We hosted a truly excellent seminar last weekend with visiting senior Bikram yoga teacher Michael Harris. I've been working with Michael for about a year and a half now, and he is big on the idea that our job as yoga teachers is not just teaching asana (the physical postures) but that it's bigger than that- actually the most important thing we help our students learn is what a yoga practice is. How to have a yoga practice.
Because if we can help you figure out what that means for you, it is something you can take anywhere and keep forever. It's not limited to your postures, but it definitely affects how you approach them and how you feel about them.
After introductions, Michael began the conversation at the workshop with some tips on how to practice your yoga outside of and in-between your asanas: How and when do you drink water? How do you enter and exit the yoga room? Where do you set up your mat?
Let's back up for a moment:
Introducing ourselves to each other at the beginning of Michael's workshop, we shared what brought us to Bikram yoga. I shared that when I first started in 2005 (I was an overexercised, underfed, painfully perfectionist college dancer) I found I could not look at myself in the mirror in a loving way. Today I can and do. Over the years I have looked at myself through pain, injury, illness, depression, grief, birth and rebirth. It's one of the greatest gifts my practice has given me, and one of the things I enjoy most about taking class!
Today I appreciate my body so much and love every little activity it does for me. As a mother and entrepreneur, yoga class is a luxurious opportunity to spend a quality 90 minutes moving and watching that body. It's hanging out with myself as my own friend, doing something we love together. Because of this I admit I am somewhat attached to my reflection in class. (Isn't it funny how much we change?) More often than not, I set up in the front row.
Nearsightedness (and my refusal to wear glasses until absolutely unavoidable!) doesn't help. When I set up in the back I find myself squinting- though I know (teacher training in a room of 300+ people sure taught me) that I don't need to see the mirror in order to balance or to meditate.
Years ago, a great teacher called me out for always practicing in the same spot. He told me I should practice in a different spot every day. I vaguely remember him actually making me move my mat if I was set up in my usual place, before he would start class... but that may have just been a bad dream! At that time I was attached to the mirror for very different reasons: it was more about forcing myself to stare down what I didn't like about myself. Many days this exhausted me so much by the end of Half Moon that I had to sit down.
As Bikram says, I had nothing to lose, "because I never had anything to begin with." So I gave the moving-around thing a shot for the first time. I'm not sure what happened exactly, but little by little when I found myself in front of the mirror, I was no longer glaring at myself in contempt or frustration. I was beaming at myself with compassion.
What are the habits, beliefs and feelings around where you put your mat? Do you have "your spot" and get to the studio early to claim it?
Michael Harris invited us all last weekend to be curious about how and where we practice in the room. And that gave me an idea...
This month I am participating with you in our first studio-wide 30 Day Challenge (some of you are already halfway through!!) Today, I invite you to join me in yet another challenge: the "Change Your Spot" challenge! Every day, I commit to practicing in a different spot. I admit I am not totally excited about the class when I have to be in the back corner by the door...
The reason Bikram yoga works at improving strength or range of motion in the body is that we mindfully push the edges of our current capacity. That isn't only physical, and it isn't only for the asanas. Join me in the "Change Your Spot" challenge- or make up your own: maybe you will try not drinking water during class, not sitting down during class, always doing at least 1 set of every posture, taking a longer final savasana... pick whatever seems most uncomfortable to you!
Now is the time to find out what mindfully pushing your edges can do for your yoga practice, and for the rest of your life...
About 2 years into my Bikram Yoga practice, I was leading a fairly busy life, and my commitment to myself of regularly practicing Bikram yoga had been taking the brunt. I would come for a few months or weeks and then stop for a month or weeks.
Then one day I was in a studio that had the five qualities of mind (Concentration, Faith, Self-discipline, Patience, and Determination) painted on the wall and I had placed my mat directly in front of the word "Determination."
I’m a total nerd when it comes to the origin and roots of words and, having a few minutes before the class started, I began thinking about the word in depth. I have always thought of determination in its standard definition “firmness of purpose; resoluteness” but if you break down the word you have:
The prefix “De-“ which means: off, the opposite of, to cease, to stop. The word Terminate: coming to an end or capable of ending, stopping. And the suffix “-tion”: the action of….
Which means: determination is the action of stopping... stopping. Stop stopping.
While this may seem simple nuance for some. For me, it was profound. “Resoluteness” is great but “Stop Stopping” is actionable: I can DO that! And I have, and will continue to do so. I am pleased to announce that since having come to this realization I have had the gumption to continue a regular practice, push through some personal boundaries of my own, and improve my understanding of the postures and my own body.
I ended up opening a yoga studio with my wife, along with a baby, a full-time job, little money and never more than 24 hours in a day. We stopped stopping. Now every day we get to witness the successes of our students who have stopped stopping, too.
Determination is limitless. Try it on for size.
Bikram Yoga St. Johns' studio owner, yoga-doer and life-lover, Kay D.