This blog posting is about my experience with Bikram yoga. Now, I know I’ll probably catch some flack for what I’m about to write, but I want you to keep in mind that this is simply my experience. Bikram has a large, devoted following, and I’d love to hear about others’ experiences; but for now, this is my rendition.
There are so many types of yoga available that it would be a disservice not to make an attempt to become a well-rounded yogi by expanding your horizons and trying a new style out every now and then. So in an effort to step out of my comfort zone, I decided to try Bikram yoga. In short, I found Bikram to be incredibly challenging for me, and I was quite frightened by the whole experience. It has been about a month since my experience, and as I’m writing this blog, I had to wonder, was I scared off by the class itself, or by what it taught me about myself?
After teaching hot yoga for a number of months, I decided to take on what had always been my most feared style of yoga… Bikram. To me, Bikram was a type of yoga to be scared of. In my mind, it was similar to practicing at an army base on the equator. I wasn’t that far off.
When I entered one of Toronto’s Bikram studios, I was greeted warmly and told that I was going to be placed on a waiting list due to the class possibly being at capacity. ‘Whew!’ I thought, ‘Maybe tonight won’t be the night.’ As I sat waiting, I noticed all of the incredible bodies getting ready for class. I also noticed all of the sweat-soaked bodies exiting from the previous class. As my nerves began to kick in, my name was called and I was given the news that there was enough space for me in the class. Okay, so it was time to face my fear. I was curious to experience this yoga, but I was anxious about whether or not I would have the stamina to complete the class. I decided to enter the class with a clear, calm, open mind; and to experience whatever came my way.
Prior to the start of the class, I lay on my mat, basking in the sauna-like temperature. ‘Just like being on vacation,’ I thought as sweat cascaded from my body onto my mat. Then it was time. The class began with a friendly teacher introducing herself and leading us through a series of breath work. As the class developed, I recognized many of the poses from my own practice, and felt comfortable with the flow of the series. And then there was the heat. It was inescapable. It was almost suffocating to me. On a number of occasions students were reprimanded aloud by the teacher as they toweled themselves or took sips of water; however, the teacher had a valid point when she stated that, “the sweat will only come back, so there is no sense in wiping it off.” Her comments also prompted me to notice the points at which I wanted to refresh myself, which typically occurred during poses I disliked or when I no longer felt like participating. After realizing my own avoidant behaviour, I decided to push onward, and to ignore the thoughts racing throughout my head. But all I could focus on were those thoughts. “Take your mat and leave.” “I hate this.” “I can’t do this.” I was amazed that these negative, self-defeating voices were all coming from inside my head simply as a result of being placed in a room with a little too much heat. Is this the type of psyche I have? One that falters when things get a bit tough?
At the half-way point I decided to take Savasana for the remainder of the class since I began to feel dizzy and unsettled. But lying there on my mat, those negative voices didn’t disappear; instead they got louder. I couldn’t believe I had all this negativity so deeply ingrained within me. As a result of my negative thoughts, I became obsessed with quieting my mind and trying to relax into the situation. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. The more I focused on breathing, the harder it got. My anxiety began to rise, and then it happened. I started to cry. Luckily for me, no one could distinguish my tears from my profuse sweating. ‘What a silly girl,’ I thought. How could I be crying in yoga?! And then, in this moment of desolation, the lesson I had been waiting for finally revealed itself. I was upset because I had let my mind get in my way. For years during my own teaching, I had told students not to let their minds get in the way. That just when they wanted to come out of a yoga pose was exactly when they needed to stay in it. At the same time, I also realized that I was crying out of frustration with myself. ‘Come on, you’re a teacher and you can’t complete a simple yoga class,’ kept playing in my head. It was at that moment that I decided to cut myself some slack. I was once again brought back to my very first yoga class, and remembered the nerves and uncertainty I felt. I was also reminded of how nervous my beginner students likely were when they first entered the class that I teach. Yoga is hard. It isn’t all stretching and relaxation. There is a real component that involves shifting physical, spiritual, and mental energy, and this movement takes a lot of work.
Although I never rejoined the class, but chose to remain in Savasana until the end, I still gained something very powerful from my Bikram experience. I learned that yoga practices vary, and that different practices appeal to different personalities. And even though I enjoy the workout that yoga affords my body, I also enjoy the freedom and joy of the more spiritual forms that are offered. As a result of this experience, I have become a more present teacher because I was brought back to that place of vulnerability and awareness, and this is something I will focus on when I’m guiding my beloved beginner students and sharing the joy of yoga with them. Will I ever try another Bikram class? Hmmmm, not so sure about that; but I definitely think that it was a worthwhile experience.