Aaron: A Teacher’s Story Told in “A’s”

The name Aaron has an abundance of A’s doesn’t it?  While going over what Aaron described,  both leading up to becoming a teacher and in the year that followed, there were standout words that all started with the letter “A.”

And so, meet your teacher Aaron.

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Awareness

Aaron grew up in California, born in Los Angeles.  While still living in California, Aaron’s parents decided to divorce.  However, after some time apart, his parents unselfishly decided to reside together to raise Aaron and his brother.  They accepted teaching jobs in Sheridan, Oregon and moved the family to the Northwest.  Eventually, Aaron’s dad took a job in Vancouver and Aaron moved here to attend Hudson’s Bay High School.  In his junior year, while participating in tryouts for the basketball team, Aaron got the phone call.  The one that changes everything.  His father was gone.  A heart attack.

As time passed and the family grieved, Aaron, his mom and his brother grew closer.  He stayed in Vancouver after he graduated from high school.  Aaron was a self-described “big guy” like his father had been.  He worked hard, smoked cigarettes , and in general behaved like most his age: like he was indestructible.  After a painful breakup, he became aware of his lifestyle and began to realize he needed to change.

He started going to the gym and upon the urging of his coworkers, decided to try running.  Hooked immediately, he signed up for his first half marathon in 2010. He  then reached his goal of running it in under 2 hours.  Around this time, Aaron tried “hot yoga” for the first time.  While it was extremely demanding, Aaron found himself driven to go back.  He craved both the challenge of the class and the relaxation his body felt.  “I want this, I need this” he told himself.  In 2011, he completed the Portland marathon and again surpassed his goal, crediting both hard work and yoga to carry him through to the finish line.

Adventure

After the marathon, Aaron and a friend traveled to 8 countries in 35 days.   It was this trip that he says really changed him, instilling in him a faith that he could accomplish anything he set his mind to do.  The adventure he took and the courage to try were indicative of the desire to to continue building his mental muscle as well as his physical endurance.

Returning home, he stepped up his yoga practice.  In the process, he “fell in love” with the yoga and was in the hot room 4 or 5 days a week.  He did karma yoga to help pay for his practice,  fully investing in both time and effort.  Just before a trip to do another marathon in Australia,  Aaron noticed a “really cute girl” in the hot room whom he recognized from high school.  In addition to the many gifts he had received from the yoga, he also was fortunate to add Kelly, his girlfriend, to the list.

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Kelly and Aaron taking their practice on the road.

Alignment

At about this time, Aaron heard about teacher training.  It sounded punishing:  9 weeks?  Classes twice a day? Bikram yelling at you?  But he thought about his own life, what yoga had taught him, his own strengths and what he wanted for his future.  He loved the yoga, he loved the format of the classes, he loved sharing his knowledge with others…it seemed the perfect next step.  The impossible now seemed possible because he wanted it.  Once he decided he was in, the pieces fell into place.  With gratitude, he took a family loan from his grandfather to attend training, he was accepted, and it was soon time to go.  What Aaron wanted for himself and what he was created for himself were now beginning to align.  He was ready.

Acceptance

Aaron went to teacher training having never completed a double before, let alone doubles for 9 weeks (in addition to long lectures, late nights, grueling dialogue memorization and the stress of the training).  He got through his first couple okay.  But on the first Friday of training,  as he lay down for the floor series, he remembers thinking “I can’t get up.”  He had absolutely nothing left.  While others left the room (Bikram said it looked like the “Tokyo train station” so many were coming and going),  Aaron told himself he would not leave the room. He accepted the fact that he wasn’t able to do the postures at that time.  That was where he was, and that was okay.  He made himself a promise at that time that he wouldn’t leave the room, no matter what.  And he didn’t.  The entire training.

Aaron stayed focused on Bikram’s words and found this the best way for him to sustain the energy to get through and eventually, trust the process.  In particular, Aaron focused on and embraced these Bikramisms:  the right way is the hard way, try 100%, my words-your brain and eventually in the future.  He learned to trust himself and be open to all the different styles of teachers.  He met new people, (37 countries represented at his training) and reminded himself to accept corrections from Bikram without it feeling like venom, but instead like a blessing.  Training was the “hardest, best” thing he had ever done for himself.

During his training, Kelly committed doing a class every day to support him.  She recorded an amazing 150 classes in a row.

Adaptation

Coming home from training, Aaron began to teach right away.  It had been life changing for him, but he had to adapt to his new role as teacher in addition to student.  Along the way, he relied heavily on the dialogue.  As Aaron explains it, you have to do this initially in order to calm your nerves and allow yourself to teach with love and passion.  If you as a teacher have been up all night, are nervous, don’t feel well, whatever…you can always count on the dialogue.  It is the foundation of the yoga.  It is what the students count on, too.  As a new teacher, you are encouraged to focus only on the dialogue for up to the first 6 months or so after training.  Not on corrections or health benefits.  Gradually, day after day, you learn to have faith in yourself.  You can expand beyond the dialogue to see the entirety of the class.

Bikram and the proud graduate.

Bikram and Aaron at the end of training.

As the year has gone on, Aaron has begun to find his own voice in addition to adhering to the dialogue.  As his students will remember, when he first got out of training, Aaron taught the class very much by the book.   Now, he has added his own style.  He is developing his teacher’s eye to correct postures, give positive feedback and make it fun.  (Many students have enjoyed how he calls us “my friends”).  For Aaron, and for most teachers, what makes sense for them is what they share in the hopes that it will also make sense for you.  He has a way of explaining asana in a no-nonsense manner.  His classes are infused with use of breath and guidance to embrace the stillness.

Ananda

Ananda in the Buddhist tradition means the ultimate happiness, which is every being’s goal.  Each of us choose a different course to achieve that goal and become who we want to be.  In Aaron’s life and practice, he has been teaching frequently, up to 14 classes a week!  He strives to balance teaching with practicing as he doesn’t feel you can be a good teacher unless you also practice, preferably alongside your students.  He hopes to give his ailing knee a little TLC in order to speed his healing and get back to his love of running.  After two years together, his relationship with Kelly is “stronger than ever.”  They can easily geek out on talking about yoga and enjoy spending as much time as possible together.  He knows that the three most important aspects of doing the yoga are also the most important for doing what you love:  precision, intensity and frequency.  Aaron, having been bitten by the travel bug and also a social butterfly, also plans on traveling and visiting studios across the country for an “east coast tour.”  He plans on starting in Minneapolis and making his way to New York City.

Aaron adds that Bikram asks a trick question during training.  The question is, “Who is the most important person in your life?’  The answer is one that Aaron invokes in both how he lives his life and how he guides his students.  The answer is simple.  The answer is…

You.

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Energetic Enthusiastic Entertaining Elio!

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Mama Mia, that’s a stretch!

Here at Vancouver Bikram Yoga, we all know and love the Italian Stallion, Elio.  He will lead your class with a thick Northern Italian accent (despite having been in this country for well over 20 years).  You can take the man out of Italy, and well, you know the rest.  For the uninitiated, Elio is a rock star.  He will keep you smiling, sweating, maybe even cursing through a boisterous and high energy class.  He is all about the moment, the experience, the thrill of Bikram.  Strap on your seat belts, and get into your Ferrari.  It’s going to be hard work.   Da scherzo.  But playful.

Elio first came to the states by way of the cruise ship industry.  Having sailed the seas from Alaska to Puerto Rico, he made a fateful stop in LA where he says, “I stayed one month.  Then another month.  Then another one after that.”  He married his traveling companion and soon came the apple of his eye, his daughter, now 21 years old (and an accomplished musician).  Although the marriage did not last, Elio found his way to Oregon and as a devoted parent to his daughter.  For 20 years, Elio worked hard in a restaurant where he basked in his love of fine food and good people.  When his beloved place of employment shut its doors and simultaneously his daughter left for Liverpool to study music, he found himself at a crossroads.  He was feeling lost and unsure.  Tempo al tempo.  All in good time.  Things were about to change.

A very insightful friend told Elio he should try Bikram.  Elio thought, “Why not?’ and went to his first class.  It was a community class, an introductory class for many, so he was not alone in the ill-fated attire he chose.  Long pants.  Long shirt.  Prima volta!  The first time!  He made it through!  Something inside him clicked.  Although he didn’t know it at the time, looking back, he thinks he tricked himself into sticking with it.  He told himself, if I can do this for 6 months every day, I am going to teacher training.  Every day, he felt stronger.  Every day, he gained the sense of community.  Every day he felt better.  Six months passed.  He was 51.  And he was going to meet Bikram.  Meglio tardi che mai.  Better late than never.

While stereotypical, Italians are known for their work ethic and courage in the face of adversity.  Both of these traits served Elio well during the long weeks of teacher training.  Sometimes it was grueling, but other times exhilarating.  He often got very little sleep, staying up late for lectures or trying to learn the dialogue.  But Elio says this experience teaches you that no matter how you feel, how tired you are or how much you struggle, non fa caso.  It is of no importance.  You must be there for your class, for your students.  Of course, for Elio, he gets a charge out of the energy of the class.  He loves to move around class because he knows that as he approaches, you work harder to get yourself into the pose.  Your effort and enthusiasm fuel him.

Once Elio made the decision to go to teacher training in 2010, everything fell into place.  It is the same for all teachers, he says.  In 1980, his mother put aside 500 lira and sent it to his sister.  When his sister discovered the account years later, it was worth 9000 euro.  Just enough to get Elio to teacher training.  Dio volendo lo faro.  If God wills, I shall do this.  And he did.  Elio sees Bikram not by who he is, but by what he created.  Inside Bikram, he sees a little kid from India whose loves and dreams made a revolution.  In the yoga, there is something more than the postures, more than the breathing.  The more you do it, the more you see.  It’s what goes on inside of you, that transformative power that turned a man who had never done yoga at 49 to a yoga teacher at 51.  This, Elio says, is the real vision of Bikram.  It’s not so much for the super-flexible, the athletes, the dancers as it is for the ones who come in and can’t touch their toes.  The ones who really need it.

When asked, Elio says he loves head to knee pose as pictured above.  What does he love about it?  That people can always go further than they think.  (It’s true, he propelled me to go about 3 inches further than I have been doing in this pose this morning).  His least favorite?  Probably standing bow.  “It’s hard!” he says.  It’s refreshing to have teachers who know the struggles you feel when you are doing the poses. He knows because he struggles, too.  That’s the idea.

During class, Elio often says “If you don’t get it now, there’s a class at noon, 4:30 or 6:30.”  With each class, you improve and you get closer and closer to the goal.  There’s only you in the mirror.   He is fond of saying there is no escape, you are your own captive audience.  “It’s possible!  Don’t let your mind tell you it’s not,” is another common refrain in Elio’s classes.  What is the goal?  After all, in the end, what do you get?  When you challenge yourself, he says, you keep getting more and more.  And more.

Grazie, Elio!

Justin: Your Yoga with a Smile

He looks mild-mannered, until you get him in class.

He looks mild-mannered, until you get him in class.

His Monday classes are favorites for many of the yogis at Bikram Hot Yoga Vancouver.  Studio owner Erika affectionately describes him as the Mr. Rogers of yoga for a reason.  While he seems pretty mellow at first glance, don’t even think about getting out of triangle until the full time has elapsed.  And before long, you will crack a smile.  And soon after that, you just might learn something.  Meet Justin.  Gentle encouragement.  Firm knowledge.  A bit of whimsy.  But no cardigan or tennis shoes.

Justin came to Bikram yoga through his wife, Hilary and her mother.  They began taking yoga classes in their North Portland neighborhood and came home proclaiming it’s benefits.  Justin can tell you the exact date of his first yoga class.  His mother in law went to teacher training, and six months later, Justin was on his way to Los Angeles as well.  At the time, Justin was in a high stress job in commercial printing, staring down deadlines, long hours and irate customers.  What was it about the yoga that first intrigued him?  He says he has always been a disciplined person and that aspect of the series appealed to him.  From an outsider’s perspective, it’s Justin’s simplicity of task that makes him a great teacher.  He has a way of boiling it down (excuse the heat reference), making it attainable.  And all the while, fun.

Teacher training was exhausting, but it does not seem to have ever broken Justin along the way as has been described in recent books and articles.  His easygoing but committed manner were a good fit during the long days and grueling schedule.  After training, Justin spent time in Florida with his wife as she was earning her certification in acupuncture.  He was teaching lots of classes, up to 15 in a week and trying to squeeze in his practice as well.  It was arduous, but was a huge learning experience for him.  At a certain point, he felt depressed and had a couple “What am I doing?” moments.  And then, at a class his wife Hilary attended, he found his voice.  He remembers feeling juiced during class, remembering the style of one of his mentors, Tony.  He decided to be himself, to bring his inner comic to class.  As students in class smiled and laughed their way through the heat, Justin remembers gaining his footing as a teacher as erasing some of his doubts.  He felt energized, it was a great class.  When class ended, Hilary appreciatively asked, “Where did that come from?”

While Justin was happy to leave the commercial printing world behind, being a yoga teacher presents it’s own set of challenges.  There are students he is committed to teaching, and that often means getting up early (even when your new baby has had a rough night of sleep), putting your own issues aside to be there for the students, finding something new in the dialogue and most notably for finding some humor to get the students through the tough parts of class. The energy that students bring to class gives him a charge that helps him push us through the demanding series.  He finds feedback from the group to be extremely rewarding.   Justin shared that stand-up comedy is appealing to him because he gets a charge out of making jokes and hearing people laugh.  As someone who has enjoyed his humor, the idea of him on stage is very appealing.  Many students of Justin’s would surely enjoy the idea of Justin on stage with a microphone cracking jokes, using his wry sense of humor.  But don’t quit your day job, Justin!

With a 10 month old son at home, Justin continues to find new challenges and rewards in life and in practice.  He maintains a busy teaching schedule while sharing baby duty with his wife, and still trying to squeeze in his own practice.  For those of you who haven’t taken one of Justin’s classes, you can expect personal attention.  At the start of his classes, he makes sure he knows everyone’s name so he can address you in class if the need arises.  He is also known to wordlessly   continue poses during which you question whether he knows how long you have been holding them.  (He knows).  His natural and easy approach makes you as comfortable as possible at 105 degrees.  While Justin teaches at other studios, he finds the people at Bikram Hot Yoga Vancouver to be extremely devoted and dedicated.  He truly enjoys the community.

So, the next time Justin teaches, bring your mat, your towel and your water.  But don’t forget your smile.  You will most definitely use it.

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