.  Once in a while, he called out a student usually by pointing and identifying the color of his or her outfit in a sea of yogis.

Miss Pink!  Sit down more.

Boss!  Chest up, arms back!

He addressed the male students as “Boss” and the female students as “Miss” or “Sweetheart”.  If he got to know someone, he would assign him or her a nickname.

Miss Bushy Bushy (her hair).

Miss Chinese Chop Suey (her ethnic background).

Miss London (she lived there).

Lampost (he was 6’7”)

Class went by quickly.  When it was over, I lay still on my mat with my eyes closed.  I was so happy.  My heart screamed with joyous certainty:  I belonged here and this path I chose to become a teacher was the right one.  I smiled, looking forward to the next nine weeks.  I was finally going to get to call Bikram the way most of his teachers address him:  BOSS.

*Trainees hailed from:  the USA, Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, Estonia, Croatia, Latvia, France, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, Lithuania, Italy, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Poland, Holland, Bulgaria, Turkey, Israel, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, India, Japan, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand.

Orchid Show at The New York Botanical Gardens

The annual Orchid Show at The New York Botanical Garden ended on April 22nd.  In case you missed it and need to wait until next year to see it in person, check out some of my favorite orchids from the exhibit.

The Garden hosts fantastic exhibitions throughout the year!  Future exhibits include Monet’s Garden and the extremely popular annual Holiday Train Show.


The New York Botanical Garden
2900 Southern Boulevard
Bronx, NY  10458-5126
(718) 817-8700
For directions, click here.

Sunday Signs & Symbols: Harmony, CA

After visiting Hearst Castle near San Luis Obispo, California, I was driving on Highway 1 and came upon a sign for a town called Harmony (population 18).  What a unique name for a town so I stopped to strike a pose!  Tree posture strengthens the legs and improves balance.  When you practice tree pose, your standing leg remains strong and rooted to the ground as you stretch your spine up towards the ceiling, growing taller like a tree.

Beginning today, Sunday Signs & Symbols will be a weekly blog event, showcasing a picture and an explanation on this broad topic.  Every culture uses signs and symbols to interpret their environment, inject meaning to life, and attach value to an object or practice so that its people share a common understanding of the world and the social rules that dictate the behavior within it. 

Reflections on Bikram Yoga Teacher Training: Arrival

I craned my neck looking anxiously for the right shuttle at Los Angeles International Airport.  Forty-five minutes of waiting caused my neck and back to hurt.  Never mind that a 50-pound backpack strapped to my 5’2” frame and an equally heavy suitcase stood next to me.  Where was the damn hotel shuttle?!  I had only one hour left to register, settle into my hotel room, meet my roommate, and buy groceries for the week!

When the shuttle arrived, the driver helped with my bags and half jokingly said his back broke due to the heavy weight.  With embarrassment, I found a seat and started picking up the conversations around me.

I‘ve been practicing for 2 years.

I live in Vancouver.  How about you; where are you from?

My husband has been very supportive of my decision.

It was the chatter of Bikram yogis arriving to attend 9 weeks of full-time teacher certification.  Many were smiling.  Some already seemed to be best friends as they talked about the family and pets they left behind, the homes they wouldn’t see, and how they got to this point.  Some kept to themselves.  I decided to do the same.

The main lobby of the Radisson LAX Hotel resembled an ant colony.  Four hundred yogis descended upon the hotel simultaneously, all seemingly moving with purpose.  Some pulled large suitcases, others hauled bags of groceries and boxes of coconut water and bottled water.  We looked like refugees, carrying the few possessions we had and stocking up on food to last for weeks.

This frenzy brought me back to moving day on my first day at college.  What the hell did I get myself into?  I am too old for this.  But then I saw the welcome sign with Bikram Choudhury in the spine twist posture.  The words “teacher training” beneath his contorted image reassured me that I was in the right place.  I chose to be here…and paid an exorbitant amount of money to do so.

In the sea of yogis, I looked around for Lala, my roommate.  We had never met in person, only on Twitter.  Online, we would passionately exchange tweets about food, Filipino culture, and Bikram yoga.  She seemed like my perfect match but would our online harmony translate into good roommate material?  Maybe she had a weird crazy habit.  Maybe she would drive me up the wall.  I thought I had written off temporary roommates after deciding to have a permanent one by getting married.  It’s funny how life turns out sometimes.  My phone vibrated.  It was Lala.  She texted saying she was returning from the Filipino grocery store and would see me soon.

Knowing nobody, I gathered my courage to explore the second floor of the hotel, which was solely dedicated to our group.  The registration line snaked around the 250-square foot room.  The chatter of yogis created a loud, indistinguishable noise.  Zico representatives were giving away free coconut water.  A Trader Joes’ rep gave away free reusable shopping bags.  Interested in weekly bottled water delivery?  Laundry service?  Sign ups were available!  This feels like a convention.

When Lala arrived with the groceries, we also snuck in our most precious contraband:  a microwave.  The hotel did not allow us to cook in the room but we did not care.  We borrowed the microwave to save our sanities.  Otherwise, we would be forced to share TWO microwaves with 400+ other yogis all eating at the same time in a designated common room.  Oh, hell no.

Lala and I arranged our hotel room to accommodate our needs for the next 9 weeks.  The writing table became the prep area for food.  The desk lamp and telephone shared space with the rice cooker, mini grill, and electric water kettle.  Two dresser drawers held our clothes but a third dresser held dried and canned food, ramen noodles, seaweed packs, condiments, and teas.  We hid the microwave under a wooden luggage rack whose surface held the dish rack and coffee maker.  The surface of our mini-fridge served as our hydration center where our Brita pitcher sat along with our towers of shame (more on that later).  We pinned two ends of a clothesline to the window curtains to hang the two sets of yoga clothes we would both use daily.

Knowing that we had a lot of unpacking still left to do, we begrudgingly headed back to the second floor for orientation.  Seats in the conference room were arranged theater style and faced a stage in the center.  Three 2×3 framed portraits flanked the stage, each depicting an Indian man.  Two of them had a fake lei of flowers draped over the top.

Paramahansa Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi and founder of the Self-Realization Fellowship is on the left and on the right is Bishnu Gosh, younger brother of Paramhansa Yogananada and Bikram’s guru.

The third portrait portrayed Bikram sitting shirtless in lotus position atop a tiger rug, both of them staring at you with a steady gaze.  I met Bikram once in May 2010 and during that first meeting, I thanked him for creating this yoga series that healed my knee.  I told him it was my goal to one day become a teacher.  Two years later, that dream became a reality.  I looked around for the man who would be my guru but Bikram and his wife, Rajashree, were out of town.  Instead, we were greeted by their daughter and other senior teachers.

After the usual logistical housekeeping items, they prepared us for the intense physical, emotional, and mental journey ahead.  Regardless of what lay ahead, we were advised to “trust the process.”

Little did I know that this phrase would be my daily mantra for the next 9 weeks.

Photo of Paramahansa Yogananda is courtesy of Eladio Garrido.  All photos of the hotel room are courtesy of Lala P.