Happy Yoga Birthday!

by Ann Chrapkiewicz

Last month marked my 15th year of practicing Bikram Yoga.  I was fortunate to find this healing practice when I was just about to turn 25.

This past week, I turned 40.  (And I got to hear Happy Birthday in Triangle Pose – in 3 different classes!  Great for the lungs, people!)

I feel so much better at 40 than I did at 24.  And I credit this almost entirely to yoga.

Age 25, at Bikram Yoga Ann Arbor, after 9 months of near-daily Bikram Yoga. 

This photo was taken just a few weeks after I had fractured two of my lumbar vertebrae on the porch of my co-op house.  I think I must have been so excited that my back was feeling better after each class…that it warranted a photo. 

Otherwise, I simply had no interest in anyone seeing my body or my postures.  Class was so hard, I did not perceive any strength or ability in my practice, and I had no idea how important it was to share the practice as widely as possible.  (Plus, this was the age of disposable Kodak cameras, and even the rare people with cell phones sure weren’t taking photos with them.)

Representation

Although 95% of the transformations are on mental, emotional, and other levels that aren’t even representable in photographic form, I still wish I had a true “before photo.”  Or some photos of me attempting postures with my fractured back bones. 

Oh well. 

(This is why I bug all of you for posture photos ALL THE TIME.  You will be glad they exist, and to have physical and visual proof of your transformation for all of your friends and family who cannot understand your love of the 90-Minute Miracle known as Bikram Yoga.)

Birthday Celebration!

And this is the “same” human, right around her 39th birthday.

In any case, as these years pass, I realize and appreciate – more and more – what an amazing system it is.  New realizations of all types happen for me on a near-daily basis. 

Yet the lineage and tradition of Bikram Yoga is struggling in many parts of the country these days. 

First, various hot fitness franchises sell themselves as similar, or as capable of providing the same benefits as Bikram Yoga (even though they are nothing like it). 

Secondly, Bikram Choudhury’s personal issues seem to be quite serious, and outsiders mistakenly believe that we independent yoga school owners are some how financially connected with him, or supportive of his behavior in some way.

(Some other traditions actually love to speculate and gossip about how “impure” and definitely not spiritual Bikram Yoga must be because of the imperfect person who brought us this lineage from Calcutta.) 

Yet once people realize that we are committed to carrying on a transformative yoga system in mom-and-pop-shop fashion – once they realize that this yoga’s healing power is not about the flawed human who brought it to this continent – once they hear or experience or see firsthand that this yoga is saving lives every day – all of that gossip usually sounds empty, ignorant, or selfish to them.

What is really at stake?

Amidst these ultimately small and silly battles of gossip and perception, there is a massive thing at stake.  People’s lives.  And the yoga system itself.  Its potential and ability to transform suffering into realization in a way that – for so many people – nothing else can. 

So, it is becoming more important to me to share some of the wisdoms that have been passed on to me, or the little insights that come to me every day when I teach or practice.  I have books worth of things to share, yet most of it only comes through in class or in conversation or at the yoga school.

Here is my birthday commitment to share through more writing, better apprenticing, stronger mentorship.  And I invite you to join me.  To being part of the leadership community who carries this lineage forward in strength, intelligence, and honesty.  Who takes it to areas of the country and school kids that don’t yet have access to it.  Whose actions support existing, traditional Bikram Yoga schools many decades and generations into the future.  Your leadership, your love, and your courage will make this possible.

Recent Writings

I started this blog with the simple intention to share something I wrote from this past spring! 

Finally, here it is, in case you want to keep reading:

Over the past year or two, it has been a lot of fun to try to sort through and communicate some of the things about Bikram Yoga that make it so powerful.  You can find some of these ponderings in print or online at Healthy & Fit Magazine.

If you would like something fairly quick to ponder this coming week, the list here is an excerpt from one of my articles in mid-Michigan’s print publication, Healthy & Fit Magazine.  It was my attempt to sort out and describe Six Elements that Make up a Traditional Yoga Practice. 


  • SEQUENCE: The sequence of postures is central to a therapeutic or hatha yoga practice. Foundational sequences are always practiced in the same order. Changing a sequence is only done with master guidance and for very specific reasons.

  • PRECISION: The precision with which each posture is attempted is really not up for debate! While there are infinite levels of depth and expression – depending on body size, shape, strength, and mobility – the precise, specific form of attempting each posture is not changed. Keep trying the right way and you will realize more about yourself.
  • STILLNESS: There is complete and total stillness in every single posture, for no less than 20 seconds. Each posture is done 2 or 3 times, and nearly every posture is done for the same number of repetitions. Practicing one set of each posture is considered a backup plan for occasional use only.
  • BREATHING: Breathing must be normal at all times during yoga postures. This means the air only flows by the nose, the breathing makes no sound at all, and the flow is relatively even (the inhales and the exhales take about the same amount of time). Certain portions of Bikram Yoga and Ghosh Yoga insist on a 5th element:
  • REST: After every posture, a rest period is taken. The rest period should be at least as long as the posture immediately preceding it, or longer.

Bikram Yoga, in particular, adds in a 6th element.  Which, contrary to public perception, adds to the accessibility and effectiveness of the therapeutic aspects:

  • ENVIRONMENT: Carefully controlled heat, humidity, and fresh air in a well-designed Bikram Yoga school make the yoga sequence more doable for the stiff-jointed, more effective for the athlete, and more noticeably powerful for anyone looking for mental relief from anxiety, stress, and our culture in general.

It is my joy to be of service and to facilitate healing through this yoga method.  I look forward to seeing you in class.

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.

Thanks to growing older and a lot of yoga, I love and welcome sincere feedback from others.  But at the same time, I have been able to build increasing immunity to unhealthy criticism, and – just as important – increasing immunity to surface flattery.

 


* This was no easy task – I spent most of 5th and 6th grade praying at night to god and Mother Mary that I could someday be part of that group, and magically – on the first day of 7th grade – it became a reality.  I suddenly and inconsiderately left my old friends for this popularity.  But eventually I found the various factions and “fights” of 7th and 8th grade pretty tiresome.  About halfway through 9th grade, I came to the conclusion that the topics of conversation at the time (cigarettes and boys) were of zero interest to me. In any case, it was really scary at first – to go and sit alone in that intimidatingly social scene – but ultimately, my need to watch the whole thing unfold was stronger than my need to remain approved of.

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

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.

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

 

USA Yoga Participant Bio – Lauren Anastos

by Lauren Anastos

Running and Bikram Yoga

Almost four years ago, while long-distance training, I pulled a hamstring.  I continued to run on it and completed a marathon in Charlevoix in June 2013.

I struggled throughout the race due to the pain in my hamstring.  Also, despite my training, around mile 14 I had trouble breathing and needed to use an inhaler.  At the end of the race, the pain in my hamstring was so bad that I couldn’t bend my knee.  I had trouble walking over the next week both due to my leg as well as generalized soreness.

Six weeks after the race, my hamstring still hadn’t healed.  I still couldn’t flex my leg despite taking time to rest.  I also tried spinning, walking, stretching, and strength training, without any luck.  …

That’s when I found Bikram Yoga.

Within one week of practicing Bikram Yoga, the pain from my training and racing was 100% gone, and within one month, my mobility was completely restored!

Lauren in Bow Posture Variation – preparation for full backbending – BYCA – May 2017

I maintained a regular Bikram Yoga practice from 2013-2015. I felt so good that in July 2015 I started training for the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.

I did the same race training as I had in 2013, but this time I made sure I practiced Bikram Yoga 2-3 times per week.  The results were amazing!!

I didn’t even feel tired until mile 25, and my breathing was smooth the entire time.  When I was done running, I didn’t feel any pain.

I walked two miles after the marathon to catch a cab, and I was fine.  The next day, I woke up and was amazed by the quick recovery – I could walk around just fine.

I was back for my yoga practice 3 days after the race, with a smile on my face!

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

USA Yoga Participant Bio – Lindsay Gray

Lindsay working on Toe Stand

by Lindsay Gray

My practice history

I started practicing Bikram Yoga six years ago and have had the pleasure of practicing in many different places.  Having started in Honolulu, and then in Houston, Austin, Boston, and Berlin before ending up here at my most favorite of studios. (Aren’t we lucky!!)

I am forever indebted to a close friend of mine, a former dancer like myself, who introduced me to Bikram yoga.  I witnessed how she seemed, through her practice, more focused mentally, to physically glow, and to be able to use all the toxic stuff with which the dance world infuses you for a positive means.

Lindsay working on Toe Stand
Lindsay Working on Toe Stand (Padangustasana), 2016

Acceptance and discovery in yoga

Yoga, unlike ballet, focuses on the process and on the acceptance of where you are with a posture, and, ultimately, that’s what’s really spoken to me about this practice.  In dance, I hated racing to the finish line of who could become the best the fastest.  My brain is just not designed for that kind of race; the pressure of that level of competition is soul-crushing for me.

I love how, with yoga, I am constantly tinkering with a posture and working toward minute improvements that may some day add up to some form of relative perfection.  The trusting in that process of discovery, of all the psychic and physical subtleties within me, is the best lesson in self-acceptable and faith.

Participation in USA Yoga Championship

I wanted to participate in the USA Yoga championships for two main reasons.  I have been slowly working to expand my practice through engaging with some of the intermediate postures, and the championships seem like a good opportunity to re-enter the performance realm within a safe and supportive environment.

For the championships this go-round, I chose relatively simple, seated intermediate postures.  This way, I can participate but not make myself crazy with anxiety about sticking a posture on-stage, alone with no mirror, and a bunch of people watching.  I’ll worry about doing that maybe next year or in ten years. It’ll be a process.

10 Signs I Need a Beginners’ Yoga Class

by Ann Renee Chrapkiewicz

…..

Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class is truly that.  A place for beginners to start the yoga process.

However, there seems to be a part of the human mind – and if I may propose, especially a noticeable portion of the American mind – that would like to believe that it is not a beginner.

It is sure that it is already an expert.  It does not want to follow discipline from within or without.   It does not want to be challenged or changed.  It has learned everything it needs to know.  And it especially does not want to take total responsibility for its reactions to every single thing in the outside world…or to every passing thought in the inside world.

It is definitely someone or something else who is creating my suffering or lack of happiness.  Not me.

It is mad because so-and-so cut me off in traffic.

It is in a rage because I had to spend 2 hours on the phone setting up my health insurance payment.

It is stressed because my co-worker – or my ex – or my family member – is being a narcissist and creating drama and blaming me for all of his/her issues….again…..and again….

Its reactions are natural and automatic consequences of other people and other situations.  Not my choice.   And it will get lots of validation by sharing all of this on social media.  Lots of likes and loves and angry faces that will both soothe and energize the reaction.

The Mind Encounters Yoga

When this part of the mind comes into contact with a transformative therapeutic yoga practice, it often has intense, negative reactions.

As humans, reactions usually control us for some portion of life.  They control our decisions, our actions, and our paths forward in life.

But the yoga process is a process of freedom, because it opens up alternate possibilities.  It creates a bit of space or time – or maybe even a pause in the entire space-time continuum – from which you can actually make a conscious choice, rather than being imprisoned and controlled by the reactivity.

So, whether you are someone who is ready for a true and lasting internal change, or someone who has tried a yoga class and had any of the below reactions, this list is for you!

…the List…

So….I compiled a list of just 10 common things I have heard over the last decade and a half – whether from someone else or from within – that show me (or you) that I am (or you are) a beginner at the mental aspects of the yoga process.

And that I (or you) need to go to yoga today!

But just as I was about to publish these, I thought it would be more fun to hear from YOU.

And then I will publish a combination of my list and the collective one.

So, the questions:

1. What have been some of your strongest, most recurring, or “favorite” negative mental or emotional reactions to this yoga practice?

 

After all, once you get some distance from them, these things can be pretty funny!

2. What reactions have you heard from others who have never tried Bikram Yoga?

3. What reactions have you heard from others who have tried Bikram Yoga but who do not currently practice regularly?

 

To encourage your ability to share honestly, I have created this totally anonymous survey on Survey Monkey to put in your answers.

CLICK HERE to go to the survey.

One guideline to keep in mind: by sharing and acknowledging these reactions, we do not have to judge them.   Observing the mind’s operation without looking down on it – or the people themselves – is really key.

If you would like to have your input considered for my initial Top Ten List, please submit by May 25, 2017.  I am looking forward to collaborating and sharing!!

 

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

by Char Brooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

“JUST TRY.”

 

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

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

Beginnings

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

“You can’t make me!”  

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

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

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

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

Six months in….

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

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

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

And I’m not even in class!!

What does “Just Try” look like?

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

Not just a phrase…a way of life

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why does this matter?

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

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

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

No, not even close.

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

This is the real game-changer.

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

And why does that matter?

Why does it matter that I go back every day?

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

I am finding that I can make decisions easier.

I now can balance the checkbook in under two minutes.  

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

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

And why does all of that matter?

Because I love feeling good.  

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

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

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

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

About your guest blogger:

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

Physical Meditation

Bikram Yoga is often referred to as a “90-minute moving meditation”.

Lately I have started to prefer the term “physical meditation” over “moving meditation”.  It is true that we move our bodies, but the emphasis of class is always on stillness.

Physical Meditation as the Beginning Point

Physical Meditation is a term that makes sense for me because it describes the heart of how anyone can practice, just by stepping in the room, and regardless of any flexibility or ability.  For a beginners’ class, it is an incredibly effective way to start.

Plus, concentration on and precision in the physical realm includes so many things!

What the breathing is doing, what the eyes are doing, what the muscles are doing, how the skin feels, where the weight is distributed, which muscles are relaxed, which muscles are contracted, the pace of the heartbeat….you get the point.

These things can best be noticed when the body is being held completely still.  Completely still in any given posture, and completely still immediately following each posture.

Stillness to the extent of, “Don’t wipe the sweat.  Focus on one spot in the mirror.”

Why so “rigid”?  That’s not yoga!

Many outsiders or beginners to the practice see the discipline of Bikram Yoga as stifling, or authority-driven, or even “military”-like.  It has been looked down upon by some for decades, and the internet makes these complaints even easier to find.

(While at first I was frustrated with the lack of understanding and the spreading of ignorance, I have come to accept it as something which will probably never go away.  I now just try to educate and model instead of reacting with frustration.)

Empowerment through physical stillness

We practice not wiping the sweat off, not messing with our clothing, not looking around.  Why?

We are doing this in order to practice the discipline of not reacting dramatically to our surroundings.  And this is only the “grossest” level of non-reactivity.

As we adjust to allowing a drop of sweat to roll down a cheek, or into an eye, we learn to tolerate 3 seconds of discomfort.  Not harm, not abuse, not pain.  Just discomfort.  Something that initially we do not “like”.

Do I have the patience to sit still and let the sweat drip?  To watch water drip?  To watch a lake melt?  I highly recommend trying.

Lake Michigan Melting - February 2017 - Empire, MI
Lake Michigan Melting – February 2017 – Empire, MI – photo by Ann C.

What can I possibly learn?

What is a common, unconscious reaction to sweat dripping into your eye?

“Get rid of it!   I don’t like that!  It is annoying.  And sometimes it even stings a lot.”

What is a common, unconscious reaction to someone asking us to leave the sweat there?

“Oh my gosh, don’t tell me what to do!  This is my body and my eye, and I am going to do what I want with it.”

But is this the only way?  Can there be an opportunity here instead of a reaction?

What if?

When you notice a reaction or a habit, one of the best questions you can ask yourself is, “What if?

“What will happen if I do?”

“What will happen if I don’t?”

“What will happen if I change my pattern of reacting?”

“What will happen if I don’t compulsively enact the habit that I am convinced is necessary for my comfort and survival?”

Discomfort as information

Over the years I have learned to use the sweat in my eyes as a way to understand my biochemistry.   Granted, I am not analyzing the sweat in a laboratory, but I can feel the difference in it when I have accumulated stress, or caffeine, or a food chemical that I am not used to.

Last week the sweat in my eye created a stinging sensation that I had never experienced before.  I have experienced the sting of caffeine, the sting of extra salts in my body, the sting of stress in my body.  But this was different.

I later thought about what I had consumed the previous day.  The only two not-usual things I had eaten were some Grapefruit Seed Extract (in an experimental recipe made by Lisa Marie) and a frozen pizza that had some very questionable ingredients.

If I really wanted to test this, I could isolate the variables and see what happened in subsequent classes.

Experiment or fitness routine?

Many of us start yoga to get fit or improve our physical health.  And there is nothing wrong with this in the slightest.

But if yoga remains a fitness routine, stagnation, boredom, or frustration eventually set in.  Physical habits and compulsions are usually not addressed, let alone the mental and emotional ones.

On the other hand, if yoga practice is approached as an experiment and a path to realization, it will always lead to deeper understandings and experiences.

The discipline of physical stillness is one of the first stages in a beginning hatha yoga practice, and it is a great place to start.

26 Impossible Things Before Lunch

Alice and the White Queen Impossible Things
by Ann Chrapkiewicz

The weekday morning classes here are indescribably special.  I love every single class I teach and practice – evenings and weekends included – but the 9:30 am classes have this special energy that dedicated, regular, curious students create.  The average age is probably 55, with many of my 70+ students attending regularly at that time.

9:30 am Class Bow Pose

This past Tuesday’s “warm” 9:30 class – practiced about 10 degrees cooler than the usual 105F – was an all-front-row class with the kind of calm, deep focus that leaves you floating the rest of the day.

And then on Wednesday, a question from a regular student about awkward pose reminded me of a point I have been expressing lately in class.

Curious Questions

The question was about the first part of awkward pose; about how difficult it is to try to get your upper body upright while stretching forward and keeping the feet flat, weight in the heels.  How could she improve upon her technique and approach?

Awkward Pose Part One

Her question represented a very thorough understanding of the intentions of the posture.  After we considered the posture briefly and I gave her my input on how to approach it, she said,

“Well that seems virtually impossible!”

I replied with a smile, in acknowledgement, and in instantaneous recognition of the truth and awesomeness of what we both realized at that exact moment:

“YES!  It is!”

The class burst out in laughter.

[What a beautiful thing to share a common practice, common challenges, and similar realizations.]

I continued: “Exactly!  It IS virtually impossible.  This is part of the point!”

“When you try something that seems nearly impossible, and you do it on a regular basis, and you learn to stop listening to the voice in your head that says ‘this is impossible, why are you even trying it?’, and you still persist with the pure focus on the task, and you forget completely about the result….THIS IS THE YOGA PROCESS!  Perfect!!”

This act of pure, focused, mind-quieted action creates a tremendous amount of personal, positive, creative, energizing power.

And we do it everyday of the week.  In 26 postures.  All before lunch.

Imagining “the impossible”

Last year, during Bernie Sanders’ beautiful and inspiring primary campaign, he often talked about making the impossible into the possible.  For six solid months, I was more inspired than I have ever been about our country.  On a daily basis, he was inspiring us to value our dreams, and to strengthen the will and resolve we need to do truly challenging things, all in the direction of improving the planet and healing humanity.  Such a rare thing in politics.  It felt like yoga and politics were actually intertwined, for once.

And then about a month ago a flash of literary recognition came to me about this yoga.

It came to me in the form of Lewis Carroll’s White Queen:

“I’m just one hundred and one, five months and a day.”
“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

Alice and the White QueenThe power of imagination and visualization is amazing.

Yet the power of unattached action towards an “impossible” thing – a yoga posture, for example – is perhaps even more profound.

This Is “Not Yoga”

People love to define yoga in order to control it or to get you to do their version of it.  Some say that yoga should not be “difficult”, that you should do “whatever feels right”, that no one should be telling you how to do it correctly.  (Those who make these claims will definitely tell you not to do Bikram Yoga.)

However, what initially feels right and easy is a reinforcement of the weaknesses and tightnesses we have had for decades.  What the body and mind need to actually transform are exactly the things we do not want to encounter: the challenging creation of a new pattern of movement, the awareness and removal of old habits, the elimination of self-talk, and the initial mental struggle of frustration and impatience that we usually bring to the class.

In my experience, encountering “the impossible” on a daily basis is an extraordinary yoga practice, and the Original Hot Yoga/Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class is one of those magical places where we can do this in every class.  When I and most students started practicing, taking a 6-count inhale was impossible.  Holding our arms over our heads for one and a half minutes was impossible.  Breathing normally during triangle posture was impossible.

But then we showed up and tried again.  And one day we noticed we were doing things we never initially dreamed possible.

Actually attempting “The Impossible”

When the teacher says at the beginning of Half-Moon Posture, “Try to touch the ceiling,” you have a couple of options:

  1. Have an internal dialogue about how ridiculous that is, that you are never going to touch the ceiling, that the teacher is really annoying for giving impossible instructions, that your shoulders are too tight, that you are not flexible enough, that you were not born to straighten your arms like that, and that this is totally unnatural, or
  2. Just try to touch the ceiling, not giving a thought to if or when you will actually touch it.

You can probably guess which one will serve you more.

The second one represents pure action in yoga, and we do it for 90 minutes every day in Bikram Yoga.  It is so beautiful to be surrounded by this energy.

It is no one’s business if or when the leg actually locks.  If or when you see your toes in camel posture.  If or when your head actually touches your knee.

It is the fact that you are trying – without mental interference from your own chatter – to do each element of each posture.

There is great avoidance of the things that actually serve us, and great comfort in repeating old, familiar patterns – some of which actually hurt us or block our healing.

When you encounter “the impossible” on a daily or regular basis, and when you put your mind on the effort anyways, change will occur.  The main thing is to get out of your own way and to not listen to the “this is impossible” mantra that your mind would like you to accept.

The best thing, obviously, is to see for yourself.

Show up every day for a few weeks.  And see what kind of empowerment and strength you get, from trying to do 26 impossible things before lunch.

When will I be able to DO the posture?

by Ann Chrapkiewicz

An important yoga-related question occurs commonly with regards to Fixed Firm Posture:

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I hear something like: “When am I going to be able to do the posture?”

I smile in response: “What are you talking about?  You are already doing it.  I have seen you do it several times a week for the past 5 months.”

“But I am terrible at it.  When am I going to be good at it?”

The question I must ask in return:

What do you mean by “doing” a posture?  Or being good at it? And what is the purpose of the posture?dude in fixed firm yoga on the river 2016

Let us say that you are thirsty for a drink of water.  Very thirsty.  As in you just ran a mile unexpectedly on a hot, sunny day.  You have been breathing hard and were not hydrated beforehand.  You arrive at a fountain of fresh, clean water, and a friend of yours is even standing there, holding out a large glass of this water that he has just filled for you.

This angel of a friend says to you, “You look so thirsty.  I got this water ready for you and even squeezed a little bit of lemon in it.”

What do you do?  Take the water, right?  Drink it blissfully and in complete appreciation for the water, the fountain, and the friend.  And maybe even ask for a second glass.  You feel every drop of it soothing your dry mouth and thirsty body.  Heaven.  You drink the water to relieve your thirst.  Plain and simple.  


You do not think about whether you are drinking it as well as someone else drinks a glass of water.


But am I good enough?

Well, you know you are good enough to drink the water when you are thirsty, right?  How “good” you are probably doesn’t even cross your mind.  You just fulfill the need.

We can apply the same simplicity to therapeutic yoga postures, especially the difficult ones.

Let us say that you have tight ankles, old foot injuries, bad knees, tight quadriceps, or poor leg circulation.  

A lifetime – or even just a few years – of misuse, while not intentional on your part, has resulted in poor mobility, slowed healing, stiffness, or pain.  Not to mention disillusionment with your own body, and lack of faith in its ability to feel better with the passage of time.  It just seems to get worse each year, little by little.

So you arrive in a Bikram Yoga class, perhaps at the urging of a friend.  And maybe you even come back 100 times, just to get the smallest taste of the immense benefits that are available.  Each day, you do the deep breathing, the standing warm-up postures, and the spine strengthening series.  Not too bad, you think.  I feel so good when I am done with class, my panic attacks have virtually disappeared, my depression is nearly gone, my cholesterol has dropped, and my blood sugar is balancing….this is definitely good for me.

But then you get up from the floor to do Fixed Firm Posture.

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All of a sudden, the thoughts come pouring out like a waterfall: “I cannot do this posture!  When am I going to be able to DO this posture?  Why can other people do it better than I can?  Why do I suck at this?  I am not good at yoga.”

These thoughts repeat themselves for the entire 20 seconds of the first set.  Finally, the teacher says it is time to change, and you turn around and flop down on the floor, partially defeated and partially relieved that it is over.  “Oh, god,” you think. “I have to do it again.”  Hell.

Heaven or Hell?  You choose.

Now what you might not realize – or perhaps might know but often forget – is that Fixed Firm Posture is, for most sets of legs, that metaphorical fresh drink of water at the end of the hot sweaty mile you ran.  

Your friend (Ms. Yoga) knows that your legs are weary, stiff, and damaged, and she has prepared you – through the first 80 minutes of the class – for the maximum benefit of Fixed Firm Posture.  She has designated about a minute of your day to help you find relief, improve circulation, and generally help your legs to function better.  She offers this to you joyfully and with calm persistence and faith that the posture will help in some way.

But instead of accepting the glass of water from Ms. Yoga and drinking it joyfully, your mind says, “Oh jeez.  I am not good at drinking water…I cannot do it as gracefully as the other people around me.  Is this over yet?  I really can’t stand this but I will go through the motions.  Ugh.  I guess.”  Little to no appreciation happening, no relaxation, and very little awareness of the breathing for those 20 seconds.  Just mental torture!

And it doesn’t just happen in Fixed Firm Posture.  It can happen in any posture, and it can transfer from one posture to another, as time passes in our practice and old injuries or weaknesses come to the surface.

Instead of seeing a posture for what it is – a tool for healing – the mind can turn it into a thing to be achieved.  The mind can basically ruin the whole thing – not just one posture but the whole class.  Just by choosing a certain set of thoughts.  We generate dread and tension when relief and healing is being offered.

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Drink the water.  Savor every drop.

Although our beloved yoga method is intensely physical, 99% of the most wonderful lessons and benefits are mental.  And this example is one of the many great shifts that can happen.  The reality is that fixed firm posture is here to help you heal your legs.  It regulates the circulation of blood and lymph.  It removes scar tissue.  And it is known as one of the best postures for the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.

If you dread it or if you see it as something you need to accomplish, you can create all the suffering and mental hell you want.  You might even leave the yoga class with a negative comment for social media about how this was supposed to be a beginners’ class, but clearly it was not because you couldn’t do some of the postures.  

But if you consciously approach it as your friend and appreciate it for what it is, you can learn to relax while you do it….and maybe even enjoy it.  Here’s to Fixed Firm Posture.  

 

By “doing” a posture, all we mean is an honest, correct, open-minded attempt, repeated consistently.  Without thought of the outcome, without comparison.

The purpose of doing a posture in a therapeutic lineage is healing, not the achievement of some particular depth of expression.

 

 

*none of the individuals pictured in this post whined or complained about Fixed Firm Posture during the making of this post.