How to Set Up Your Very Own “Hot” (or not!) Yoga Room
We could never have imagined Bikram Yoga without the traditional “hot room”! However, thanks to our practice of adapting to the hot room, we have learned to adapt to many other challenges since 2020 began…including practicing Bikram Yoga anywhere and everywhere!
Many students believe that practicing yoga online is “not for them”, or that Bikram Yoga couldn’t possibly be done away from the hot room. However, yoga is about recognizing and then breaking through unhelpful limitations, especially those of our own self-imposed narratives and preferences.
But let’s get back to YOU and YOUR yoga practice. Those who have dedicated themselves to trying something new and adapting to yoga online have strengthened their practices in so many cool and unexpected ways! Their health and well-being has continued to benefit from Bikram Yoga, and we know that yours will too! The choice is truly yours.
So…if you are ready for the benefits of yoga, regardless of the small challenges and mental excuses….
Here are some guidelines for how to set up your hot room or home space for Bikram Yoga!
You can practice in any room – or outdoors! – at a range of temperatures. We recommend a temp of 75F as a minimum.
However, if you are seeking a “hot room” experience, a small room is best, as it will maintain any added heat and humidity. Bikram Yoga is most beneficial in the range of 98F-105F with around 45% relative humidity.
Get your mat set up and find a place for your live-streaming device. A phone or laptop with a camera and wi-fi is all you need. A tidy, simple space is nice, but it is not required! Be hydrated and on a relatively empty stomach, as you normally would be for yoga.
Add a space heater and room humidifier if you can. Or run a hot shower in your bathroom to make a some steam. This will help to increase vasodilation, cardiac output, and sweat! All of this increases Bikram Yoga’s benefits by amplifying the tourniquet effect in each posture. Again, the heat and humidity are not required, but definitely beneficial and worth it if you are able.
A body-length mirror is helpful, so that you can see your postures and make corrections. Some students even watch their standing postures in the live-stream video on their device.
Some students practice in small, more enclosed spaces. Others practice in larger rooms, porches, and sunny backyards.
Some find it helpful to turn up the audio on their device so that the teacher’s voice fills the room.
Sign on to class 5 minutes early, and enjoy your 90-minute break from the stresses of the outside world!
We are so happy to welcome Angela Moulin Sinclair to Bikram Yoga Capital Area! Her passion for this yoga as well as her nearly two decades of experience make her such a wonderful and positive part of our yoga community.
Angela and I first met at a Mary Jarvis Lake Michigan Shapeshifting retreat in the summer of 2018, but our shared history goes back to many similar experiences in the early 2000s at Bikram Yoga Teacher Training (at La Cienega Headquarters, Los Angeles).
Both before and after we met, we have shared experiences and a similar outlook on this yoga. Her story is a good one; we hope you enjoy it! –Ann
I was born with a birth defect called Hip Dysplasia, a condition where the hip socket doesn’t fully cover the ball portion of the upper thighbone. This allows the hip joint to dislocate easily and has led to knocked knees, as well as the inability for my feet to touch one another when I stand. The medical treatment for this condition is usually surgery, heavy pain pills, and arthritis medication.
I grew up in Humboldt, Kansas. My mother did not allow any western medicine to be practiced on me as an infant nor into my teen years. I developed arthritis as a teen, went to a chiropractor weekly; I also took supplements and over-the-counter pain pills (mainly aspirin). I even wore a hip brace all thru jr high and high school. My mother tried so many things with me to such an extent that I now have a hard time swallowing pills of any sorts.
When I did any extreme activities I would be in severe pain. I also could not sit nor stand for long without pain. I was told I would probably need to have hip replacement surgery later in life.
As a result of not being active, I was an overweight teen and young adult. I essentially have been overweight and in pain most of my life. As a teen, I turned to alcohol and marijuana to ease pain.
My Path to Bikram Yoga
In January 2000, my brother died of a very aggressive cancer of the stomach lining. Even though my mother raised us to be against western medicine, my brother would have fought his cancer with it. However, he was not given any chance to live when he was diagnosed.
When my brother died, he had lived in Boulder for almost 20 years. He had moved to Colorado to enjoy the active lifestyle that he had always had. He was always so healthy, and he loved the outdoors.
As he was dying, he talked to me about a yoga that heated the room. He knew I would struggle when he died, and he wanted me to find something that would help me. He had not actually tried it, but he thought I would enjoy it since I was already doing yoga and some other low impact activities for my birth defect.
So on Memorial Day Weekend of 2000, my daughter (who was 9 at the time), my new boyfriend, and I went to Boulder to decorate my brother’s grave and to spend time in memory of him. I went a tried a class at Radha Garcia’s yoga school (Bikram Yoga Boulder); my first teacher was Esak. I sat a lot. I remember that it was so hot I could not bare it!
I really did not have good heat tolerance to begin with. In 1986 on a river float trip with friends and family, I overheated and had a mild heat stroke. From that point on, heat was very hard for me to deal with.
But in doing the class, I felt very close to my brother. And after that first class I walked freely for what felt like the first time in my life. It was the first time I felt so little pain and not much of a limp. I took no pain medications that day, which was a big deal because pain meds were a part of my life then. I was 32 years old at the time.
Making Bikram Yoga Part of My Life
At the time I was a single mom living in Lawrence, Kansas, working as an independent hairdresser. But I found excuses to go to Boulder every chance I could, so I could take Bikram Yoga. (Lawrence had no Bikram Yoga at that time.)
I ended up marrying that man who went to my first Bikram class with me, and we were married for 17 years.
In early spring 2001, a lady from Lawrence who had gone to Bikram Yoga Teacher Training had just opened a hot studio in her garage. It fit 7 people in it, and our changing room was a tent set up in her yard. You had to get there early because once 7 people showed up she could not fit any more in!
I didn’t like the class very much because she was pretty mean. She just didn’t have much compassion – I guess maybe she had never suffered. If you sat down, she would ask you to leave. If you didn’t get in a posture in time, she would call you out by your name and say that everyone should egg you when class is over because you were making everyone else stay in class longer.
Her classes were very stressful for me and gave me a lot of anxiety. But while in class what I did feel was closer to my brother. And I got relief in my hips and lower back…and I had less limping when I walked out. I learned to block the teacher out and just do the yoga.
New teachers eventually came back from Bikram’s Teacher Training. I was a silent practitioner and worked hard, so more and more the owner left me alone. Even though she did not seem to have much compassion, I always loved the structure and discipline she taught. So I think she knew I respected her and was going to give my respect. When I cut hair, I always talked a lot about the yoga and promoted her yoga school. So we grew to have an ok relationship.
Dreaming of Bikram Yoga Teacher Training
Within 6 months of starting to practice Bikram Yoga, I started having dreams of traveling a long way from home and meeting a man of great wisdom. My dreams also included driving down a highway, and along the way seeing an assortment of garage doors, painted with all kinds of beautiful designs on them.
In one of the dreams I would have, I would be sitting, waiting for a presence to enter the room, but when this presence entered, I felt so inferior I would hide in the back closets. I didn’t tell the school owner about my dream, but I did tell my new husband. He was very supportive and encouraged me to attend Bikram’s training.
When I approached the Bikram Yoga school owner in Lawrence about going to the teacher training, she told me she would write me a recommendation letter, but she said she wouldn’t hire me. She would remind me that I was not very good at the practice, but she did write me the letter I needed.
So I went to Bikram Yoga Teacher Training (BYTT) in Spring 2003. I did it because I felt I needed to share the great news of this medicine that didn’t need to be injected nor swallowed.
I also had the support of my daughter (who was 12 at the time) as well as my new husband. I felt crazy leaving her and a new husband and a very successful hair salon business! I had never left my daughter for more than a weekend at that point. I would make jokes about the fact I had to go to this training so I could make these dreams go away.
Arrival in Los Angeles
When I got to training, it felt like déja vu. I saw these closets in the back of the training room (the ones from my dreams where I wanted to hide). And I felt intimidated by just about everyone.
Everyone except Bikram. Bikram gave me a sense of acceptance and compassion that the “senior” teachers and other students did not.
One weekend, my group went to Paramahansa Yogananda’s Self-Realization Fellowship center. And there were those garage doors with painted murals on them…from my dream! At that moment, I knew I had made the right decision to come to TT.
Compassion and Acceptance from Bikram
I detoxed (cried!) a lot during my training. So much so that Bikram nicknamed me “Bawl Baby”.
I laughed so hard when he called me that, I stopped crying. In that moment, he smiled, and we have gotten along ever since. I have found so much warmth and compassion in Bikram.
I went back to his teacher training to get re-certified in 2006, 2009, and 2012, in addition to visiting him a lot at his trainings in the U.S., Hawaii, and Mexico. I even sent my daughter Alex to training in Spring 2012.
I have had great experiences with Bikram and have always felt safe around him.
The best part of my training was when I bounced off of Robert Downey Jr.’s chest. He was at our training working with Bikram and some of his teachers to break his heroin addiction.
Bikram asked all of us to not speak to him nor bother him in any way. So one day I was walking with my head down, and I bumped into Robert Downey Jr. as he was walking down the hall. I looked up, saw it was him, and said nothing.
The next thing I knew, a huge fight broke out in the lobby with a man that walked in and was insulting Rajashree. I looked over at Bikram, and as he looked back, he came over to me, put his arm around me, and said, “Bawl Baby, what should I do?”
I replied, “Kick him out! He is insulting your wife.”
I am not sure why that sticks with me the most, but it was incredible to me that he would come to me in a split second and ask me for advice.
Back in Lawrence
After I finished the nine weeks of training, I went back to Lawrence. The owner had told me she was never going to have me teach, but I practiced daily. One day, one of the school helpers called the owner (on a day that the owner’s kid was sick), and told her that she should let me teach. So I taught a class, and the students loved me. I cried at the end of that class with such gratitude. I was in love with teaching.
The student body requested me, and even though I didn’t have the blessing of the school owner, she put me on her schedule. The owner would never call me her manager because of her own ego, but I basically started managing her school while I operated my small hair shop.
Meeting Mary Jarvis
In 2004, I met Mary Jarvis while teaching and practicing in Lawrence. The USA Yoga Competitions had just started in the Fall of 2003, so Mary would come and work with the competitors. I stayed in touch with Mary, and whenever I could, I would go see her wherever she was teaching. I would try to talk to her at the competitions whenever I could attend them.
Later, when I had my own school, I invited Mary to visit at least once a year.
Because of practicing with Mary, I stopped used alcohol and marijuana as self-medication. With Mary’s Shapeshifting plus the regular Bikram yoga class, my body just rejects those two drugs.
I am 51 years old, and I still have both of my natural hips!
With Mary’s creation plus the yoga, I have been able to control my weight, which helps to have less weight bearing on my hips. I feel confident that with regular practice, I will continue to keep feeling better physically.
Looking for the Place for My School
In 2007, my husband was taking over his father’s insurance brokerage, and we had to move to Kansas City. No one had yet opened a Bikram Yoga school there. I told my husband that the benefits were so good and that I could not live without the yoga.
I had no idea how nor where I was going to have a school. At that time, we had a 2-year-old, along with my daughter starting high school.
And then…here came the dreams again.
This time I knew it was Bikram who was in my dreams. In the dream, we sat together on a hill with beautiful green grass.
I knew nothing about Kansas City at the time. When I told my husband about the area I thought my dream could be about, he would say, “If that’s the place, I think it’s unsafe.”
One day, I put my toddler son in this old truck we had at the time, and I drove around the area.
So I pulled up in front of a bus stop. I thought: “Are you kidding me? This is where I am supposed to open?”
There was zero parking. But I did see a space for lease with a phone number on it. I called the number and asked to look at this spot.
I spoke with the realtor and explained to him about this yoga practice. He said he had another realtor friend in Chicago who had leased a space to a Bikram Yoga school, and that it had been very successful. This was all at the time before Google made it easy to find things, so a lot of this was word of mouth, knowing the right person, or driving around a lot to search for available spots for lease.
Ultimately, the Kansas City realtor helped finance the build-out of my school, as he was building a new shopping center in an area that had been known for drugs and crime. He wanted to change the neighborhood and believed in me and the potential of this yoga.
The yoga school really made a difference in the neighborhood. A chiropractor later moved in to the shopping center, along with several other small busineses, and the neighborhood really got nicer.
Opening Bikram Yoga Kansas City
So I opened our first Bikram Yoga school in Kansas City. I commuted an hour each way – every day except for Sunday – until my daughter graduated from high school.
On my grand opening day – March 2, 2007 – I made $12,000. There had been a lot of doubt – on the part of other local teachers – about whether I could teach, and whether I could even open a successful studio.
So when I had such a good opening day, I called Bikram to tell him the good news; he and I could not believe it.
The media always says we are franchises, but we just never have been. Bikram never once asked me for any money. I did have to sign an affiliation agreement that I would use his name and only use his teachers. But I was proud to do it.
For almost 11 years, I operated under the name Bikram Yoga College of India, Kansas City, Missouri.
In 2017, I changed my name to Hot Yoga Cure Kansas City. Partly because I added a few classes on my schedule that weren’t strictly Bikram Yoga, but also because I had listened to many people who were full of judgment and hate towards Bikram. People who didn’t know the man (Bikram) that I knew.
But I know in my heart and in my experience that his method and his dialogue WORK! I feel very strongly that changing the name was the wrong decision for me.
If I ever reopened, I would definitely call it Bikram Yoga again, and I would stick to the Bikram Yoga practice.
At my school in Kansas City, I taught Jack Black, Alex Rodriguez, Jewell, and Idina Menzel, among others. Also some local celebrities such as Rex Huddler (announcer for the Royals), and retired baseball player Brian McRae (NY Mets, Chicago Cubs, and KC Royals).
Curing My Emotional Eating
When my brother had died back in 2000, I became an emotional eater; I went from 140 lbs. to 200 lbs. in six months. I didn’t realize for years, though, that I was eating as a way to distract me from my painful emotions.
At a certain point in my yoga practice, one of my teachers challenged me to stop drinking water in class. That I could bring it in, but not touch it.
I soon realized that I was using my water during class like a security blanket. Anytime I was uncomfortable, I would drink water. It was just like the emotional eating. Something to distract myself from whatever physical or emotional discomfort I was feeling at the time.
When I stopped using the water like that during class, I also stopped the emotional eating. What freedom!!
So, many years later, (around 2007-08) we had a Hallowe’en class at my school, where we all wore costumes for class. I dressed up as a baby, and I had a baby’s bottle for my water bottle.
It symbolized the way I used to try to escape discomfort or pain with a distraction – both my chugging of water during class and my emotional eating.
Closing My School
In 2019, my life took a turn that I would not have wished for – nor would want for anyone. My husband filed for divorce at the same time that my yoga school’s building sold (and all business had to move out). Right around the same time, my father had a massive heart attack and was put in a nursing home.
At that time, I chose not to relocate my school; I wanted to be available to help my father pass away.
After my father passed in September 2019, I thought about reopening a yoga school in Kansas City, but I was struggling to find a location and hitting many roadblocks. I even looked for other jobs and was doing some hairdressing again.
But I soon realized I was not supposed to have any other job besides teaching Bikram Yoga! So I recently decided to travel to schools and teach; that maybe this is the right job for me right now. I know that I need the medicine of Bikram Yoga.
This way I can continue my passion and path to share the good news about this yoga practice and about Mary Jarvis’s Shapeshifting.
A New Start in 2020
As of early January 2020, I hadn’t had a regular Bikram practice at a school since April 2019. Up until I arrived here at Bikram Yoga Capital Area, I had been limping and feeling crippled almost constantly.
Now, after less than 10 days of practicing regularly (including some doubles!), I am already walking noticeably better.
The Bikram sequence done in the hot room is the only yoga I have found that takes the pain away. I have learned that my practice needs to be daily. Five times a week is the minimum I should go.
I have also found that I need to be practicing Mary Jarvis’ Yoga Shapeshifting regularly. With Mary’s practice, my feet are closer to touching each other than they have ever been. And it lessens the squeezing together of my inner knees, so my knee pain is less. What Mary created from her car accident is so healing for injuries and joint problems.
What I Love About Bikram Yoga
What I love about Bikram Yoga the most is the structure, the discipline, and the fact that I can handle my hardships. It makes me feel forgiveness and love from the depths of my heart and soul.
I love that I can walk without pain and with little limp. That I can be active without needing to take pain meds.
I have recovered from the tendency to have heat stroke and now can tolerate all levels of temperatures. I love that I sleep well, and that I overall just feel good.
I love empowering people to find their fullest potential, and to seek truth.
Just over three years ago, Michigan State University Assistant Football Coach Ron Burton started practicing Bikram Yoga with us. Since then, he has been telling every coach and athlete he knows about this practice, encouraging them to come to class, and bringing his kids to class whenever they are in town.
They call each other “coach”, so if you ever hear Ann say that in class, you know who she is talking to! 🙂
Here you can read a short interview between Coach Burton and “Coach Chrapkiewicz”! 🙂
Can you tell us about your background professionally, as an athlete and a coach?
I grew up in Richmond, Virginia, and earned a football scholarship to the University of North Carolina, where I graduated with a B.A. in 1987. I then played linebacker in the National Football League for 4 years (1987-1990). I played for the Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals, and Los Angeles Raiders. Following that I went to graduate school, and became a graduate assistant in football at North Carolina from 1991-93.
I have been a college football assistant coach for 26 years – now going into my 7th season at Michigan State University. (You can read more about Coach Burton on his MSU profile here.)
What is your experience with yoga practice in general?
My yoga experience started with a few times during the spring in college, then a few times during my off-seasons in my professional football career. While living in Colorado, I would search for workouts from our cable networks. So I rediscovered yoga in my basement believe it or not, and started following some of the 20-, 30-, and 60- minute yoga workouts.
I just kept remembering how great I felt physically and mentally after a session. I was refreshed, my body increased its fluidity and limberness, and the clarity of my mind and focus was always increased.
We had been living in East Lansing for a few years, when Golf Coach Victor Whipp told me about Bikram Yoga. I came to Bikram Yoga Capital Area for the first time in May of 2016 and have been coming as much as I can since then. More frequently in the off-season, but during season whenever I can, too.
How does Bikram Yoga relate to teaching and coaching?
I am just a novice in Bikram Yoga, but I view it as a fundamental. It is a necessary foundation that helps improve the physical and mental side of any sport or hobby.
The class connects with “we” …. I get to be coached by someone else in a hobby or sport that I know nothing about.
This yoga forces you to listen fully in the moment, to understand what you are hearing, and then respond. It forces you to focus. Each time in class, I’m learning something new to further improve one of the 26 postures. I learn how to adjust each posture with precise movements – all according to my ability in the moment.
As a coach, you are constantly trying to improve your way of getting your point across. The instructors here speak with clarity, and effective tone of voice. They respond to and troubleshoot questions. And they do it without being in a hurry, or loud. And yet it is so effective.
This improves me as a coach because I get to see, hear, and understand a different way of teaching and getting a point across. Coach Ann Chrapkiewicz has been a great example for me as a coach. Not just talk…action!
How does Bikram Yoga contribute to athletic development?
Bikram Yoga definitely contributes to the development of an athlete, regardless of sport! With a consistent practice, it contributes to mental development – it improves focus, clarity, discipline, and listening skills. Physically, it improves range of motion at the arms, hips, core, and spine. It feels like it is rinsing the body of toxins.
It’s a lifetime journey!
Here is a video of Coach Burton and the whole class practicing the backward bending portion of Half Moon Pose:
What are some of the benefits that you have personally experienced with Bikram Yoga?
For me personally, the benefits have been numerous. My focus and clarity have improved, as has my patience. My stress level has definitely been reduced. My listening skills are better. Physically, I have an overall better understanding of my body’s weaknesses and strength. My posture is better, my flexibility has improved, and my breathing is so much better.
I have had numerous athletic injuries in the past – torn pectoral muscles, sprained ankles, pulled groin, broken fingers and thumb, torn ACL, meniscus tear, and multiple neck strains. The way that Bikram Yoga includes modifications of depth in all of the postures helps you have a starting point. So even with all of these injuries I can start each posture correctly. And then when I try the same postures from class to class, I can see improvement in those injured or weak areas.
During the football season, I LOVE Friday morning Bikram Yoga to end my work week, and Sunday morning class before church to start my work week. My goal this year is to add Wednesday evening class to my schedule.
One of my New Year’s resolutions this year has been to become more consistent in attendance at Bikram Yoga Capital Area. Why? Simply because I LOVE IT!
Meet Briona Jones, 29, doctoral candidate in English at Michigan State University and former Division I basketball player.
Briona’s story is so moving and her reflections so articulate, we decided to share them in multiple blog posts! Here is Part I, which focuses mostly on the physical benefits Briona has created with her practice.
I was born with rickets, so as a child I was able to walk, but I wasn’t able to run. I was also prone to dislocation of my knees. Corrective surgery is usually needed for those types of situations, but my legs got better without it. My mom would take me out in the sun a lot and gave me vitamins.
I started playing basketball in middle school (around 2002), and in 2006 I had a bad knee dislocation at a basketball tournament – my knee cap went to the back of my leg! I had surgery the following year and it went well.
College Athletics, Surgery, and Recovery
I played Division I basketball in college at Kennesaw State University. I ended up developing “jumpers knee”, which is a type of tendonitis of the knee. It caused a sharp pain anytime I jumped, ran, or stopped abruptly. I could not run without sharp pain.
I had an MRI in 2011, which revealed three holes in the cartilage layer below my knee cap. The surgery I ended up having involved Platelet Plasma Recovery, the injection of fetal cartilage, and realignment of my kneecap!
Even with surgery and physical therapy, my leg never went back to its full capacity of being a leg.
At physical therapy, they ask you to rate your pain on a level of 1 to 10. Well, in 2011 and 2012, I had a pain level of 15 on a frequent basis. The swelling did eventually go down, and I continued to run, until 2015. But I would say my knee never totally recovered.
Pain and My Quality of Life
Cooking most of my meals is a really important part of my life.
This might seem simple, but in order to cook a meal, you have to stand, right?
From 2011 until I started Bikram Yoga in 2017, my knee would swell at least 4 or 5 times a week while I was cooking dinner. The pain level would be between a 7 and a 9, and I would always need to sit down and ice my knee, just to finish preparing a meal.
I never, ever expected that the pain in my body would dissipate. It just seemed like it was always going to be that way.
Journey to Michigan State University
I came to Michigan State in 2015 to enroll in the doctoral program in the Department of English.
I remember that when I was working out and running, I would still have intense swelling in my knee. My previous normal running distance would be five miles, easily, but at this point I could barely run two miles. I was frustrated, so I stopped running. My physical therapists here suggested that I try biking.
In September 2017, I had an MRI; it confirmed that I had arthritis and tendonitis.
I tried going to physical therapy here at MSU, but it was $15 a session, and they wanted me to come 3 times per week. I really could not afford that, the recovery was not going to be fast enough, and overall I just was not satisfied with the care. It seemed to me like it was going to end up in me having to have surgery again!
Bikram Yoga Showed Up
In the fall of 2017, it was time for me to write my proposal and study for exams, and it was the most unstructured part of my life. It was a time where I was able to set my own schedule, and I knew I wanted a more holistic way of tending to my needs and my health. I had been meditating, but I was looking for more.
I live directly behind BYCA, and one day in October, after I left my physical therapist, I thought, “I am just gonna come to Bikram”. Although I had heard of Bikram Yoga before, I had no idea of the kind of healing possibility it would have!
It’s a one hundred percent healing venture.
I practiced on and off for the first two months and then started practicing consistently in December 2017.
Physical Therapy & Respiratory Benefits
In physical therapy, they always ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10. Prior to Bikram Yoga I had pain levels of 7 to 9 most of the time.
Once I started doing Bikram Yoga consistently, I had swelling only 2 to 3 times in the first four months! As of April 2018, I might occasionally have a level 2 pain. And that was it.
Then, in December 2018, after only a year of practice, I could play basketball every week with no pain. It is amazing!
It seems like what physical therapy is trying to do is similar to Bikram Yoga. Since practicing yoga regularly, I have felt the contraction of the knees and thighs, and noticed how my quadriceps have developed without any weights.
I should also point out that I am asthmatic. During my first few Bikram Yoga classes, I couldn’t breathe well. But by four or five classes in, I was able to breathe and keep up with the group.
And before that – throughout my life – I had worked out a lot!
Stay tuned for many more aspects of Briona’s healing experiences… Part II, coming soon!
At BYCA we have a very strong youth program, with many youth attending weekly now for several years! You can read about some of our long-term regular youth practitioners here.
At the same time, we have a lot of parents who would like their kids to take up yoga, but who feel stuck. Lately I had a few people ask me directly ,”How do I get my kids to do yoga?”
Framing “Yoga” Differently
In over 15 years of practice, I have found that the answer lies almost entirely found in how the parent views yoga, how the parent speaks about yoga, and how the parent uses yoga. Is yoga framed as a hobby, leisure activity, or exercise class? Or is it used and spoken about as a primary source of physical and mental health care?
As with everything else, our behaviors and priorities are passed on. Here are some questions to help us see what examples are being set, what mindsets and priorities are being passed on:
Where do you go first for the following issues:
mild to moderate depression
hormonal or menstrual discomforts
chronic or acute injuries
blood sugar imbalances, prediabetes, or diabetes
emotional or mood instability
Is yoga your first line of defense (or perhaps offense?!) against chronic issues…with biomedicine used as a later – or last – resort?
Is biomedicine your first line of defense?
Do you use yoga mostly as a side activity, something you do casually to de-stress, something you dabble in because it is supposed to be good for you?
Household and Personal Culture of Healing
Whatever your answers to the above questions are, they perpetuate a certain framework of choices, thoughts, and behaviors that fall under the category of “culture”. They teach the next generation how yoga is to be understood and used.
In summary: Your household and/or personal culture around yoga, healing, biomedicine, and medications is powerful!
Are you saying I shouldn’t go to the doctor when I am sick?
Absolutely not! You do not need to discard the very helpful aspects of biomedicine in order to put yoga first for the list of chronic health problems above (and more).
What is important is that you experience for yourself that there is a particular role for biomedicine to play, in certain situations. And that there is a much larger-than-expected role for a medical/therapeutic yoga practice to play.
With the great majority of chronic, non-life-threatening health issues, you could say (to yourself or to your child or grandchild): “Before taking medication, let’s try Bikram Yoga 3 times a week for 2 months and see what happens. It works on these issues for most people, without negative side effects. And it comes with a bunch of other positive side effects, too.”
In our household, yoga is put in the same category that brushing teeth is in. It was not framed as a choice any more than brushing his teeth was a choice. It is not a hobby or “mom’s thing”, it is our main method of preventive medicine – and even healing assistance for many acute issues as well. He often doesn’t want to go to class, but we go. And so many good things are happening as a result.
Do you make teeth-brushing optional for your kids? Or required? If you require it, what is (or what was) the logic you used to explain why teeth-brushing was something you simply had to do twice a day?
I know that some parents have a hard time with the thought of “making” their kids do yoga. But if you are someone who “made” your kids brush your teeth, and someone who experiences the therapeutic nature of this yoga practice….you are 95% of the way there! The last 5% of the puzzle is completing a shift in language and communication.
The most straightforward way to communicate about this yoga practice is to use similar language as you would use when talking about brushing your teeth. Simply. Without scolding or negativity. Just that this is something we do in this house. This is a part of growing up in a human body and how we take care of it.
…your kids will feel it for themselves. Just like brushing teeth!
You see, once you brush your teeth regularly enough, YOU WANT TO DO IT. You know how it feels when you don’t, and you know how it feels when you do. It is simply a matter of training someone into their own understanding and experience of the difference.
On a recent weekend, Forrest’s lower back and neck were feeling noticeably sore when he woke up. It was 6:45 am on a Sunday (the perfect opportunity to sleep in!), and I was getting ready to teach the 8:00 am class. He said, “Mom, I want to sleep in, but I was wondering if going to yoga would help my back.”
I responded gently, “Almost definitely….it is worth a try.” (Although internally I was extremely excited that he was considering it on his own!!!)
He ended up practicing 3 days in a row…because HE WANTED TO.
My heart overflows everytime someone’s mind has made this shift.
Meet Melissa, 40, of Williamston, Michigan! Melissa started practicing with us at Bikram Yoga Capital Area in March of 2014 and to date has practiced over 725 classes! Melissa wrote this super thoughtful blog as part of 2017’s Spring Yoga Buddy Challenge. I am so grateful for Melissa’s insights, her quiet strength and presence at the yoga school, her patience with my backlog of stories needing to be shared (!), and her wonderful writing.
Hi! I’m Melissa and this is my first ever attempt at a blog, so in true yoga fashion, I ask for no judgment 🙂 !!!
I’m very much a visual person so I plan to use analogies to help bring you into the inner workings of my brain. (Good luck while you’re in there!) I’ve been practicing Bikram yoga for a little over three years and am completing my second Yoga Buddy Challenge. In order to complete this buddy challenge, the last piece for me was to write a blog (what we won’t do for a free t-shirt!!).
When trying to figure out what to write, one of my yoga buddies (who was also one of my instructors) suggested that I write about something I have thought about in class. Sounds like a trick to me! The ultimate goal is to think about nothing in class, just focus on the instructions and my breathing.
So what did I think about in class that night? Yep, what I’m going to write about. My ideas were all over the place, how would I choose just one thing?
Then I realized, my scattered thoughts are the perfect topic! Envision trying to wrangle up a herd of cats. That’s what it feels like when I’m supposed to keep my thoughts in check and only focus on the words and my breathing. Cats are all over the place!
Here’s a little more about my experience with Bikram and herding cats.
When I started Bikram yoga my thoughts during class were very different than they are now. While I do love yoga, I’m not a fan of heat or sweating non-stop for 90 minutes. For me, the initial months of practice were all about survival mode. I couldn’t believe that I allowed myself to be submitted to this torture and would bet my life that I could smell burning flesh. How was this even legal?
I still remember my first class. I knew I wasn’t supposed to leave the room so I thought I could escape the heat by laying down. Wrong! It was like that movie, The Fog, and I could just feel the heat rolling over my body like fog.
There was no escape! Somehow I managed to make it back for another class where I tried to trick myself into thinking I was on a tropical beach somewhere. The problem with that is, I didn’t have my umbrella drink or a cool pool to jump in to cool me down.
Looking for Distractions
As I went to more and more classes, I continued to try different techniques to distract me and get me through the class. I LOVED distractions. They helped make the 90 minutes move a little faster.
I would find myself in awe of those that did not have the “typical yoga body”, yet had the confidence to wear barely anything. (To give you a visual, a typical yoga body stereotype could be: someone who is long, lean, flexible, probably a vegan and/or health nut, etc.) Here I was trying to hide my curves in a tank and leggings, as I surely didn’t have the kind of body one would flaunt! I wonder what gave them the confidence?
I also really loved when I had people with tattoos near me. It provided me actual art to look at and gave me the opportunity to wonder what the story behind the tattoo was. The list of distractions goes on.
For various reasons, it took me almost a year before I started to make Bikram part of my almost daily routine. (My goal is every day, but I average about four times per week.)
And the benefits start clicking…
I’ve made Bikram sound SO enticing so far, how on Earth did I start going on a regular basis? Honestly, I don’t remember having a “light bulb moment” where everything just clicked. It was more like the clicking of a roller coaster climbing towards the top of the hill. Once I actually started to put more focus on the words and tried to quiet my mind, little by little “things” just started to make sense.
The environment and the community are so encouraging, welcoming, supportive and non-judgemental. Click.
It didn’t take me too long to realize that I too could shed the tank and the leggings. Nobody cared what I looked like, they were focused on themselves. Click.
My migraines had dramatically decreased. Click.
My allergies seemed to be better. Click.
I felt better in general. Click.
I was less stressed. Click.
My posture was better. Click.
My thoughts outside of yoga were changing. I was becoming less critical and more patient and carefree. Click.
I realized that Bikram could be an escape from the outside world. No cell phones in the studio meant two hours where the outside world could not reach me. Click. Click. Click!!
By this time, I’m heading down that first thrilling hill of the roller coaster! I wasn’t exactly sure what I had gotten myself into, but knew that Bikram had made a lot of positive changes in my life. I wasn’t ready to hop off the roller coaster just yet, so I decided to invest in a year unlimited package and see what happened.
Still Happily Riding the Roller Coaster
After two years of regular practice, you’d think that I’d have this mental focus thing down. HA! As you know, roller coasters have their ups, downs and plateaus. I realize and accept my body has limitations and those limitations can and will vary. Naturally this also means my practice will be different from day to day. Some days I feel like I rocked it out, some days I feel like I got rocked and others I feel like I did just enough to “pass”.
What I started to realize is that the teachers are right. (I know, shocking, right!) The practice is 99% mental and 1% physical.
On the days that I feel like I rocked it out, my focus was like a laser. The other two types of classes….. cats! Trying to either herd a little or a lot of cats!!
Changing Thought Itself…sometimes with the help of Billy Ocean
As you may recall, I mentioned earlier my thoughts during class have changed (i.e. they have not been eliminated). Most of the time, it’s no longer survival mode thoughts. I rarely think I smell burning flesh. Admittedly, there are still some classes where I look around to see who I might need to douse with water and hope it’s not myself that is on fire!
The majority of the time I now recognize when the negative thoughts are trying to creep in, and my focus turns to what I’m going to do about it.
Do I really need a break? Can I put more effort into a posture?
On occasion I will sing a Billy Ocean song to my negative thoughts. Of course I have to adjust the lyrics a bit.
Let me sing it to you… I said hey (hey) you (you), get outta of my mind (get out of my mind), get into my car…
Essentially, I was singing to my negative thoughts (yes, complete with back-up vocals) and telling them to drive away. (I’m sure it’s not what the writer had in mind for the song!) Then I almost immediately think, wait a minute, I’m supposed to be focused on the teacher’s words, not singing in my head (even if is with good intentions). Focus Melissa, focus!
So, the question is, how does one herd the cats and keep out all of the mind’s chatter? That is the million dollar question!
Words like determination and perseverance come to mind. Those are actions that everyone is capable of, if they put their mind to it. HA! Get it? What is it in people that makes them capable of having such focus on a consistent basis to make them determined or to persevere? I think of my practices where I feel like I rocked it out and wonder, “What happened on those days?”
Some of my most intense classes are when I had hot yoga guy in my mirror (you can determine what you visualize: hot yoga-guy or hot-yoga guy). I had no choice but to focus on myself in the mirror or risk the chances of making eye contact. Awkward!
Other classes where I rocked it, I honestly don’t know why! The stars had aligned, it was a perfect storm, everything just seemed to be firing on all cylinders… whatever analogy you would like to insert.
Really, I think this is part of the reason that I continue to come back to class. Will I have another rockin’ class today?? There’s a mystery/puzzle about it that intrigues me.
I can see the overall positive impact Bikram has had for me (and for others), but I don’t particularly love spending 90 minutes sweating my butt off. I would much rather sleep in, take my dogs for a walk, catch a movie… you name it and I’d probably be up for it if it keeps me out of the hot room. Yet, I keep coming back and have worked it into my weekly routine. I even try to get all of my family and friends to come to class. I encourage them to try to get past the “survival” stage so they can experience all of the positive that Bikram has in store for them!
Amazing Yoga Questions
I could probably think of a million other random thoughts that I have or have had (i.e. Why is Bikram not covered by health insurance? If everyone practiced yoga, would we have world peace? How is it that the mind, which is not even a physical thing, can have so much control over a person? If the goal is to focus on the teacher’s words, why is it so routine? I know why the sequence itself is routine, but why always start with the right side? We know what’s coming next, so it’s easier to go on auto-pilot. Why not help us out and switch it up and start with the left side now and then? Will we ever have animals in class? Music?) …but I don’t want my first blog to turn into my first novel!
To start to wrap it up, what I have learned so far is it’s hard work to try to keep the mind in check, even for a brief moment in time. I don’t have the key on how to master laser beam focus (or how to wrangle a lot of cats).
What I do know is in my three years of Bikram classes, a lot of positive changes have happened to me both mentally and physically, even with classes where I was on auto-pilot or they were just plain bad. Why wouldn’t I keep coming back to try to figure out how to have more classes where I rocked it out? I can’t imagine how I would feel if the majority of my classes were that intense (Holy smokes, my flesh might actually catch on fire)!
How I Got into This in the First Place
In closing, I never explained how I even went to my first Bikram class. I was always curious what happened in hot yoga classes, but was nervous about the heat and assumed I didn’t have the right body for it (even though I had been doing some form of yoga for over 10 years and should have known better than to stereotype!). It was one of those “non-typical” yoga bodied people that I noticed coming out of the studio one day. I figured if he can do it, I can do it and went to my first class shortly thereafter.
My point in saying this and for writing this blog, is you never know what kind of an impact you may have on a person. That person will never know that by him simply walking out of the studio gave me enough courage to give it a try. If my experiences – as a person who doesn’t love 90 minutes of sweat, heat, and torture (j/k, not kidding) yet finds herself back there almost every day – can intrigue someone else to give it a try and potentially change his/her life in a positive way, why not?
People can use some positive in their lives! I encourage everyone to give it a try! The most you have to lose is 90 minutes in a day and some sweat, but what you stand to gain is all within your control!
Hope to see you in class!
You never know whose life will turn around when they start practicing Bikram Yoga! Feel free to share the goodness and healing with anyone who might need a little boost.
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.
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.
If you have not yet attended our Thursday evening warm class, you have yet to be part of a special treat.
Since 2016, we have regularly invited youth ages 6 and up to participate in the second half of the traditional Bikram Yoga series, and many have “graduated” to practicing the whole class now.
This month we have a few very special things to celebrate.
First: our youngest student, Summer, has been practicing regularly since mid-March, 2017. She started her practice when she was 5 years old! It is now her one-year anniversary, and she has completed 27 classes.
Second: Forrest, age 11, has just completed his 100th class at Bikram Yoga Capital Area!! (He also did over 100 classes while still in the womb, but we aren’t counting those.)
A Family Affair
Finally: Nadia (8) and Amelia Pauly (12) have been attending weekly with their father, Matt Pauly. Amelia has started practicing the full class, including the standing series, and Nadia is the youngest person I have worked with who is starting progressions towards full camel posture. Both young ladies have great focus and a wonderful attitude in their practice!
It is SO COOL to see this family embrace yoga for their own reasons, and so inspiring to think of what is to come.
Over a decade ago, one of my most influential yoga teachers at the time presented me with a quote:
“To the Yogi, criticism and flattery are no different.”
It made sense to me on some levels, and I thought I could relate to not caring about the status quo. I had a history of peacefully withdrawing from certain social circles and finding my own way. In fact, I thought of myself as relatively independent. (Ha! The narratives we keep so dear…)
Throughout my childhood – and to this day – my dad regularly expressed some form of Who-cares-what-other-people-think? when telling stories of his past or present.
In high school I had even left the “cool” lunch table midway through 9th grade to venture out on my own.*
This was just an embryonic stage of independence from social pressures, but it felt significant to me at the time.
Looking back, I recognize these scenarios as (potentially) a very early stage of yoga.
Little did I know at the time how utterly wrapped up I was in the need for flattery and approval. And in the crushing power that criticism could still have over me.
3 Signs I Was Dependent Upon Flattery and Approval
1. Throughout most of college and for several years after, I never felt sexy or thin enough. I apparently cared that an imaginary, ideal male out there had a perception of me that was not ideal or attractive. My self-worth was tied up with all of that made-up nonsense that has been written about extensively. I apparently DID care what other people thought of me.
Crap. Not immune at all. That cultural, gendered conditioning is many layers THICK.
2. At one point, I chose a pretty serious relationship with an abusive, wounded person… and gave up a nurturing, loving, friendship and potential partnership with a healthy, inquisitive soulmate. Why? Because the former laid on thick compliments and immediate physical and sexual approval; the latter was peaceful and did not fill the holes of my self-loathing. (I do not fault him for being so healthy!)
OMG, I gave up an incredibly healthy interaction for an unhealthy one. WTF, Ann? Seriously? I eventually stopped regretting my weakness and choices. Eventually getting to a place where I deeply appreciate everything I have learned from them.
3. Then, when emotional insults and manipulations were delivered thickly, my response was that I needed to try harder to be better. (I later learned that this was part of the classic cycle of power and control in domestic violence. This should be taught in high school!)
I was so conditioned to respond to criticism or flattery, and I naively believed that all other humans always spoke the truth. I could not see abusive behaviors as reflective of the abuser and his pain, wounds, and conditioning. I thought they were reflective of me.
Wow, did I really need for some yoga to happen!
Luckily, I was able to remove myself from the harmful situation. But it still took several years and a lot of internal work for me to see what I was participating in.
In the past 20+ years I have benefited from the wisdom of many therapists, nutritionists, sociologists, friends, domestic violence advocates, Eckhart Tolle (I highly recommend that you read A New Earth ongoingly for the next 10 years), and feminist scholars. Their perspectives have empowered me, given me invaluable tools and perspectives, and made me feel less alone (who has not gone through some of this stuff?)
But two things have changed my energy in ways that no theory, counseling, research, or other “rational” thought could touch:
1. Bikram Yoga
At the very beginning of my practice, the mirrors, lights, heat, and postures created a situation which made it literally impossible for me to maintain the toxic stream of thoughts I had been carrying for 10 years.
“Not-thin-enough”… “How many calories can I eat later?”… “Can I get through today on 800 calories?”…”When will I be able to fit in those pants?”…”I can’t stand my thighs”….
“Oh my god, I was holding my breath while thinking all of those thoughts. I apparently can’t do that and get through the next posture!”
“I guess I have to breathe instead of think about nonsense…otherwise this is going to be a hellish 90 minutes!”
This all seemed to happen on a level that was before conscious thought. (Char Brooks has described this yoga practice to me as “pre-verbal”; I can relate.)
What I learned right then and there – and on a super embodied level, was that:
Concentrating only on my breathing and the teacher’s words was a physical necessity.
No thoughts of thighs or calories was going to happen for 90 minutes.
This all led to the neurological reality of having a clear mind….which led to a complete fresh start in my real and imagined social relationships. During my first full year of daily practice, I could tell when I missed a day – the thoughts would start to creep back in. Luckily, after that, they stayed away and have never returned. It has been 15 years this year, and there have not been any relapses into bulimic thinking yet.
Yet we are always works in progress. It was soon time for the next layer of internal and interpersonal healing.
A few years later, Bikram Yoga provided a quiet, consistent, and stable situation where I could see that I had gotten myself into an extremely unhealthy, abusive relationship. These things are thick and heavy and very hard to see, and I have total compassion for anyone still stuck in one. Bikram Yoga gave me a safe, neutral space – free of abusive commentary, impossible expectations, or mean energy.
And Standing Head to Knee Posture gave me a place to practice my mantra of strength, which I badly needed at that time.
Nothing is going to push me over, no one is going to knock me down, you are not going to make me feel weak. I AM GOING TO LOCK MY F’ing KNEE and you are NOT going to stop me.
That period of time is when I started to really GET that posture, and experience its 99% mental nature.
2. Isha Yoga
As far as I can tell, this is the real deal when it comes to an all-encompassing yoga process. Sadhguru is the only human I have spent time with who seems to be fully realized. If you are even a little bit interested in yoga in its total manifestation, check out Sadhguru’s YouTube videos or blog posts. Or take an Inner Engineering program with Sadhguru and see where it takes you! Once you have completed that program, you can learn the Yogasanas (postures) for home practice or take more in-depth immersions.
Here is one of Sadhguru’s ways of expressing the topic of our need for flattery and ultimately the way that this makes the spiritual process impossible:
Society is training you to hold an opinion on everything; otherwise you will have no self-esteem. Your self is such hollow nonsense that it needs people to tell you, “Oh you are a beautiful person.” You are thriving on opinions, not only on other peoples’ opinions, your own opinions. You are a person only because of the opinions that you hold.
Many forces would lead us to believe that yoga is a stretching-oriented exercise class that can be mixed and matched, mished and mashed, soundtracked and pumped up with weights…anything goes, right? That “doing yoga” is equivalent to practicing postures.
Oh, gods and goddesses, yogis of all ages, Jesus and Mother Mary, can I apologize on behalf of my country?
Both Bikram Yoga and Isha Yoga have taught me that practicing a system of yoga postures (with the right approach) is just a preparatory process…something that can help yoga to happen within you.
They have both shown me that we must practice a consistent system daily, performed exactly as instructed, without omission or addition.
So that you can learn something about what is going on deeply with yourself. So you can operate on more subtle levels of awareness. So you can have the strength to hold your mind on one thing in total stillness and then see what happens.
That does not mean that you cannot do other things with your time. But in order to initiate a yoga process, there are certain things we must not give up.
Although Bikram does not transmit kriyas or other energetic processes of yoga, he taught thousands of us to put the asanas in perspective.
“Postures are not the goal of Yoga. Postures are the tools.”
What I have experienced is that these tools can create infinite possibilities for self-reflection, for rearrangement of internal energies, for pre-verbal transformation, and for the yoga process.
Thanks to growing older and a lot of yoga, I love and welcome sincere feedback from others. But at the same time, I have been able to build increasing immunity to unhealthy criticism, and – just as important – increasing immunity to surface flattery.
* This was no easy task – I spent most of 5th and 6th grade praying at night to god and Mother Mary that I could someday be part of that group, and magically – on the first day of 7th grade – it became a reality. I suddenly and inconsiderately left my old friends for this popularity. But eventually I found the various factions and “fights” of 7th and 8th grade pretty tiresome. About halfway through 9th grade, I came to the conclusion that the topics of conversation at the time (cigarettes and boys) were of zero interest to me. In any case, it was really scary at first – to go and sit alone in that intimidatingly social scene – but ultimately, my need to watch the whole thing unfold was stronger than my need to remain approved of.
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.
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.
Triangle 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:
It was one of those lovely classes where everyone spaced themselves so beautifully in the three rows of our practice room; people hardly took their eyes off of their focus points for the entire warm-up portion of class.
We were finishing up the standing series, on the second side of Toe Stand, when one of the great yoga lessons emerged.
One of my long-time students, Amy, – who has been with us for around 120 classes, since summer 2013 – was in one of her usual spots in the third row. She smiles quite a bit in and outside of class and really enjoys the learning process. She is a joy to have in class and at our school.
Communications in the Moment
Expressions of Toe Stand vary from person to person – many people are much closer to what looks like a bent-over tree pose – but Amy happens to be able to sit down quite easily – kind of like these humans (Eric, I love so much that you can hold a phone and use it while in this posture!!):
Some Deeper Expressions of Toe Stand, Spring 2015 – Lauren, Eric, Melissa, Jess
I saw that her left knee was high up above her right, as was common for her. I thought I would see if – through our constant teacher-student communication in class – we could make the next posture adjustment happen for her.
My instructions directed her to push her left knee towards the ground and stretch her spine up towards the ceiling. I encouragingly repeated the instruction a few times to see if a physical response was ready or possible in that moment. It probably sounded something like this:
Stretch your spine up to the ceiling, hips up
A little more
Stretch your spine up
Suck your stomach in
Top of the head towards the ceiling
Left knee down, Amy
Both knees in one line, parallel to the floor
Left knee down a little more, please
I noticed that instead of trying these things, Amy was very focused on something else; putting her hands together in front of the chest. Nothing wrong or ultimately bad about it, but – as long as she is not having knee pain – it is not where the posture would be most beneficial for her at this point in her practice. The hands element is relatively unimportant relative to the leg, spine, and abdominal control in this posture.
Dialogue: Checking In
The direct instructions of the Dialogue that we initially learn as Bikram Yoga teachers really is and – in my opinion – can/should be used constantly as a dialogue. When used well, the teacher is gaining at least as much information about the student as the student is receiving from the teacher.
So, in those moments, I did not perceive that my instructions had gotten through successfully. After everyone had rested in savasana, I checked in with her.
“Did you have any pain in the posture? Was your left knee bothering you?”
“Ok, well that’s good. Did what I was saying make sense?”
…Amy thought about it for a second, and then said…
“It’s been a long week.”
I repeated back to myself quietly, “It’s been a long week.”
“Ok,” I thought….
And then I laughed out loud and said,
“No! No, no, NO!!”
“Does what happened yesterday, or what happened for the past several days, have control over your ability to focus in the moment?”
Amy smiled and said, “No.”
“Is last week in control of what you do in toe stand?”
She smiled again and shook her head.
And then the words just flew out of me:
“YOU are in charge here!! In the moment when you are in toe stand, or any other posture – you are breathing, you are calm, you are trying, you are following the words…
…and last week does not exist. Does that make sense?”
By this point, Amy (and half the class) was smiling and nodding quietly.
“Monday does not exist. Friday does not exist. These labels are made-up entities when it comes to your ability to breathe well or absorb an instruction.
Please do not let them control you. They only exist for the purposes of getting to the right place at the right time with the right people.
Days of the week are for scheduling function only.
When you are in toe-stand, just be in toe-stand.”
One of the infinite correct expressions of Toe Stand
Then I settled down and we all had a lovely, light, quiet minute in savasana.
The Personal is Political, or Cultural Baggage = Personal Baggage
Yoga leads to nothing less than self-transformation. Yet so much of what I call “myself” or you call “yourself” is essentially the cultural baggage that we have picked up along the way.
I think I am original in my suffering. You think your stress is special. And we actually try to preserve our suffering and stress in order to be unique, post-modern, identity-based individuals.
All of this is an aspect of human nature, of course. But it is not permanent, static, nor completely inevitable.
And that is what the yogis have always understood.
The deeper I go down the yoga path, the more I see how subtle this process is.
The stories we have culturally, collectively created and absorbed have so much power over us that they affect our individual, moment-to-moment ability to breathe. To focus. To listen. To do a task at hand. And to live in our physical bodies in a fully alive way.
We not only are emotionally, neurologically, and respiratorially** controlled by things like “TGIF” or the dread of Monday, but by a stressful week that is 100% in the past.
Yoga leads to nothing less than transformation of the cultural stories that control our bodies.
What is Yoga?
Just your friendly reminder that this is not a stretching class. Not a fitness class. Not a sweat box. (Although all of those things do occur.)
It is you, your cultural baggage, and ultimately, how you live your life.
Ann is an amateur ethnographer who happens to have experienced, witnessed, and facilitated ridiculous amounts of healing and transformation through Bikram Yoga, Isha Yoga, and medical anthropology.
*Lately I have decided to stop calling myself a “yoga teacher”; it has become meaningless in this country.
**I admit that I made this word up, but I am sticking to it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Meet Sarah Cook, 34, of St. John’s, Michigan. Sarah started practicing Bikram Yoga with us in the spring of 2014, upon a recommendation from her sister. As of this writing, Sarah has practiced exactly 365 classes! Sarah has had some exciting updates recently, but her whole history of benefits is very diverse, and quite exciting!
“Before I started yoga, I had gotten a bone bruise (near-fracture) close to my knee, and after 4 weeks on crutches, I was supposed to do physical therapy. Instead, with permission of my specialist, I practiced Bikram Yoga 3 times a week for 6 weeks. After that, the specialist said I was completely healed, I did not need any physical therapy, and she would not need to see me anymore.
“In my first year of yoga I lost 30 pounds….and I have kept it off! I used to gain about 5 pounds every winter, but now it doesn’t stick with me anymore.
“I had several previous wrist sprains and injuries and had so much pain I could not use scissors. Within a few months of practicing, I could use scissors again and the pain was gone.
“My need for asthma medication was drastically reduced. Before Bikram Yoga I was taking a daily inhaler at 220 mcg every day – sometimes twice a day. As of Spring 2017 I was taking half of that dose, and I only needed it an average of once a week!
“My sciatica also went away. My dad walks with a cane because of similar issues, and it was starting to develop in me. Before yoga I could hardly carry my toddler for a minute without intense pain. After practicing regularly, I was able to carry her an entire mile without pain.”
“I recently went through a Candida overgrowth and hormone imbalance. I treated it with a massive change in my diet, and that was very difficult. I had a lot of anxiety and depression as a result of making these changes so quickly. Practicing Bikram Yoga not only helped my hormones balance out quicker, but it made it possible for me to take a complete break from the stress and cost of meal planning and preparation.
“Despite my asthma, my lung capacity has always been slightly above average (111% before yoga). But now, 3 years into yoga, it has increased to 116%.”
“As an adult I have always been 5 foot 3 and 3/4. At my check-up last week I was 5 foot 4 and 1/2 inch. At my check-up this month, the nurses looked at my chart and could not figure out what was going on!”
All we are doing is the not-at-all-secret secret of a regular Bikram Yoga practice. Feel free to share the goodness and healing with anyone who might need a little boost.
We realize these numbers seem too good to be true – John even says so himself.
3 years later
Although John has a very skeptical side to his personality, he has come to see that the yoga just works. Things that previously seemed impossible happened – in his own body.
Advice his teachers gave him helped in ways he could not have predicted.
He admits that even though he heard Ann tell him to suck his stomach in during all of the postures, over and over, during every class….it was 3 years into his practice that he finally started doing it!
And within one month of doing so, his chronic back pain of almost 40 years went away. He is now waking up in the morning without back pain and can walk without stooping over.
Before Bikram Yoga
After 3 months of practicing 4-5 days per week
300 classes later
resting blood pressure (with medication): 135/85
resting blood pressure: 115/68
resting heart rate: mid 90s
resting heart rate: high 60s
fasting glucose: above normal
non-fasting glucose: normal range
chronic back pain of 40 years
back pain completely gone
November 2019 Update:
On John’s 74th birthday, we sang Happy Birthday during the 2nd set left side of triangle posture. John told us that his favorite postures were savasana and the sit-up. I loved his reasoning for liking the sit-up: “Well, I like it so much because I couldn’t do it for 50 years, and now I can. With my job, and my back pain, I could never do anything like that. But since I started coming here and strengthening things – and especially since I started sucking my stomach after 3 years of you telling me to – now I can actually do it!”
We look forward to welcoming you, your loved ones, your friends, or your patients into our practice!