by Ann Chrapkiewicz
The weekday morning classes here are indescribably special. I love every single class I teach and practice – evenings and weekends included – but the 9:30 am classes have this special energy that dedicated, regular, curious students create. The average age is probably 55, with many of my 70+ students attending regularly at that time.
This past Tuesday’s “warm” 9:30 class – practiced about 10 degrees cooler than the usual 105F – was an all-front-row class with the kind of calm, deep focus that leaves you floating the rest of the day.
And then on Wednesday, a question from a regular student about awkward pose reminded me of a point I have been expressing lately in class.
The question was about the first part of awkward pose; about how difficult it is to try to get your upper body upright while stretching forward and keeping the feet flat, weight in the heels. How could she improve upon her technique and approach?
Her question represented a very thorough understanding of the intentions of the posture. After we considered the posture briefly and I gave her my input on how to approach it, she said,
“Well that seems virtually impossible!”
I replied with a smile, in acknowledgement, and in instantaneous recognition of the truth and awesomeness of what we both realized at that exact moment:
“YES! It is!”
The class burst out in laughter.
[What a beautiful thing to share a common practice, common challenges, and similar realizations.]
I continued: “Exactly! It IS virtually impossible. This is part of the point!”
“When you try something that seems nearly impossible, and you do it on a regular basis, and you learn to stop listening to the voice in your head that says ‘this is impossible, why are you even trying it?’, and you still persist with the pure focus on the task, and you forget completely about the result….THIS IS THE YOGA PROCESS! Perfect!!”
This act of pure, focused, mind-quieted action creates a tremendous amount of personal, positive, creative, energizing power.
And we do it everyday of the week. In 26 postures. All before lunch.
Imagining “the impossible”
Last year, during Bernie Sanders’ beautiful and inspiring primary campaign, he often talked about making the impossible into the possible. For six solid months, I was more inspired than I have ever been about our country. On a daily basis, he was inspiring us to value our dreams, and to strengthen the will and resolve we need to do truly challenging things, all in the direction of improving the planet and healing humanity. Such a rare thing in politics. It felt like yoga and politics were actually intertwined, for once.
And then about a month ago a flash of literary recognition came to me about this yoga.
It came to me in the form of Lewis Carroll’s White Queen:
“I’m just one hundred and one, five months and a day.”
“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
The power of imagination and visualization is amazing.
Yet the power of unattached action towards an “impossible” thing – a yoga posture, for example – is perhaps even more profound.
This Is “Not Yoga”
People love to define yoga in order to control it or to get you to do their version of it. Some say that yoga should not be “difficult”, that you should do “whatever feels right”, that no one should be telling you how to do it correctly. (Those who make these claims will definitely tell you not to do Bikram Yoga.)
However, what initially feels right and easy is a reinforcement of the weaknesses and tightnesses we have had for decades. What the body and mind need to actually transform are exactly the things we do not want to encounter: the challenging creation of a new pattern of movement, the awareness and removal of old habits, the elimination of self-talk, and the initial mental struggle of frustration and impatience that we usually bring to the class.
In my experience, encountering “the impossible” on a daily basis is an extraordinary yoga practice, and the Original Hot Yoga/Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class is one of those magical places where we can do this in every class. When I and most students started practicing, taking a 6-count inhale was impossible. Holding our arms over our heads for one and a half minutes was impossible. Breathing normally during triangle posture was impossible.
But then we showed up and tried again. And one day we noticed we were doing things we never initially dreamed possible.
Actually attempting “The Impossible”
When the teacher says at the beginning of Half-Moon Posture, “Try to touch the ceiling,” you have a couple of options:
- Have an internal dialogue about how ridiculous that is, that you are never going to touch the ceiling, that the teacher is really annoying for giving impossible instructions, that your shoulders are too tight, that you are not flexible enough, that you were not born to straighten your arms like that, and that this is totally unnatural, or
- Just try to touch the ceiling, not giving a thought to if or when you will actually touch it.
You can probably guess which one will serve you more.
The second one represents pure action in yoga, and we do it for 90 minutes every day in Bikram Yoga. It is so beautiful to be surrounded by this energy.
It is no one’s business if or when the leg actually locks. If or when you see your toes in camel posture. If or when your head actually touches your knee.
It is the fact that you are trying – without mental interference from your own chatter – to do each element of each posture.
There is great avoidance of the things that actually serve us, and great comfort in repeating old, familiar patterns – some of which actually hurt us or block our healing.
When you encounter “the impossible” on a daily or regular basis, and when you put your mind on the effort anyways, change will occur. The main thing is to get out of your own way and to not listen to the “this is impossible” mantra that your mind would like you to accept.
The best thing, obviously, is to see for yourself.
Show up every day for a few weeks. And see what kind of empowerment and strength you get, from trying to do 26 impossible things before lunch.