My first Bikram Yoga class was as deliriously hot and torturous as the next. My teacher appeared to be fighting for air between her incessant commands and because I’d done a gym yoga-class before I thought, ‘that’s odd? Relax girl.’ That was until a wave of nausea hit me and she told me resolutely, ‘If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you can’t.” I literally thought my way out of vomiting in an instant and stayed standing until we were instructed to lie down. The rest of the class went sweatily and smoothly, and when I gasped my way out of the door to the studio, I felt incredible.
For people who have never practiced the series, I understand how contradictory that may sound, but that is how it went down.
At the time I was working for that type of boss who could be defined as a volatile bully and I was being ‘fired’ twice a week. I loved running because it gave me something to look forward to at the end of the day. I’d run off all the BS and listen to funky music to step to. I mention this because I appreciate that all exercise in some way or another is therapeutic for us.
After that Bikram class, I knew I had found a new love to add to my repertoire. I felt at once relaxed and energised. There was something inspirational about the dialogue. There were times that during my practice I would mentally floek my instructors for being strict or for holding a pose 3 seconds too long. No sooner had the class ended, would I giggle at myself for being so angry and reacting like a child.
For some, the mirrors represent ego, competition and vanity. For me, when the instructor said “Look into your own two eyes. Concentrate. Meditate,” it offered me a challenge I hadn’t yet encountered: To be still with myself. To let go of preoccupying my mind. To be OK with where I was in my body, mind, practice and life. To be OK with who was staring back at me. Perhaps the hardest and most transformational thing I had been asked to do.
After a year of doing Bikram Yoga and some flow classes, the studio I attended offered a vinyasa teacher training. The poster was stuck on the wall and I longingly stared at it while filling my water bottle for weeks. Some things in life are like a fire in your belly, they compel you! I couldn’t get the idea of this training out of my mind. I was so moved by the practice that I went to the bank, got a loan with a terrible interest rate and voila!
I loved learning about Vinyasa yoga. I didn’t feel as a new practitioner that there were many differences to Bikram. From an experiential perspective, they felt similar. I didn’t perceive a massive rift in their ideology. I did prefer Bikram because I felt better afterwards but the Vinyasa peeps said things like, ‘the heat is bad for you,” “that isn’t real yoga,” “it’s so aggressive,” and I soon started to believe them.
Being the diligent student that I am, I started researching everything I could about yoga. With nauseating intensity I googled my ass off. Everything, everything.
I soon found out about the shadow side of yoga. Bikram and his disciplinarian, capitalistic empire of misogyny and Vinyasa with it’s disturbing injuries and inconsistencies of practice, form and lineage. I considered leaving them both for Hatha but I was in too deep, plus “I’ll be bored.” I thought.
I loved the dazzling variety of postures that Vinyasa offered me. I also loved the freedom to communicate myself freely. It helped me to realise that I am fascinated by and in awe of the body. Perhaps what led me to teaching is that I knew that a healer lay sleeping within me.
I wanted so badly to be “better” than the Bikramites. I wanted to be more spiritual, and thin and floaty and vegan and peaceful. I wanted to be graceful and agile and flexible and strong and perfectly balanced in a handstand. I wanted to hold my breath for days and live off the Prana they promised me for my devotion. The moral superiority felt good!
My fascination with spiritual perfection had me entranced. Plus there was ‘hot flow’ which felt like the best of both worlds to me. Thankfully, I have a critical mind and honesty is perhaps my greatest virtue. The hardest form of honesty is the inner dialogue. The motivations we don’t want to admit. The lies we tell ourselves. They swim incessantly in our minds so long, they build muscles of steel and we forget how they managed to slip into the watery planes of our psyche.
The truth was this: Bikram Yoga made me feel good, better than anything else had. The mental/emotional space that it guided me to, helped me overcome (and this is ongoing) the anxiety I had faced most of my life.
The practice in it’s predictability provided a unique opportunity to move with intention. In knowing what was coming I was challenged to stay present, to meditate. Even though I am now a teacher myself, I move on the teacher’s instruction and surrender unnecessary control. Even though I have heard every instruction before, I allow myself to be taught, to be open. In a world saturated with over-stimulation, Bikram is refreshingly predictable.
It is because the practice is hard that it is healing, not in spite of it. In moments of intensity the healing happens as we are presented with a choice; freak out or chill out. Most of us will oscillate between the two and what we always find is that the latter is definitely the easier, more peaceful path.
Bikram yoga is not the ‘be all and end all’ of exercise, experience, or yoga but I encourage you to stay open minded and allow yourself to experience it.
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