Herding Cats, Billy Ocean, and Rollercoasters: Why I keep coming back to Bikram Yoga

bikram yoga east lansing michigan

Meet Melissa, 40, of Williamston, Michigan!  Melissa started practicing with us at Bikram Yoga Capital Area in March of 2014 and to date has practiced over 725 classes!  Melissa wrote this super thoughtful blog as part of 2017’s Spring Yoga Buddy Challenge.  I am so grateful for Melissa’s insights, her quiet strength and presence at the yoga school, her patience with my backlog of stories needing to be shared (!), and her wonderful writing.  


Hi!  I’m Melissa and this is my first ever attempt at a blog, so in true yoga fashion, I ask for no judgment  🙂  !!!

I’m very much a visual person so I plan to use analogies to help bring you into the inner workings of my brain.  (Good luck while you’re in there!)  I’ve been practicing Bikram yoga for a little over three years and am completing my second Yoga Buddy Challenge.  In order to complete this buddy challenge, the last piece for me was to write a blog (what we won’t do for a free t-shirt!!).

Herding Cats

When trying to figure out what to write, one of my yoga buddies (who was also one of my instructors) suggested that I write about something I have thought about in class.  Sounds like a trick to me!  The ultimate goal is to think about nothing in class, just focus on the instructions and my breathing.

So what did I think about in class that night?  Yep, what I’m going to write about.  My ideas were all over the place, how would I choose just one thing?

Then I realized, my scattered thoughts are the perfect topic!  Envision trying to wrangle up a herd of cats.  That’s what it feels like when I’m supposed to keep my thoughts in check and only focus on the words and my breathing.  Cats are all over the place!

Here’s a little more about my experience with Bikram and herding cats.

When I started Bikram yoga my thoughts during class were very different than they are now.  While I do love yoga, I’m not a fan of heat or sweating non-stop for 90 minutes.  For me, the initial months of practice were all about survival mode.  I couldn’t believe that I allowed myself to be submitted to this torture and would bet my life that I could smell burning flesh.  How was this even legal? 

I still remember my first class.  I knew I wasn’t supposed to leave the room so I thought I could escape the heat by laying down.  Wrong!  It was like that movie, The Fog, and I could just feel the heat rolling over my body like fog.

There was no escape!  Somehow I managed to make it back for another class where I tried to trick myself into thinking I was on a tropical beach somewhere.  The problem with that is, I didn’t have my umbrella drink or a cool pool to jump in to cool me down.

bikram yoga balancing stick tuladandasanaLooking for Distractions

As I went to more and more classes, I continued to try different techniques to distract me and get me through the class.  I LOVED distractions.  They helped make the 90 minutes move a little faster.

I would find myself in awe of those that did not have the “typical yoga body”,  yet had the confidence to wear barely anything. (To give you a visual, a typical yoga body stereotype could be: someone who is long, lean, flexible, probably a vegan and/or health nut, etc.)  Here I was trying to hide my curves in a tank and leggings, as I surely didn’t have the kind of body one would flaunt!  I wonder what gave them the confidence?

I also really loved when I had people with tattoos near me.  It provided me actual art to look at and gave me the opportunity to wonder what the story behind the tattoo was.  The list of distractions goes on.

For various reasons, it took me almost a year before I started to make Bikram part of my almost daily routine.  (My goal is every day, but I average about four times per week.)

And the benefits start clicking…

I’ve made Bikram sound SO enticing so far, how on Earth did I start going on a regular basis?  Honestly, I don’t remember having a “light bulb moment” where everything just clicked.  It was more like the clicking of a roller coaster climbing towards the top of the hill.  Once I actually started to put more focus on the words and tried to quiet my mind, little by little “things” just started to make sense.

The environment and the community are so encouraging, welcoming, supportive and non-judgemental.  Click.

It didn’t take me too long to realize that I too could shed the tank and the leggings.  Nobody cared what I looked like, they were focused on themselves.  Click.

My migraines had dramatically decreased.  Click.

My allergies seemed to be better.  Click.

I felt better in general.  Click.

I was less stressed.  Click.

My posture was better.  Click.

My thoughts outside of yoga were changing.  I was becoming less critical and more patient and carefree.  Click.

I realized that Bikram could be an escape from the outside world.  No cell phones in the studio meant two hours where the outside world could not reach me.  Click. Click. Click!!

By this time, I’m heading down that first thrilling hill of the roller coaster!  I wasn’t exactly sure what I had gotten myself into, but knew that Bikram had made a lot of positive changes in my life.  I wasn’t ready to hop off the roller coaster just yet, so I decided to invest in a year unlimited package and see what happened.

yoga buddy challenge accessible

Still Happily Riding the Roller Coaster

After two years of regular practice, you’d think that I’d have this mental focus thing down. HA!  As you know, roller coasters have their ups, downs and plateaus.  I realize and accept my body has limitations and those limitations can and will vary.  Naturally this also means my practice will be different from day to day.   Some days I feel like I rocked it out, some days I feel like I got rocked and others I feel like I did just enough to “pass”.

What I started to realize is that the teachers are right. (I know, shocking, right!)  The practice is 99% mental and 1% physical.

On the days that I feel like I rocked it out, my focus was like a laser.  The other two types of classes….. cats!  Trying to either herd a little or a lot of cats!!

Changing Thought Itself…sometimes with the help of Billy Ocean

As you may recall, I mentioned earlier my thoughts during class have changed (i.e. they have not been eliminated).  Most of the time, it’s no longer survival mode thoughts.  I rarely think I smell burning flesh.  Admittedly, there are still some classes where I look around to see who I might need to douse with water and hope it’s not myself that is on fire!

The majority of the time I now recognize when the negative thoughts are trying to creep in, and my focus turns to what I’m going to do about it.

Do I really need a break?  Can I put more effort into a posture?

On occasion I will sing a Billy Ocean song to my negative thoughts.  Of course I have to adjust the lyrics a bit.

Let me sing it to you…  I said hey (hey) you (you), get outta of my mind (get out of my mind), get into my car…

Essentially, I was singing to my negative thoughts (yes, complete with back-up vocals) and telling them to drive away.  (I’m sure it’s not what the writer had in mind for the song!)  Then I almost immediately think, wait a minute, I’m supposed to be focused on the teacher’s words, not singing in my head (even if is with good intentions).  Focus Melissa, focus!

bikram yoga standing bow pulling east lansing michiganDefining Determination

So, the question is, how does one herd the cats and keep out all of the mind’s chatter?  That is the million dollar question!

Words like determination and perseverance come to mind.  Those are actions that everyone is capable of, if they put their mind to it.  HA!  Get it? What is it in people that makes them capable of having such focus on a consistent basis to make them determined or to persevere?  I think of my practices where I feel like I rocked it out and wonder, “What happened on those days?”

Some of my most intense classes are when I had hot yoga guy in my mirror (you can determine what you visualize: hot yoga-guy or hot-yoga guy).  I had no choice but to focus on myself in the mirror or risk the chances of making eye contact.  Awkward!

Other classes where I rocked it, I honestly don’t know why!  The stars had aligned, it was a perfect storm, everything just seemed to be firing on all cylinders… whatever analogy you would like to insert.

Really, I think this is part of the reason that I continue to come back to class.  Will I have another rockin’ class today??  There’s a mystery/puzzle about it that intrigues me.

I can see the overall positive impact Bikram has had for me (and for others), but I don’t particularly love spending 90 minutes sweating my butt off.  I would much rather sleep in, take my dogs for a walk, catch a movie… you name it and I’d probably be up for it if it keeps me out of the hot room.  Yet, I keep coming back and have worked it into my weekly routine.  I even try to get all of my family and friends to come to class.  I encourage them to try to get past the “survival” stage so they can experience all of the positive that Bikram has in store for them!

Amazing Yoga Questions

I could probably think of a million other random thoughts that I have or have had (i.e. Why is Bikram not covered by health insurance? If everyone practiced yoga, would we have world peace? How is it that the mind, which is not even a physical thing, can have so much control over a person?  If the goal is to focus on the teacher’s words, why is it so routine?  I know why the sequence itself is routine, but why always start with the right side?  We know what’s coming next, so it’s easier to go on auto-pilot.  Why not help us out and switch it up and start with the left side now and then?  Will we ever have animals in class?  Music?) …but I don’t want my first blog to turn into my first novel!

To start to wrap it up, what I have learned so far is it’s hard work to try to keep the mind in check, even for a brief moment in time.  I don’t have the key on how to master laser beam focus (or how to wrangle a lot of cats).

What I do know is in my three years of Bikram classes, a lot of positive changes have happened to me both mentally and physically, even with classes where I was on auto-pilot or they were just plain bad.  Why wouldn’t I keep coming back to try to figure out how to have more classes where I rocked it out?  I can’t imagine how I would feel if the majority of my classes were that intense (Holy smokes, my flesh might actually catch on fire)!Bikram Yoga full locust East Lansing Michigan

How I Got into This in the First Place

In closing, I never explained how I even went to my first Bikram class.  I was always curious what happened in hot yoga classes, but was nervous about the heat and assumed I didn’t have the right body for it (even though I had been doing some form of yoga for over 10 years and should have known better than to stereotype!).  It was one of those “non-typical” yoga bodied people that I noticed coming out of the studio one day.  I figured if he can do it, I can do it and went to my first class shortly thereafter.

My point in saying this and for writing this blog, is you never know what kind of an impact you may have on a person.  That person will never know that by him simply walking out of the studio gave me enough courage to give it a try.  If my experiences – as a person who doesn’t love 90 minutes of sweat, heat, and torture (j/k, not kidding) yet finds herself back there almost every day – can intrigue someone else to give it a try and potentially change his/her life in a positive way, why not?

People can use some positive in their lives!  I encourage everyone to give it a try!  The most you have to lose is 90 minutes in a day and some sweat, but what you stand to gain is all within your control!

Hope to see you in class!


You never know whose life will turn around when they start practicing Bikram Yoga!  Feel free to share the goodness and healing with anyone who might need a little boost.

Youth Yoga – Celebrating our Kids at BYCA

If you have not yet attended our Thursday evening warm class, you have yet to be part of a special treat.

Since 2016, we have regularly invited youth ages 6 and up to participate in the second half of the traditional Bikram Yoga series, and many have “graduated” to practicing the whole class now.

This month we have a few very special things to celebrate.

One-Year Anniversary

First: our youngest student, Summer, has been practicing regularly since mid-March, 2017.  She started her practice when she was 5 years old!  It is now her one-year anniversary, and she has completed 27 classes.

100-class anniversary

Second: Forrest, age 11, has just completed his 100th class at Bikram Yoga Capital Area!!  (He also did over 100 classes while still in the womb, but we aren’t counting those.)

A Family Affair

Finally: Nadia (8) and Amelia Pauly (12) have been attending weekly with their father, Matt Pauly.  Amelia has started practicing the full class, including the standing series, and Nadia is the youngest person I have worked with who is starting progressions towards full camel posture.  Both young ladies have great focus and a wonderful attitude in their practice!

It is SO COOL to see this family embrace yoga for their own reasons, and so inspiring to think of what is to come.

If you are interested in attending our Youth Yoga class on Thursday evenings, check out the events page for details, and feel free to contact us with any questions.

Thank you to all of our BYCA members for all of your support of humans of all ages and bodies!!  It is a great joy to be with you all and watch the healing process unfold.

Guest Teacher Highlight: Mike Morris

Bikram Yoga Guest teacher original hot yoga

by Mike Morris

Special Guest Teacher Mike Morris visits Bikram Yoga Capital Area

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

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

The Worldwide Bikram Yoga Community

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

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

bikram yoga original hot yoga backbend ardha chandrasana

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

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

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

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

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


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

Sunday, December 24: 8:00 am

Tuesday, December 26: 9:00 am

Thursday, December 28: 9:00 am

Saturday, December 30: 8:00 am

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

by Marini Lee, Ph.D.


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

Well, I’m not.

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

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

MENTAL CLARITY

That monkey mind is a TRIP!

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

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

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

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

ardha chandrasana half moon bikram yoga bigger bodies

EMOTIONAL STABILITY

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

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

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

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

bikram yoga original hot yoga fat big plus size locust pose

SPIRITUAL RENEWAL

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

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

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

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

 

AND FINALLY….PHYSICAL WELL-BEING

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

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

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

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

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

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

NAMASTE


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

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

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.

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.