Reflections on Bikram Yoga Teacher Training: Dialogue

The “Dialogue” is the scripted verbal instruction for the 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises taught by every Bikram teacher around the world. In Bikram yoga, the teacher does not practice yoga with the class nor does the teacher demonstrate postures. Instead, it is 90 minutes of precise, step-by-step directions on how to enter the pose, how to do the pose, why you do it, and how to exit the pose. As a teacher in training, you must learn it. Verbatim. Period.

A copy of the dialogue becomes a trainee’s Bible for the next 9 weeks and the two rarely separate. Trainees walk with it in their hands, study it and mutter under their breaths in an effort to be discreet as they memorize the words. At least, that’s how the learning starts. As the days and weeks progress at training, all shame evaporates and trainees speak the dialogue out load without a care. You hear it in the elevator, the bathroom stalls, the hallways, and in the supermarket aisles. A cacophony of voices reciting dialogue is like hundreds of broken records on repeat.

People learn dialogue differently. Some are visual learners and draw the body parts in the text. Others listen to a recorded version of themselves reciting a pose. Some write out the words of dialogue from memory. Using flash cards and a mnemonic device, I took the first letter of every sentence of each paragraph and created an acronym. No matter how the information gets into your brain, it must also come out of your mouth.

Late Night Studying of Locust Pose Led to Silliness

It helps to find study partners so that your study buddies do the yoga posture as you direct them. At this point, there is no correcting. You are just trying to get the words out. When people gather by the pool, in the lobby, or in the parking lot to do this, it looks like the different groups are playing bizarre games of “Simon Says”. Staff reminds us not to practice our yoga poses in front of other hotel guests. Normal human beings freak out when they suddenly see trainees break out into a yoga pose in public. Below, fellow trainee and New Yorker, Dionne Presinal is taking her chances. She is practicing standing head to knee pose in what appears to be the Target parking lot (photo taken by Melodie Yoshida).

Trainees who still insist on studying alone do so with inanimate object(s). They simply look at it and talk to it: a plant, a line of shampoo bottles, or a wall. One Saturday afternoon, I studied at the beach and I yelled out instructions for a backward bend at the ocean. A school of dolphins swam by. One of my trainee friends said, “You were so commanding, I swear I saw a dolphin backbend for you.”

Renata Schánělcová (l) & my roommate LaLa (r) talking to a wall. Photo by Alzbeta Peskova.

Dialogue memorization and recitation are monotonous but these ways are the most efficient way to learn all the postures in such a short period of time. Trainees are tested in posture clinic where the group of 400 gets divided into 10 groups 40. Each trainee must stand up in front of this smaller group and recite one posture as 3 other trainees follow while 2-3 teachers listen. When all 40 trainees finish reciting one posture, they move on to the next posture in the series until 24 postures are covered (2 postures are skipped since those two are repeated often with short instructions). Posture clinics serve as class simulations so that trainees have the opportunity to recite each posture and receive feedback from teachers.

The most important teacher you do this for is Bikram himself. Every single trainee must deliver the dialogue of the first posture, half moon pose, to Bikram in front of all the trainees. He gives feedback to each individual. It generally takes two weeks to get through everybody. Some trainees deliver flawless dialogue, others forget words, phrases, even sections, others speak monotonously, while other talk like an auctioneer spitting out words in rapid fire without breathing so that the experience could be over as quickly as possible. We are all nervous as hell regardless of how prepared you are. I have great admiration for the non-native English speakers who must learn dialogue in English and after training, go back to their countries and re-learn it in their native tongues. Often, these folks fare better than the native English speakers since they have to work twice as hard.

Chilean Guillermo Allende delivers Half Moon Pose to Bikram as (L to R): Ivan Silva (Spain), Tereza Kopkova (Czech Republic), Jonathan Martin (Spain) demonstrate. Photo by Yael Graff.

After the first two weeks, the pace quickens. Trainees must prepare to recite one posture per day in posture clinic. If a posture is short, it is conceivable to go through all 40 people and deliver dialogue for the next posture…thereby getting to two postures in one day.

I hated posture clinic…every single minute of it. I never loved it or even grew to like it. I felt sick every time; my stomach churned. I felt I needed to be perfect. I felt like I was being judged. I felt I had to be first all the time. All my issues came tumbling out and there were some really emotional days. It is easy to have breakdowns when one is tired, stressed, and sleep deprived. Looking back, I wish I wasn’t so hard on myself.

Posture clinics are just simulations. The real teaching happens when you are in that hot room, giving verbal instructions to your students. As a trainee, you learn the dialogue verbatim since it is your main teaching arsenal. As a new teacher, you learn to communicate with your students. You speak and they listen. They move their bodies and you watch and respond appropriately, sometimes giving an individual correction. It this kind of dialogue you want to have with your students.

Nevertheless, when you live in a yoga bubble for 9 weeks, it easy to forget the big picture and focus on the task at hand. Fellow trainee Melodie Yoshida from Hawaii captures it perfectly in this photo as she studied dialogue for a posture.

We Heart Astoria Celebrates its Two Year Anniversary!

We Heart Astoria launched in March 2010 to promote the neighborhood’s restaurants, art and culture scene, shopping, plus news and events.  To celebrate its two-year anniversary, We Heart Astoria teamed up with BEAR Restaurant on May 2nd to host a fabulous party.

The founders of We Heart Astoria (l-r) are: Judith Klein Rich (@Fooditka), Mackenzi Farquer (@SITEnews), and Meg Cotner (@harmoniousbelly).  Each woman brings her own strength to the project, making the site robust and full of information.  Meg is a classical musician with an interest in organic and local food, Mackenzi is an interior designer and storefront owner, and Judith loves food and enjoys sharing her gastronomic adventures with the world.

Siblings Alex and Natasha Pogrebinsky opened Bear Restaurant and Bar approximately 5 months ago.  The food can be described as Russian cuisine with a progressive twist.  Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to meet Chef Natasha but Alex (below in the red tie) warmly welcomed us to the restaurant.

We sampled selected items from the restaurant’s menu including hot passed hor d’oeuvres.

Bear’s mixologists even created a unique cocktail for the night, appropriately named “We Heart Astoria” and made up of orange juice, vodka, simple syrup, sparkling shiraz, and garnished with a blackberry and cherry.

Many Queens-centric bloggers were there that night.  Several members of the Queens Love posse came to represent (clockwise starting with me):  Rachel Antonio (@Roxwriting), Stella Dacuma Schour (@Stellaaa), Bradley Hawks (@BradleyHawks), and Jeff Orlick (@JeffreyTastes)!  I am honored to be a contributor to this online project that visually highlights the many reasons why Queens is so awesome.

The best thing about attending these events is finally being able to meet people I’ve followed for so long on Twitter.  What joy to finally meet Sue of @tastoriaqueens who writes about her many food meals in Astoria!  We talked about our lives, jobs, food, and our mutual admiration of each other’s work.

Anne Noyes Saini represents one-half of @CitySpoonful with Clare Trapasso.  City Spoonful focuses on New York City’s food and culture, particularly the outer boroughs.  Anne is another person I finally got to meet in person!  For several months, we have been trying to coordinate on Twitter to meet over an Indonesian meal but could never find a mutual time.  Below, Stella sneaks into the shot of me and Anne.

Kicking off its inaugural event last April 10th, QNSalon is the newest kid on the e-block.  Created by Sarah Burningham (@sarahburningham) and Chrissy Festa (@chrissylf), QNSalon seeks to create networking opportunities for professional women in the borough; the next event is being planned for the summer.  So great to see you again ladies!

Finally, these two women — Madeline Leung (@restaurantbaby) on the left and Rachel Antonio (@Roxwriting) on the right — have been incredibly supportive of me and ActionJoJo.  Together, we meet twice a month for our women’s writing workshop.  Many of the blog posts that you have read these last few months have been drafted in the presence of these women during our two-hour workshop.  We meet not only to write but more importantly, to support each other in a writing process that can often be solitary and daunting.  At the end of the night, attendees received fantastic swag that included discounts and items from various merchants throughout the neighborhood.  My favorite gift was this one on the left, a wallet likened to a NYC icon:  the Greek diner to-go, paper coffee cup.  This wallet is compliments of SITE, a home decor store owned by Mackenzi.

Congratulations to We Heart Astoria for its 2 year online presence!  May you continue to be a strong voice in the Queens online community in the years ahead.  It is thrilling to be a part of an active group of people so committed to promoting Queens.


12-14 31st Avenue
Astoria, NY 11106
(917) 396-4939

35-11 34th Avenue
Astoria, NY  11106
(718) 626-6030

Sunday Signs & Symbols: Utopia Parkway

Australian native James Clark of Nomadic Notes has been traveling the world for the last eight years. In February 2011, I wrote this post declaring my intention to be Queens-centric when writing about my hometown of NYC.  I suggested that Queens is a pretty awesome borough because it has a major thoroughfare with the coolest name ever.

As a Fountains of Wayne fan and curious world traveler, James read my post and was convinced to visit Queens the next time he planned to be in NYC!  By July, I met James in Vancouver at a travel blogger conference and in one month, he visited Queens.  I showed him around Flushing (he said he felt like he was back in China) and we ate in Astoria.  While he was here, we had to take a trip down the street that helped us become friends.

I think he was a happy man that day, able to experience a different slice of the Big Apple as well as finally being able to walk down the street singing the Fountains of Wayne song of the same name.

I got it made
I got it down
I am the king of this island / goddamn town
I’m on my own
I’m on my way
Down Utopia Parkway

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: Top 5 Obsessions of a Trainee


Eleven classes a week means you go through a lot of wet yoga clothes.  Keeping track of dirty clothes, wet clothes, half-dry clothes, and clean dry clothes is a juggling act.  You learn to soak, rinse, squeeze, hand wash, and hang clothes quickly.  If your turnaround time is slow then you’ll have a pile of wet/dirty/soaking clothes and nothing to wear.  This may be hot yoga not naked yoga.


A balanced and healthy diet is important yet every BODY is different.  In the first week, trainees experience sudden loss or increase of appetite.  Palates change because bodies change in this process.  Some long-time vegetarians and vegans start craving the flesh of a carcass while others are repulsed by their favorite foods.  Some eat comfort food while others maintain the status quo.  Practicing 180 minutes of hot yoga almost daily burns a tremendous amount of calories.  The body craves what it needs. It is not uncommon to find ramen noodles, soda, potato chips, candy, and chocolate co-existing with coconut water, leafy green vegetables, fruits, and roasted seaweed snacks in the shopping carts of trainees.  Personally, I was addicted to Doritos, Cheetos, BBQ potato chips, and little sausage wieners.  By the end, I succumbed to drinking a can of Coca-Cola almost daily.

Nutrition is not only a matter of what to eat but also when to ­shove eat your meals.  Free time is extremely limited so finding the balance between eating what your body needs versus preparing a convenient meal is a challenge…especially when 400 trainees share only 2 microwaves at virtually the same time.  Now you see why I had to do this to prevent me from pulling my hair and scratching my eyeballs out?


After class, you ride the hotel elevator back to your room.  If a hotel guest not attending training (tell-tale signs include:  wears everyday, non-yoga clothes that contain little to no lycra or spandex; wears perfume; has well-coifed hair and makeup) has the misfortune of riding with your stinky, dripping, red-faced self, 8 times out of 10 they will look at you and ask, “Oh, how was the pool?”  What else would they think?  Your drenched mat and clothes are dripping sweat on the elevator floor and you look like a wet dog.

Important body minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sodium are lost in sweat.  Bodies need the right amount of these minerals for numerous reasons that include proper nerve and muscle functions.  Trainees turn to Gatorade, coconut water, or manufactured electrolyte powders or tablets to replenish these minerals.  An inexpensive method is to simply squeeze lemon and add a pinch of sea salt into your water.  Sea salt contains many of the minerals that your body needs yet loses in sweat.

In severe cases of mineral loss, there is Pedialyte.  Yep, it’s the same stuff given to dehydrated babies and young children because its main ingredients are sodium, potassium, chloride, and zinc.  If you are administered Pedialyte by staff, you have been relegated to that of a baby.  At this point, your body has started to shut down and most likely cannot move.  If this is the case, then it is served by being held up to your mouth by another person.  This experience can be frightening and equally humbling.


Electrolyte imbalance has a direct correlation to dehydration.  Symptoms include:  headaches, prolonged tingling sensations that lead to cramping, claw hands (fingers and hands turn inward to resemble a claw), and perhaps even delirium, unconsciousness, or collapse.  In the first two weeks, it was not uncommon to see dehydrated trainees lifted up and carried out of the room by staff.

Incredible amounts of water get lost through sweat so drinking five to six liters of water daily is recommended.  Many trainees succumb to buying a “Tower of Shame” aptly named because we would never ever use a monstrous 2-liter cooler filled with ice water at home.  But the rules of the game change and what may be normal at home no longer holds any water (heh, pun intended) here at teacher training.  During very hot and humid killer classes, trainees skip the miniscule drinking spout of the Tower of Shame and instead, rip the lid off to gulp down ice water until the throat and esophagus are numb from the cold while the rest of the body feels like its on fire.

Here, Aussie trainee Kathryn Gregory of A Sweaty Adventure, proudly displays her Tower of Shame.  Note its size is bigger than her head!

Other trainees opt for the “cocktail bar” method, where they bring in a combination of the following:  water, Gatorade, coconut water, Vitamin water, electrolyte packets, a container of ice.  It is easy to identify these trainees because the bottles/containers are lined up near their mats.

And the #1 obsession of a bikram teacher trainee?????

((drum roll please))












WHAT?!?!  Did you think it’s just yoga all day?


We have homework.

We study.

We get tested.

It’s overwhelming…and stressful.

It’s the number one cause of sleep deprivation, anxiety, breakdowns, and breakthroughs.  Read next week’s blog post to find out more.

A special thank you and credit to:  Kathryn Gregory for all hydration, electrolyte, and homework pictures and LaLa P for all laundry and nutrition pictures. 

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

New York City elicits images of an urban jungle:   concrete sidewalks, honking horns, yellow taxicabs, tall skyscrapers, and seas of people moving with determined purpose.  This frenetic energy makes the city attractive to locals and tourists alike.  People seeking an escape from the Manhattan jungle head to Central Park, a haven from the asphalt and glass.  While Central Park may be the most highly recognizable park in town, it is only the 5th largest park in New York City according to the Parks & Recreation department.

In 1938, NYC Parks Commissioner Robert Moses put much of the Jamaica Bay area in southern Queens under the supervision of the Parks Department because of his interest in preserving the region’s wetlands.  In particular, he was interested in building a freshwater bird sanctuary in Jamaica Bay.  By 1951, the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge was formed and in 1972, the park fell under the jurisdiction of the US National Park Service.  The refuge along with 10 other parks in Queens, Staten Island, and New Jersey comprise the Gateway National Urban Recreation Area (indicated in green in the map below).

Cross Bay Boulevard bisects the refuge and a large fresh water pond (unimaginatively named East Pond and West Pond) exists on each side of the road with an adjacent trail.  Register first at the Visitor’s Center and learn more about the park from the current exhibits and public lectures.  Park rangers can also inform you which wildlife can be seen that day.  For approximately 60 years, the refuge has served as a rest stop for migrating birds such as the brown osprey and orange tree swallow during the spring and autumn seasons.  Some birds remain in the area all year long such as the green-mourning doves, cardinals, and robins.  There are many birds to encounter along the trails but binoculars will come in handy should you be interested in seeing smaller, rarer birds in the brush.

Just as the NYC urban jungle assaults your five senses, the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge also does the same.  As you walk along the marshes, you see cactus plants and holly bushes.  Broken clam shells reflect sunlight as they litter the ground creating a shimmery path.  Birds dig up the clams and drop them from the sky, allowing gravity to crack them open for consumption.  Constant squawks, squeals, and chirps can be heard overhead as the ground crunches beneath your feet.  The wind rustles leaves and makes surrounding tree branches squeak.  Scattered throughout the park are birds nests and birdhouses offering refuge for adult birds and their offspring.It is easy to relax in the refuge’s serenity even though the distant Manhattan skyline peeks above the marsh tips, cars whiz by on Cross Bay Boulevard, and humanity’s constructed jumbo birds take off and land at nearby John F. Kennedy Airport.  Despite these urban reminders, you can taste the salty smell of the ocean on your tongue and hear the rhythmic lapping water of the freshwater ponds.  I visited on a sunny yet windy day so the sun gave me welcome warmth against the cold ocean wind.  I passed a group of birders in their tell-tale khaki vests and hiking boots carrying their huge binoculars, long tripods, and expensive cameras.  Led by a park ranger, the group participated in one of the park’s free tours.

A Single Swan in East Pond with the JFK Control Tower in the Background
West Pond with the Manhattan Skyline in Background

A peaceful calm descended on me and I took a moment to acknowledge the human intervention needed to make this place possible.  This refuge would not exist without the foresight to preserve and create a natural bird habitat as land increasingly developed in New York City.  It is hard to believe that this haven for both birds and humans exists approximately 15 miles away from downtown Manhattan.

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
Cross Bay Boulevard
Broad Channel, Queens
(718) 318-4340
Trails:  Open daily, dawn to dusk.
Visitor Center:  Open daily, 8:30am-5pm

Take a Queens-bound (Lefferts Boulevard) A train to Rockaway Boulevard and transfer to a Rockaway Park-bound Q53 bus from Cross Bay Boulevard & Liberty Avenue to Wildlife Refuge stop.