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

bikram yoga east lansing michigan

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


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

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

Herding Cats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bikram yoga balancing stick tuladandasanaLooking for Distractions

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

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

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

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

And the benefits start clicking…

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

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

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

My migraines had dramatically decreased.  Click.

My allergies seemed to be better.  Click.

I felt better in general.  Click.

I was less stressed.  Click.

My posture was better.  Click.

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

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

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

yoga buddy challenge accessible

Still Happily Riding the Roller Coaster

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

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

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

Changing Thought Itself…sometimes with the help of Billy Ocean

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

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

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

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

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

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

bikram yoga standing bow pulling east lansing michiganDefining Determination

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazing Yoga Questions

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

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

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

How I Got into This in the First Place

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

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

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

Hope to see you in class!


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

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.

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

Healing Asthma, Sciatica, Wrist Sprains, …. and Growing Almost an inch!

Meet Sarah Cook, 34, of St. John’s, Michigan.  Sarah started practicing Bikram Yoga with us in the spring of 2014, upon a recommendation from her sister.  As of this writing, Sarah has practiced exactly 365 classes!  Sarah has had some exciting updates recently, but her whole history of benefits is very diverse, and quite exciting!

Year 1:

“Before I started yoga, I had gotten a bone bruise (near-fracture) close to my knee, and after 4 weeks on crutches, I was supposed to do physical therapy.  Instead, with permission of my specialist, I practiced Bikram Yoga 3 times a week for 6 weeks.  After that, the specialist said I was completely healed, I did not need any physical therapy, and she would not need to see me anymore.

“In my first year of yoga I lost 30 pounds….and I have kept it off! I used to gain about 5 pounds every winter, but now it doesn’t stick with me anymore.

“I had several previous wrist sprains and injuries and had so much pain I could not use scissors.  Within a few months of practicing, I could use scissors again and the pain was gone.

Year 2:

“My need for asthma medication was drastically reduced.  Before Bikram Yoga I was taking a daily inhaler at 220 mcg every day – sometimes twice a day.  As of Spring 2017 I was taking half of that dose, and I only needed it an average of once a week!

“My sciatica also went away.  My dad walks with a cane because of similar issues, and it was starting to develop in me.  Before yoga I could hardly carry my toddler for a minute without intense pain.  After practicing regularly, I was able to carry her an entire mile without pain.”


Bikram Yoga Full Locust
Sarah Cook in Full Locust Pose, November 2016

Year 3:

“I recently went through a Candida overgrowth and hormone imbalance.  I treated it with a massive change in my diet, and that was very difficult.  I had a lot of anxiety and depression as a result of making these changes so quickly.  Practicing Bikram Yoga not only helped my hormones balance out quicker, but it made it possible for me to take a complete break from the stress and cost of meal planning and preparation.

“Despite my asthma, my lung capacity has always been slightly above average (111% before yoga).  But now, 3 years into yoga, it has increased to 116%.”

September 2017:

“As an adult I have always been 5 foot 3 and 3/4.  At my check-up last week I was 5 foot 4 and 1/2 inch.  At my check-up this month, the nurses looked at my chart and could not figure out what was going on!”


All we are doing is the not-at-all-secret secret of a regular Bikram Yoga practice.  Feel free to share the goodness and healing with anyone who might need a little boost.

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.

“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.