News Chapter 1- 5: California Here I Come

The Journal of a Bikram Yoga Teacher Trainee

Formerly the technical director of a national touring theatrical company and a enterprising web designer, the author now teaches at his own successful Bikram Yoga studio. He signed up for the Teacher Training and attended the session during the aftermaths and chaos in our world after the '9-11' tragedy. This is his personal perspective and story.

Copyright 2005 E. Jennings
Posted with the permission of the author. If you enjoy and would like to comment or read additional excerpts of this journal, please email your comments to: Webmaster@BikramYoga.com






I left my home town September 22, 2001 to attend a nine-week training session at Bikram's Yoga College of India in Los Angeles, CA. This is the journal of my experience.

Chapter 1: "Oh, Say Can You See?"

While leaving home Saturday afternoon and first thing the next two mornings I played a Michael Tolcher CD. I met Michael a few weeks ago and had the pleasure of hearing him perform live in a very intimate setting. He's a gifted performer with not only a beautiful voice but a light-heartedness and an improvisational ability that is astounding. When a string broke on his guitar, without breaking the stride of the song, he grasped the flailing wire between his forefinger and thumb and pulled on it creating an eerie, melodic and haunting sound that somehow managed to fit the mood of the song perfectly. During another song he segued in the middle into a loud and passionate version of the Star Spangled Banner. It's not a song I much care for -- neither lyrically nor thematically -- but his soulful rendition transcended the mediocrity of it and for the first time I imagine I felt what legions of patriotic American's must feel when they hear it. Of course, on this occasion, the singer was performing naked on a stage in the middle of the woods, the air was filled with wafts of aromatic herb and there was nary a flag to be found -- but plenty of tie-dye. This was nine days before the day when everything changed, before the attack.

So there I was, heading west on I-20 away from the eastern seaboard on the first day of this trip listening and singing along with Michael. The fourth song on the CD is the one with the Star Spangled Banner smack in the middle of it. As I listened to the words I noticed a large American flag hanging from the overpass I was approaching. I also noticed lots of little flags on the antennas and in the windows of the cars around me. The mood and passion that was screaming out of Michael infected me and for perhaps the first time in my life I had a feeling of patriotism (brief pause so you can pick yourself up off the floor). I must explain.

In the days immediately following the attacks I was frightened of the "American response." We, as a country -- at least as depicted by CNN -- were sounding like a bunch of militaristic zealots bent on retaliation, revenge, and a move towards revitalization of the extreme right. Dubya's pep talks were full of incendiary rhetoric pitting the US as the epitome of good in an almighty battle against the fanatical, evil-doer, "others" who were motivated primarily by their hatred of Christianity and goodness. Were we really expected to believe that these attacks were committed because the perpetrators despise democracy and freedom? One would have to wonder if the military "experts" who were quick to lay blame on the American left of being evil-sympathizers what with their calls to limit civil protections and to steer federal monies away from the "liberal agenda." Correct me if I'm wrong but I thought one of the things that made America such a great example of democracy was our (supposed) love of liberty and our (supposed) dedication to equality and fairness. I saw countless Republican politicians and their punditry taking advantage of the opportunity to expand the rift between the frick and frack political parties' agendas. I heard Curt Weldon, a Republican representative from Pennsylvania claiming that the government's responsibility wasn't health or education but security, as of the military type. I've heard renewed calls for a star wars defense plan, as if that or the immediately dispatched flotillas which were put to sea surrounding our borders would have been able to do anything to prevent suicidal hijackers with plastic knives and razor blades from turning commercial airplanes into glorified vehicle bombs. I heard countless cries calling for the sacrificing of rights and liberties in exchange for greater security. It was a depressing, pathos filled period, during which time most of the tears shed were in horror and grief for those whose lives were slaughtered and forever traumatized but also for the impending political nightmare which appeared to be descending, unprotested, upon the land. As if I wasn't already cynical and paranoid. Now I was starting to feel hopeless.

But then something happened. It must have been five or six days after the attack. CNN ran a brief story about a peace march in Oregon. Then the email floodgates were opened. I soon started receiving message after message with alternative viewpoints and urging people to resist succumbing to the temptations of war as an instant remedy (albeit a placebic one -- can I do that? can I make that into a word?) for our pain. Then there were more stories on the television news programs about dozens of peace marches occurring on college campuses across the country. I started to feel less alone and even a little hopeful again. I started to feel like I was part of something bigger than myself. I'm not talking religion here but community and country. I actually started feeling connected with others in our national community. I'm not losing my mind -- I know we're still in the minority and that we possess little substantial political power. I know that the country is still marching forward into a frightening scenario which may very well lead us into WWIII. But for that brief moment with Michael in my car I felt hope. More than that, and this is what I've been getting to, I felt pride. I am proud of the values I posses and I am proud to be in the ranks of those who would seek a greater understanding of our current predicament and world situation in the hope that someday we shall overcome war and violence and the worship of the almighty dollar that makes them such powerful and necessary political tools.

I still don't like the song, The Star Spangled Banner, and I'm afraid of the nationalism it represents but I'm glad that I allowed myself that brief but sweet moment of comfort that, perhaps, just perhaps, we aren't all doomed.

Today, the sky over the Painted Desert and the Wupatki ruins were crisscrossed with almost a dozen jet plumes...

Copyright 2005 E. Jennings
Posted with the permission of the author. If you enjoy and would like to comment or read additional excerpts of this journal, please email your comments to: Webmaster@BikramYoga.com






Chapter 2: Touchdown!

Although I left the East Coast 56 hours ago and this is the third motel room in those hours, it's the first time I really feel like I've arrived somewhere. My last two stops were way stations on my passage from the East Coast to Flagstaff, Arizona -- my first destination. I've been so looking forward to a couple days in Arizona that I haven't really felt like I'm on my way to nine weeks of torture -- that's what Bikram promises to those entering his yoga training program. Instead, I'm on a mini-vacation.

That must be why I was so disappointed when I walked into this motel room. It's not much different than the last two but, as I say, those were way stations and this was supposed to be an arrival. It smells bad, has no bathtub, no remote control, a mushy bed, it's a loooooong walk to downtown where I hoped to spend some time, there's no reading lamp near the bed, the only electrical outlet is on the opposite wall from the phone jack making it difficult to get online without draining my laptop battery, the passing trains sound reeeeeeeally close, the shower head came from the joke shop (it only does scalding or frigid), there's a roach scoping out the food I put on the dresser (there's no fridge) and there's such a flimsy curtain on the window that everyone in the parking lot can look in and watch me scratching my ass.

So, I'm typing on the floor in the middle of the room so I don't kill my battery, I've put the mattress down here so it's got something solid underneath it and I've got something to sit on while I type, I've got towels hanging over the window, I've squashed the roach, I don't really mind cold showers, I've made ear-plugs out of toilet paper, I don't really want to watch TV and after 1,800 miles, driving to dinner won't kill me.

Still, it smells bad!

Tomorrow, I'll seek better accommodations. I'm going to try to attend a Bikram Yoga class in Sedona tomorrow and Wednesday afternoons so I've considered staying down there but the travel book doesn't have any inexpensive hotel/motel listings for Sedona. In fact, the moderate listings are four times what I paid for this skeezy dump. I think I'll consider going to what would have been my first choice if I wasn't trying to save a few bucks -- the Hotel Monte Vista. It's a little more than twice the cost of this place but it's funky hip, has bathtubs and is in the heart of downtown Flagstaff. The concierge was tattooed and pierced -- what was I thinking?

I stopped off at the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest on my way in this afternoon. The Painted Desert is a dangerous place for a city boy dressed in black denim and sandals. I wasn't planning on hiking any of the trails but standing at the top looking down it was just too inviting. I proceeded downward telling myself that I was just going to go as far as the first switchback. Turning the corner, though, and after each subsequent turn before reaching the bottom, the view just become more and more enticing, drawing me further into the heat and dust. I took a few pictures but stopped when I realized that the majesty didn't completely fit into the viewfinder. Before I knew it, I was out of sight of the trail that I had followed and standing at the edge of a vast scarlet badlands. None of the signs along the rim-top trail warned me of the siren-like call I was hearing. Just one more turn, one more vista, I kept telling myself, until I realized how easy it would be to enter and never return. City boy. At least I had a straw hat.

Driving the loop south and back across the interstate I had come from and towards the Petrified Forest, the badlands changed color from red to a bluish gray. The change was abrupt, coming into view as soon I crossed the highway -- it was like one minute I was on Mars and the next, the moon. The petrified trees were confusing to look at -- my mind had difficulty with the simultaneousness of the red rock and bark covered log appearance. Up close, some of them were amazingly marbled with rainbows, green and purple prominent among the hues. My favorites, though, were the ones that required close examination to notice that the red and black bark was no longer bark but stone. Understandably, the park rangers have a vehicle inspection station on the way out -- the temptation to collect a few for choice placement by our back yard fish pond was great.

Today was the first day that I didn't see jets in the sky....

Copyright 2005 E. Jennings
Posted with the permission of the author. If you enjoy and would like to comment or read additional excerpts of this journal, please email your comments to: Webmaster@BikramYoga.com






Chapter 3: Ruins, Rest, Revitalization

Yesterday morning, in my haste to get out of skeezville, I suppose, I awoke at 6 am and immediately packed up my car and departed for Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monument. Sunset Crater is the youngest of several hundred volcano craters that surround Flagstaff. It was born approximately 1000 years ago and was active for 100. It is largely responsible for much of the sunset colored cinder and ash that was scattered over an 800 square mile area. The crater itself doesn't look like much but the surrounding land is uniquely, and gothically, beautiful.

After 800 years of dormancy, the land is still primarily barren with only a few scattered, extremely hardy, small trees and plants. Basically, it looks like a sparse charcoal garden. The cement walkway and the log-fenced trail that provide a short hike through the lava field felt like walking through a movie set. The smoothness of the charcoal and the lack of grass or other small weeds made it seem as if the existing plants must have been recently planted in full growth. The soft muted greens and yellows of the leaves and flowers looked virtually brilliant in contrast to the gray and black of the cinder and rocks in which they grow. The early hour and the absence of other humans enhanced the feeling of discontinuity with the natural world.

Continuing on towards the Wupatki ruins with windows down and music blaring (Jane Siberry: Hush) I was glorying in the vast expanse of desert and painted vista when my phone rang. It wasn't the mood spoiler you might think since I knew the only person likely to be calling was Pam. Brief and staticy (staticky? statickie? e-static?) it was, but the fact that I could hear her voice and describe to her what I was seeing and feeling only intensified the beauty and my appreciation of it. It was kinda like phone sex only without the sex.

The Wupatki ruins were much like other ruins I've seen. They're not so much beautiful in themselves except for their location and the fact that they offer a glimpse into the past. Impressive workmanship was involved in their making; of course, especially considering the environment (masonry is not an occupation I would choose were I to live in a dessert). Here, there were three features that stood out: a ball court, an amphitheater and a blowhole. The ball court, while not exactly like the ones found in Mexico and South America, is similar enough to suppose that it was used for Aztec style ball games (no mention of human heads being used for balls, though -- is that the stuff of legend?).

Apparently, many of the neighboring ruins also had ball courts so it's easy to assume that they may have had inter-tribal games. The amphitheater isn't known to be exactly an amphitheater but it seems to be a good guess since it's round instead of oblong and too small to imagine any kind of serious game taking place in its confined area. I could easily picture community gatherings, oratorios, performances, meetings, potlucks, etc taking place here. I'm not sure why but it's comforting to think that we may have been more like these people than unalike.

Back in Flagstaff I checked into the Monte Vista. This is more what I had in mind. It's an old building and hence a bit weathered but very clean and comfortable. The bed is a firm queen, I've got two windows that open and look down on the street two stories below, a generous bathtub and even a small wall-mounted writing table that's just big enough for my laptop. Best of all, I can leave my car in the parking lot and walk to pretty much anything I need. Except the Bikram Yoga studio, that is. Unfortunately, that's in Sedona which takes between 40 and 60 minutes by car depending on traffic.

I drove down last night and attended my first class in years. OK, it's only been 3 days but since I've spent most of that time cramped in the car or sleeping in cheap motels it felt like years. I arrived in Sedona immediately after realizing that I forgot to bring the directions to the studio. At first I tried to find the studio by driving until I saw something that sparked a memory but nothing came. I then stopped at the Natural Foods Grocery store to look for clues. They had a community bulletin board but no mention of Bikram Yoga. I looked in the local papers but saw no advertisements or class listings. I then found an Arizona Whole Life catalog (a kind of new age yellow pages for the state) which only listed one yoga studio in Sedona and it wasn't Bikram. What the hell, it's a smallish town so I called them hoping that they could help me out. The woman who answered knew where I wanted to go and began to provide directions by asking where I was. When I described my location in the parking lot outside Natural Foods she said, "Good, now go inside the store and turn left, walk into the deli and look for the woman with the cell phone at her ear." Voila, there she was. She then gave me directions to the studio.

This was my first time taking a Bikram Yoga class outside of my home studio in the East Coast. I wasn't exactly nervous but I felt misplaced and awkward. The teacher, Kelly, was great -- very relaxed, casual and warm. Kelly's teaching style was a nice blend of pushing and levity. At times she would almost be yelling at us to push, stretch, compress, twist, and then she'd say the last word of a sentence with an uprising lilt in her voice making her sound like she was playing with us. Now that I think of it, that's a style that pervades at our studio, too, the mixing of drive, concentration and letting go at the same time. Approaching yoga seriously but with a light heart and a sense of humor must come from the man himself. The class was attended by seven people in addition to myself and they were all very open and chatty, welcoming me and poring over my tattoos and asking questions about my trip.

The class itself was less formal than I am used to. Two people arrived late and joined us in mid-pose, there was a fan that people would turn on themselves occasionally, one woman left the room to step out into the cool air several times and there was one behavior that seemed distinctly odd: a few of the people would breathe loudly in and out through their mouths very much as weight lifters do in a sort of rhythm with their exertions. It was a macho sound and I assume it was coming mostly from the men, two of whom were very masculinity svelte. If I were already in LA I would suppose they were surfers - tanned, longish hair hanging boyishly into their faces, moving very deeply and aggressively into the postures. They sounded like they were having a difficult time but their postures were strong and well executed. I, on the other hand, while quietly breathing through the nose and concentrating fiercely in the mirror, was struggling. I had to sit out one set of the Balancing Stick pose and one set of the Triangle pose, two of my most challenging postures.

I was sure that I wasn't pushing too hard so at first I couldn't understand why I was having so much difficulty and then I remembered that Sedona is probably much higher in altitudes than the eastern seashores and the oxygen must be somewhat thinner. The floor poses were less traumatic and I felt great when the class finished. It's only been in the last several weeks that my practice has consistently reached that place that Bikram talks about where you gain energy with the exercise instead of losing it. I felt fantastic on the drive back to Flagstaff. Of course, by the time I finished eating and laid down on the bed I was exhausted and slept long and deep. I look forward to another class this evening.

Copyright 2005 E. Jennings
Posted with the permission of the author. If you enjoy and would like to comment or read additional excerpts of this journal, please email your comments to: Webmaster@BikramYoga.com






Chapter 4: Westward Bound

I'm getting back on the road this morning to undertake the final leg of my trip to LA-LA-Land. It still hasn't really sunk in that I'm about to enter into a very challenging nine-week program. I'm apprehensive and excited at the same time. It's also somewhat amazing...

When John Martini first told Pam(my wife) and I about Bikram, and again when Pam came back from her first few classes, my reaction was, "you've got to be kidding!" The idea sounded ludicrous to me and as someone who has long been lacking in physical discipline I doubted I would ever give it serious thought. I still don't know what happened to cause me to first walk into the studio and I can't imagine why I went back after the first grueling class -- I thought I was going to die. Yet somehow, return I did, at first once a week.

It was the most physically challenging thing I had ever experienced and all through those early classes all I could think about was getting out of there. I would be remiss if I weren't to add that I had recently resumed personal therapy around long-ago repressed trauma and that the physical issues I was facing in the Bikram class were precisely mirroring the internal issues I was struggling with in therapy. I didn't intentionally conjoin the two processes but after several weeks I began to realize that they were complementing each other nicely and enabling me to finally, after 41 years, begin to get to know my body and to understand my mental and emotional relationship with it.

I've often said that one of the wonderful things about having a mind (as opposed to a brain) is that we can use it to transform the world we live in. Specifically, I refer to our ability to transform trauma and tragedy into positive and affirming life experiences which can be used to propel ourselves further in our personal evolution. I am finally learning to love and appreciate myself in entirety and I would not be the person I am today without having had ALL the experiences I have had. I am therefore learning to fully accept those experiences no matter how painful or difficult they might have been. It was my brother's suicide a little over two years ago that helped catapult me past some of the defenses I had been hanging on to for most of my life. Those defenses, while they served their purpose by enabling me to survive, must ultimately be cast off if I am ever to move past survival into thrival (I know, not a word but it works for me). The option to live consciously exists within me as it lives within all of you and we only have to get out of our own way to begin to see the path.

The recent trauma and tragedy that we are all struggling with right now can equally be transformed into life-affirming, positive results. One of the books I brought with me is "The Illustrated World's Religions, a Guide to Our Wisdom Traditions," by Houston Smith. I've had the book for a few years but it was only recently, with the world's attention focused on Islam and Muslims that I started reading it. It's admittedly brief and focuses primarily on the affirming aspects of religious belief rather than acting as a comprehensive and conclusive examination of religion and religious institutions. I just finished the chapter on Islam and I must say it was fascinating and informative. I intend to learn more about it and it's adherents especially in light of the fact that one out of 5 or 6 people in the world practice some form of it.

Having survived a number of self-destructive behaviors I can look back at them and see that they were all in reaction to, and in defense of, deep pain. It may be treasonous to say this right now but I can't help but look at the suicide bombers as people whose pain must be great beyond imagination in order to have learned to surrender their lives to it so completely and with such devastating ramifications for the rest of us. Of course, I'm being simplistic and the politics of the situation are complex and rooted deep in history. Still, what else can I do but apply my own life experiences to the situation at hand like a template with which to make sense of it and give it recognizable form.

The war being waged upon us is not being conducted by some mysterious "other" or by some external force known as "evil" but by ourselves on ourselves. The struggle to know the self cannot hope to come to fruition if we don't equally struggle to know and connect with the rest of the world as brothers and sisters and finally, as reflections of ourselves. I refuse to hate. I refuse to blame. I would rather look inward to find the strength to reach outward. To get to know my enemy as I would know myself so that we may recognize each other and get on with the true purpose of life which is to know love beyond all.

Yikes, I am running out of room time -- I hear the cleaning staff approaching my door and I must sign off lest they charge me extra for checking out late. It's back to the car and back to the buzz of driving. See ya on the other side (of the border, that is) -- California, here I come!

Copyright 2005 E. Jennings
Posted with the permission of the author. If you enjoy and would like to comment or read additional excerpts of this journal, please email your comments to: Webmaster@BikramYoga.com






Chapter 5: California, Here I Come

I had a mini break-through yesterday morning but before I get into it I want to clarify and elaborate on my last transmission. Re-reading it, I was struck by how mighty and highfalutin it sounded. I'm not always like that and in fact, those closing words might seem incongruous coming from me. Those of you who know me are well aware that I do a fair amount of blame-throwing, usually at the authority figures in my life: politicians, mainstream media, the intelligence communities, corporate America, etc. I suppose it may make me appear somewhat hypocritical to be so righteous talking about understanding, acceptance, getting to know, even loving people whose actions were heinous and horribly destructive. But I think it's not. To put it into a context that might make sense I will turn to my yoga practice.

In Bikram class, the teacher talks us through the postures by describing the form of (what sounds to me like) a perfectly performed posture. S/he also describes in detail the various steps or stages of motion that can bring us to the completed posture. Naturally, I cannot do a "perfect" posture. As far as I know, I will never be able to do so. My understanding is that I'm not supposed to be able to do a perfect posture. The teacher's job may be to show me the way and to lead me in that direction but we both know that I can only work, to the best of my ability, to move TOWARD'S the perfect posture. The benefit to be gained from yoga (or most anything) isn't in the completion of a posture or a set of postures but rather it is in the development of a discipline that keeps us moving forward towards something. Ideals aren't meant to be attained -- they wouldn't be ideals if they were actually attainable, they would be goals. There's a difference.

In my practice of life, I struggle constantly to move towards my ideals. The limitations that I carry with me were learned a long time ago and I try to overcome them when I can. It is no surprise that, in a times of trauma like these, in the face of devastating human conflict, I find within myself the capacity to empathize (not sympathize, not appreciate, not condone) with the perpetrators, with the underdog, with the angry and with the desperate. I learned at an early age how to live with and how to survive trauma and crises. I am often at my best when the shit hits the fan, so to speak.

I also have the capacity and the ability to experience a full range of emotional responses. In the first several hours after the attacks I felt angry and I had the urge to lash out. It sickened me to admit it but there were moments during those first hours when, upon hearing talk of a military response, I felt a surge of excitement and adrenaline, imagining bombs being unleashed on those despicable human beings who caused us (me) to feel such deep pain and sorrow. I wanted to get revenge and to hurt those who would hurt us (me). I quickly tried to suppress and deny those feelings, to hide them from the world and hence from myself. I felt shame and embarrassment for having them. But then I decided to invite them into the room with me and to sit for a spell. I put them on like an old favorite shirt that had been lost and was now found. As soon as I did this I realized that they didn't fit me any more. In fact, the more I looked at them the more I saw that they weren't a shirt at all. They were a mirror. They weren't just a regular mirror, though. They were a two way mirror. At first glance I could see only myself looking back at me but the more I looked the more I started to make out another face in the background. In the darkened room behind the mirror was another person looking out at me. He was wearing a red turban and he was riding a fiery missile down on New York like Dr. Strangelove only his cries weren't the whoops and hollers of a cowboy yelling, "go git 'em dawgie!" He was singing, "La ilaha illa 'llah." There is no god but God!

When does it end? If we bomb the bad guys into the stone age won't their followers, their brothers, their children, their grandchildren and so on ad infinitum, keep on coming at us with their suicide planes, trains and automobiles? Isn't the only logical conclusion genocide or, worse if that's possible, mutually assured destruction?

OK, back to the travelogue and back to the mini-breakthrough. And I do mean mini.

Prominent among the many reasons I wanted to stay in downtown Flagstaff was the proximity to urban culture and experience. Walking distance to the very cool newsstand, MacGaugh's, that I remembered from a previous visit and to the hip whole foods restaurant, Cafe Espress was key. Of course, and wouldn't you know it, things change. MacGaugh's went out of business and Cafe Espress lost it's hip -- white table linens, clean cut, casually uniformed waitrons and uninspired art on the walls. Fortunately, I found another restaurant to take its place. The hippies, punks and lesbians have taken up residence in a vegetarian coffeehouse and bakery across the tracks on Beaver St called Macy's. So, yesterday morning, in the mood for a cup of joe and a newspaper, I walked over there. And then I did a typically Eric thing... I walked in the door, saw a long line of people waiting and immediately turned around and walked out. I was disappointed but I had a schedule to keep. I had carefully planned my morning so that events would occur in a timely sequence resulting in a precise 11 am departure. The long line screwed things up so I was heading back to Cafe Espress. I was actually going to sacrifice the one thing I wanted most in order to delude myself into thinking I had some small amount of control over myself and my life.

Thankfully, as I was reaching the entrance to the Cafe, I came to my senses, turned around and walked back to Macy's. Screw the plans, screw the schedule, just relax and slow down, I had to remind myself. What's the fucking hurry? In my haste I almost missed out on a truly marvelous breakfast and an amusing and endearing experience. Macy's has tables and benches on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant and a coffee-to-go window overlooking them. The woman working the coffee machine just inside the window had brought her dog to work with her. The dog was standing on a bench at the table just outside the window with her chin resting on the table top. This was the only "unoccupied" table available when I came out with my coffee and bowl of yogurt, granola and fruit so I sat down. Every few minutes the woman would poke her head out the window and coo a few words to the dog who would lift it's head, wag it's tail and then return to rest it's head on the table. Fortunately, she (the dog) wasn't interested in my breakfast and I didn't have to share my granola or my double-decaf-cappucino-viennese-with-soy-milk. California, here I come.

The bulk of the drive through the rest of Arizona and the southwestern California desert went by quickly and uneventfully. I left the highway just after Kingman and drove Route 66 over the mountains and through a little ghost (read tourist) town called Oatman. The scenery was incredible, rocky desert with small exotic looking succulents and cacti. The road was slow-going, winding back and forth up and down, each turn opening up to a new vista more expansive and more picturesque than the last. I didn't stop in Oatman, where the burros run free and in the streets, mostly because I had stocked up well on drinks and snacks in Flagstaff and had no need of a ghost town t-shirt or some crystal schlock. I did stop at a few overlooks to take in the view and to snap a photo or two. As with the Painted Desert, Lava Fields and Petrified Forest, I didn't take a lot of pictures -- every time I held the camera up to my eye and looked through the viewfinder the view disappeared. I'm not sure where it went...

I thought of Afghanistan and I wondered if these rocky, mountainous slopes were anything like the terrain that was being described nightly on the teevee as the treacherously dangerous hideout for Osama bin Laden. I wondered if those baby-faced marines telling the cameras that they don't really want to go but they're willing to "do what has to be done" were headed for the nightmare of their lives into an environment as hellishly hot and dry as this one. The heat was almost unbearable, hotter than any Bikram class, and the water in my plastic jug was so hot it tasted like a freshly brewed cup of tea without the tea bag. I had the windows down (AC off) and so I at least had some wind which, added to the sweat, helped keep my body temperature less than feverish. I couldn't imagine throwing a hundred pound backpack on over a full-body camouflage suit and a belt full of steel and gunpowder and trudging on foot up and down these slopes. And then... and then to imagine throwing dust, dirt, fatigue, deafening noise and... blood... into the mix. Unimaginable.

As I got closer to the city I rolled the windows up, turned on the AC and put on some tunes. I did my daily sing-along with Michael, followed by a very sweet and little known Dylan album, the original soundtrack for a movie called, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, in which Bob has a role as a knife-wielding killer. The music tells a melancholic story about fate, destiny and death, life, love and longing. As I passed Barstow and began to approach the greater metropolitan Los Angeles area I turned on the radio for a little NPR. Big mistake. Some guy from Pew was citing the latest poll statistics: 83 percent of Americans approve of George Bush's handling of the situation; 79 percent of Americans think we need a military response; 61 percent think that it will be a long, protracted war fought on many fronts; -- wait a minute! Isn't that exactly what the "news media" has been telling us for the last two weeks? Didn't I just hear a Pentagon spokesperson saying the same thing to a bank of microphones and cameras the other day? Click.

Music again. Amy Ray, Stag, rock 'n roll. Yeah, that's good, traffic's getting thicker, desert is giving way to outlet malls. Civilization looms, guitars are wailing, drums beating. Holy shit, the road is getting wider but the lanes seem more crowded than ever. Interchanges and exits are beginning to criss-cross and split and merge into a giant asphalt race track with multiple simultaneous races and no pace cars or indicator flags to clue me in to which race I'm supposed to be in or which track I should follow. Oh yeah, baby, the highway buzz is turning into a frenzy and the music segues accordingly. Sepultra, Roots Bloody Roots. Don't know it? Think loud, heavy, screaming, head-banging thrash metal. Furious lyrics spewed in a vomitous rage into broken fuzz-coated microphones, "leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone," and "what goes around comes around" and "what the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck do you want me to be?" With Sepultra, it's not so much what they say; it's how they say it. Hollywood, here I come!

I should have saved the "Touchdown" for today (Thursday night).

I have arrived in LA.

Copyright 2005 E. Jennings
Posted with the permission of the author. If you enjoy and would like to comment or read additional excerpts of this journal, please email your comments to: Webmaster@BikramYoga.com

 


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