Yoga Tune Up® Blog


Immersed in ‘Black’ness

By: | Friday, November 26th, 2010 | Comments 18

I had heard stories about Glenn Black for years. Many, many stories, that all highlighted two things about the legendary yoga teacher: he was tough (“he made us hold Navasana for 5 minutes!”) and he was mean (“he made fun of this girl who couldn’t do it!”). Needless to say, during my years on the East Coast, I wasn’t exactly seeking him out as a teacher. I was pretty sure that my own pig-headedness wouldn’t meld too well with what sounded like his.

But after I moved West and Jill Miller, Glenn’s protégé, became my teacher, my attitude changed. She is not mean, and she’s the right kind of tough, so I figured maybe the stories about Glenn were overblown. When I heard that Glenn was making a rare teaching trip to Los Angeles, I decided to spend a weekend immersion with the man/myth and make up my own mind.

(Something else about Glenn that I picked up from the years of stories: don’t talk to him. In fact, don’t talk at all. Glenn demands a silent classroom – he does not take questions about what you’re doing (or anything else), and he’s not interested in hearing about your process or your breakthroughs. I found that kind of awesome.)

Jill and Glenn.

Armed with this information, I was deeply surprised when I walked into a room full of chattering students on the first night. I looked around – surely Glenn Black wouldn’t permit this transgression? But there he was, wandering between yoga mats, hands clasped behind his back, silently eyeing his students. I put down my mat next to fellow YTU teacher Tiffany Chambers-Goldberg and cautiously said hello. Perhaps age had softened the edges of this notoriously gruff man.

“I’m supposed to teach you yoga nidra and Do-In tonight,” Glenn said off-handedly, in a low voice directed to no one in particular. And that’s how it began. We bounced our knees, massaged our forearms, rolled our legs around. This is a synch, I thought. I got this. And then we stood up and held our arms overhead. For 5 minutes.

A lot of things go through your head when you’re holding your arms straight up in the air for 5 minutes. (If you’re reading this and don’t think it sounds that hard, go ahead and try it. I’ll wait.) It’s sort of like the stages of grief – you cycle through pretty much every feeling you could have about holding your arms overhead until finally you come to accept the fact that you will be holding your arms overhead until Glenn tells you “that’s enough.” I came, during the course of the weekend, to have a Pavlovian response of “Oh thank God,” to his “that’s enough.” My response was silent, of course, because Glenn later revealed that first night was a bit of a test: left to our own devices, he wanted to see what we did with our bodies and our energy. Turned out, even a room full of long-time yoga teachers like to hunch over and chatter mindlessly.

As a result, Glenn’s goal for the weekend was to make us more aware: of how we held our bodies, even in casual moments, of what our unconscious mental and physical habits were, and of our potentially unhealthy attachment to ‘traditional’ yoga poses (and for more on this, see Jill’s last two blogs). If someone unthinkingly stretched during a pause in teaching, we all suddenly had to do that movement. “This lady wants to stretch her hips,” he would say. “Ok, everybody come into a squat.” (We learned quickly: be still between instructions.) The point of that 5 minute arms overhead? To test the shoulder flexion and strength needed for Headstand, Handstand, Forearmstand, not to mention Wheel and Down Dog (and as Glenn ominously intoned throughout, “if you’re having a hard time keeping your arms straight overhead, you may need to rethink your inversions.”)

Finally on day three Glenn offered, “All right, you want to do a ‘real’ pose? Let’s see you do a yoga pose. Warrior 1.” As we all assumed the pose, he went into paroxysms of disgust at our terrible alignment. We giggled, for we had learned by this point that Glenn’s gruff exterior masked a sly, dry wit.

Glenn is certainly an acquired taste, even in his evidently mellower later years. He doesn’t come adorned with flowery language and patchouli, and he won’t celebrate your emotional breakthrough in Paschimottanasana with you. But he brings instead a laser-like vision to seek out and release your physical discomfort with bodywork, and a brilliant ability to catapult a room full of people into deeper and deeper states of conscious relaxation via yoga nidra.

So if you’re not interested in testing your preconceived notions about yourself, your body, or yoga, don’t study with Glenn (and he would probably agree that he doesn’t want you there either). But if you’re willing to go past surface discomforts, to shake up your relationship to basic human movement, and even let go of that headstand that your joints maybe shouldn’t be doing anyway, get yourself in Glenn’s class. (And I have some tips: when you’re there, don’t forget to sit up straight. And stop chatting with your neighbor. And don’t move unless he asks you to.)

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About This Author

Sarah Court is an Integrated Yoga Tune Up® Teacher, also trained in Anusara and Jivamukti Yoga, who draws from all of these styles in her teaching. She teaches weekly Yoga Tune Up® and Vinyasa classes at various locations in Los Angeles, and trains yoga teachers in anatomy and in Yoga Tune Up® across the country. Sarah is a regular columnist at exercise.com, and both writes for and edits the Yoga Tune Up® blog. She has been featured in the New York Times and is one of nursingschool.net's 100 Incredible Yoga Teachers Who Blog. Sarah's challenging and inspirational classes reflect a deep desire to support each student in their movement towards true self-awareness, and are tempered by a strong shot of down to earth humor and a deep knowledge of kinesiology, anatomy, alignment and therapeutics. As a graduate of Princeton University she is not afraid to write long run-on sentences. Find her Yoga Tune Up® schedule here or go to her full website.

18 Responses to “Immersed in ‘Black’ness”

  1. Rose Washburn says:

    Judging by the quality of practice and teaching Glenn’s students embody, he must be quite a teacher. I’m going to try keeping my arms overhead for 5 minutes and see what happens!

  2. Lori Gunnell says:

    I just had to hold my arms up over my head for five mnites. Yeah. Ouch.

  3. Tracy L says:

    This is so great. I’m relating so well to this and all of my many poor postural habits, the way I walk, carry my heavy gear, etc. On the first day of the YTU training, you asked us what our yoga breakthrough was, and mine was Handstand with no wall. Well, that was huge for me and now, I’m so humbled and that is undone, so not that my breakthrough matters to anyone but me, but they are happening now…

  4. Aida says:

    Ok, so now I can’t wait to ask you how you feel he has influenced your teaching style! Although I have my own perceptions of this from the last couple of days (i.e. Bad Cop), but I also can see were you diverge. : )

  5. Alex Ellis says:

    I’ve learned we should be sitting up straight anyways =) What an opportunity to get to study with him! Do you know if he’s coming to LA again in the future?

  6. Wow. This sounds like an amazing experience. I’m sure he would have a field day with me. Nonetheless, this somehow motivates me to focus on my own weak links. I especially enjoyed the part on holding your hands over your head. Good way of looking at it.

  7. Maggie says:

    That’s my baby brother…..

  8. Christine says:

    Hi Sarah- after you told us today about holding your arms over your head for 5 minutes in this class, I had to read. Sounds like quite an experience!

  9. Jamie says:

    I have been bringing more awareness to my of how I hold my body, and I also recently came to terms with the fact that I can’t force myself into asanas my body isn’t capable of handling safely. Body awareness and respecting our own body’s limitations are critical!

  10. Christine says:

    I spent a weekend at Omega this summer with Glenn. It amazed me how 2 hours of such simple (I didn’t say easy) joint mobilization work could make you sweat and shake and be such a clear lens into your own body–at so many levels. Also, never have been a huge fan of savasana before, I completely fell in love with nidra under Glenn’s guidance and his ability to take you into your tissues and beyond.

  11. chau says:

    I’m using my Mom’s laptop and the font is really small. I thought the opening sentence said Glenn Beck and I was extremely confused for a moment! LOL

  12. laura mcintire says:

    Thanks for sharing. I haven’t had the pleasure myself but instantly recalled being required to hold my arms aloft for far longer than they wanted to be there in a high school gym class years ago.
    I appreciate the reminder about how stressful even down dog can be when the joints just aren’t ready.

  13. Studying with and getting body work from Glenn is truly an honor and a privilege. I have never found him to be anything other than kind and generous… but I have low standards when it comes to that. :)

    I have always believed that yoga, like life, is experiential. Thus if you want to understand it, then you have to experience it. Glenn has experienced a lot and understands a lot and he doesn’t bother trying to explain things as much as he tries to get you to experience them for yourself. Nobody can explain to you what holding your arms over your head for 5 minutes feels like. You just have to try it. Once you’ve done it, you have gained an experience and a piece of knowledge that most others never will. What you do with that knowledge is up to you. But as you get more and more pieces of knowledge you can start to connect the dots. Fortunately, Glenn doesn’t really help you with that either. He just keeps adding more dots to your page.

    Damn, this really makes me want to go take another workshop with him.

  14. Sandy Byrne says:

    Thanx for sharing in the article. I will going up to omega institutes next week to spend a whole week with Glen Black and I was a little nervous. Well I’m still a little nervous but am more optimistic in what to expect. I can’t wait.

  15. Carolyn Phillips says:

    Sarah:
    You bring back great memories. I actually think about what we learned from Glenn all the time, like Tia.

    I actually really appreciate Glenn’s personality. I feel as if I can be assured of always being told the truth by him. I learned some tough things about my neck and other areas of focus and AM STILL PRACTICING what he taught two months later.

    The no-nonsense approach is very comforting and refreashing in the world of new age psychobabble which unfortunately can sometime surround yoga and any alternative practice. But when Jill talks about chakras, we know it’s a result of previous study and that really makes one want to dig in to the Kriya and other material.

    Thank you for this great blog. You really captured the weekend!

  16. Tia Ukpe says:

    So funny, just as I was reading your blog article, I was all slumped over reading on my computer and then it made me think of Glenn reminding us during our breaks or when we walked in the morning about our posture and the way we sit or stand and how we should be an example to our students, it had me sit straight up again! Thanks for the reminder :)

  17. Bonnie says:

    Enjoyed reading this Sarah, since I couldn’t be there. What, no patchouli? :0!

    Your report helped me stay more aligned at this dang computer. Thanks!

  18. I liked this article. I especially like how the teacher pointed out the correlation between the should/arm strength and inversions. He sounds like he gives the engineering perspective on practicing yoga and this teaching style is just as helpful in increasing a student’s awareness.

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Jill Miller, Creator of Yoga Tune Up®

After studying yoga, movement, and the human body for over twenty years, I created Yoga Tune Up® as a simple way to restore my body and mind, keeping me balanced and free of pain. Using a specific and unique set of poses, movements and self massage tools, you too can LIVE BETTER IN YOUR BODY WITH YOGA TUNE UP®.

 

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