Yoga Lessons: Bikram one year on

the 26 Bikram yoga poses

Last year, I discovered the heat of Bikram Yoga. However, once my 30 day introductory pass was over, I didn’t sign up again. Then winter came, and with it, my struggle to keep cheerful once Christmas and New Year was over.

This year, instead of dreading January, I made a plan. I signed up for a Bikram 10 session pass and embraced #dryjanuary: no alcohol for a month.

I limited classes to once or twice a week because last year I couldn’t physically manage Bikram yoga everyday. I would find myself so tired after class that I would nap in the afternoons and lost whole days to Bikram.

This year I decided to go at my own pace and do what was right for me. Fast forward four weeks and I have already used up the 10 sessions and bought a six months unlimited pass, I now look forward to every minute of Bikram and am disappointed if I can’t get to a class.

What has changed? Everything and nothing. But, I have learnt some lessons this past month in Bikram’s Torture Chamber as Bikram Choudhury himself calls it (oh yes, I bought the book too: Bikram Yoga). Here they are:

Change

We all know that the one constant in life is change. We are changing, others change, and circumstances change too. So, the things I didn’t like about Bikram last year, like the script and the amount of time it took out my day, have changed somewhat and things which are the same don’t seem to matter as much.

At the studio I go to, some of the teachers have changed, and they are less rigid and speak the script more freely. They remain faithful to the order and timing of the poses but don’t always use the silly phrases e.g., like a Japanese ham sandwich. And occasionally when they do, I don’t mind. My attitude has changed. I care less about what other people are doing, and more about what I am doing.

Time has changed for me too. I used to begrudge the time it took to do Bikram, but now I find it gives me more energy so I can quite happily stay up until midnight and sleep well and get up at 7am, and have time to do all the things I need to and things that I want to do. It would be a false economy for me to say I don’t have time to do Bikram. It gives me time.

My body has begun to change. It feels stronger and leaner. Abstaining from alcohol has been very easy, and limiting tea and coffee, and drinking lots of water makes me feel much better. I have changed once more into the clean living yogi I always aspired to be.

Commitment

I am no slouch when it comes to achievement: I ran my own business, I have a PhD (which I did to become a lecturer), I am a lecturer (something I aspired to be), my husband and I did 20 months every night of peritoneal dialysis on our daughter at home, and I dragged myself off to chemotherapy when I was so weepy and scared.

However, what Bikram has made me realise about myself is that I don’t ever really commit to anything. I start everything with an attitude of I’ll see how it goes, I can always leave. I have, throughout my life, done everything this way. I have never committed wholeheartedly to anything. I don’t know why. But, I know Bikram will help me find out. And things I have really wanted to do: like write a book, I haven’t ever managed to do successfully, because I lack commitment. I get part way through and give up, or worse, I never get started.

What I have found is that committing to something saves so much mental energy. Like #dryjanuary, whenever I found myself in a restaurant this month, instead of my usual script: Shall I have a drink? I shouldn’t really. What shall I drink? Shall I have another? I shouldn’t, yes I should. Go on then, you deserve it. Oh, I wish I hadn’t drunk so much. Not drinking was such a relief. I didn’t have to go through any of that mindless chatter.

The same thing happens in the studio. Most poses only last a minute. So, for that minute I commit to do the best I can. Instead of I can’t do this, maybe I can’t, I can take it easy, I can always stop. I take a breath and do it, whole heartedly. Then I commit to doing another pose for another minute, over and over for 90 minutes.

Just this week, I took that whole hearted feeling outside the studio and I am committed to writing that book this year.

Inquiry

Last week, I was getting ready for Camel pose or Ustrasana when I thought yet again: I can’t do this and then my mind started the usual argument script, as I call it: Yes you can, course you can, you have done it a million times… Not in this heat, I can’t, I won’t, I don’t want to.

So, I bent over into Child’s pose and cried into my mat. I cried for all the times when I had to do things I just didn’t want to do, and for the things I still have to which I just don’t want to do, and then I got back up and into Camel pose for the second set.

Only by inquiry can you find sometimes the truth behind whatever it is that is bothering you. I took that thought off the mat and am currently applying Martha Beck’s three Bs in order to bin, bag, or barter the things I really don’t want to do.

And this is another thing I have learnt. I don’t like Camel Pose at all, but the benefits of Camel Pose are far greater than any discomfort I may feel. Camel pose is good for the thyroid and nervous system. This realisation is so useful when deciding whether to do something or not. How does this benefit me? If it improves my thyroid and nervous system even if it challenges me, I will do it and feel good. Taking that off the mat, I can ask if this of benefit to me? If it isn’t and it is making me feel cranky, then it’s time to stop it.

Focus

I find that focusing on myself is a great gift. How am I doing? How am I feeling? It is not a selfish approach – which is what I used to believe. It is better for me and for everyone around me. In the studio, I am there to get the most out of the practice. This means looking in the mirror and correcting my poses to feel the most benefit. It is not about anybody else. It is about me.

It also means looking in the mirror and accepting myself right where I am, whatever I look like, and whatever I am capable of doing. It is a hard thing to see myself exactly as I am. But, it is also a fabulous thing. I am developing much more compassion for myself: You look a bit tired today Ruth, how about an early night, my love. Once you see and love yourself for exactly who you are without wishing to change yourself, it is much easier to do the same to others, to meet them exactly where they are with compassion and without wishing them to be any different to how they are.

The same goes for my feelings. When I focus on how I am feeling – say I am feeling a bit irritable and behaving in a snippy manner. I accept that and recognise how I feel. I do not take it out on my children. I don’t need to shout at my kids in order to get them to change their behaviour in order to soothe something inside myself which has nothing to do with them in the first place. Only I can make myself better. And, flipped the other way, only I make myself feel bad. No one else should have that power.

Patience

I have committed to Bikram for the next six months, but have practiced Yin Yoga consistently for the last three years, and before that Sivananda and Iyengar for much, much longer.

What I know for sure is that: Yoga will get you there, as yoga teacher Barbara Currie used to say when she was on TV. It is true. I have seen myself achieve poses I never dreamt I could because I had the patience to practice everyday.

And, that is another thing I am learning once more in Bikram. I have the patience to practice only the first part of Standing Head to Knee Pose (Dandayamana-Janushirasana) with just my knee up, until I have a firm foundation and a locked knee. I am receiving the benefits of that part of the pose – mainly leg strengthening, which was another reason for me signing up for Bikram. I wanted a stronger core, and stronger legs. Once my legs are strong enough I know I will progress to the full pose. I know that I need patience until my body is ready.

Patience is a great thing to be able to take off the mat. I am calmer when I drive and I am calmer when I interact with others. I don’t have to get frustrated. There is nowhere else to be. I am here until I am not. As much as we think we are stuck, we never are, we can change, at the very least, the way we view any situation, in order to gain some relief. If we can learn that discipline, we can make any situation better.

I am beginning to feel that with discipline, there comes freedom and a clarity of mind. Who knew that I would learn that whilst grunting in hot pants in a sweaty mirrored room?

I am so grateful I did.

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