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

Leaving the Prison of Pain and Nothingness

backbend lunge skeleton yoga

by Ann Chrapkiewicz


Would I rather feel Pain?  Or Nothingness?

This is the broad choice I have been given, the dominant set of options I was born into.  Not just me, personally, but I, the human of 20th and 21st century North America, and probably many other places and times.

Whether I am experiencing emotional pain and choosing alcohol…
In the process of childbirth and being pressured to get an epidural….

Anxious about my family’s split-up and eating mindlessly, or counting calories compulsively as a numbing tool…

Stressed about my status – or exhausted from that status – and seeking temporary sexual pleasure as a distraction…
Having menstrual cramps and popping Motrin preemptively because that is just what you do

…this body has been relegated to an annoyance.  Something to be quieted.  A disturbance of the peace.

The peace of our neurologically, physically, and proprioceptively defunct collectivity.

If I feel something unpleasant, I want it gone.  Now.  The body should work well and do what I want it to do.  It should run for miles on pavement without negative effect.

I should be able to stuff it with hardly-passable food or poison it with my stressful thoughts, and it should still accept my commands for movement, rest, and ease.  This is a one-way street, and I am in charge.  I tell it what to do, and it listens, right?

I talk.  You listen.

I don’t want to hear from my joints.  I don’t like hearing from my connective tissue.  Not a fan of headaches.  And I certainly don’t want to hear from my uterus.

I was not trained to listen to the body’s intelligent calls for assistance or its innate wisdom.  I am in control, and the body is unpredictable.

So when I feel something unpleasant, my first instinct is either to ignore it, or to numb it.  With a prescription or without.  Legal or not.  It doesn’t really matter, just make it stop.  As soon as possible.  And distract me until then.

In our Civilization of Defunct Physical Intelligence, pain and discomfort are simply hindrances. Not tools for the learning process. Not methods of liberation from the body-silencing culture I was brought up in. Not training for childbirth. Not wake-up calls that I have been abusing my body for decades.

 

We live in a culture that does not teach us how to use the human body we have been given.  We only repeat the bodily-abusive patterns of the elders, the experts, the chemists, and the authorities around us.  We are human, after all, and we mostly absorb the collective wisdom.  Even if that wisdom is killing us slowly.

Is there a way out?

Well, sure.  Death would be a way out of the body.

But what about a way through all of this while still inhabiting the human form, and experiencing life.  Life on the third planet from a random star in deep space?

Is there something other than PAIN or NOTHING?

Well yes.  There is infinitely more.   Every color on the visible spectrum of light is possible.

I can feel my sciatica when I have worn bad shoes (i.e. most shoes!).  I can feel my lungs when I am slightly anxious.  I can feel my intestines when things are not quite right.  I can feel my back squeeze a little bit if I have not done a backbend in a while.  I can balance better in Standing Head to Knee – and breathe extremely well in the second part of Awkward Pose – just before I start my period, so I guess I can feel my hormones.  I can feel my body in early labor (during class!), 6 hours before any contractions, because I felt those hormones every month for the 3 previous years of practicing the same yoga class.  After 3 hours of the pushing stage, I can feel that something is just not right with the contractions, and that we need assistance.  And I can communicate that to my midwife so she can help the baby out gently.

I can feel deep grief for my friends who have lost their parents – and I can I cry about it for a few minutes.  I can feel fear of losing those I love, experience it and cry about it.  And then start again with immense appreciation that we are still here.

I can feel the compression of my throat when I try to put my forehead on my knee.   I can feel the sharp pull in my knee in toe stand sometimes, and respectfully only go into the posture 80% of the way for a few months to let it heal.  I can feel the body telling me that I need to sit down.  And sit down again.  And again.  (I think I knocked the influenza virus right out of my body on more than on occasion – just by showing up to class and doing what I could.  And no, that was not a “bad” class when I sat down all those times.)

I can contract my abdominal muscles or let them stretch, and hold totally still with either sensation.  I can feel my breathing for 90 minutes straight, when I hold still in each of the 26 postures that Bikram and his teachers have – thank god – managed to preserve.  I can feel my heart beat pretty slowly throughout the class – although for the first 10 years I practiced, it beat a lot faster and harder.  I can feel more and more as time goes on.

But before starting this yoga, I was mostly stuck in the black and white realm, believing that pain, nothingness (i.e. no particular bodily sensation), or temporary surface pleasure were the three menu options.  For many years before doing Bikram Yoga, I even lost the ability to feel hunger and satiety.  I had detached so fully from the physical intelligence.

Physical History

Each of us could – and maybe should – write a history of our physicality.  Of our bodies.  Of how we have listened to them – or of how we have specifically not listened to them.  Of the times we had traumas or dull aches, and how we responded to them.  Of when we used the supposedly “rational”, calorie- or fat-gram-counting brain, to decide what was best for our systems, even when they were trying to tell us otherwise.  Of how and why we have abused them.  Kept them in a cage.  Ruled over them.  Confined them, or scattered them all over the place.

When I fractured my back, what did I choose?  Did I take the experts’ advice and ingest prescription narcotics for 4 weeks?  Did I accept their order not to do yoga (whatever they might have though “yoga” meant) for at least 6 weeks?  Or did I refuse all of that authority over my human system and haul my broken body into the Bikram Yoga room?  Did I move as slowly and mindfully into postures as I had ever moved in my life?

How would each of those choices have served me?  What would I learn from all of the possible courses of action?

Bikram Yoga and Physical Intelligence

Bikram Yoga is not the ultimate or final solution.  It is, in fact, only the beginning.  Bikram Yoga can be used as numbing tool just like anything else can.  I have seen students and teachers retreat into auto-pilot mode and tune out for 90 minutes….(but man, they sure “detoxed” so it must have been good, right?)

At the same time, though, Bikram Yoga has been used by many – and hopefully the majority – of us as a user manual for the human body.  It has been the first of many steps into acknowledging the infinite physical intelligence deep within each of us.  Into feeling every muscle and joint in the body.  Into looking at our weaknesses, behaviors, and patterns with equanimity.  Into putting the mind into its rightful place (hint: it is not superior to the body).  Into transforming how we walk, how we breathe, how we eat, how we move, how we talk to others, how we live.

And one of the best parts is that there is no rhetoric needed.  No special vocabulary about sensing energy.  No new-agey talk about anything.

Just put your toes on the line and your body weight on the heels.  Interlock your ten fingers underneath the chin.  Keep a nice grip.

Start please.  Inhale.

Wait for me please.

Stay with the words. (It keeps your brain with your body…which helps you develop your physical intelligence!)

Breathing always normal.

 

Bikram Yoga for Men!

men yoga hawaii triangle bikram

November 1-30, 2017

Bikram Yoga for MEN

5 FREE Classes

chronic pain managementTo get started on your 5 free classes:

  1. Come to class as soon as you can!  Arrive 15 MINUTES before any beginners’ class – live schedule found here.
  2. Drink several glasses of water *before* you come to the studio, and bring a large bottle of water with you
  3. Towel-mat rental is $5 (cash only) OR you can bring your own bath towel and yoga mat
  4. You are eligible for this special if you have not been to BYCA in 2017
  5. Bring other guy friends or family members with you to any of your 5 classes – they can do the special too
  6. You have until November 30 to complete the 5 free classes
  7. If you complete the 5 classes, you are eligible for a special 10-class Trial Membership (good for two months) at 50% off – you will receive a link to purchase the membership via email after your 5th class.  This special 10-class Trial Membership offer is on sale only through December 15, 2017.

 

There is No Such Thing as Monday

Toe Stand - Original Hot Yoga - Bikram Yoga

by Ann Chrapkiewicz


A few Sunday mornings ago, I was teaching* class.

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!!):

Toe Stand - Original Hot Yoga - Bikram Yoga

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 bikram yoga teacher teaching
New Teachers’ Foundation for leading Therapeutic Hatha Yoga in the Ghosh Lineage – Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class

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?”

“No.”

“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:

“No!” 

“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.”

bikram yoga 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.

bikram yoga teaching coaching locust pose

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.

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

by Marini Lee, Ph.D.


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

Well, I’m not.

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

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

MENTAL CLARITY

That monkey mind is a TRIP!

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

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

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

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

ardha chandrasana half moon bikram yoga bigger bodies

EMOTIONAL STABILITY

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

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

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

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

bikram yoga original hot yoga fat big plus size locust pose

SPIRITUAL RENEWAL

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

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

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

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

 

AND FINALLY….PHYSICAL WELL-BEING

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

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

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

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

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

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

NAMASTE


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

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

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.

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

 

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

Half Moon Ghosh Yoga Bikram Yoga Backward Bend East Lansing MSU

by Ann Chrapkiewicz

……………………………………

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

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

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

You can view more photos on the Facebook album here.

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

Shaking things up

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

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

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

Depth of thought

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

Team Names

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

Shake Your Asana

The Pranayama Mamas Strike Back

Super Sweaty & Spicy Senoritas

Los Tres Yogamigos

Creativity

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

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

In the meantime, a couple of noteworthy highlights:

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

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

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

Check it out his testimonial and the computer program here.

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

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

 

 

Ann Chrapkiewicz Representing Michigan at USA Yoga National Championships

yoga national championship standing head to knee USA Yoga Midwest Regional 2017 Chicago

East Lansing, Michigan – July 21, 2017 –

Ann Chrapkiewicz – Lansing-area yoga practitioner and native of Dearborn, Michigan – will represent the state of Michigan in this year’s USA Yoga National Championship.   Ann took 3rd place in the MidWest SuperRegional Championships held in Chicago in May 2017, and 1st in the state of Michigan.

The national event will take place as part of the Meijer State Games of America on August 5 and 6, 2017, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Sixty sports are represented at the State Games – including bocce ball, archery, figure skating, swimming, and more.  Those interested in attending the event may find detailed information here.

What happens at the championship?

Invited athletes each have a maximum of three minutes to demonstrate a routine of six postures.  Each asana must be held in stillness for at least 5 seconds to attain maximum points.  In addition to technical details of posture form, participants score points if they demonstrate a range of strength, flexibility, and balance in their routines.

Video examples of qualifying routines can be found here.

Four of the postures come from compulsory categories (forward bend, backward bend, stretch, and twist).  Participants choose the two additional postures from a list of several dozen of varying difficulty.  For complete rules and championship structure, click HERE.

Who Participates?

Athletes from around the country qualified at one of four Super Regional championships.  Top scorers in each region were invited, as well as representatives from each state.  Links to the list of invitees, scores, and qualifiers can be found here.

In the senior category (50+), 14 men and 15 women will participate in the national championships.

In the Adult Men’s category (18-49), 29 athletes are scheduled.  And in the Adult Women’s category, 50 are scheduled.

There will also be 9 participants from the Youth Category (ages 11-17).

Click here for championship event information from USA Yoga and for links to event tickets.

Click here for the schedule and to see all of the states represented!

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Frequently Asked Questions:

What is USA Yoga?

USA Yoga is a non-profit organization dedicated to developing and promoting Yoga Asana as a sport.  Rajashree Choudhury founded the organization to inspire youth to cultivate a yoga practice.  USA Yoga is not affiliated with any particular yoga school or tradition and seeks to include practitioners of all hatha yoga backgrounds.

Read more about its purposes and Rules structure here.

Are Asana championships competitive?

In yoga we learn that whatever we bring to a situation determines the nature of how we operate in that situation.  Many people see asana championships as competitive, but this is a limited way of seeing them.   B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the most well-known yogis in the past century, supported asana demonstrations and championships as a way to inspire others to take up a hatha yoga practice (read his letter of support here).

For more on Ann’s personal philosophy and the approach of many participants, read here.

July 2017 Intermediate Yoga – Instruction and Silent Classes – Weekday Mornings

intermediate standing bow pulling standing rainbow pulling

Those with at least one to two years of regular practice and 250 or more classes’ experience in the traditional 26&2/Bikram Yoga method are invited to join us for a unique practice intensive in intermediate preparations and postures in the Ghosh lineage.  This round will be an immersive, daily, morning practice (6:15 am – 8:15 am) for the entire month of July, held Monday through Friday for four weeks (with the exception of Friday, July 14).


Monday of each week will be the instructed intermediate yoga class – $25 each or $90 for all four weeks (pre-paid, no refunds for non-attendance.)

Tuesday through Friday classes will be a silently led practice and are donation-based (cash only, payment optional).  Those who attend the Monday instructional of a given week may attend any or all of the classes the remainder of that week.

Those wishing to practice the intermediate sequence with us for any days between Tuesday and Friday each week are required to attend the Monday instructional of that week.


You may attend one or more weeks in any order; it is recommended that participants do at least one week of Sequence A and one of Sequence B, but it is not required.

Monday, July 3

6:15-8:15 am

instructional session for Sequence A

Arm Balancing Strength, Core Strength, and Leg-Behind-the-Head Mobility

Monday, July 10 

6:15-8:15 am

instructional session for Sequence B

Full Backward Bending Awareness, Inversions, and Pranayama

Monday, July 17

6:15-8:15 am

instructional session for Sequence A

Arm Balancing Strength, Core Strength, and Leg-Behind-the-Head Mobility

Monday, July 24

6:15-8:15 am

Instructional session for Sequence B

Full Backward Bending Awareness, Inversions, and Pranayama

Those with less experience are welcome to inquire in advance.


Each Monday session is $25 each, or $90 for all 4 weeks (prepaid only; no refunds for non-attendance). Any classes attended for the remainder of each week are donation based.


For “Optimum Health & Wellness” members only, intermediate class fees are included in membership.
For all others (Flex, Commitment, regular Autopay, guests, etc.) , the fees are:
$25 each Monday instructional, or

All four Mondays for $90


CLICK HERE for online booking or pay in advance at BYCA.

Each session is limited to 10 participants.


What is Ghosh Yoga?  What is Bikram Yoga?  What is hot yoga?  Click here for an introduction.

Live Asana Demonstrations at the USA Yoga Mid West Super Regional Championships

Ann Half Spine Twist Cropped 2017 Mid West Chicago

East Lansing, Michigan – May 25, 2017 –

Three practitioners at Bikram Yoga Capital Area represented the state of Michigan in this year’s USA Yoga MidWest Super Regional Championships in Chicago, IL, this past weekend.

BYCA students Lauren Anastos, Lindsay Gray, and Ann Chrapkiewicz performed their routines with steadiness, focus, and calm.  They all had a very enjoyable, positive experience!  The best possible outcomes for all.  As a group, the three of them did not pressure themselves to “perform” or compete, nor to train beyond their capabilities.

They demonstrated the natural places in their yoga practice, as well as the emotional control needed to breathe normally, in stillness, on a stage, in yoga postures!

Check out their 3-minute, live, championship demonstrations, here:


Lindsay Gray, 40, of East Lansing – 3rd place Michigan

Click here to watch her live Super Regionals demonstration routine.

And here for her thoughtful blog about why she participated.

Lindsay Gray 2017 USA Yoga MidWest - Half Spine Twist

 


Lauren Anastos, 27, of Farmington Hills – 2nd place Michigan

Click here to watch her live Super Regionals demonstration routine.

And here for her inspiring blog about how yoga helps her long-distance running.

2017 Lauren Anastos USA Yoga MidWest Cow Face

 


Ann Chrapkiewicz, 38, of Dearborn and Okemos – 1st place Michigan

Click here to watch her live demonstration routine from the Super Regional event.

2017 Ann Chrapkiewicz USA Yoga MidWest Standing Bow Pulling

Ann received the 3rd highest score in the “Super Region”, and as the 1st place scorer from Michigan, Ann will proceed to the USA Yoga National Championships.

Stay tuned for more information on that event….coming soon!


View the full scoring results for the MidWest Super Regional event here.


Frequently Asked Questions:

What is USA Yoga?

USA Yoga is a non-profit organization dedicated to developing and promoting Yoga Asana as a sport.  Rajashree Choudhury founded the organization to inspire youth to cultivate a yoga practice.  USA Yoga is not affiliated with any particular yoga school or tradition and seeks to include practitioners of all hatha yoga backgrounds.

Read more about its purposes and Rules structure here.

Are Asana championships competitive?

In yoga we learn that whatever we bring to a situation determines the nature of how we operate in that situation.  Many people see asana championships as competitive, but this is a limited way of seeing them.   B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the most well-known yogis in the past century, supported asana demonstrations and championships as a way to inspire others to take up a hatha yoga practice (read his letter of support here).  For more on my personal philosophy and the approach of many participants, read here.

BYCA Students Representing Michigan at USA Yoga MidWest Super Regional Championship

BYCA students backward bending their spines at a posture workshop

East Lansing, Michigan – May 18, 2017 –

Three practitioners at Bikram Yoga Capital Area will represent the state of Michigan in this year’s USA Yoga MidWest Super Regional Championship.  The event will take place at the Latin School of Chicago in Chicago, IL, on Sunday, May 21, 2017.  Those interested in attending may find detailed information here.

The participants were invited via USA Yoga’s official qualifying procedures.  They will join 16 other invitees in the Adult Women category from Illinois, Utah, Colorado, Missouri, and Idaho.

What happens at the championship?

Invited athletes each have a maximum of three minutes to demonstrate a routine of six postures.  Each asana must be held in stillness for at least 5 seconds to attain maximum points.  In addition to technical details of posture form, participants score points if they demonstrate a range of strength, flexibility, and balance in their routines.

Four of the postures come from compulsory categories (forward bend, backward bend, stretch, and twist).  Participants choose the two additional postures from a list of several dozen of varying difficulty.  For complete rules and championship structure, click HERE.

Top scoring representatives from each participating state and region will be invited to participate in the National Championship in Grand Rapids, Michigan, this August.

Participating Athletes from Michigan

Please congratulate and support our participating athletes:

Lindsay Gray, 40, of East Lansing

Lauren Anastos, 27, of Farmington Hills

Ann Chrapkiewicz, 38, of Dearborn and Okemos

Lindsay Gray

Lindsay Gray is a recovering Native Texan and trained as an Architect/Planner.  She completed her degrees in Architecture (B.Arch. ’06) and English (B.A. ’99) from The University of Texas at Austin.  She and her husband, Steven, are the loving parents of a 6-year-old.  Read about Lindsay’s motivation for participation in her participant bio here.

Lauren Anastos

Lauren is a native of Farmington Hills, Michigan, and is currently Resident Physician at Sparrow Hospital – Michigan State University.  She graduated from Adrian College in 2011 and in 2016 graduated from MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine.   Read more about her success with Bikram Yoga and marathons here.

Ann Chrapkiewicz

Ann is a native of Dearborn, Michigan, and a lover of the mitten state.  After attending college at Duke University (B.A. 2000) and living in rural Japan for two years, she returned to Michigan for more education (M.A. UM-Ann Arbor 2006), and in the process, discovered Bikram Yoga.  Her 10-year-old son, Forrest, has practiced almost 70 classes (floor series only; warm temperature classes) and has even instructed a few postures at BYCA!  More details follow in Ann’s Participant Bio.

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

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is USA Yoga?

USA Yoga is a non-profit organization dedicated to developing and promoting Yoga Asana as a sport.  Rajashree Choudhury founded the organization to inspire youth to cultivate a yoga practice.  USA Yoga is not affiliated with any particular yoga school or tradition and seeks to include practitioners of all hatha yoga backgrounds.

Read more about its purposes and Rules structure here.

Are Asana championships competitive?

In yoga we learn that whatever we bring to a situation determines the nature of how we operate in that situation.  Many people see asana championships as competitive, but this is a limited way of seeing them.   B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the most well-known yogis in the past century, supported asana demonstrations and championships as a way to inspire others to take up a hatha yoga practice (read his letter of support here).  For more on my personal philosophy and the approach of many participants, read here.

USA Yoga Participant Bio – Ann Chrapkiewicz

Ann Half Spine Twist Cropped 2017 Mid West Chicago

by Ann Chrapkiewicz

My practice history

I started practicing Bikram Yoga in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2003 – shortly after returning to the United States after 2 years of living in rural Japan.  I was working in the kitchen of the People’s Food Coop at the time and attended on the invitation of one of my coworkers.  I do not think that either of us “liked” the first class – she did not ever return for a second class (that was hard!).  But there were reasons I had to return.  Day after day, almost every day of the week.  For that first couple of years, I hated how it felt if I missed a day.

Ever since childhood, I had struggled on a daily basis to get a good, satisfying, deep breath.  I was never diagnosed with asthma or any other pathologies, but it was noticeable in my daily life.

After that first class, I remember doing some grocery shopping and feeling like every breath was deep, wonderful, heavenly.  I felt like I was floating through the aisles, light as a feather.  Even though that first class was the hardest thing I had ever done – and I sat down five times before triangle posture! – I knew I had to go back.

Dramatic healing

Within two weeks, my chronic blood sugar imbalances disappeared.  I didn’t crave sugars so desperately, and I naturally started to eat better foods.

Within one month, the carpal tunnel syndrome that had been developing was gone.  And my chronic sluggish digestion was changing for the better.

Within two months, my bulimic mindset of nearly 10 years almost completely vanished, and after the immersive practice of teacher training the following year, it stayed away permanently.  I gained so much time and freedom in my life after living in a sort of obsessive prison of dieting, compulsively overeating, and body-loathing since high school.

The 30+ pounds of excess weight came off later, but by that time I truly didn’t even care about the appearance of my body.

I just felt so stupidly good on the inside.

Eight months into practicing, I slipped and fractured two vertebrae.  The first part of the story of that injury can be found HERE.  Thanks to Bikram Yoga, my pain was gone in 20 days.

Only a few months after my back healed, I attended and completed Bikram Yoga Teacher Training at La Cienega HQ, Los Angeles, in August of 2004.  I loved it.  There is nothing like a 15-hour-a-day, 5+-day-a-week, 9-consecutive-week immersion in a yoga practice.  People say it is hard to leave their lives and homes and families and jobs for 2+ months.  That it is hard to do two 90 -minute+ Bikram Yoga classes every day.

But in my experience, living for a decade in a mental prison – of body-loathing, what we call “OCD”, dieting, eating uncontrollably, counting calories, desiring external validation – was much, much harder.

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

Supporting more than one life

Throughout 2006 – and until the day my labor started – I practiced Rajashree’s Pregnancy Yoga at least 4 days a week.  It took away all of my morning sickness, relieved my back pain, and kept my blood sugar steady in each trimester.

8 months pregnant – Standing Bow Pulling – October 2006

I had a healthy home-birth largely due to the physical awareness I had developed with this yoga.  After 3 hours of the last “pushing” stage of labor, the baby was still stuck, the contractions were irregular and debiltating, and I could tell something was not right.  Upon communicating this with my midwife, she found that he (although I did not know the sex at the time) was coming out with his hand resting against his temple.  Thanks to her skills and my ability to breathe and relax, I was able to give birth without injury to either of us.  Without question it would have been a cesarean section in any of the best hospitals.

As a toddler and young child, my son had experienced some traumas and was very anxious.  Thanks to this yoga, I was able to physically carry him and support his needs, yet maintain the health of my body and mostly stay out of muscular pain.

Year-by-year, the benefits continue

In the years since then, I have used the Beginners’ class and other Ghosh lineage practices to:

  • relieve the pain from sciatica and plantar fascitis,
  • build strength and maintain more calm when dealing with verbally abusive individuals / pathological narcissists,
  • reduce anxiety and insomnia, and
  • nearly eliminate premenstrual cramps that were previously debilitating.

My environmental allergies occur at only about 10% of their former severity.  I used to have to take something daily in the spring; now I take an allergy pill maybe once a year.  If things are really bad.

I am currently in a sort-of maintenance mode, where my health issues are under relatively good control.  But I know that life can bring challenges at any moment, and I am so appreciative that I have this yoga to use for both healing crises and everyday life.  It is my primary form of health insurance.

And these are only the benefits that have occurred on the most surface layers.  The deeper ones are much harder to describe.

Participation in the USA Yoga Championship

I believe that encouraging younger generations to get interested in a therapeutic hatha yoga practice is of vital importance in our world.  To support this belief, I established weekly (free) Youth classes at BYCA over one year ago.  This past winter I also volunteer-instructed at a Lansing Public Schools 6th-grade classroom.

I am participating in this year’s championship for three main reasons:

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

Instead of training in more advanced postures, this year I am happy to demonstrate the “natural” point in my practice.  Sort of like a snapshot in time.  Without pressure or expectation.  Without thoughts of what others are thinking. (What a glorious waste of time and energy, no?!)

Just my best focus in the moment, demonstrating the amazing communication superhighway between the mind and the body.  In every class I practice, and hopefully in the moments when I get up on the stage.

If you did not yet read my philosophy of competition and competitiveness in yoga, here it is.

One of my longer-term goals is to practice sustainably so that I can eventually participate in the Senior Women division (ages 50+) of the Championship.  I am excited to support the USA Yoga organization and events with the hope that they are still around in 12 years!

For our health, for the health of our elders, and for the health of our children…

December 2014