“Didn’t you just eat too many cucumbers? You might get sick.” That’s what the voice in my head said as I was preparing to attend a recent class. The voice in my head is constantly trying to come up with reasons I should not attend Bikram Yoga class. It tells me I’m too busy, too tired, too stiff, or just plain not good enough to do yoga. Ironically, some of the reasons it gives me for not setting foot in the hot room are exactly the reasons I need to be in there as often as possible. Most days, pushing that voice away is the most important exercise I do, and it’s the one that requires the most strength. Yoga is slowly teaching me to ignore the voice in my head, and it is also teaching me how to listen.
Ideally, from the start of Pranayama Deep Breathing all the way through Kapalbhati in Vajrasana your body should be moving in perfect concert with the instructor’s voice. The instructions describe exactly how to perform each posture, down to the way you should breathe. I find that when I am able to connect perfectly with the teacher’s words my practice is very meditative. It doesn’t happen in every class, but those times are like magic. When I start confusing my right from my left hand in Eagle pose, or wishing I could stand on one leg as easily as some other student, I know that I am not aligned with the instructor. I know that I am not listening. In order to listen I have to tune out the voice in my head.
I have to tune out the voice in my head because it interprets events through a lens of emotion. In his book, How Yoga Works, Geshe Michael Roach describes the mind this way: “We lose control of ourselves, even if we have some understanding, and the last thing we can do at that moment of emotion is to recall that it is actually our own minds making us see things the way we do.” (p. 124) And so, the real yoga is not found in Standing Head to Knee Pose or Fixed Firm Pose, or any of the poses. The real yoga is turning off your mind and listening within. Now, I wonder if there are any cucumbers left...?
Ellen Cole is a Registered Nurse and has been practicing Bikram yoga at BYSJ since August of 2016. One of her favorite poses is Fixed Firm Pose and she loves doing "doubles" when she gets the chance. Read more of Ellen's yoga story here. Thanks for your contribution, Ellen!
“I took my first Bikram class in January of 2011. I did 20 classes in 2 months and was hooked. I worked as a Karma yogi for a few years at another local studio, which allowed me to maintain a steady practice regardless of finances. In 2014 my practice began to take a back seat after a significant life change and although I would hear the call to the hot room from time to time and find myself sweating it out periodically over the years, It wasn’t until this last summer ‘17 that I decided it was time to make yoga a priority again.
“I had been experiencing worsening shoulder pain as a result of a car accident and years of repetitive stress due to an active job and lifestyle in general. When I came back to the St Johns studio in August, I was in excruciating pain, sleeping less than two hours of broken sleep a night and let’s just say, my mood was suffering as a result. After 5 months of regular practice, I feel energized, my skin is softer and clearer, I am sleeping almost through the night which I classify as a miracle, and my overall mood has improved significantly.
“Because, this time around, I am focused on nursing my bum shoulder, I spend my time in class focusing on the details of each step of every posture and what that means for my body that day. With a few minor adjustments and a lot of hard work I feel myself becoming more balanced and stronger every day. Even if my shoulder or whathaveyou don’t do what I wish they could, I feel the healing happening and I am excited about that!!
“The mental benefits that yoga provides for me are invaluable. I cope with anxiety and depression that can become severe if I don’t care for myself well. Bikram yoga and the active meditation of participating in class is my number one exercise for good mental health. Let me never forget that again!!”
"I started Bikram yoga last January because wanted to lose 20 lbs of sexiness and to make sure I didn’t start smoking again. I still haven't smoked yet and I owe to Bikram yoga for sure. In 20 years I’ve never gone this long without smoking. Being able to breathe and heal and be good to myself physically and emotionally through practice has been better than smoking ever was.
"The greatest benefit I’ve gotten from Bikram yoga is how it quiets the crazy inside me. Bikram calms my mind unlike anything else. Amongst the sweat and poses and savasanas, the jagged edges of my thoughts become smoothed and rounded, feelings become clarified, and the voice inside me becomes kinder and gentler. Bikram is like a sweatier version of Zanax.
"I love how no two classes are the same, how a pose one day can vastly differ the very next in feel or fluidness, in difficulty or ease. I love when a breakthrough happens with a pose. It’s the sensation of falling or moving through water, as if the pose is happening to you. You find a new ceiling and a new you.
"I love how if I miss class, my whole body feels it, misses it. It’s like driving and slamming on breaks. My body is at rest but feels like it’s still in motion, longs to continue the forward momentum from the previous day.
"I love every teacher that has instructed me, corrected me, and encouraged me. More times than not, it has been their encouragement that has kept me going.
"I love the sense of community you share with a group of strangers in what amounts to your underwear. It’s the feeling of having survived a great storm, some indescribable test and done it together in one collective spirit, while in your undies."
“My first Bikram yoga class was in New York City about 16 years ago when a friend invited me to share in her new obsession. One day after work I jumped on the subway and made my way downtown to Chambers Street with just enough time before class to chug a Starbucks latte… I didn’t know anything about this hot yoga! Halfway through the standing series I ran out of the room and threw up in an aptly placed trashcan by the studio door.
“It took me a couple of years to gather the courage to go back, and this time I knew how to better prepare for class. I came hydrated, went to find peace and some relief from the stress NYC provided with unlimited generosity. I walked into class angry, grumpy, tired and walked out of class serene and sweaty: I was hooked!
“For me, Bikram yoga is primarily my mental health medicine. Sure, it keeps me toned and focused on healthy eating, but what it really does is reorganize my energy and keep my brain and body in balanced, optimal working order. One class solves a design problem, another class offers forgiveness or releases sadness, some classes cultivate joy or compassion, or sometimes it’s just the sweat that washes away the day.
“Recently I was surprised to receive physical healing for my body. This is what most people proclaim as their primary benefit! But, because I’ve never had injuries, I didn’t seek yoga to heal my physical body. This past winter (probably from the stress of driving in that dangerous winter weather) I experienced great sciatic pain. The pain disturbed my sleep, distracted my work, and was overall exhausting. During my 30-day-yoga-challenge, I worked through the pain, gently stretched the sciatic nerve, and used the meditation of class to help relax the spasms of muscles surrounding the nerve. The pain has gone away!
This past spring I ‘threw my back out’ from sitting in a 3-day conference. I could hardly move I was in so much pain. I came to yoga every day for a week and each day the pain was reduced and my range of motion was increased.
“What is magical is how Bikram yoga gives me what I need each class. Each day is different. Bikram yoga is unconditional in offerings and I am always finding more ways to appreciate and learn from my practice. As teacher Bill says: “You are your best teacher!” Using Bikram yoga to feel better requires that I listen carefully to how my body speaks to me. I am learning how and when I can be my own healer, or to work in concert with other modalities of healing.
“Here at Bikram Yoga St. Johns, we are all part of a community of positivity and joy! This studio is unlike any other studio I have practiced in. Here we are all equal, all included, we are all working together to be our better self, we are open, vulnerable and strong together. Being part of this community is one of the most special gifts I have received this year and I thank you all for being here with me! See you in the hot room soon.”
BONUS: Charlotte is our cuurent featured artist at the studio! Check out her colorful, joyful prints on your way to the yoga room today...
“I have been sober a little over two years and Bikram Yoga has become a big part of my recovery program. My practice has been such an important healthy outlet for emotional healing and managing the day-to-day life stressors that come up. I don't second guess myself as much as I did before I started practicing. I don't know exactly how it works, but I know it’s the yoga, and I think it has something to do with looking myself in the eye in those mirrors. I have built a mind-body connection and trust myself more.
“I always sleep better after I've come to yoga. I've been able to maintain a healthy weight throughout the year by coming regularly. I have gained confidence in myself and am able to make decisions more quickly. It always surprises me what comes up in the hot room. As one of my teachers says "Let it out. Better out than in!"
“I took my first Bikram yoga class in Seattle in 2012 and practiced on and off for about 9 months. But it wasn't until after I got sober that I was able to realize how much the yoga could do for me. Class is so much harder with a hangover! After I got sober in 2014 it took me a long time to starting exercising again in any fashion. When I came back in January I knew it was what I had been missing and has since become a huge part of my life. I keep coming back because my yoga class is my 90 minutes to be with myself, pushing my edge in the most loving way possible. I am increasingly confident and enjoy working on myself from the inside out. I was so happy when I got to the point where I could get through a whole class without taking a break! That took a while, and I still take breaks when I need to. It’s fun to see how much I progress when I come regularly.
“I completed a 60 day challenge in the spring and it was the best gift I gave myself this year. It kick-started me into a healthier way of thinking and living. I was really paying attention to what my body needed and treated myself well. I was thinking about hydration and nutrition in a way that I hadn’t been before. It was fun to participate in the studio wide challenge because it felt like we were one big team, cheering each other on throughout the month. The experience made me realize that I am so much stronger than I ever gave myself credit for. I definitely plan to participate in the challenge in January and get the new year started off right! The benefits of a 30 day challenge last far longer than the 30 days and I highly recommend everyone to try it. You will probably realize more benefit than you can even imagine - I know I did!”
Even if you've never taken a Bikram yoga class, you can probably imagine a few ways sweating your guts out for 90 minutes a day might change your body. (Weight loss, lower blood pressure, increased stamina, improved digestion, anyone?) After all, Bikram yoga is a hatha yoga practice, meaning a practice of physical postures, called asanas, and breathing techniques, called pranayama. And hatha yoga offers tremendous health benefits for all the systems of your body. But that's not all, folks! By attending to your physical practice, you also cultivate certain qualities of mind which have the power to absolutely transform the way you see the world and the way you live your life:
How has Bikram yoga changed your mind? Leave a comment. We love to hear from you!
Boss lady, yoga-doer and life-lover, Kay D.