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.

Practicing Yoga with Linux!

Setting Up Triangle - Trikonasa - Bikram Yoga

–BYCA Guest Blog Post–

The author is a scientist, musician, and occasional computer programmer based in Lansing, MI.

He is a founding member of “Los Tres Yogamigos”, BYCA’s premiere yoga buddy challenge team.

Kapalbhati Home Practice Bikram Yoga Computer Program

I suffered from chronic back pain for fifteen years. Episodic attempts at cultivating a yoga (or Pilates, or Alexander technique, or self-medication) practice would temporarily ease this pain, but it was not until I moved to Lansing and had the opportunity to practice the 26+2 sequence daily at Bikram Yoga Capital Area (BYCA) that I was able to make the (hopefully somewhat permanent) changes to the structure of my spine that were necessary for me to sit comfortably and live without chronic pain.

Life is taking me away from mid-Michigan however, and I am currently preparing myself for a future of solitary practice punctuated by occasional trips to the nearest Ghosh-lineage yoga studio (which will be many miles away from my future home). Ultimately, I would like to build up the discipline to practice a 26+2 or equivalent routine alone and in total silence. But in the meantime, I have been supplementing my daily 26+2 practice at BYCA by practicing selected asanas at home using customizable audio instructions.

These instructions are generated from a Python script that I wrote, and have recently released with an open source license. The script is admittedly primitive and uses a text-to-speech tool that is not particularly aesthetically pleasing, but it is, after all, only a temporary solution. If you are a Linux user, and you think that you might find this tool to be useful for your home asana practice, then read on!”

Introducing psetcounter: a primitive open source python script for creating customized audio instructions for home yoga practice

Instructions:

First of all, the script has been tested with Python 2.7.13 and Ubuntu 17.04, although it should run on any Linux system with Python and sdf-say libraries installed. The script can be downloaded here:

https://github.com/danielsadowsky/psetcounter

In addition to the script file, psetcounter.py, the github repository also contains a sound file, bell.wav, which may be downloaded as well. If the psetcounter.py script is run from a directory that also contains bell.wav, the script will play a bell sound instead of instructing the user to relax in savasana with a computerized voice. Once the script is downloaded, it would probably be best to take a look at the customizable parameters which are listed in the help message. This can be done by opening a Terminal window, changing the directory to the location of the downloaded script file, and executing the following command:

python psetcounter.py -h

The script can then be used to generate audio instructions for a set of asanas with each of several parameters customized by including the appropriate arguments. For example, to hear audio instructions for a set of 4 asanas, each held for 20 seconds and followed by 10 seconds of savasana, the following command can be executed:

python psetcounter.py -n 4 -l 20 -b 10

Audio instructions for multiple sets with varying parameters can also be executed sequentially at the command line by stringing them together with a semi-colon. In doing this, it is important to suppress the valediction in non-terminal sets of asanas using the “-v” flag. For example, for a set of two asanas, each held for 10 seconds, followed by a second set of two asanas, each held for 20 seconds, the following command can be used:

python psetcounter.py -n 2 -l 10 -b 5 -v; python psetcounter.py -n 2 -l 20 -b 5 -i 3

Good luck, and please send feedback and suggestions directly to the github page above!