Flattery and Criticism: An Introduction

by Ann Chrapkiewicz


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.

Early Yoga?

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.

Fast forward

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.

Freedom!!!

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.


Practicing Yoga

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.

Perspective

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.

They have helped me build increasing immunity to criticism, and – just as important – increasing immunity to flattery.

So, if you give me a compliment, I will love you all the same, but it will not have power over my day – or my direction – like it used to.

 


* 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.

Guest Teacher Highlight: Mike Morris

Bikram Yoga Guest teacher original hot yoga

by Mike Morris

Special Guest Teacher Mike Morris visits Bikram Yoga Capital Area

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

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

The Worldwide Bikram Yoga Community

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

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

bikram yoga original hot yoga backbend ardha chandrasana

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

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

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

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

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


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

Sunday, December 24: 8:00 am

Tuesday, December 26: 9:00 am

Thursday, December 28: 9:00 am

Saturday, December 30: 8:00 am

Healing Asthma, Sciatica, Wrist Sprains, …. and Growing Almost an inch!

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!

Year 1:

“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.

Year 2:

“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.”


Bikram Yoga Full Locust
Sarah Cook in Full Locust Pose, November 2016

Year 3:

“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%.”

September 2017:

“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.

Healing Chronic Back Pain and Reversing Chronic Kidney Disease

Meet John, who started practicing Bikram Yoga with us in December 2013, at age 68.  Just prior to beginning Bikram Yoga, he was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease.

Against the advice of his physician, he started coming to class 4-5 times per week.

In only 3 months of this new routine, his health dramatically improved.  Here are the official numbers from his diagnostic tests:


BEFORE (Fall 2013):

1) resting blood pressure (with medication): 135/85
2) resting heart rate: mid 90s
3) fasting glucose: above normal range


AFTER (April 2014):

1) resting blood pressure: 115/68
2) resting heart rate: high 60s
3) non-fasting glucose: normal
4) chronic kidney disease: COMPLETELY GONE!!!


We realize these numbers seem too good to be true – John even says so himself.

back pain yoga aging

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.

For those who would like a little visual to see the changes in his health, here you go.  We look forward to welcoming you, your loved ones, your friends, or your patients into our practice.

Before Bikram Yoga
(Fall 2013)
After 3 months of practicing 4-5 days per week
(April 2014)
300 classes later
Early 2017
resting blood pressure (with medication): 135/85resting blood pressure: 115/68benefits maintained!
resting heart rate: mid 90sresting heart rate: high 60s
fasting glucose: above normalnon-fasting glucose: normal range
chronic back pain of 40 yearsback pain completely gone

If You Can’t Laugh….Breathe!

You cannot breathe deeply and worry at the same time.

by Char Brooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You cannot breathe deeply and worry at the same time.

Thinking about breathing

After class, I thought a bit more about this.  

I asked myself a couple of things:

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

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

Resistance

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

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

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

I don’t know.

Well then, how about you just try, Char? 

Experimenting with breathing

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

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

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

Breathing and laughing

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

What does that mean??

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

Ease and Enjoyment in the Hot Room

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

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

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

Pay attention to your breath = Breathing always normal.

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

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

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

And outside the Hot Room

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

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

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

About your guest blogger:

Char’s after-class glow!

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

No, YOU! YOU are ready for yoga!

all ages full locust bikram yoga
by Ann Chrapkiewicz

Are you ready for yoga?

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!  

Why?  

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.

 

9:30 am Class Bow Pose

 

Practicing Yoga with Linux!

Setting Up Triangle - Trikonasa - Bikram Yoga

–BYCA Guest Blog Post–

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

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

Kapalbhati Home Practice Bikram Yoga Computer Program

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

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

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

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

Instructions:

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

https://github.com/danielsadowsky/psetcounter

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

python psetcounter.py -h

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Char Brooks

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

*************************************

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

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

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

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

“JUST TRY.”

 

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

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

Beginnings

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

“You can’t make me!”  

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

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

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

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

Six months in….

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

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

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

And I’m not even in class!!

What does “Just Try” look like?

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

Not just a phrase…a way of life

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why does this matter?

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

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

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

No, not even close.

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

This is the real game-changer.

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

And why does that matter?

Why does it matter that I go back every day?

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

I am finding that I can make decisions easier.

I now can balance the checkbook in under two minutes.  

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

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

And why does all of that matter?

Because I love feeling good.  

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

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

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

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

About your guest blogger:

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

Blessings in the Form of a Broken Back, part 2

by Ann Chrapkiewicz

. . . . . . . . . . . .

I have learned a dozen lessons and received a thousand blessings from my back injury on March 17, 2004.

But before getting to those, let me finish telling you about that day.  If you missed the first part of the story, you might want to read that first.

Maybe you should get an X-Ray.

After I moved like a snail through that initial 6:00 am class with Lora, I moved like a snail back to my house, where most of my housemates were still sleeping.  A few were stirring though.  I was visibly moving strangely,  so I could not avoid sharing that I fell that morning…. and it hurt pretty badly…  and could you please help me get my shoes off because I can’t even reach my knees-let-alone-my-feet, and the like…

In the early afternoon I was to have my weekly 3-hour seminar with one of my most influential and favorite professors, Jennifer Robertson.  That semester I was taking her graduate course on ethnographic practice and writing.  I hung on every word in her classes, and it was she who inspired me to fall in love with the field of Cultural Anthropology.  She also had the biggest impact on my ability to write coherently.  She tolerated none of the fluff, distraction, or wandering that was initially present in my academic papers, and I am so thankful for that!

All this is to say that I really looked forward to Wednesdays, mostly because of her class.  I did not want to miss it.

However, at the rate I was moving, it seemed like the usually-20-minute walk to West Hall would probably take me about 2 hours, and putting my backpack on really did not seem like an option.  So I emailed Professor Robertson and told her what had happened.

She suggested that I go to the ER and get an x-ray, just to make sure it was nothing too serious.  I still remember the tone of her email; her genuine care for my well-being was as impressive and impactful in my life as her anthropological brilliance.

Off we go to the hospital

At the time, one of my dearest, life-long friends, A, was also living at Black Elk.  We had found each other in Japan in 2002, initially making each others’ acquaintance over a political disagreement.  Or perhaps it was a semantic one.

In any case, upon meeting, we quickly bonded in an existential, academic, artistic way that lasts to this day.  There were times when I wanted nothing more in life than to pick his brain and share my poetry.  If there is such a thing as a soul brother, he is definitely that for me.  We have often challenged each other, and it has not always been pleasant on the outside.

So, partly out of the obligation that a brother might feel when woken up by a sister in advance of his desired wake-up time, A drove me up to the University of Michigan hospital and dropped me off.  Or maybe he sat with me for a bit in the waiting room.  To tell you the truth, there are parts of this day that I don’t remember.

By the time we got to the hospital, it was around noon, and A had to be at work later that afternoon.  This was before cell phones (or at least it was before I caved); somehow it was acceptable to be left somewhere without a personally dedicated walkie-talkie to our friends and family.

The doctor said that everything looks fine

I do not know how much time passed before I was in the x-ray room, but I remember the immense pain and struggle I had, trying to follow the instructions to get in position for the camera.  It was interesting being 26 years old and moving in a way that I thought belonged to the realm of people in their 90s and up.

I do recall being in a room sometime in the mid-afternoon when someone brought me the x-ray results.  Nothing broken, she said.

I did not know what to make of that; the pain was still excruciating even after a hospital dose of ibuprofen.  Someone caring for me gave me some morphine to see if that would help.

A half hour or so later, they checked on my pain levels.

I recall that I felt a little more spacey and relaxed, but the pain had not diminished at all.

The doctors then were the ones who were not sure what to make of it.

Maybe you fractured your kidney

Luckily, I wasn’t sent home with prescription painkillers to treat the mystery injury.

Someone on staff suggested that I might have fractured my kidney.  All I could think was, “You can FRACTURE your KIDNEY?!?!  I thought they were soft.  You can break one?”

Anyways, they ordered a CT scan to rule that out.  So I drank the liquid that makes certain things glow, apparently, and was pretty disgusted.  My somewhat snobby veganism at the time could hardly imagine what chemicals I was ingesting, but I somehow managed to get it all down.

Later, in the CT machine, I remember feeling my whole body sort-of buzzing, and I felt like I was going to pass out and hyperventilate at the same time.  But I made it through.

The one who cared enough

By this time, it was getting on in the evening.  Much past dinner time and probably getting dark outside – although I was sufficiently in the innards of the hospital that daylight or sundown were pretty much irrelevant.

I just remembered that at one point quite late in the day, I was notified that I was being transferred to a different room.  I was taken to what seemed like an entirely different department.

It turned out that the main nurse who had started out seeing me really cared.  In a purely caring sense, but also in a detective sense.  She was so interested to find out what was going on with my pain that she had me moved along with her at her shift change at 8 pm.  It was a nice feeling to encounter someone so attentive to their work and to me.  I do not remember her name, but I will always remember that warm feeling.

Sometime in the 8:00-9:00 range my nurse caretaker announced to me that they finally figured it out!  This makes so much sense, she said.  You actually do have broken bones.  That would explain the intense pain.  I am so glad we found it.

The transverse processes on L1 and L2 were completely fractured.  Separated from the body of the vertebrae.

Tiny bones that connect to everything

The transverse processes in the lumbar spine come out of the body of the vertebrae at both sides of the main body.  Here is a You Tube video I just found, showing the anatomy of these very tiny bits of bone, and noting that is usually not possible to diagnose these fractures in an x-ray.  (Cheesy music, but good visuals.)

The main scientific – and I mean science via direct experience – conclusion I reached by the end of the evening in the ER was that these little bones apparently connect to everything.  There was literally nothing I could do that did not trigger movement of the transverse processes.  Breathing, coughing, sneezing, sitting down, standing up, rolling over in bed, turning my head, picking up a light object, putting on a shirt.

Everything is connected in there.  It is just that we usually do not feel it.

It is time for bed now.  To be continued…