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.
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.
Triangle 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:
Three practitioners at Bikram Yoga Capital Area represented the state of Michigan in this year’s USA Yoga MidWest Super Regional Championships in Chicago, IL, this past weekend.
BYCA students Lauren Anastos, Lindsay Gray, and Ann Chrapkiewicz performed their routines with steadiness, focus, and calm. They all had a very enjoyable, positive experience! The best possible outcomes for all. As a group, the three of them did not pressure themselves to “perform” or compete, nor to train beyond their capabilities.
They demonstrated the natural places in their yoga practice, as well as the emotional control needed to breathe normally, in stillness, on a stage, in yoga postures!
Check out their 3-minute, live, championship demonstrations, here:
Lindsay Gray, 40, of East Lansing – 3rd place Michigan
Ann received the 3rd highest score in the “Super Region”, and as the 1st place scorer from Michigan, Ann will proceed to the USA Yoga National Championships.
Stay tuned for more information on that event….coming soon!
View the full scoring results for the MidWest Super Regional event here.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What is USA Yoga?
USA Yoga is a non-profit organization dedicated to developing and promoting Yoga Asana as a sport. Rajashree Choudhury founded the organization to inspire youth to cultivate a yoga practice. USA Yoga is not affiliated with any particular yoga school or tradition and seeks to include practitioners of all hatha yoga backgrounds.
In yoga we learn that whatever we bring to a situation determines the nature of how we operate in that situation. Many people see asana championships as competitive, but this is a limited way of seeing them. B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the most well-known yogis in the past century, supported asana demonstrations and championships as a way to inspire others to take up a hatha yoga practice (read his letter of support here). For more on my personal philosophy and the approach of many participants, read here.
Almost four years ago, while long-distance training, I pulled a hamstring. I continued to run on it and completed a marathon in Charlevoix in June 2013.
I struggled throughout the race due to the pain in my hamstring. Also, despite my training, around mile 14 I had trouble breathing and needed to use an inhaler. At the end of the race, the pain in my hamstring was so bad that I couldn’t bend my knee. I had trouble walking over the next week both due to my leg as well as generalized soreness.
Six weeks after the race, my hamstring still hadn’t healed. I still couldn’t flex my leg despite taking time to rest. I also tried spinning, walking, stretching, and strength training, without any luck. …
That’s when I found Bikram Yoga.
Within one week of practicing Bikram Yoga, the pain from my training and racing was 100% gone, and within one month, my mobility was completely restored!
I maintained a regular Bikram Yoga practice from 2013-2015. I felt so good that in July 2015 I started training for the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.
I did the same race training as I had in 2013, but this time I made sure I practiced Bikram Yoga 2-3 times per week. The results were amazing!!
I didn’t even feel tired until mile 25, and my breathing was smooth the entire time. When I was done running, I didn’t feel any pain.
I walked two miles after the marathon to catch a cab, and I was fine. The next day, I woke up and was amazed by the quick recovery – I could walk around just fine.
I was back for my yoga practice 3 days after the race, with a smile on my face!
I started practicing Bikram Yoga in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2003 – shortly after returning to the United States after 2 years of living in rural Japan. I was working in the kitchen of the People’s Food Coop at the time and attended on the invitation of one of my coworkers. I do not think that either of us “liked” the first class – she did not ever return for a second class (that was hard!). But there were reasons I had to return. Day after day, almost every day of the week. For that first couple of years, I hated how it felt if I missed a day.
Ever since childhood, I had struggled on a daily basis to get a good, satisfying, deep breath. I was never diagnosed with asthma or any other pathologies, but it was noticeable in my daily life.
After that first class, I remember doing some grocery shopping and feeling like every breath was deep, wonderful, heavenly. I felt like I was floating through the aisles, light as a feather. Even though that first class was the hardest thing I had ever done – and I sat down five times before triangle posture! – I knew I had to go back.
Within two weeks, my chronic blood sugar imbalances disappeared. I didn’t crave sugars so desperately, and I naturally started to eat better foods.
Within one month, the carpal tunnel syndrome that had been developing was gone. And my chronic sluggish digestion was changing for the better.
Within two months, my bulimic mindset of nearly 10 years almost completely vanished, and after the immersive practice of teacher training the following year, it stayed away permanently. I gained so much time and freedom in my life after living in a sort of obsessive prison of dieting, compulsively overeating, and body-loathing since high school.
The 30+ pounds of excess weight came off later, but by that time I truly didn’t even care about the appearance of my body.
I just felt so stupidly good on the inside.
Eight months into practicing, I slipped and fractured two vertebrae. The first part of the story of that injury can be found HERE. Thanks to Bikram Yoga, my pain was gone in 20 days.
Only a few months after my back healed, I attended and completed Bikram Yoga Teacher Training at La Cienega HQ, Los Angeles, in August of 2004. I loved it. There is nothing like a 15-hour-a-day, 5+-day-a-week, 9-consecutive-week immersion in a yoga practice. People say it is hard to leave their lives and homes and families and jobs for 2+ months. That it is hard to do two 90 -minute+ Bikram Yoga classes every day.
But in my experience, living for a decade in a mental prison – of body-loathing, what we call “OCD”, dieting, eating uncontrollably, counting calories, desiring external validation – was much, much harder.
Supporting more than one life
Throughout 2006 – and until the day my labor started – I practiced Rajashree’s Pregnancy Yoga at least 4 days a week. It took away all of my morning sickness, relieved my back pain, and kept my blood sugar steady in each trimester.
I had a healthy home-birth largely due to the physical awareness I had developed with this yoga. After 3 hours of the last “pushing” stage of labor, the baby was still stuck, the contractions were irregular and debiltating, and I could tell something was not right. Upon communicating this with my midwife, she found that he (although I did not know the sex at the time) was coming out with his hand resting against his temple. Thanks to her skills and my ability to breathe and relax, I was able to give birth without injury to either of us. Without question it would have been a cesarean section in any of the best hospitals.
As a toddler and young child, my son had experienced some traumas and was very anxious. Thanks to this yoga, I was able to physically carry him and support his needs, yet maintain the health of my body and mostly stay out of muscular pain.
Year-by-year, the benefits continue
In the years since then, I have used the Beginners’ class and other Ghosh lineage practices to:
relieve the pain from sciatica and plantar fascitis,
build strength and maintain more calm when dealing with verbally abusive individuals / pathological narcissists,
reduce anxiety and insomnia, and
nearly eliminate premenstrual cramps that were previously debilitating.
My environmental allergies occur at only about 10% of their former severity. I used to have to take something daily in the spring; now I take an allergy pill maybe once a year. If things are really bad.
I am currently in a sort-of maintenance mode, where my health issues are under relatively good control. But I know that life can bring challenges at any moment, and I am so appreciative that I have this yoga to use for both healing crises and everyday life. It is my primary form of health insurance.
And these are only the benefits that have occurred on the most surface layers. The deeper ones are much harder to describe.
Participation in the USA Yoga Championship
I believe that encouraging younger generations to get interested in a therapeutic hatha yoga practice is of vital importance in our world. To support this belief, I established weekly (free) Youth classes at BYCA over one year ago. This past winter I also volunteer-instructed at a Lansing Public Schools 6th-grade classroom.
I am participating in this year’s championship for three main reasons:
to inspire people to start, maintain, or intensify their therapeutic hatha yoga practice,
to continue to build an inspirational healing yoga community in mid-Michigan
to develop more balance in my personal yoga practice
Instead of training in more advanced postures, this year I am happy to demonstrate the “natural” point in my practice. Sort of like a snapshot in time. Without pressure or expectation. Without thoughts of what others are thinking. (What a glorious waste of time and energy, no?!)
Just my best focus in the moment, demonstrating the amazing communication superhighway between the mind and the body. In every class I practice, and hopefully in the moments when I get up on the stage.
If you did not yet read my philosophy of competition and competitiveness in yoga, here it is.
One of my longer-term goals is to practice sustainably so that I can eventually participate in the Senior Women division (ages 50+) of the Championship. I am excited to support the USA Yoga organization and events with the hope that they are still around in 12 years!
For our health, for the health of our elders, and for the health of our children…
I started practicing Bikram Yoga six years ago and have had the pleasure of practicing in many different places. Having started in Honolulu, and then in Houston, Austin, Boston, and Berlin before ending up here at my most favorite of studios. (Aren’t we lucky!!)
I am forever indebted to a close friend of mine, a former dancer like myself, who introduced me to Bikram yoga. I witnessed how she seemed, through her practice, more focused mentally, to physically glow, and to be able to use all the toxic stuff with which the dance world infuses you for a positive means.
Lindsay Working on Toe Stand (Padangustasana), 2016
Acceptance and discovery in yoga
Yoga, unlike ballet, focuses on the process and on the acceptance of where you are with a posture, and, ultimately, that’s what’s really spoken to me about this practice. In dance, I hated racing to the finish line of who could become the best the fastest. My brain is just not designed for that kind of race; the pressure of that level of competition is soul-crushing for me.
I love how, with yoga, I am constantly tinkering with a posture and working toward minute improvements that may some day add up to some form of relative perfection. The trusting in that process of discovery, of all the psychic and physical subtleties within me, is the best lesson in self-acceptable and faith.
Participation in USA Yoga Championship
I wanted to participate in the USA Yoga championships for two main reasons. I have been slowly working to expand my practice through engaging with some of the intermediate postures, and the championships seem like a good opportunity to re-enter the performance realm within a safe and supportive environment.
For the championships this go-round, I chose relatively simple, seated intermediate postures. This way, I can participate but not make myself crazy with anxiety about sticking a posture on-stage, alone with no mirror, and a bunch of people watching. I’ll worry about doing that maybe next year or in ten years. It’ll be a process.
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!
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?
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!!
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.
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?
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.