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.

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.

July 2017 Intermediate Yoga – Instruction and Silent Classes – Weekday Mornings

intermediate standing bow pulling standing rainbow pulling

Those with at least one to two years of regular practice and 250 or more classes’ experience in the traditional 26&2/Bikram Yoga method are invited to join us for a unique practice intensive in intermediate preparations and postures in the Ghosh lineage.  This round will be an immersive, daily, morning practice (6:15 am – 8:15 am) for the entire month of July, held Monday through Friday for four weeks (with the exception of Friday, July 14).


Monday of each week will be the instructed intermediate yoga class – $25 each or $90 for all four weeks (pre-paid, no refunds for non-attendance.)

Tuesday through Friday classes will be a silently led practice and are donation-based (cash only, payment optional).  Those who attend the Monday instructional of a given week may attend any or all of the classes the remainder of that week.

Those wishing to practice the intermediate sequence with us for any days between Tuesday and Friday each week are required to attend the Monday instructional of that week.


You may attend one or more weeks in any order; it is recommended that participants do at least one week of Sequence A and one of Sequence B, but it is not required.

Monday, July 3

6:15-8:15 am

instructional session for Sequence A

Arm Balancing Strength, Core Strength, and Leg-Behind-the-Head Mobility

Monday, July 10 

6:15-8:15 am

instructional session for Sequence B

Full Backward Bending Awareness, Inversions, and Pranayama

Monday, July 17

6:15-8:15 am

instructional session for Sequence A

Arm Balancing Strength, Core Strength, and Leg-Behind-the-Head Mobility

Monday, July 24

6:15-8:15 am

Instructional session for Sequence B

Full Backward Bending Awareness, Inversions, and Pranayama

Those with less experience are welcome to inquire in advance.


Each Monday session is $25 each, or $90 for all 4 weeks (prepaid only; no refunds for non-attendance). Any classes attended for the remainder of each week are donation based.


For “Optimum Health & Wellness” members only, intermediate class fees are included in membership.
For all others (Flex, Commitment, regular Autopay, guests, etc.) , the fees are:
$25 each Monday instructional, or

All four Mondays for $90


CLICK HERE for online booking or pay in advance at BYCA.

Each session is limited to 10 participants.


What is Ghosh Yoga?  What is Bikram Yoga?  What is hot yoga?  Click here for an introduction.

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.

Blessings in the Form of a Broken Back, part 2

by Ann Chrapkiewicz

. . . . . . . . . . . .

I have learned a dozen lessons and received a thousand blessings from my back injury on March 17, 2004.

But before getting to those, let me finish telling you about that day.  If you missed the first part of the story, you might want to read that first.

Maybe you should get an X-Ray.

After I moved like a snail through that initial 6:00 am class with Lora, I moved like a snail back to my house, where most of my housemates were still sleeping.  A few were stirring though.  I was visibly moving strangely,  so I could not avoid sharing that I fell that morning…. and it hurt pretty badly…  and could you please help me get my shoes off because I can’t even reach my knees-let-alone-my-feet, and the like…

In the early afternoon I was to have my weekly 3-hour seminar with one of my most influential and favorite professors, Jennifer Robertson.  That semester I was taking her graduate course on ethnographic practice and writing.  I hung on every word in her classes, and it was she who inspired me to fall in love with the field of Cultural Anthropology.  She also had the biggest impact on my ability to write coherently.  She tolerated none of the fluff, distraction, or wandering that was initially present in my academic papers, and I am so thankful for that!

All this is to say that I really looked forward to Wednesdays, mostly because of her class.  I did not want to miss it.

However, at the rate I was moving, it seemed like the usually-20-minute walk to West Hall would probably take me about 2 hours, and putting my backpack on really did not seem like an option.  So I emailed Professor Robertson and told her what had happened.

She suggested that I go to the ER and get an x-ray, just to make sure it was nothing too serious.  I still remember the tone of her email; her genuine care for my well-being was as impressive and impactful in my life as her anthropological brilliance.

Off we go to the hospital

At the time, one of my dearest, life-long friends, A, was also living at Black Elk.  We had found each other in Japan in 2002, initially making each others’ acquaintance over a political disagreement.  Or perhaps it was a semantic one.

In any case, upon meeting, we quickly bonded in an existential, academic, artistic way that lasts to this day.  There were times when I wanted nothing more in life than to pick his brain and share my poetry.  If there is such a thing as a soul brother, he is definitely that for me.  We have often challenged each other, and it has not always been pleasant on the outside.

So, partly out of the obligation that a brother might feel when woken up by a sister in advance of his desired wake-up time, A drove me up to the University of Michigan hospital and dropped me off.  Or maybe he sat with me for a bit in the waiting room.  To tell you the truth, there are parts of this day that I don’t remember.

By the time we got to the hospital, it was around noon, and A had to be at work later that afternoon.  This was before cell phones (or at least it was before I caved); somehow it was acceptable to be left somewhere without a personally dedicated walkie-talkie to our friends and family.

The doctor said that everything looks fine

I do not know how much time passed before I was in the x-ray room, but I remember the immense pain and struggle I had, trying to follow the instructions to get in position for the camera.  It was interesting being 26 years old and moving in a way that I thought belonged to the realm of people in their 90s and up.

I do recall being in a room sometime in the mid-afternoon when someone brought me the x-ray results.  Nothing broken, she said.

I did not know what to make of that; the pain was still excruciating even after a hospital dose of ibuprofen.  Someone caring for me gave me some morphine to see if that would help.

A half hour or so later, they checked on my pain levels.

I recall that I felt a little more spacey and relaxed, but the pain had not diminished at all.

The doctors then were the ones who were not sure what to make of it.

Maybe you fractured your kidney

Luckily, I wasn’t sent home with prescription painkillers to treat the mystery injury.

Someone on staff suggested that I might have fractured my kidney.  All I could think was, “You can FRACTURE your KIDNEY?!?!  I thought they were soft.  You can break one?”

Anyways, they ordered a CT scan to rule that out.  So I drank the liquid that makes certain things glow, apparently, and was pretty disgusted.  My somewhat snobby veganism at the time could hardly imagine what chemicals I was ingesting, but I somehow managed to get it all down.

Later, in the CT machine, I remember feeling my whole body sort-of buzzing, and I felt like I was going to pass out and hyperventilate at the same time.  But I made it through.

The one who cared enough

By this time, it was getting on in the evening.  Much past dinner time and probably getting dark outside – although I was sufficiently in the innards of the hospital that daylight or sundown were pretty much irrelevant.

I just remembered that at one point quite late in the day, I was notified that I was being transferred to a different room.  I was taken to what seemed like an entirely different department.

It turned out that the main nurse who had started out seeing me really cared.  In a purely caring sense, but also in a detective sense.  She was so interested to find out what was going on with my pain that she had me moved along with her at her shift change at 8 pm.  It was a nice feeling to encounter someone so attentive to their work and to me.  I do not remember her name, but I will always remember that warm feeling.

Sometime in the 8:00-9:00 range my nurse caretaker announced to me that they finally figured it out!  This makes so much sense, she said.  You actually do have broken bones.  That would explain the intense pain.  I am so glad we found it.

The transverse processes on L1 and L2 were completely fractured.  Separated from the body of the vertebrae.

Tiny bones that connect to everything

The transverse processes in the lumbar spine come out of the body of the vertebrae at both sides of the main body.  Here is a You Tube video I just found, showing the anatomy of these very tiny bits of bone, and noting that is usually not possible to diagnose these fractures in an x-ray.  (Cheesy music, but good visuals.)

The main scientific – and I mean science via direct experience – conclusion I reached by the end of the evening in the ER was that these little bones apparently connect to everything.  There was literally nothing I could do that did not trigger movement of the transverse processes.  Breathing, coughing, sneezing, sitting down, standing up, rolling over in bed, turning my head, picking up a light object, putting on a shirt.

Everything is connected in there.  It is just that we usually do not feel it.

It is time for bed now.  To be continued…

Blessings in the Form of a Broken Back

by Ann Chrapkiewicz

. . . . . . . . . . . .

If I had not broken my back 13 years ago today, we would not be here.  At least not in the way we are today.

It might sound extreme, but it is true.

If you were in class last year on this date, you may have heard me tell the story.  March 17, 2016, was actually the first time I had been inspired to share the details and the importance of that injury in a group setting.  It took 12 years for me to fully realize how crucial the injury and the healing process were.  Crucial not only in my passion for the yoga, but in my faith in it, in my ability to encourage those who cannot touch their toes, in my desire to learn and study and practice more deeply, and in my faith in the person who is sure this yoga is impossible for them.

And so the story goes….

In 2004, I lived in Ann Arbor in a most wonderful co0perative housing community called Black Elk.  I was working on an M.A. at UM-Ann Arbor and had been practicing Bikram Yoga for almost a year.  I had by that point nearly eliminated my destructive bulimic thought patterns with a near-daily practice of Bikram Yoga, and I was already signed up to go to Bikram Yoga Teacher Training in Los Angeles that summer.  My stress-induced poor breathing was 90% healed.  And my ability to focus on reading, writing, and graduate seminar discussions had improved about 5-fold.

More deeply, I was also able to much better manage my sensitivity to civilization’s heinous destruction of habitats and abuse of animals, the earth, and any less-than-privileged segment of society.  I was disgusted with American imperialism and oil-greed and quite emotionally reactive to it.  Plus, I was a near-evangelical vegan at the time.  (Luckily many of my housemates were, too; we learned how to cook delicious, multi-course meals for all 20+ of us most nights of the week.)

Back injury or not, I do not know how I would have survived the intensity of my mind at the time without Bikram Yoga.

Then, one fateful morning…

In a house full of artists, activists, and students, I was one of very few early risers.  6:00 am Bikram Yoga?  You bet!  I would be so focused and relaxed and energized for my classes later that day.

March 15 and 16 had been pretty pleasant – probably in the 40s or 50s.  Spring seemed to be coming, as it so often does in these parts, even sometimes in January.

So at 5:30 am on March 17, I walked out of the side door and onto the long wooden porch with a bit of a bounce in my step.  I was ready to start the day in the best way I could imagine.

I started down the first of the five wooden steps.

The next thing I knew, I was lying flat on my back, at the bottom of the stairs.  I had no idea what had happened.  Looking back, I am sure I passed out.  I still do not remember the fall or the impact.

Can anyone hear me?

I tried to get up, but the searing pain in my back was so intense.

I called out for my housemates several times.  “Can someone help me?”  “Is anyone awake?”  “Hello?”

I thought I might be lying there until someone else woke up.  But that might be a few hours.

So, somehow (extremely slowly is how), I peeled myself off of the hard, cold ground.  I noticed that the wooden steps were covered with the thin, nearly-invisible sheet of ice.

It did not even cross my mind to go back in the house to lie down.  I moved like a snail to the car and put my body in it, one inch at a time.  My lower back hardy let me move.  Luckily, in the wee hours of the morning, there wasn’t much traffic to look out for; turning my head to one side or the other was nearly impossible.

“Just do what you can.”

All of this had happened in less than 10 minutes.  I still arrived to Bikram Yoga Ann Arbor with many minutes to spare.  Lora, the owner, was teaching that class, and I told her that I had falled on my way out of the house.  She smiled, calmly, and simply said, “Just do what you can.”  No added worry, just warmth and reassurance.

The next 90 minutes were an experiment with a new body.

My back was screaming at me when I was holding still.  I could get my arms over my head – that still worked.  Half moon to the right: I could move my index fingers maybe 2 inches right of center.  And half moon to the left?  Well, about a half of an inch before the pain got worse.

Then I tried the backward bend of half moon.  I started going back slowly, not sure when it would start to hurt more intensely than my resting pain was.  To my surprise, when I got back about half way into my “usual” backbend, the pain stopped.  Completely.  There I was, breathing….listening to Lora’s voice (“go back, way back, more back…”) and all of a sudden, I had a break from the pain.

Interesting, I thought.  But then it was time to move on.  The rest of the standing series is a bit of a blur, these 13 years later, but I know I was moving into about 1% – 10% of my usual depth.  I have to say I didn’t think much about it.  All I could do was respond to the sensations and try to breathe.

One thing I do recall is something that we usually call Standing Separate Leg Forehead to Knee Posture.  What I was doing looked vastly different than the “ideal” posture.

Maybe We Should Call It Standing Separate Leg Chin to Chest Posture

The instructions for the posture – immediately following Triangle Posture – take about 30 seconds.  In those 30 seconds, most people manage to get their forehead to the front knee, or at least pretty close to it.  In those 30 seconds, all I could manage was to get my chin about 3/4 of the way to my chest.  And that was difficult.  I stopped and backed off when the pain worsened.  And I had to suck in my stomach the entire time, or the pain doubled.

It is time to teach the evening class now.  To be continued in Part 2

Ghosh Yoga in Michigan – March 2017!

I am very excited to announce that two of the foremost North American ambassadors of Ghosh Yoga will be coming to Bikram Yoga Capital Area this March for a weekend of workshops!  Ida Jo and Scott Lamps will be leading six unique, not-to-be-missed yoga practice seminars from Thursday-Sunday, March 23-26, 2017.

In the summer of 2016, I completed the inaugural Ghosh Practice Week in Madison, Wisconsin.  The practice, the leadership, the questions, the diversity, the thoroughness, and the overall experience was so beneficial that I have asked them to come to Michigan to share with you all.

I truly believe that these workshops are essential for any dedicated student of Bikram Yoga, as well as a must-do component for any Bikram Yoga teacher, whether current, former, or aspiring.  The historical and philosophical insights exceed the usual posture workshop or master class.  Your practice and teaching will truly be expanded.  Those interested in apprenticing at BYCA in the near or distant future should complete as many of the 6 workshops as possible.

Ida Jo’s and Scott’s approach will introduce those from other yoga lineages or even from a non-yoga background to the benefits of the Ghosh lineage.  Many of the classes are ideal for regular and beginning practitioners, and others are accessible to those who have no experience with yoga of any kind.

Those looking for the most basic therapeutic class will benefit from Yoga Therapeutics: Back Pain and Stress Reduction.

Seasoned Bikram Yoga practitioners and teachers will be challenged by Advancing Your Practice, and will have their horizons broadened by Buddha Bose Workshop with the History of Ghosh Yoga.

Ida Jo and Scott recently visited the Pure Bikram Yoga community in Austin, Texas, to rave reviews, and will be presenting again at the One Fire Hot Yoga Festival in March.

Complete workshop descriptions are currently available at Bikram Yoga Capital Area, and full information and registration links are available on our Events Page.  We expect these workshops to fill up, as this is Ida Jo’s and Scott’s first workshop visit to Michigan.

What is Ghosh Yoga?  What is Bikram Yoga?  What is hot yoga?  Click here for an introduction.

Ghosh, Bikram, and Hot Yoga: What does it all mean?

by Ann Chrapkiewicz

As you have probably noticed, there is a lot of yoga out there!  As yoga and fitness studios continue to open and close, I find it increasingly important for us to understand the practices in more depth – focusing on the history, lineages, science, and testimonials of practitioners.  For practitioners of Bikram Yoga, Ghosh lineage yoga, and hot yoga – or for those interested in trying them – here are the most basic distinctions and history.

What is Ghosh Yoga?

Ghosh’s Yoga of Physical Education was founded in 1923 in Kolkata, India, by the late Bishnu Charan Ghosh.  It was then named Ghosh’s Yoga College in 1970 and currently operates under the direction of Bishnu Ghosh’s granddaughter, Muktamala.

Bishnu Ghosh (1903-1970) was the younger brother and disciple of the world-renowned Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952; founder of the worldwide Self-Realization Fellowship and author of Autobiography of a Yogi).

Ghosh Yoga has a fascinating history of meditation, breathing techniques, showmanship, physical culture, asana, bodybuilding, therapeutic exercises, medical research, and individual prescription of exercises and asana.  The Ghosh lineage has been transmitted worldwide primarily via Bikram and Rajashree Choudhury, Tony Sanchez, and their trained teachers.

Currently, Ghosh Yoga in its fuller expression is being taught in North America and Europe by Tony Sanchez and his trained teachers, and Ida Jo and Scott Lamps.  Ida Jo and Scott have completed Muktamala’s Therapeutic Training program as well as many other yoga trainings and are now the North American administrators of the therapeutic training program at Ghosh’s College.  They have sole permission in the U.S. for use of “Ghosh Yoga” and have published the Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced Practice Manuals in the tradition.  You can read more about Ghosh Yoga at Ida Jo and Scott’s website.

Ghosh Yoga Graphic - Logo Plus IdaScott Photos - Untitled Page
Ida Jo and Scott Lamps – Ghosh Yoga Practice Manual Photos

What is Bikram Yoga?

Bikram Yoga refers to the standardized beginning sequence of Ghosh lineage therapeutic postures, as distilled and taught by Bikram Choudhury (b. 1946) and his students.  Mr. Choudhury was one of Bishnu Ghosh’s students in Calcutta in the 1960s and brought his teaching to the United States in the early 1970s.  He taught primarily in Southern California until 2016.  Bikram and his former wife (Rajashree Choudhury) and senior teachers have certified approximately 4000* teachers to teach in that time.

Bikram Yoga is commonly also known as the 26&2 (26 postures and 2 breathing exercises) and is taught at independently owned yoga schools all over the world.  It is traditionally practiced in a room heated to 105 degrees F and 40% humidity.  Over the decades, it has been found that the heat provides an increase in the circulatory benefits via the “tourniquet effect”, as well as reduced stiffness, cardiovascular benefit, and improved stress tolerance, among other health benefits.

Although these schools have traditionally been named “Bikram Yoga”, they are truly independent and not part of a corporation, chain, or franchise (despite what most media sources and the official Bikram Yoga website report).  Rather, they are owned and directed by teachers who were trained and certified by Bikram and his most senior teachers, and who have committed to upholding the techniques and methods of Bikram’s beginning yoga system.

Many Bikram Yoga teachers and experienced students also practice the intermediate and advanced postures and sequences of the Ghosh lineage, taught in various manifestations by Bikram Choudhury, Tony Sanchez, and others.

2016 Yoga on the River
Bikram Yoga students from around Michigan come together for the 2016 Yoga on the River event in Downtown Detroit, Michigan.

2016 Yoga on the River

How does this relate to “hot yoga”?

Bikram Yoga is known as the Original Hot Yoga, because it was the first – and, for a time, the only – yoga class taught in a heated room.  Many other unrelated yoga and exercise traditions began to add heat to their rooms over the decades, so “hot yoga” and Bikram Yoga are no longer equivalent.

“Hot Yoga” can refer to any movement, asana, or exercise class in a hot room and is not necessarily related to the Bikram or Ghosh lineage.

When you see a studio or a class called “Hot Yoga”, it generally now refers to one of two things:

  1. Former Bikram Yoga schools that have removed the word “Bikram” and now use “Hot Yoga” in their school names.  These still teach the traditional Bikram method and usually have lineage-trained teachers.  Some have added other types of yoga or fitness classes, and some have not.
  2. Other hot yoga studios that do not have a connection to or training in the Ghosh or Bikram Yoga lineage.  They might have teachers in a lineage from a different part of India, but most are not directly descended from an Indian yoga tradition.  Many feature classes with a combination of yoga postures, dance, exercise, weights, barre, or music classes.

We realize it can be a bit confusing, so we always recommend researching the specific training lineage of the owners of the schools you are interested in practicing at.

Another way that you can find a Bikram-lineage school – owned by a Bikram-trained teacher – is on the directory of the Original Hot Yoga Association website. Original Hot Yoga Association Logo Bikram Yoga

For an easy-to-read-and-share link, check out our handy comparison chart here: Bikram Yoga vs. Hot Yoga.

If you are interested in experiencing the benefits of a Ghosh lineage and/or Bikram Yoga practice, let us know if you need help finding an experienced teacher or lineage school.

 

*this is my estimate based on social media groups of certified teachers