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!!).
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.
Looking 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.
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!
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)!
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.