Guest Teacher Highlight: Mike Morris

Bikram Yoga Guest teacher original hot yoga

by Mike Morris

Special Guest Teacher Mike Morris visits Bikram Yoga Capital Area

I was 43, singing songs and playing guitar in bars, and living with pain in my neck and low back.  I had attributed it to a lot of long drives, heavy gear and a less-than-healthy lifestyle.  I also thought the pain was a normal part of getting older.  When I went to play at a local radio station, I was given a six month membership to Bikram Yoga Portsmouth (New Hampshire).  It took me six months to walk in and take my first class.  It was hot, and hard.  It felt like a good workout, and the bike shorts I was wearing felt like they weighed 10 pounds after class.

I had been practicing for a year or so when the studio director suggested that I go to the yoga training.  “I’m too old,” I said, though secretly I really wanted to give it a try.

The Worldwide Bikram Yoga Community

I trained in Las Vegas in 2009.  The first person I met was Erik, a 20-something heavy metal drummer from Sweden.  My roommate was Bob, a 60-year-old waiter from Massachusetts.  There was a 19-year old massage therapist from Australia, and an “age unknown” healer from China who communicated mostly in smiles.

All of us had, like you, walked in to our first class, and the yoga had brought us all together.  I’ve probably taught some 4000 yoga classes since then.  I still have the first pair of proper yoga shorts I ever bought, though the elastic has long since worn out of them.  My back and neck feel good, and I don’t mind the New Hampshire winters as much as I used to, though I still like to complain about them.

bikram yoga original hot yoga backbend ardha chandrasana

I’m still making music.  I’ve also become a husband, father and yoga teacher.  And like you, I’m still a yoga student.  I still force myself into posture every now and then.  I’m much better at noticing it.

A few years ago, I was going to the park with our youngest daughter, who was 3 at the time.  She had bought herself a kite, and was excited to try it out for the first time.  When we got there, there was no wind.  Nothing.  “I don’t think we can fly a kite today, Lily,” I said.  “Maybe we should wait for a windier day.  “Daddy,” she said back, “we can try.”  That was a good yoga lesson.  Walk through the door, and give it a good, honest try.  Show up, and keep doing it, and the yoga will give you tools towards building a strong body, a clear mind and a full heart.

This yoga is challenging every time we step into the hot room.  It is also beautiful, inspiring, empowering and, most of all, healing.  Take as many classes as you can, one at a time.  Ask questions of your teachers.  Share your story.  Work hard, and breathe soft.

I’m excited to be visiting you next week.  See you soon.  We’ll try together.

Bikram Yoga Guest teacher original hot yogaTriangle Pose in Summertime
Mike playing music at a New Hampshire Farmers’ Market


You will find Mike teaching – and maybe even singing! – at BYCA over the 2017 holidays as follows:

Sunday, December 24: 8:00 am

Tuesday, December 26: 9:00 am

Thursday, December 28: 9:00 am

Saturday, December 30: 8:00 am

Big Girls Bend: My (Ongoing) Journey as a Fat Yogi

by Marini Lee, Ph.D.


I’ve been practicing bikram yoga for almost 12 years now. According to the Western world (and my recovering internal body critic), I should look differently. I should be thin by now!!!! Shouldn’t I?

Well, I’m not.

First of all, being and/or getting “thin” is not (nor should be) the goal of yoga. Yoga means “union.” It is my understanding that this union is about optimal health – mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically.

So let me tell you what I have experienced as a result of practicing this healing yoga.

MENTAL CLARITY

That monkey mind is a TRIP!

Yoga has helped me to quiet the chatter in my mind, even if for only 90 minutes at a time. Those 90 minutes are usually the most mentally calm 90 minutes of my day!

Sometimes my mind is racing so much with what I “should” or “need” or “didn’t” or “must” do next, right now, always, that I even have to catch myself in class and say, “Where are you now?” That happens less – much less than it used to -, but one of the aspects of this practice where I have experienced the most growth, is in my mental clarity, inside and outside of the studio. Inside of the studio, I pretty much know that I’m not going to die from the heat or from any of the postures.

I can focus and concentrate because I know I am strong. I know I am a work in progress. I know all I have to do is try. I am enough.

I’m still working on transferring that mental strength outside of the class, but I’m getting there.

ardha chandrasana half moon bikram yoga bigger bodies

EMOTIONAL STABILITY

The emotional self is the roller coaster the monkey (mind) LOVES to ride! Besides the increased mental focus I have experienced over the years, I am also extremely proud and really in awe of the emotional stability I have cultivated and am continually learning to cultivate. Again, while I am a work in progress, I am much less apt to “go off the deep end” emotionally when things go awry – and also when things are great.

There are times, in poses, particularly back bends when a rush of emotion will come over me, but as I breathe into it and “simply” allow the emotion to run its course, it becomes less powerful in its ability to overwhelm me. I’m not even sure how the practice does this, but I think it must have something to do with the heat.

It’s really hard to be sad or even elated when you are trying to balance on one foot with the other stretched high in the air.

There’s really no space for emotional instability in the hot room, and I’m actually grateful for that.  Because then I can focus my energy on healing.

bikram yoga original hot yoga fat big plus size locust pose

SPIRITUAL RENEWAL

Many people erroneously equate yoga with a religion. To me, religion is the box you put God in to make sense of your/our purpose and existence. Again, from my understanding that yoga is about union, you can’t put the practice into such a box. I do believe the practice can make you better at your particular box, but it is not a box itself. Some may use it as a way to and through their respective boxes, but if anyone is worshipping sweating in a room for 90 minutes, you’ve got a bigger problem than we have room to discuss in this blog.

So, while I don’t feel that yoga is a religion, I do feel like this practice has made me a better Christian. I am MUCH more patient with myself and others.

I no longer cringe on the inside (or smirk on the outside) when a newbie talks during class or sets up in “my spot” or mouth breathes or moves during a balancing posture. I am more compassionate with myself and others. Especially now that I am experiencing difficulties in postures because of my size, I am much more empathetic to beginners who are challenged (and intimidated) physically by some of the postures.

I have learned to forgive myself for not being perfect. I have learned to seek peace instead of being right (i.e. focusing on the breath, effort and balance as opposed to striving to make the postures look pretty).

 

AND FINALLY….PHYSICAL WELL-BEING

Now, don’t get me wrong. Despite not having the perfect bikram body and in fact being the biggest I have been since I started, there have been many positive physical manifestations of my years of practice (and buckets of sweat). My half moon is SWEET! My backbends are EXCELLENT! I can do Standing Head to Knee pose AND KICK OUT!

When I visited a studio in Texas, a teacher asked me to model Standing Bow Pulling Pose because he said, “Your spine is ready for this. You just need the confidence to match.” I may be the heaviest I have ever been as a yogi, but I am also the strongest and most flexible I have ever been.

Now, there are plenty of poses in which I am not as proficient as I would like to be (and/or have been in the past with a smaller body), but I am proud that I approach each class, each posture as if I CAN and/or WILL, someday. That’s that mental game again.

And so, as you can see, this blog (and journey) really isn’t about being fat at all.

No one IS fat. I have fat on my body. Period. More than you probably, but I am the happiest I have ever been and that is because I realized (a long time ago), that this practice, this life, is SO much more than the physical.

I pray that any yogi, with fat or not, has the opportunity to experience the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical freedom I have since I became a yogi many many moons ago.

NAMASTE


Marini Lee, Ph.D., age 39, is a native of Richmond, CA.  She is a Teacher Educator at Michigan State University’s College of Education.  Over the past 12 years she has practiced Bikram Yoga in Ann Arbor (both studios); El Cerrito, CA; New Orleans; Denver; Atlanta; Allen, TX; Charleston, SC; Toledo, OH; Detroit; and now East Lansing, Michigan.  Her passions are learning, teaching, and community healing.

Marini recently became an adoptive mom, and on this she says: “I’m still in awe and shock that I am responsible for the well-being of another human being.  This is the most spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally, economically challenging – and yet the most important – experience of my life thus far.”

If You Can’t Laugh….Breathe!

You cannot breathe deeply and worry at the same time.

by Char Brooks

Screeching into the parking lot, as I walk through the open door I know I’m out of the slammer.  I’m about to partake in something — and I have no idea what I’ll discover as I find my way onto my mat.  

And that’s the good news.  Within minutes of making my way panting through the door, I’ve seen someone familiar and feel at home again.

As a regular student who practices at least 3 times a week, I have learned over time that I’m best off when I drop my story about whatever is wrong, difficult, or dramatic – much like I drop my bag on the floor in the locker room before entering the hot room.

Then I am ready to hear or try something new – potentially something major.

I’m often surprised by the “just perfect” wisdom I hear from our teachers.  The other day she said this:

“What if your only two choices were to breathe or laugh?”

Well, that may not be exactly what she said – but it is what I heard.  (The difference between what someone says and what I actually hear is a story for another blog!)

You cannot breathe deeply and worry at the same time.

Thinking about breathing

After class, I thought a bit more about this.  

I asked myself a couple of things:

  • While someone else is talking, I am only listening and breathing?    The honest answer is no.   I don’t actually know what I’m doing when someone else is talking as a general rule.  So, I tried this.  What I noticed was that my shoulders dropped and for that split moment, I stopped clenching my teeth.   Rather than preparing my response, I noticed I had a question.  It took me a few seconds to find the words.  I was  more curious about their experience.  This was me being the friend I really want to be!
  • While I am talking, am I actually aware of my breath?  Well, I must say that I haven’t tried this much.  (It sounds like writing with my non-dominant hand.  A little time consuming, dontcha think??  Not really, actually.  

Even this back-and-forth inside myself is an example of me engaging in thoughtful conversations in a totally new way.  

Resistance

But I have to be honest, my mind reacts when I propose this approach.

“But don’t you know I’m in a hurry?????”

Me:  Really????  What’s so important that I don’t have time to notice my breathing??  How much time does that actually take?

I don’t know.

Well then, how about you just try, Char? 

Experimenting with breathing

Where is your breath right now as you are reading this?  Do you even know?  It’s okay either way.

There are no have to’s – there is no right way to breathe for goodness sakes.  There’s your way – and you can experiment with this concept.  Or not.

But consider this.  Could noticing your breath affect you in the moment?
My experience is that just periodically checking in with my breath throughout the day positively affects my thoughts, attitudes and actions.

Breathing and laughing

If you are laughing, your breath takes care of itself.  Sometimes I laugh so hard, I have a hard time catching my breath.

What does that mean??

Something was so funny it actually brought tears to my eyes . . . or took my breath away . . . . or made my stomach hurt from laughing so hard!!!  Or the breath took care of itself as I cracked up into oblivion.  Either way – I’m relaxed and at ease and enjoying something that hit me just right.

Ease and Enjoyment in the Hot Room

In Bikram, “breathing always normal” is one of our mantras.  One time in class, I cracked up in the middle of a posture.  I’m not sure what struck me as so funny but whatever it was – I simply couldn’t settle down.   

And then she said, “Breathing always normal – focus deeply on the standing leg.”  

Guess what?  For me to focus on my standing leg requires a lot of attention.

Pay attention to your breath = Breathing always normal.

Bikram is my playground for the real world – I get to practice breathing through my reactions to whatever I like, don’t like or any other random thought going through my head.  

My experience has been that though my breathing may be normal – the repeating ticker in my brain is anything but still.

Stillness comes by staying with my breath.   Regardless of the “breaking news” that is scrolling by almost constantly on my inner ticker.

And outside the Hot Room

So what if outside of class, you focused on your breath – while listening, talking, eating, driving.

And what if outside of class – when you find yourself cracking up – you remembered that your precious body has just given you that remarkable gift that keeps on giving – the breath!

Come to class and tell us all about it.  We’ll listen, breathe and laugh together.  

About your guest blogger:

Char’s after-class glow!

Char Brooks is a 61-year-old Bikram Yoga student who has been practicing this form of yoga at BYCA for 11 months.  She has practiced and studied yoga for over 40 years, beginning when she was about 20, and she has practiced meditation daily for approximately 15 years.  Char earned a teacher training certification in vinyasa from Jonny Kest’s Center for Yoga and has practiced Iyengar, Kripalu, Restorative and Yin yoga.  She continues to meditate twice daily and practices with an online studio regularly at home in addition to attending BYCA approximately 4-5 times a week.

2017 Spring Yoga Buddy Challenge – Inspiration, Highlights, and Special Projects

Half Moon Ghosh Yoga Bikram Yoga Backward Bend East Lansing MSU

by Ann Chrapkiewicz

……………………………………

Our annual Spring Yoga Buddy Challenge is a true highlight of the year and takes place from April 1 – May 31 each year.

It expands and deepens our practice and understanding of yoga, and it is so much fun!!

All teams who completed the challenge by May 31 received a unique 2017 Yoga Buddy shirt for each team member.  (These are also available for sale if you would like one.)

You can view more photos on the Facebook album here.

Check out the amazing things the Yoga Buddies did this past Spring!

Shaking things up

Each team member practiced in at least 10 different designated spots in the room.  While this may not seem like a big deal, it is amazing how easy it is to get stuck in a pattern.  This is a simple way to see what attachments we might have created to geography, mirrors, sides of the room, “hot spots”, etc….and to get a new perspective on how we are affected by the external circumstances.

With the increased emotional control that comes from yoga, we can tolerate a wider range of circumstances, places, and people in the world.  Not by “acting” or pretending to be more tolerant, but by truly, deeply, having less of an automatic reaction to things we do not initially “like”.

Standing in a place we do not gravitate to is a great way to start testing this process – to test our attachments to preferences and comfort zones.

Depth of thought

Part of the challenge is to read one of our recommended books on yoga.  My top recommendation for those who have not read it is How Yoga Works.  On every read through, it takes on more and deeper meaning.  These are available for sale at BYCA, but you can probably find a yoga buddy team member to borrow it from as well.

Team Names

Here are some of our favorite team names from this year:

Shake Your Asana

The Pranayama Mamas Strike Back

Super Sweaty & Spicy Senoritas

Los Tres Yogamigos

Creativity

This year, all of the teams as a whole group get the award for the most diverse and creative expressions I have every seen.  They did their yoga via writing, photography, practice, and even computer programming!!  My jaw dropped more than once as I saw the submissions come in over the 2 months of the challenge!

Over the course of the coming months, you will see our many (very impressive) guest blog posts and creative projects.

In the meantime, a couple of noteworthy highlights:

Instead of a traditional blog post, Jess completed the May Ghosh Yoga Challenge with Scott and Ida Jo Lamps (thanks to the world wide web), practicing and photographing a specific posture DAILY and sharing something she had learned from it.  Here are a selection of her most excellent expressions:

Finally, my eyes popped at the creativity of the team member who wrote a custom computer program to guide him through the Bikram Yoga postures for a home practice!!  If that doesn’t tell you this yoga works, I do not know what does.  🙂

This student describes himself as now being on the “offensive” rather than the “defensive” in terms of his overall health, particularly the curvature of his spine.  Having suffered many years of chronic back pain and having tried many types of yoga and other therapies, these past several months of Bikram Yoga have made a massive difference.  His computer program is open source and free to use.

Check it out his testimonial and the computer program here.

It is amazing how a simple routine of therapeutic postures can do so much.

Deepest and unending appreciation for all of the superheroes of BYCA!  For your inspiring teamwork, dedication to practice, creativity, inclusivity and support of those just beginning, and your smiling, truly happy faces.  The world needs you.

 

 

Practicing Yoga with Linux!

Setting Up Triangle - Trikonasa - Bikram Yoga

–BYCA Guest Blog Post–

The author is a scientist, musician, and occasional computer programmer based in Lansing, MI.

He is a founding member of “Los Tres Yogamigos”, BYCA’s premiere yoga buddy challenge team.

Kapalbhati Home Practice Bikram Yoga Computer Program

I suffered from chronic back pain for fifteen years. Episodic attempts at cultivating a yoga (or Pilates, or Alexander technique, or self-medication) practice would temporarily ease this pain, but it was not until I moved to Lansing and had the opportunity to practice the 26+2 sequence daily at Bikram Yoga Capital Area (BYCA) that I was able to make the (hopefully somewhat permanent) changes to the structure of my spine that were necessary for me to sit comfortably and live without chronic pain.

Life is taking me away from mid-Michigan however, and I am currently preparing myself for a future of solitary practice punctuated by occasional trips to the nearest Ghosh-lineage yoga studio (which will be many miles away from my future home). Ultimately, I would like to build up the discipline to practice a 26+2 or equivalent routine alone and in total silence. But in the meantime, I have been supplementing my daily 26+2 practice at BYCA by practicing selected asanas at home using customizable audio instructions.

These instructions are generated from a Python script that I wrote, and have recently released with an open source license. The script is admittedly primitive and uses a text-to-speech tool that is not particularly aesthetically pleasing, but it is, after all, only a temporary solution. If you are a Linux user, and you think that you might find this tool to be useful for your home asana practice, then read on!”

Introducing psetcounter: a primitive open source python script for creating customized audio instructions for home yoga practice

Instructions:

First of all, the script has been tested with Python 2.7.13 and Ubuntu 17.04, although it should run on any Linux system with Python and sdf-say libraries installed. The script can be downloaded here:

https://github.com/danielsadowsky/psetcounter

In addition to the script file, psetcounter.py, the github repository also contains a sound file, bell.wav, which may be downloaded as well. If the psetcounter.py script is run from a directory that also contains bell.wav, the script will play a bell sound instead of instructing the user to relax in savasana with a computerized voice. Once the script is downloaded, it would probably be best to take a look at the customizable parameters which are listed in the help message. This can be done by opening a Terminal window, changing the directory to the location of the downloaded script file, and executing the following command:

python psetcounter.py -h

The script can then be used to generate audio instructions for a set of asanas with each of several parameters customized by including the appropriate arguments. For example, to hear audio instructions for a set of 4 asanas, each held for 20 seconds and followed by 10 seconds of savasana, the following command can be executed:

python psetcounter.py -n 4 -l 20 -b 10

Audio instructions for multiple sets with varying parameters can also be executed sequentially at the command line by stringing them together with a semi-colon. In doing this, it is important to suppress the valediction in non-terminal sets of asanas using the “-v” flag. For example, for a set of two asanas, each held for 10 seconds, followed by a second set of two asanas, each held for 20 seconds, the following command can be used:

python psetcounter.py -n 2 -l 10 -b 5 -v; python psetcounter.py -n 2 -l 20 -b 5 -i 3

Good luck, and please send feedback and suggestions directly to the github page above!

USA Yoga Participant Bio – Lauren Anastos

by Lauren Anastos

Running and Bikram Yoga

Almost four years ago, while long-distance training, I pulled a hamstring.  I continued to run on it and completed a marathon in Charlevoix in June 2013.

I struggled throughout the race due to the pain in my hamstring.  Also, despite my training, around mile 14 I had trouble breathing and needed to use an inhaler.  At the end of the race, the pain in my hamstring was so bad that I couldn’t bend my knee.  I had trouble walking over the next week both due to my leg as well as generalized soreness.

Six weeks after the race, my hamstring still hadn’t healed.  I still couldn’t flex my leg despite taking time to rest.  I also tried spinning, walking, stretching, and strength training, without any luck.  …

That’s when I found Bikram Yoga.

Within one week of practicing Bikram Yoga, the pain from my training and racing was 100% gone, and within one month, my mobility was completely restored!

Lauren in Bow Posture Variation – preparation for full backbending – BYCA – May 2017

I maintained a regular Bikram Yoga practice from 2013-2015. I felt so good that in July 2015 I started training for the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.

I did the same race training as I had in 2013, but this time I made sure I practiced Bikram Yoga 2-3 times per week.  The results were amazing!!

I didn’t even feel tired until mile 25, and my breathing was smooth the entire time.  When I was done running, I didn’t feel any pain.

I walked two miles after the marathon to catch a cab, and I was fine.  The next day, I woke up and was amazed by the quick recovery – I could walk around just fine.

I was back for my yoga practice 3 days after the race, with a smile on my face!

USA Yoga Participant Bio – Ann Chrapkiewicz

Ann Half Spine Twist Cropped 2017 Mid West Chicago

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.

Dramatic healing

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.

Half Spine Twisting – La Cienega HQ, Los Angeles, CA – Bikram Yoga Teacher Training Summer 2004

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.

8 months pregnant – Standing Bow Pulling – October 2006

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:

  1. to inspire people to start, maintain, or intensify their therapeutic hatha yoga practice,
  2. to continue to build an inspirational healing yoga community in mid-Michigan
  3. 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…

December 2014

USA Yoga Participant Bio – Lindsay Gray

Lindsay working on Toe Stand

by Lindsay Gray

My practice history

I started practicing Bikram Yoga six years ago and have had the pleasure of practicing in many different places.  Having started in Honolulu, and then in Houston, Austin, Boston, and Berlin before ending up here at my most favorite of studios. (Aren’t we lucky!!)

I am forever indebted to a close friend of mine, a former dancer like myself, who introduced me to Bikram yoga.  I witnessed how she seemed, through her practice, more focused mentally, to physically glow, and to be able to use all the toxic stuff with which the dance world infuses you for a positive means.

Lindsay working on Toe Stand
Lindsay Working on Toe Stand (Padangustasana), 2016

Acceptance and discovery in yoga

Yoga, unlike ballet, focuses on the process and on the acceptance of where you are with a posture, and, ultimately, that’s what’s really spoken to me about this practice.  In dance, I hated racing to the finish line of who could become the best the fastest.  My brain is just not designed for that kind of race; the pressure of that level of competition is soul-crushing for me.

I love how, with yoga, I am constantly tinkering with a posture and working toward minute improvements that may some day add up to some form of relative perfection.  The trusting in that process of discovery, of all the psychic and physical subtleties within me, is the best lesson in self-acceptable and faith.

Participation in USA Yoga Championship

I wanted to participate in the USA Yoga championships for two main reasons.  I have been slowly working to expand my practice through engaging with some of the intermediate postures, and the championships seem like a good opportunity to re-enter the performance realm within a safe and supportive environment.

For the championships this go-round, I chose relatively simple, seated intermediate postures.  This way, I can participate but not make myself crazy with anxiety about sticking a posture on-stage, alone with no mirror, and a bunch of people watching.  I’ll worry about doing that maybe next year or in ten years. It’ll be a process.

“Just Try” – Why It Matters and What It Can Do

by Char Brooks

Before reading beyond this first sentence, I invite you to pause, take a nice deep inhale, pause another second, and then a long slow exhale – and consider what the phrase “just try” means to you.

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Did you do it?  Maybe?  Not sure?  No problem.  Whether you did it or not – just try…again.

Just try.  Just the teeny tiny-est bit of attention to lowering your tailbone towards the floor.

W-h-aaaa-t??  What does that even mean?  What tailbone?  What floor?  What are YOU talking about?

And then, as if the teacher was reading my mental reactions and resistance, she says, “It’s ok if you don’t think you can….

“JUST TRY.”

 

You may recognize this phrase from class.  I recognize it from my very first class at BYCA.

Sometimes in my brain I hear “Just  $@%^-ing  try”.  However, that is only the meaning that I add to the instruction.  The teacher didn’t actually say that!!

Beginnings

At first, in my head, I was extremely defiant.  

“You can’t make me!”  

“In the middle of this pose where I feel like I can hardly breathe, you want me to find my left big toe???  Are you kidding me?”

“Leave me alone – I’ll do what I want here.”

At the same time, the smallest part of me was just a little willing to consider “just try” as an invitation to pay attention . . . . to my breath, my body, and to staying engaged in the practice.  

Over time I became more interested in keeping my attention on my own practice, focusing my mind on my body, and breathing normally.

Six months in….

Here’s what “just try” means to me right this minute.

It means to breathe into the sides of my waist.  As I do this – while I’m typing – my back straightens up, my shoulders relax down my back, my chin lowers, and the top of my head stretches towards the sky.

Wow –  I feel much better than I did 30 seconds ago, when I was hunching over my laptop!

And I’m not even in class!!

What does “Just Try” look like?

That is what it looks like for me right now.  That is what it feels like.

Not just a phrase…a way of life

“Just try” has actually been a cornerstone of my practice.   And of my life in general since I started (in October 2016).

No matter what the pose, or where I am, I do my best to just try.  

How does “just try” show up when I’m in class?  

The teacher says to “just try” and pull in and up from the sides of my waist…

But for me, I can’t see that my attention is even in that area of my body.  And I know that I am doing my best to put my attention right there.   I start to notice just where my attention actually is as I continue to stay with the teacher’s voice and allow myself to be led into the postures.

And miraculously, over time, over the course of several more classes, I notice that the shape of the middle of my body is more visible.  Right below my ribs on both sides. I can actually see it move a teeny tiny bit as I breathe into it.  Just the teeeny-est bit of aliveness shows up there.

So why does this matter?

I can see the muscles of my stomach.  I couldn’t see them before.  

In fact, I had never, ever – not until 6 months into practicing this yoga – seen them.  Not when I was a skinny 7-year-old in a red-and-white ruffled bikini.  Not when I was newly married and quite thin.  Not when I was pregnant, not postpartum.  Not through all of the yoga practices I have done over the past 40 plus years.

So this is just another post about someone’s abdominal muscles?  About someone looking better from doing a yoga class?

No, not even close.

This is a reflection on me starting to believe that it makes a difference what I pay attention to.  

This is the real game-changer.

This is a reflection about how this yoga practice has shown me that I can focus my brain in an area of my body and that my body actually has the ability to respond.  It has created a new kind of faith in myself that keeps me going back to class every day.

And why does that matter?

Why does it matter that I go back every day?

Because over time, my experience has been that my arthritis doesn’t hurt as much.  

I am finding that I can make decisions easier.

I now can balance the checkbook in under two minutes.  

Conversations which were difficult ones for me to have before are now easier to have because my responses are actually honest, reflecting my true feelings.

Char's after-class glow
Char’s after-class glow!

And why does all of that matter?

Because I love feeling good.  

Part of feeling good is having less chronic pain.  But I also I feel good when I make decisions that reflect my true feelings.  I feel good when I can handle my finances efficiently.  I feel good when I’m laughing and having fun.

For me, the phrase “just try” is now an integral part of my daily life.  Many times a day, I take a deep breath as I transition from one thing to another – I “just try” and before I even know it, I’m drinking more water, eating more nutritiously, and getting 8 hours of sleep on a consistent basis.

Who knew that the phrase “just try” would be the secret ingredient to successful, happy living?  

Certainly not me.  I’m just so grateful I was willing to just try.

About your guest blogger:

Char Brooks is a 61-year-old Bikram Yoga student who has been practicing this form of yoga at BYCA for 7 months.  She has practiced and studied yoga for over 40 years, beginning when she was about 20, and she has practiced meditation daily for approximately 15 years.  Char earned a teacher training certification in vinyasa from Jonny Kest’s Center for Yoga and has practiced Iyengar, Kripalu, Restorative and Yin yoga.  She continues to meditate twice daily and practices with an online studio regularly at home in addition to attending BYCA approximately 4-5 times a week.