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Immersed in ‘Black’ness

By: | Friday, November 26th, 2010 | Comments 24

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. 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 Trainer, IAYT Yoga Therapist, and Vinyasa Yoga Teacher. She teaches weekly Yoga Tune Up® and Vinyasa classes in Los Angeles, teaches anatomy for yoga teacher trainings, and trains Yoga Tune Up® teachers internationally. Sarah is a Doctoral candidate in Physical Therapy, and in this process has spent several years in both inpatient and outpatient clinical settings. She brings this significant experience to her teaching, attracting clients and students with a desire to move intelligently, regain mobility after injury, surgery or joint replacements, or manage chronic conditions. Sarah is an award-winning graduate of Princeton University, and has been featured on exercise.com and The New York Times. Find her Yoga Tune Up® schedule here or go to her full website.

Immersed in ‘Black’ness

  1. Emily says:

    Wow, what an interesting experience. Thank you for sharing your insight and first hand experience.

  2. Thank you for this article Sarah, it peaked my curiosity about this teacher Jill praises. I am grateful for Carolyn Philips’s comments too, which make me want to drive to Omega to study with him this summer. Thanks for opening my eyes to the potential for growth with this teacher.

  3. Elaine Cheong says:

    I was told to hold my downward dog for 7 minutes before I can consider seriouslyinversions. This has to be my longest seven minutes where my mind, ego body and integrity were trying not to pit against one another.

  4. Mary says:

    Jill Miller has done a great job of spreading Glenn’s message of being aware of how you hold and position your body throughout the day. While it is hard to let go of old habits, it is something I’m working on as we’re all a work in progress.

  5. Sandy Gross says:

    I loved reading this for several reasons, mostly because I love Sarah’s wisdom and humor, but also because I have always respected Jill’s willingness to share who her teachers were/are. I had heard of Glenn from my teachers Cyndi Lee and Joe Miller for years, so I was kind of unphased when the NY Times piece came out. And I am grateful for the excellent and balanced training I received with OM yoga and in my 12 years+ of mentoring with Cyndi. I did not expect Jill would reference Glenn so much this week in the Level 1 and now I hope I can study with Glenn someday too! I appreciate Jill’s example, of how she is clearly connected and representing/referencing alot of concepts and teachings she learned from Glenn, but has evolved into her own presentation of the work and more with YTU. YTU training and the community Jill has formed appears to have a similar, healthy mentoring vibe within its framework, as I am looking for that as I evolve myself as a teacher (and student.) I also need to be able to be myself and am used to that. Thanks, Sarah, Jill, and the YTU community for your maturity, your clear path and humor! Happy to have found you all. YTU has been a good fit for my evolution as a teacher and I look forward to doing more trainings.

  6. Cindy DeCoste says:

    Since doing the Level 1 Tune Up training in July, I have been curious about who my teachers’ teachers are or have been. I came across Glenn Black’s name from reading the section of the manual where Jill talks about her own teachers and mentors. Not knowing anything about him but knowing that Omega Institute is relatively close to where I live, I immediately thought I will pop up there to take a class with him someday if he’s still there. It was enough to know that he was a mentor and strong influence to someone who developed a style of yoga that I really love and that feels good for my body. I’m curious to experience his style and to learn more about Body Tuning. With that said, holding my arms overhead for 5 minutes sounds challenging – physically and emotionally, but I will try it and see how it goes and remain open to what comes up or gets shaken up! He sounds very perceptive, and though not warm and fuzzy, it seems like he has a lot to offer and as a student I would have a lot to gain. Thank you for peaking my curiosity more…

  7. 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!

  8. Lori Gunnell says:

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

  9. 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…

  10. 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. : )

  11. 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?

  12. 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.

  13. Maggie says:

    That’s my baby brother…..

  14. 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!

  15. 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!

  16. Christine Jablonski 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.

  17. 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

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. Sandy Byrne 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.

  21. Carolyn Phillips says:

    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!

  22. Tia Ukpe 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 🙂

  23. 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!

  24. 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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