by Ann Chrapkiewicz
Last month marked my 15th year of practicing Bikram Yoga. I was fortunate to find this healing practice when I was just about to turn 25.
This past week, I turned 40. (And I got to hear Happy Birthday in Triangle Pose – in 3 different classes! Great for the lungs, people!)
I feel so much better at 40 than I did at 24. And I credit this almost entirely to yoga.
Age 25, at Bikram Yoga Ann Arbor, after 9 months of near-daily Bikram Yoga.
This photo was taken just a few weeks after I had fractured two of my lumbar vertebrae on the porch of my co-op house. I think I must have been so excited that my back was feeling better after each class…that it warranted a photo.
Otherwise, I simply had no interest in anyone seeing my body or my postures. Class was so hard, I did not perceive any strength or ability in my practice, and I had no idea how important it was to share the practice as widely as possible. (Plus, this was the age of disposable Kodak cameras, and even the rare people with cell phones sure weren’t taking photos with them.)
Although 95% of the transformations are on mental, emotional, and other levels that aren’t even representable in photographic form, I still wish I had a true “before photo.” Or some photos of me attempting postures with my fractured back bones.
(This is why I bug all of you for posture photos ALL THE TIME. You will be glad they exist, and to have physical and visual proof of your transformation for all of your friends and family who cannot understand your love of the 90-Minute Miracle known as Bikram Yoga.)
And this is the “same” human, right around her 39th birthday.
In any case, as these years pass, I realize and appreciate – more and more – what an amazing system it is. New realizations of all types happen for me on a near-daily basis.
Yet the lineage and tradition of Bikram Yoga is struggling in many parts of the country these days.
First, various hot fitness franchises sell themselves as similar, or as capable of providing the same benefits as Bikram Yoga (even though they are nothing like it).
Secondly, Bikram Choudhury’s personal issues seem to be quite serious, and outsiders mistakenly believe that we independent yoga school owners are some how financially connected with him, or supportive of his behavior in some way.
(Some other traditions actually love to speculate and gossip about how “impure” and definitely not spiritual Bikram Yoga must be because of the imperfect person who brought us this lineage from Calcutta.)
Yet once people realize that we are committed to carrying on a transformative yoga system in mom-and-pop-shop fashion – once they realize that this yoga’s healing power is not about the flawed human who brought it to this continent – once they hear or experience or see firsthand that this yoga is saving lives every day – all of that gossip usually sounds empty, ignorant, or selfish to them.
What is really at stake?
Amidst these ultimately small and silly battles of gossip and perception, there is a massive thing at stake. People’s lives. And the yoga system itself. Its potential and ability to transform suffering into realization in a way that – for so many people – nothing else can.
So, it is becoming more important to me to share some of the wisdoms that have been passed on to me, or the little insights that come to me every day when I teach or practice. I have books worth of things to share, yet most of it only comes through in class or in conversation or at the yoga school.
Here is my birthday commitment to share through more writing, better apprenticing, stronger mentorship. And I invite you to join me. To being part of the leadership community who carries this lineage forward in strength, intelligence, and honesty. Who takes it to areas of the country and school kids that don’t yet have access to it. Whose actions support existing, traditional Bikram Yoga schools many decades and generations into the future. Your leadership, your love, and your courage will make this possible.
I started this blog with the simple intention to share something I wrote from this past spring!
Finally, here it is, in case you want to keep reading:
Over the past year or two, it has been a lot of fun to try to sort through and communicate some of the things about Bikram Yoga that make it so powerful. You can find some of these ponderings in print or online at Healthy & Fit Magazine.
If you would like something fairly quick to ponder this coming week, the list here is an excerpt from one of my articles in mid-Michigan’s print publication, Healthy & Fit Magazine. It was my attempt to sort out and describe Six Elements that Make up a Traditional Yoga Practice.
SEQUENCE: The sequence of postures is central to a therapeutic or hatha yoga practice. Foundational sequences are always practiced in the same order. Changing a sequence is only done with master guidance and for very specific reasons.
- PRECISION: The precision with which each posture is attempted is really not up for debate! While there are infinite levels of depth and expression – depending on body size, shape, strength, and mobility – the precise, specific form of attempting each posture is not changed. Keep trying the right way and you will realize more about yourself.
- STILLNESS: There is complete and total stillness in every single posture, for no less than 20 seconds. Each posture is done 2 or 3 times, and nearly every posture is done for the same number of repetitions. Practicing one set of each posture is considered a backup plan for occasional use only.
- BREATHING: Breathing must be normal at all times during yoga postures. This means the air only flows by the nose, the breathing makes no sound at all, and the flow is relatively even (the inhales and the exhales take about the same amount of time). Certain portions of Bikram Yoga and Ghosh Yoga insist on a 5th element:
- REST: After every posture, a rest period is taken. The rest period should be at least as long as the posture immediately preceding it, or longer.
Bikram Yoga, in particular, adds in a 6th element. Which, contrary to public perception, adds to the accessibility and effectiveness of the therapeutic aspects:
- ENVIRONMENT: Carefully controlled heat, humidity, and fresh air in a well-designed Bikram Yoga school make the yoga sequence more doable for the stiff-jointed, more effective for the athlete, and more noticeably powerful for anyone looking for mental relief from anxiety, stress, and our culture in general.
It is my joy to be of service and to facilitate healing through this yoga method. I look forward to seeing you in class.