What is it about 1st classes? After teaching for more than 20 years I still get nervous when I teach a first class anywhere.
I arrived early at EPF to get set up for my first Pilates Mat class back in the US after, as Debra likes to call it, my 3 year vacation in Shanghai. I always think first things first. Get the stereo set up, then my mat and then I’m ready to greet the students. As I was playing around with the stereo I heard the front door open and "WAYNE!!!!!" Debra arrived and ran over to me, all huggy kissy, kissy huggy. I said , “Ok, ok, ok!! I gotta get set up!” She said she was just so happy to have me back in the States and was there anything she could do for me to help prepare [that’s what all EPF Instructors say when they take a class to help out the Instructor]. As I delegated the Swiffer and lights to Debra I had to admit it was great to be back and WOW what a welcome. I also knew that she probably wanted to see me in action once again, just to make sure I was up to EPF standards…
As I was looking for ‘just the right music’ for my first class I hear: "WAYNE!!!!! It’s so great to see you!!!!!" And Barbara came running over to hug me and say hello. As I was looking at her for the first time in 3 years I had forgotten how much Energy she has! She was talking about missing my yoga classes, my spirit, my sense of humor and out of the corner of my eye I started to notice how her beautiful red curly hair was sort of pulsing with her emotions mirroring her points of emphasis. No I thought; I must still be jet lagged… what am I saying? But as I was listening to her… there it was; an exclamation point in her sentence perfectly coincided with yes a pulse in her hair! There it was again! I thought to myself, why had I never noticed that before. She finished with I know you must be overwhelmed and what could she do to help me get ready? The mirrors I said; even when no one touched them Debra was always a stickler saying “Clean the Mirrors!!!!” and she off ran [with hair pulsing!!!!!] for Windex and paper towels. As I was scrolling through playlists I thought OMG she teaches Pilates!!! She’s going to be watching my every move and word I say and my hair is certainly not going to pulse like hers…
I finally got a playlist selected and as I was adjusting the volume I heard "WAYNE!!!!!" And in walked Julie the EPF Medical Director; of course she was 'done' flawlessly, as she always is. As she sashayed over to me I thought that’s right, Julie never runs; must be her Medical School training . I remembered how she always says if you take more than 5 minutes to get ready your taking too much time; but as I gave her a quick once over I laughed to myself and thought there is no way she pulled that together in 5 minutes… Her beautiful hair was down and subtly wind blown… 'subtly'. Her Lululemon out fit was straight off the rack with not a single pill in a brilliant lavender. As she sauntered toward me she took off her Prada sunglassses like Miranda Priestly and gave me a much more business appropriate hug. You could always count on Julie to let her bedside manner come through. As she welcomed me back and took off her light jacket I noticed her stethoscope and smiled to myself. Where did she ever get one with such a long cord I’ll never know; I did a double take and saw YSL etched in the chrome. As always she had it tastefully draped around her neck, multiple times like Chanel necklaces. As she set up her mat I noticed how she took it off and coiled it on the floor near her mat; just in case...
Finally everything was ready, I looked at the clock and it was time to start. I started with "Good Morning and Welcome to Mat Pilates Class!"
I was taken back to the first class I taught for my Yoga Teachers Training Final Exam in June of 1991. After studying and practicing for months, this was it. I had 2 Swamis sitting in lotus watching me with clip boards and red pencils in hand; I had my yoga buddy Elaine sitting opposite me who was going to be my student. As I started the class with “Welcome to Integral Yoga”, I knew I was in the perfect place, doing the perfect thing. All it took was for me was to say that first sentence and all the stress and worry was gone because I was at peace knowing I was exactly where I should be.
As I finished the Mat class I smiled to myself and thought so why do I get nervous…
I arrived at Angelina’s Kitchen for Debra’s 50th birthday party. She was wearing spike heels and a form fitting floral dress that showed off the years of deep squats; her hair was longer than I remembered and was down in soft curls. She flashed me her famous “Debra Smile” and said "WAYNE!!!!!" I said, "Happy Birthday, WOW, you look great!!!" "You clean up nice!" She laughed and said "I’ve missed you so much the past 3 years!"
As we were catching up, images of Debra over the years I had known her, flashed through my mind…
After teaching a yoga class at Halsa Fitness, I ran into my friend Jill. I had met Jill while shopping for kitchen back-splash tiles at Fantastic Floors upon arriving in MN after relocating from California. She asked if I had tried Debra’s PUSH class at Halsa yet? I asked what’s PUSH? She said you have to try it and you are going to LOVE Debra. She explained it was a cardio class that was Super Hard. I thought back and remembered taking aerobic classes in college and really loved the after affects, for a number of years in San Francisco I took Step classes and liked them as well. I thought, I’m an instructor I have a free membership, so I might as well try a class.
I arrived with Jill for class and Debra sort of overwhelmed me. I was planning on being in the back row, unobserved and wanted to try the class and sort of leave unnoticed afterwards --- wrong. Debra introduced herself to me and took the time to explain the class would be challenging but just do what I could do. I thought to myself I’m a yogi, I’m in good shape save your speech for a real ‘beginner’. The class began and I knew I was in trouble from the start. It was really challenging and there were women in the first and second row that were keeping up with Debra and the crazy pace of the class. What made matters worse was that Debra was talking to every person in the class by name, giving pointers, tips and encouraging them on – while doing the class - as well as walking through the class. So much for being unobserved and anonymous. As the sweat was rolling down my face I looked at the clock and saw that 10 minutes had passed – it was a 60-minute class – what had I gotten myself in for?! The time crept minute by minute; I remembered from the olden days: stop looking at the clock, do you’re best and never come back. But the next thing I knew Debra was right at my side saying that’s great, you’re amazing, 4 more reps… I said oy!
I got through the class and Debra asked how did I like it? I said "yoga is really my thing and it keeps me in great shape." She agreed that I was very fit and added that cross training with different styles of exercise can really compliment any exercise regime. I said "you are probably right and see you around." I walked out of the class exhausted and sore but not injured, by afternoon I was very sore. The next day I was cursing that woman; living in a 3-story townhouse I was really having a hard time moving my legs to go up or down the stairs. I thought to myself that women is CRAZY! Working the body that hard might not be good or necessary.
Funny how a few years can change our minds so completely. While living in China I taught the fewest yoga classes I had ever taught in my life. The demand that was present the first time I lived in China didn’t exist the second time. The building I lived in Shanghai had a beautiful gym and pool; I swam, lifted weights, walked a lot and also practiced yoga and Pilates as well as did a lot of work on the Pilates Reformer. What I noticed over the 3 years in China was how my body changed, I became a little more chiseled and when I returned to the US, I was in the best shape I had ever been in.
Once back in the US, I immediately noticed how little walking I would be doing compared to my time in China. We Americans just drive everywhere we go. Also I wouldn’t be having a gym ‘in my building’ so I thought I might as well try the cardio classes that Energy offered. I knew I was in for a brutal first few weeks while I built up my endurance and strength, but decided to give it a go. To my utter amazement it was a challenging class, definitely tough but I wasn’t that sore afterwards and came back the next day for another class; or as Debra would say, again and again and again.
Debra was right after all. The cross training I had done in China with a variety of exercise styles, had made me much stronger overall than when I had only practiced yoga.
As Debra and I were laughing together at her party she said "it’s so nice to have you back; I never took your picture off the web site as an instructor because I always knew you would return." I smiled at her and said "it’s great to be home; thanks for such a wonderful welcome…"