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!
“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.
“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.”
“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%.”
“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.
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!)
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.
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?
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 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.
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
instructional session for Sequence A
Arm Balancing Strength, Core Strength, and Leg-Behind-the-Head Mobility
Monday, July 10
instructional session for Sequence B
Full Backward Bending Awareness, Inversions, and Pranayama
Monday, July 17
instructional session for Sequence A
Arm Balancing Strength, Core Strength, and Leg-Behind-the-Head Mobility
Monday, July 24
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.
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….
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!!
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.
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.
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.
A question I love to address occurs commonly with regards to Fixed Firm Posture.
I hear something like: “When am I going to be able to do the posture?”
I smile in response: “What are you talking about? You are already doing it. I have seen you do it several times a week for the past 5 months.”
“But I am terrible at it. When am I going to be good at it?”
The question I must ask in return:
What do you mean by “doing” a posture? Or being good at it? And what is the purpose of the posture?
Let us say that you are thirsty for a drink of water. Very thirsty. As in you just ran a mile unexpectedly on a hot, sunny day. You have been breathing hard and were not hydrated beforehand. You arrive at a fountain of fresh, clean water, and a friend of yours is even standing there, holding out a large glass of this water that he has just filled for you.
This angel of a friend says to you, “You look so thirsty. I got this water ready for you and even squeezed a little bit of lemon in it.”
What do you do? Take the water, right? Drink it blissfully and in complete appreciation for the water, the fountain, and the friend. And maybe even ask for a second glass. You feel every drop of it soothing your dry mouth and thirsty body. Heaven. You drink the water to relieve your thirst. Plain and simple.
You do not think about whether you are drinking it as well as someone else drinks a glass of water.
But am I good enough?
Well, you know you are good enough to drink the water when you are thirsty, right? How “good” you are probably doesn’t even cross your mind. You just fulfill the need.
We can apply the same simplicity to therapeutic yoga postures, especially the difficult ones.
Let us say that you have tight ankles, old foot injuries, bad knees, tight quadriceps, or poor leg circulation.
A lifetime – or even just a few years – of misuse, while not intentional on your part, has resulted in poor mobility, slowed healing, stiffness, or pain. Not to mention disillusionment with your own body, and lack of faith in its ability to feel better with the passage of time. It just seems to get worse each year, little by little.
So you arrive in a Bikram Yoga class, perhaps at the urging of a friend. And maybe you even come back 100 times, just to get the smallest taste of the immense benefits that are available. Each day, you do the deep breathing, the standing warm-up postures, and the spine strengthening series. Not too bad, you think. I feel so good when I am done with class, my panic attacks have virtually disappeared, my depression is nearly gone, my cholesterol has dropped, and my blood sugar is balancing….this is definitely good for me.
But then you get up from the floor to do Fixed Firm Posture.
All of a sudden, the thoughts come pouring out like a waterfall: “I cannot do this posture! When am I going to be able to DO this posture? Why can other people do it better than I can? Why do I suck at this? I am not good at yoga.”
These thoughts repeat themselves for the entire 20 seconds of the first set. Finally, the teacher says it is time to change, and you turn around and flop down on the floor, partially defeated and partially relieved that it is over. “Oh, god,” you think. “I have to do it again.” Hell.
Heaven or Hell? You choose.
Now what you might not realize – or perhaps might know but often forget – is that Fixed Firm Posture is, for most sets of legs, that metaphorical fresh drink of water at the end of the hot sweaty mile you ran.
Your friend (Ms. Yoga) knows that your legs are weary, stiff, and damaged, and she has prepared you – through the first 80 minutes of the class – for the maximum benefit of Fixed Firm Posture. She has designated about a minute of your day to help you find relief, improve circulation, and generally help your legs to function better. She offers this to you joyfully and with calm persistence and faith that the posture will help in some way.
But instead of accepting the glass of water from Ms. Yoga and drinking it joyfully, your mind says, “Oh jeez. I am not good at drinking water…I cannot do it as gracefully as the other people around me. Is this over yet? I really can’t stand this but I will go through the motions. Ugh. I guess.” Little to no appreciation happening, no relaxation, and very little awareness of the breathing for those 20 seconds. Just mental torture!
And it doesn’t just happen in Fixed Firm Posture. It can happen in any posture, and it can transfer from one posture to another, as time passes in our practice and old injuries or weaknesses come to the surface.
Instead of seeing a posture for what it is – a tool for healing – the mind can turn it into a thing to be achieved. The mind can basically ruin the whole thing – not just one posture but the whole class. Just by choosing a certain set of thoughts. We generate dread and tension when relief and healing is being offered.
Drink the water. Savor every drop.
Although our beloved yoga method is intensely physical, 99% of the most wonderful lessons and benefits are mental. And this example is one of the many great shifts that can happen. The reality is that fixed firm posture is here to help you heal your legs. It regulates the circulation of blood and lymph. It removes scar tissue. And it is known as one of the best postures for the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.
If you dread it or if you see it as something you need to accomplish, you can create all the suffering and mental hell you want. You might even leave the yoga class with a negative comment for social media about how this was supposed to be a beginners’ class, but clearly it was not because you couldn’t do some of the postures.
But if you consciously approach it as your friend and appreciate it for what it is, you can learn to relax while you do it….and maybe even enjoy it. Here’s to Fixed Firm Posture.
By “doing” a posture, all we mean is an honest, correct, open-minded attempt, repeated consistently. Without thought of the outcome, without comparison.
The purpose of doing a posture in a therapeutic lineage is healing, not the achievement of some particular depth of expression.
*none of the individuals pictured in this post whined or complained about Fixed Firm Posture.
Join us this winter for Intermediate and Therapeutic Yoga Classes in the Ghosh Lineage!
Every other Sunday, from January 15-April 23, join BYCA owner and mentoring teacher Ann Chrapkiewicz for classes focused on specific areas of the body. In these classes, we will combine therapeutic exercises for specified sections of the body with preparations for intermediate yoga postures in the Ghosh lineage. Each session is limited in size to 10 students, ensuring individual attention to each level and need.
Classes will be held from 11:15 am – 1:00 pm on the following Sundays: