The Essence of Yoga
So here's the thing, to me, Bikram embodies the essence of yoga. The heat and humidity are meant to be reflective of India, where yoga evolved. The postures are basic, essential and under the proper direction anyone can do it. The practice is repetitive, safe, steady.
I started practicing Bikram Yoga in Salt Lake City in 2001, for a back injury. Months later, I really wondered if snowboarding was worth the sweat and frustration I felt 5 days a week in the studio. My back really wasn't even the tiniest bit better. Truth be told it probably hurt more. Fortunately fate intervened and Elizabeth turned me onto a more intuitive path where listening to and respecting my body became a goal. Much easier said than done. But I started paying attention to the teacher and looking around when other teachers were taking the classes and slowly but surely I learned what the postures were supposed to look like and I began to learn what they should feel like for me. I began making adjustments to my practice and just like that my back got better. I slowly began to trust my ability to deepen and develop my own practice and began to develop internal stamina and focus on myself. Eyes open and paying attention I pulled, bent and stretched and did it all barely clothed in a bright room full of strangers in front of a mirror.
Many years and asanas later, on a random Halloween day I walked into Bikram SLC and signed up for the 2:30 class. In shorts and a long sport tank I unrolled my rental mat and towel on the front line close to the mirror. I couldn't lie still to let my body adjust to the heat. I sat up, I stretched. I laid down first on my stomach, then on my back. I put my feet in the air and rolled around, sat up again and laid back down...finally the class started. I did ok through the breathing although I was so congested I didn't really get all of the air in and so not really all of the air came out, but I had showed up and was in the room. Right after doing the standing stick (warrior 3) a huge wave of nausea hit...I looked in the mirror at my irritated ruddy sweaty face and sat down on my mat before I fell over. In the cooler air close to the floor I breathed to regain a sense of equilibrium. I fought to connect with the part of myself that knew I could survive the heat , the sweat, the nausea and discomfort. I started breathing long and slow and leaned into the uncomfortable feelings. My eyes looked only at themselves in the mirror and I committed to hold on, to being calm in the miserable hot room.
When I rejoined in the postures, I couldn't put my forehead on my knee and straighten my leg and so I was not choking my throat, not stimulating my glands- I was not doing yoga, I was only struggling and sweating in a hot miserable room. The teacher reassured us that we would all die in here, then she laughed gleefully. Then she said we were here to practice being with our misery so we could survive life outside in the world where temperatures fluctuated and no one yelled at you through a headset, 'lock your knees, lock your knees, lock your knees, LOCK YOUR KNEES'. When we laid in savanasana she told us to lay our arms and legs as close to our body as possible, practicing for when we laid in our coffins. We should stay small she said, so there is room for all of our stuff. I defiantly flopped my arms as far away from my torso as they would go without touching the person beside me, did the same with my legs...'take that stuff' my mind shouted as my ego chuckled. All through the floor asana, I worked hard on staying present and I survived. Eyes open; I pulled and engaged and stayed in that hot room until the end. After final savasana, I wasn't the first to leave, but when I did get up, I left my mat. I grabbed a dry shirt and went to the store across the street and got a liter of electrolyte drink. I drank all of it and filled it up with filtered water. I went back into the room and this time I laid down on my mat to wait for the next class to start, I was completely still. I think I fell asleep. When Tom came in to teach the next class he was dressed as Bikram, complete with topknot and leopard shorts. 'Look at my shorts, look at my shorts, how come you don't have shorts like me, becuz you suck,' he cackled wildly into his headset. Being Halloween Tom had dressed up and today he was dressed as Bikram. Despite myself I smiled. When it was time to start I pulled myself up, to my place at the top of my mat and engaged my eyes. My congestion was gone so on this round all of the air came in and all of the air came out. Tom’s wild banter and shrieking made me smile and giggle. Tom explained that the role of the teacher is to pick on the students (according to Bikram) this challenge is what the student is actually there for, the poses just give them something to do. I was sweating more than before but when I looked in the mirror expecting to see a blood red face, all I saw was a calm reflection of my creamy skinned sweat drenched face. I was no longer struggling in a miserable hot room. The dizziness and nausea were gone and in their place I had a calmness and reserve of strength that drove me through the practice. During eagle Tom came and sat on the backs of my thighs and pulled my body up, that assist opened my chest and lifted my heart. It was the best single asana of yoga practice, in that it embodied lightness, unity and endless joy. I laughed out loud.
I came to this day and to this class after a strange and upsetting emotional time....I had been so serious in my misery...determined to cling to it for no real reason. I had burned a hole in it, in the first class and only now was I able to see the freedom that lay ahead through the clearing mist of my cluttered mind. Sitting Japanese style as my hips relaxed and my knees opened I was able to release the tightness from the months of running. Running literally on trails almost everyday and figuratively as I was also running away from things in my life. That second practice was one of the very best yoga sessions I have ever had. Not because I was steady and strong in every pose, or going to the very deepest...I did in one or two, but I also fell out of many poses, laid down on the floor, drank more water than I usually do, made eye contact with the other yogis in the room and giggled out-loud. I think I even spoke. It might have been something right from the moment like ‘I love the Tom Bikram’. Through each asana, through each breath I was not in judgement of myself, I was too busy trying to make it through, so I was perfectly accepting of and being my imperfect self.
It was a good yoga practice because I opened up to the experience with my heart, and let the balm of yoga soothe me with some light and love. In final savasana I flopped on the floor keeping my arms and legs close. I knew I would need a lot of room in my coffin for all my stuff, it would make me more comfortable to have it with me than not.