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.

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!!

 

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.