There is a posture in Bikram Yoga called Standing Head to Knee Pose and, as you might have guessed, its goal is for the participant to firmly, with one leg standing and locked, grab a hold of the other foot, gently kick it out, and eventually touch forehead to knee. It requires balance, patience and an enormous amount of strength.
In short, I want to scissor-kick this posture in the shins.
I would be lying to you if I said that there aren’t ten other postures just like it in which I feel the same way. It’s not an easy thing, spending ninety minutes in a heated room, pumped full of humidity. It’s an even harder thing to actually move around and try to accomplish yoga-type endeavors in said heated room. And did I mention there are mirrors everywhere? Lots of mirrors that are just perfect for watching the sweat glisten in between the folds of one's belly.
I’ve been taking Bikram classes for approximately six months. Occasionally, I’ll have friends ask me why. Why, they want to know, would I subject myself to that kind of terror? Why would I willingly sweat buckets when I could go to the gym and hit up the Elliptical machine and call it a day? Why would I participate in a class that is the same 26 postures, in the same sequence, with the same dialogue, day after day? They have valid points, these wise friends of mine.
And here is my response:
Because it matters.
It matters to me that I spend my time well. It matters to me that I engage in activities that challenge not just my body, but also my mind and my heart. Yes. You read that correctly. My heart. I’m talking feelings here, people. Bikram is a yoga class, absolutely. But it is also a wonderful arena to practice the kinds of things that we don’t often get a chance to think about prior to life scissor-kicking us in the shins.
Every class, I’m given the opportunity to stand in front of myself for an HOUR AND A HALF, pure and unadorned, and decide if I’m going to respond positively or negatively to whatever the class throws my way. (When else can I take the time to look directly at myself that honestly and for that long? The answer is never.)
I’m forced to look myself in the eyes, focus on the present, and choose to try my absolute hardest.
I'm practicing the art of not believing everything I think.
Perfection is not my goal. Instead, grace is what I strive for. I’m learning to be patient. I’m learning to find contentment. I’m learning that in order to become better I must first practice humility. (Because it's humbling to have a difficult class and not be able to complete a posture that you've done a million times before.)
I’m learning that sometimes the easiest way to get through terrible times is just to be still and breathe. (And then, sometimes, you realize the terrible times really aren't that terrible.)
If you can, you must. Inevitably, I will hear my teacher say this every class. And you want to know the magic of it all? I think about this phrase more outside of class, then in. Because going to class and sweating out the calories and toxins and beer from last weekend is the least of it. Instead, the beauty of Bikram, the part that matters, is that I can take, not just what I hear in class, but what I practice and feel and tangibly experience, and apply it to Every. Single. Day.
I know what you’re thinking. Oh God. Here she goes. Talking about feelings and yoga and why Sanskrit and Namaste has changed her middle-class, organic milk-drinking life.
But. You know what?
Bikram Yoga hasn’t changed my life.
Nope. It’s the stuff that happens around the yoga that has made me a better individual. I know there are other arenas in which I could practice positive thinking, grace, patience and humility. But, for me, there are none that are as encouraging, energizing and consistent. To look around and see a room full of diverse people, sweating it out, equally human in such extreme conditions, well, I can think of no better parallel to life. Because isn’t that what we all are, just diverse and sweaty people, trying our damnedest to get through to the next posture without falling over?
No, Bikram Yoga hasn’t changed my life. It’s just allowed me the tools and the space to help change it myself.
And so, dear friends, this is why I will continue to go to Bikram class, even though it may seem crazy and smelly to so many. This is why I will continue trying to get my head to touch my knee, and my breath to rise and fall, steady and focused.
Because it absolutely matters.