When I see the receipt come through for your purchase, I will send you an email with the link to join the classes and instructions on how to sign-in to class. New students will receive an online waiver and new student form to fill out and return.
Please triple check that your email address is correct in our online system when you make the purchase.
Please allow 24 hours to receive set-up instructions.
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In the future, if and when live-streaming is no longer being offered, any remaining funds from online punchcards can be:
1) donated to our BYCA Scholarship Program or
2) converted to credit towards regular punchcards only.
Refunds will not be available.
Unused credit cannot be used towards merchandise, nor towards Flex/Commitment/Optimum memberships nor any unlimited memberships.
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!
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.
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.
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.”
As inclusive as North American yoga wants to be, yoga in its deeper dimensions demands certain qualities.
Are you ready for yoga?
Well, I have a yoga mat and I hydrated well. So yes, I think so.
But the question again: are you ready for yoga?
The yoga clothing companies would like you to think you are. They would like you to picture yourself as one of those long, lithe, young bodies, wearing their pants. And maybe you have that body.
But most people don’t. And the tragedy therein is that you might not think that you are ready for yoga. You might even think you need to look like that in order to start yoga.
Getting ready for yoga
After spending 3 days and nights off the grid (literally), it was a joy to come back to my other favorite place – the hot room – on Labor Day to teach the evening class.
30 humans prepared themselves. They were ready.
They brought themselves to class and faced themselves in the mirror for 90 glorious minutes of their days off.
You may have heard from various sources that that is really the hard part of the class. To stand there, to look in the huge mirrors at your own self, and to not try to fix anything. Not to mess with your out-of-place hair, not to fidget, and especially not to try to solve any problems your mind has decided needed solving.
Instead, you stand still and breathe. You physically transcend and transform the mental disturbances. You live so fully in those uncomfortable moments when you choose to only breathe.
In any case, we had a fun little exchange tonight in the front-and-center, right in front of that giant wall of mirrors, 70 feet long and over 8 feet high.
“I am not ready for yoga.”
A week or two ago, a retired man – visiting from the Middle East – started taking classes with us. It was his first time practicing yoga, but even before he took his first class, I could tell he was ready.
And tonight I found out that he is much more ready than he thinks.
This man is cheerful. He laughs at himself. He stands in the front row in the center of the room. He laughs and smiles with me when I fold up his hand towel and have him hide it under his mat so it will not tempt him. We discuss the salty sweat that drips into his eyes.
He tries so hard. He communicates – often only with his eyes – when he needs a break. He listens to me speaking constantly in his not-native language. He persists. He is already loved by our morning regulars.
At one of those special, irreplaceable, and almost indescribable group of moments that happen in class, it all came out in a little dialogue tonight. All of a sudden, in between standing postures, I fully understood something and immediately shared to him:
“Mr. M, you are SO ready for yoga!”
He replied, in friendly disagreement, and with a smile:
“No, I am not. She is.”
He signaled with his eyes to the young woman standing immediately to his left. From outward appearances, she is young, lean, flexible; the yoga “type”.
(And certainly she may be just as internally ready for yoga as he is. She in fact has an extremely calm and focused practice. But that was not the point here.)
I said something like – and I meant:
“NO. YOU are ready. She is bendy and beautiful. Being flexible has absolutely nothing to do with being ready for yoga.”
I could not stop there.
“YOU are ready for yoga, Sir!
Because you are not afraid.
You are not afraid of the mirrors, you are not afraid of me, you are not afraid of yourself.
You are not afraid of the yoga process. You are ready.”
Be not afraid! That is the only thing – and everything – you will need.
I started practicing Bikram Yoga in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2003 – shortly after returning to the United States after 2 years of living in rural Japan. I was working in the kitchen of the People’s Food Coop at the time and attended on the invitation of one of my coworkers. I do not think that either of us “liked” the first class – she did not ever return for a second class (that was hard!). But there were reasons I had to return. Day after day, almost every day of the week. For that first couple of years, I hated how it felt if I missed a day.
Ever since childhood, I had struggled on a daily basis to get a good, satisfying, deep breath. I was never diagnosed with asthma or any other pathologies, but it was noticeable in my daily life.
After that first class, I remember doing some grocery shopping and feeling like every breath was deep, wonderful, heavenly. I felt like I was floating through the aisles, light as a feather. Even though that first class was the hardest thing I had ever done – and I sat down five times before triangle posture! – I knew I had to go back.
Within two weeks, my chronic blood sugar imbalances disappeared. I didn’t crave sugars so desperately, and I naturally started to eat better foods.
Within one month, the carpal tunnel syndrome that had been developing was gone. And my chronic sluggish digestion was changing for the better.
Within two months, my bulimic mindset of nearly 10 years almost completely vanished, and after the immersive practice of teacher training the following year, it stayed away permanently. I gained so much time and freedom in my life after living in a sort of obsessive prison of dieting, compulsively overeating, and body-loathing since high school.
The 30+ pounds of excess weight came off later, but by that time I truly didn’t even care about the appearance of my body.
I just felt so stupidly good on the inside.
Eight months into practicing, I slipped and fractured two vertebrae. The first part of the story of that injury can be found HERE. Thanks to Bikram Yoga, my pain was gone in 20 days.
Only a few months after my back healed, I attended and completed Bikram Yoga Teacher Training at La Cienega HQ, Los Angeles, in August of 2004. I loved it. There is nothing like a 15-hour-a-day, 5+-day-a-week, 9-consecutive-week immersion in a yoga practice. People say it is hard to leave their lives and homes and families and jobs for 2+ months. That it is hard to do two 90 -minute+ Bikram Yoga classes every day.
But in my experience, living for a decade in a mental prison – of body-loathing, what we call “OCD”, dieting, eating uncontrollably, counting calories, desiring external validation – was much, much harder.
Supporting more than one life
Throughout 2006 – and until the day my labor started – I practiced Rajashree’s Pregnancy Yoga at least 4 days a week. It took away all of my morning sickness, relieved my back pain, and kept my blood sugar steady in each trimester.
I had a healthy home-birth largely due to the physical awareness I had developed with this yoga. After 3 hours of the last “pushing” stage of labor, the baby was still stuck, the contractions were irregular and debiltating, and I could tell something was not right. Upon communicating this with my midwife, she found that he (although I did not know the sex at the time) was coming out with his hand resting against his temple. Thanks to her skills and my ability to breathe and relax, I was able to give birth without injury to either of us. Without question it would have been a cesarean section in any of the best hospitals.
As a toddler and young child, my son had experienced some traumas and was very anxious. Thanks to this yoga, I was able to physically carry him and support his needs, yet maintain the health of my body and mostly stay out of muscular pain.
Year-by-year, the benefits continue
In the years since then, I have used the Beginners’ class and other Ghosh lineage practices to:
relieve the pain from sciatica and plantar fascitis,
build strength and maintain more calm when dealing with verbally abusive individuals / pathological narcissists,
reduce anxiety and insomnia, and
nearly eliminate premenstrual cramps that were previously debilitating.
My environmental allergies occur at only about 10% of their former severity. I used to have to take something daily in the spring; now I take an allergy pill maybe once a year. If things are really bad.
I am currently in a sort-of maintenance mode, where my health issues are under relatively good control. But I know that life can bring challenges at any moment, and I am so appreciative that I have this yoga to use for both healing crises and everyday life. It is my primary form of health insurance.
And these are only the benefits that have occurred on the most surface layers. The deeper ones are much harder to describe.
Participation in the USA Yoga Championship
I believe that encouraging younger generations to get interested in a therapeutic hatha yoga practice is of vital importance in our world. To support this belief, I established weekly (free) Youth classes at BYCA over one year ago. This past winter I also volunteer-instructed at a Lansing Public Schools 6th-grade classroom.
I am participating in this year’s championship for three main reasons:
to inspire people to start, maintain, or intensify their therapeutic hatha yoga practice,
to continue to build an inspirational healing yoga community in mid-Michigan
to develop more balance in my personal yoga practice
Instead of training in more advanced postures, this year I am happy to demonstrate the “natural” point in my practice. Sort of like a snapshot in time. Without pressure or expectation. Without thoughts of what others are thinking. (What a glorious waste of time and energy, no?!)
Just my best focus in the moment, demonstrating the amazing communication superhighway between the mind and the body. In every class I practice, and hopefully in the moments when I get up on the stage.
If you did not yet read my philosophy of competition and competitiveness in yoga, here it is.
One of my longer-term goals is to practice sustainably so that I can eventually participate in the Senior Women division (ages 50+) of the Championship. I am excited to support the USA Yoga organization and events with the hope that they are still around in 12 years!
For our health, for the health of our elders, and for the health of our children…
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 (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.
Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class is truly that. A place for beginners to start the yoga process.
However, there seems to be a part of the human mind – and if I may propose, especially a noticeable portion of the American mind – that would like to believe that it is not a beginner.
It is sure that it is already an expert. It does not want to follow discipline from within or without. It does not want to be challenged or changed. It has learned everything it needs to know. And it especially does not want to take total responsibility for its reactions to every single thing in the outside world…or to every passing thought in the inside world.
It is definitely someone or something else who is creating my suffering or lack of happiness. Not me.
It is mad because so-and-so cut me off in traffic.
It is in a rage because I had to spend 2 hours on the phone setting up my health insurance payment.
It is stressed because my co-worker – or my ex – or my family member – is being a narcissist and creating drama and blaming me for all of his/her issues….again…..and again….
Its reactions are natural and automatic consequences of other people and other situations. Not my choice. And it will get lots of validation by sharing all of this on social media. Lots of likes and loves and angry faces that will both soothe and energize the reaction.
The Mind Encounters Yoga
When this part of the mind comes into contact with a transformative therapeutic yoga practice, it often has intense, negative reactions.
As humans, reactions usually control us for some portion of life. They control our decisions, our actions, and our paths forward in life.
But the yoga process is a process of freedom, because it opens up alternate possibilities. It creates a bit of space or time – or maybe even a pause in the entire space-time continuum – from which you can actually make a conscious choice, rather than being imprisoned and controlled by the reactivity.
So, whether you are someone who is ready for a true and lasting internal change, or someone who has tried a yoga class and had any of the below reactions, this list is for you!
So….I compiled a list of just 10 common things I have heard over the last decade and a half – whether from someone else or from within – that show me (or you) that I am (or you are) a beginner at the mental aspects of the yoga process.
And that I (or you) need to go to yoga today!
But just as I was about to publish these, I thought it would be more fun to hear from YOU.
And then I will publish a combination of my list and the collective one.
So, the questions:
1. What have been some of your strongest, most recurring, or “favorite” negative mental or emotional reactions to this yoga practice?
After all, once you get some distance from them, these things can be pretty funny!
2. What reactions have you heard from others who have never tried Bikram Yoga?
3. What reactions have you heard from others who have tried Bikram Yoga but who do not currently practice regularly?
One guideline to keep in mind: by sharing and acknowledging these reactions, we do not have to judge them. Observing the mind’s operation without looking down on it – or the people themselves – is really key.
If you would like to have your input considered for my initial Top Ten List, please submit by May 25, 2017. I am looking forward to collaborating and sharing!!
Bikram Yoga is often referred to as a “90-minute moving meditation”.
Lately I have started to prefer the term “physical meditation” over “moving meditation”. It is true that we move our bodies, but the emphasis of class is always on stillness.
Physical Meditation as the Beginning Point
Physical Meditation is a term that makes sense for me because it describes the heart of how anyone can practice, just by stepping in the room, and regardless of any flexibility or ability. For a beginners’ class, it is an incredibly effective way to start.
Plus, concentration on and precision in the physical realm includes so many things!
What the breathing is doing, what the eyes are doing, what the muscles are doing, how the skin feels, where the weight is distributed, which muscles are relaxed, which muscles are contracted, the pace of the heartbeat….you get the point.
These things can best be noticed when the body is being held completely still. Completely still in any given posture, and completely still immediately following each posture.
Stillness to the extent of, “Don’t wipe the sweat. Focus on one spot in the mirror.”
Why so “rigid”? That’s not yoga!
Many outsiders or beginners to the practice see the discipline of Bikram Yoga as stifling, or authority-driven, or even “military”-like. It has been looked down upon by some for decades, and the internet makes these complaints even easier to find.
(While at first I was frustrated with the lack of understanding and the spreading of ignorance, I have come to accept it as something which will probably never go away. I now just try to educate and model instead of reacting with frustration.)
Empowerment through physical stillness
We practice not wiping the sweat off, not messing with our clothing, not looking around. Why?
We are doing this in order to practice the discipline of not reacting dramatically to our surroundings. And this is only the “grossest” level of non-reactivity.
As we adjust to allowing a drop of sweat to roll down a cheek, or into an eye, we learn to tolerate 3 seconds of discomfort. Not harm, not abuse, not pain. Just discomfort. Something that initially we do not “like”.
Do I have the patience to sit still and let the sweat drip? To watch water drip? To watch a lake melt? I highly recommend trying.
What can I possibly learn?
What is a common, unconscious reaction to sweat dripping into your eye?
“Get rid of it! I don’t like that! It is annoying. And sometimes it even stings a lot.”
What is a common, unconscious reaction to someone asking us to leave the sweat there?
“Oh my gosh, don’t tell me what to do! This is my body and my eye, and I am going to do what I want with it.”
But is this the only way? Can there be an opportunity here instead of a reaction?
When you notice a reaction or a habit, one of the best questions you can ask yourself is, “What if?
“What will happen if I do?”
“What will happen if I don’t?”
“What will happen if I change my pattern of reacting?”
“What will happen if I don’t compulsively enact the habit that I am convinced is necessary for my comfort and survival?”
Discomfort as information
Over the years I have learned to use the sweat in my eyes as a way to understand my biochemistry. Granted, I am not analyzing the sweat in a laboratory, but I can feel the difference in it when I have accumulated stress, or caffeine, or a food chemical that I am not used to.
Last week the sweat in my eye created a stinging sensation that I had never experienced before. I have experienced the sting of caffeine, the sting of extra salts in my body, the sting of stress in my body. But this was different.
I later thought about what I had consumed the previous day. The only two not-usual things I had eaten were some Grapefruit Seed Extract (in an experimental recipe made by Lisa Marie) and a frozen pizza that had some very questionable ingredients.
If I really wanted to test this, I could isolate the variables and see what happened in subsequent classes.
Experiment or fitness routine?
Many of us start yoga to get fit or improve our physical health. And there is nothing wrong with this in the slightest.
But if yoga remains a fitness routine, stagnation, boredom, or frustration eventually set in. Physical habits and compulsions are usually not addressed, let alone the mental and emotional ones.
On the other hand, if yoga practice is approached as an experiment and a path to realization, it will always lead to deeper understandings and experiences.
The discipline of physical stillness is one of the first stages in a beginning hatha yoga practice, and it is a great place to start.