by Ann Chrapkiewicz
My practice history
I started practicing Bikram Yoga in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2003 – shortly after returning to the United States after 2 years of living in rural Japan. I was working in the kitchen of the People’s Food Coop at the time and attended on the invitation of one of my coworkers. I do not think that either of us “liked” the first class – she did not ever return for a second class (that was hard!). But there were reasons I had to return. Day after day, almost every day of the week. For that first couple of years, I hated how it felt if I missed a day.
Ever since childhood, I had struggled on a daily basis to get a good, satisfying, deep breath. I was never diagnosed with asthma or any other pathologies, but it was noticeable in my daily life.
After that first class, I remember doing some grocery shopping and feeling like every breath was deep, wonderful, heavenly. I felt like I was floating through the aisles, light as a feather. Even though that first class was the hardest thing I had ever done – and I sat down five times before triangle posture! – I knew I had to go back.
Within two weeks, my chronic blood sugar imbalances disappeared. I didn’t crave sugars so desperately, and I naturally started to eat better foods.
Within one month, the carpal tunnel syndrome that had been developing was gone. And my chronic sluggish digestion was changing for the better.
Within two months, my bulimic mindset of nearly 10 years almost completely vanished, and after the immersive practice of teacher training the following year, it stayed away permanently. I gained so much time and freedom in my life after living in a sort of obsessive prison of dieting, compulsively overeating, and body-loathing since high school.
The 30+ pounds of excess weight came off later, but by that time I truly didn’t even care about the appearance of my body.
I just felt so stupidly good on the inside.
Eight months into practicing, I slipped and fractured two vertebrae. The first part of the story of that injury can be found HERE. Thanks to Bikram Yoga, my pain was gone in 20 days.
Only a few months after my back healed, I attended and completed Bikram Yoga Teacher Training at La Cienega HQ, Los Angeles, in August of 2004. I loved it. There is nothing like a 15-hour-a-day, 5+-day-a-week, 9-consecutive-week immersion in a yoga practice. People say it is hard to leave their lives and homes and families and jobs for 2+ months. That it is hard to do two 90 -minute+ Bikram Yoga classes every day.
But in my experience, living for a decade in a mental prison – of body-loathing, what we call “OCD”, dieting, eating uncontrollably, counting calories, desiring external validation – was much, much harder.
Supporting more than one life
Throughout 2006 – and until the day my labor started – I practiced Rajashree’s Pregnancy Yoga at least 4 days a week. It took away all of my morning sickness, relieved my back pain, and kept my blood sugar steady in each trimester.
I had a healthy home-birth largely due to the physical awareness I had developed with this yoga. After 3 hours of the last “pushing” stage of labor, the baby was still stuck, the contractions were irregular and debiltating, and I could tell something was not right. Upon communicating this with my midwife, she found that he (although I did not know the sex at the time) was coming out with his hand resting against his temple. Thanks to her skills and my ability to breathe and relax, I was able to give birth without injury to either of us. Without question it would have been a cesarean section in any of the best hospitals.
As a toddler and young child, my son had experienced some traumas and was very anxious. Thanks to this yoga, I was able to physically carry him and support his needs, yet maintain the health of my body and mostly stay out of muscular pain.
Year-by-year, the benefits continue
In the years since then, I have used the Beginners’ class and other Ghosh lineage practices to:
- relieve the pain from sciatica and plantar fascitis,
- build strength and maintain more calm when dealing with verbally abusive individuals / pathological narcissists,
- reduce anxiety and insomnia, and
- nearly eliminate premenstrual cramps that were previously debilitating.
My environmental allergies occur at only about 10% of their former severity. I used to have to take something daily in the spring; now I take an allergy pill maybe once a year. If things are really bad.
I am currently in a sort-of maintenance mode, where my health issues are under relatively good control. But I know that life can bring challenges at any moment, and I am so appreciative that I have this yoga to use for both healing crises and everyday life. It is my primary form of health insurance.
And these are only the benefits that have occurred on the most surface layers. The deeper ones are much harder to describe.
Participation in the USA Yoga Championship
I believe that encouraging younger generations to get interested in a therapeutic hatha yoga practice is of vital importance in our world. To support this belief, I established weekly (free) Youth classes at BYCA over one year ago. This past winter I also volunteer-instructed at a Lansing Public Schools 6th-grade classroom.
I am participating in this year’s championship for three main reasons:
- to inspire people to start, maintain, or intensify their therapeutic hatha yoga practice,
- to continue to build an inspirational healing yoga community in mid-Michigan
- to develop more balance in my personal yoga practice
Instead of training in more advanced postures, this year I am happy to demonstrate the “natural” point in my practice. Sort of like a snapshot in time. Without pressure or expectation. Without thoughts of what others are thinking. (What a glorious waste of time and energy, no?!)
Just my best focus in the moment, demonstrating the amazing communication superhighway between the mind and the body. In every class I practice, and hopefully in the moments when I get up on the stage.
If you did not yet read my philosophy of competition and competitiveness in yoga, here it is.
One of my longer-term goals is to practice sustainably so that I can eventually participate in the Senior Women division (ages 50+) of the Championship. I am excited to support the USA Yoga organization and events with the hope that they are still around in 12 years!
For our health, for the health of our elders, and for the health of our children…