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

 

When is this going to be easy?

by Ann Chrapkiewicz

In my 14th year of practice in this amazing yoga lineage, I continue to love and appreciate the steadiness and auditory meditation that comes from the near-constant instruction from the teacher.  I enjoy the rhythm of the “dialogue” – which truly is a two-way exchange of information between student and teacher! – and its phrases, or the flow of an expert teacher using his or her own tremendous experience and unique instructions to guide us.  I love silent classes, too.

But lately I have really been enjoying a verbal dialogue in the form of questions from regular students – during class, between postures.  Sometimes they are highly technical and have to do with joint alignment and body part placement.

Others, like today’s question, are more philosophical or rhetorical:

“When is this going to get easy?”

I especially love questions that bring up more questions.

What do you mean by easy?

This question instantly made me ponder the nature of what it means for something to get easy.

Does “easy” mean that I struggle less?  Does “easy” mean that I can do something on auto-pilot, somewhat mindlessly?  Does “easy” mean that the story in my head is telling me that I am “good” at what I am doing?

It all depends on what I was conditioned for it to mean, and what I will choose consciously for it to mean, going forward.

“Easy” vs. “ease”

“Easy” is not a word I ever really associate with Bikram Yoga.  In fact, in the first few months I practiced, I was always thinking, “Why is this not getting any easier?  Why am I not getting “good” at this?  This is unlike anything I have ever done before – things usually get easier for me.”

But it didn’t stop me.  I felt so good after class that I would come back the next day for more.  My bulimic and OCD behaviors stayed away, as long as I practiced regularly.  My stress-induced terrible breathing was miraculously disappearing.  And my focus and calm for my schoolwork were like nothing I had ever experienced before.

These things were important.  Whether the yoga was getting easier – whatever that meant – wasn’t really on my list of priorities, nor did it have anything to do with whether I was going to keep going to class.

The lyrics to one of my favorite songs, by Michigan musicians The Crane Wives:

“Nothing worth doing comes easy.”

Toe Stand - Bikram Yoga - Ghosh Yoga March 2016 Challenge
Having fun with the challenge of Toe Stand! Photo credit: LF/JB

I have come to see that something in many of our white North American subcultures has taught us that we should not have to struggle.  This shows up in people’s responses to this yoga on many occasions:

“That’s hard.”  “Yoga is supposed to be soothing and easy.”  “I just worked all day; I do not want to go to yoga to work any more.”

I suppose it is important to figure out what things in life we are willing to work for, and what things we think should just be given to us without effort.

The greatest challenge offers the potential for the greatest reward.

Do I really want everything handed to me while someone feeds me grapes and fans me, and offers me ice water, and offers a cloth to wipe my face, and offers me everything I have ever wanted, without me having to lift a finger?  That would be an “easy” life.

Do I want to be able to mindlessly and easily move through the postures within a year (or many) of regular practice?  Then what?

Do I expect to be able to change the structure of my bones and joints, the chemistry of my blood, and the patterns of my thoughts… without an awe-inspiring challenge?

I believe that that thinking needs to change if we are going to move into a healthier place as a neighborhood, city, state, and country.

In my experience, working hard for health, healing, and self-realization are the most rewarding places for a challenge.

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.