1. Focus on many things, one thing at a time:
Focus is hard and illusive in a culture where speedy media and news feeds remind us with every ding of our smartphones how fast time flies & how little actually happens. Focus determines reality. Where you put your mental energy will have a direct physical correlation to where you stand and what your body is up to - and this happens all the time - sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. In a Yoga practice we can become conscious actors in our bodies and lives as we build the posture / mind / body / connections. When you take your Bikram class, try very very hard to direct your focus with the instruction to build the postures. For example, in 1/2 moon lock your elbows - focus on that one specific action and hold it in your mind like glue. Next, while keeping your arms and elbows locked - hold the focus - lift your chin up just slightly. If you keep your arms straight with the ears and then lift the chin, your entire spine with lengthen. Stretch up as high as you can keeping your elbows locked, chin up, and try to touch the ceiling. Stay with the teacher holding every single point of instruction embedded in your mind and body and gradually build the posture holding each component together. If you find that you are unable to go deeper or follow the next step without compromising your form - that is the point at which you hold absolutely still and breathe. Try very hard not to move your eyes or change your focus or allow yourself to give up. Keep breathing and be truly present where you're at. There is no way to rush the process except by fully engaging in it. In our postures we are not jumping up and down, or climbing over barbed wire in the mud, we are literally in one spot contained on a Yoga mat for 90 minutes - yet so so much happens in that small space. As students in that space we face ourselves focused and still, covered in sweat, deeply satisfied because there's no reason to look away. #selflove #compassion
2. Standing head to knee is probably the hardest thing you'll ever be asked to do, and it's totally worth doing:
Standing head to knee is a perfect metaphor for mastery of Bikram Yoga. Standing head to knee is hard. To 'do' this posture, every bit of mental clutter must be cleared. Focus must be established, and a strict control over the muscles in the body must be developed. This can take years of practice. When you tell someone they might have to work years to achieve something, there are two directions their attitude can turn. They will either give up, or trust the process. Trusting the process implies trying the right way over and over again, failing constantly, falling wildly at first, until progress is made and balance established. During the process, all attachment to outcome must dissolve in order to truly hold the posture. Complete control over the senses is developed through muscular, circulatory, and respiratory unification. After years of falling through the tears and sweat in the heat of the Hot Room, one day, we touch our 'exactly forehead to our knee.' Finding the determination to show up, try, fail, and ultimately succeed can be applied to every situation in which we want to progress as individuals. It's hard but so very worth the effort.
3. No windows, no doors. Now what?
When you want to give up, don't. Just don't. Don't go there in your mind. You are not defeated. You are more powerful and incredible than you realize in the moment right before you give up. Can't stand the sight of yourself in the mirror? Stare harder. Feel like you're going to puke? Either let it out, or suck it up. Is this tough? Yes. Here's the good news: you can practice in a way that is therapeutic every single class, without ever going to the place where you feel like you simply must escape. Does this mean you'll never puke? No. Does this mean you won't occasionally look at the door with envy? No. But it will help to frame the context of what you're experiencing and give you a tool to deal with these feelings. The answer: BREATHE. Breathe ideally by your nose, but really - who cares, just breathe! It sounds so contrite, right, 'just breathe' says the flowing willowy Yoga teacher siren with a beautiful bendy body and perfect hair. Mastery over the breath is probably the oldest, truest form of Hatha Yoga that exists today. The postures themselves are recent in the larger historical context of Yoga - but breath work is a practice that extends across civilizations. Perhaps you do 1/2 moon and you have the ability to bend fully sideways but halfway down the 1/2 moon you stop breathing, or slow your breathing, or speed it up to compensate for your efforts. Inevitably you have to either come up for air, or you just struggle and struggle until the teacher says 'change' only to find yourself near puking 10 minutes later. When you do every posture, lay down your breathing first with the teacher's instruction and move into the posture while you breathe. You will have to train yourself - (see #2) - over tons of classes - but keep your breathing completely normal in the postures. If your breath lags, make a change either in the breathing itself or in the way you approach the posture. Developing this control over the primary fuel your body needs, you will also develop the necessary coping mechanisms to not constantly retreat from, but actually thrive in a challenging time.
4. Intention + Action = Karma Fulfilled
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The path to salvation lies in our actions. What if we are able to ally our intentions with our actions? What would the result be? Intention alone can leave us sitting on the couch for days thinking about when we'll take our next Yoga class, move on to the next job, or when we can finally move on from that terrible break up. Intentions are wonderful as long as they do not disable action. Sometimes we can feel like we're doing things or deserve things because we intend them to be a certain way. Knowing where you want to go is definitely the first step in the process, and perhaps the most vital, however, that initial step is followed by millions more. Maybe some residual construct from 'The Secret' that allows the will to be - BE the act. This is actually a denial of the practice of Yoga whereby the process is both subject, object, and destination. The process is the action(s) required to achieve a specific outcome. No one wins the lottery without first buying a ticket. No one gets the benefits until they show up and put in the work. Parallel to this is the emptiness of moving with only action and no clear intention. This leaves impulse in charge and can become a steamroller effect on ourselves and those around us. Actions require a dedicated intention to deliver the value of the process. For example, if you have a knee injury (or really anything you're working to heal in Yoga) wrap your entire being - mind / body / spirit - around healing your knee. With every action you take in the posture say in the quiet of your mind, "I'm healing my knee right now. This is amazing. I'm working so hard on healing my knee right now. I'm totally present with everything my knee needs to heal in this moment. I love my broken knee. My broken knee helped me slow down a bit. I hurt my knee being way too competitive. I'm glad I'm not that competitive anymore. Even though my knee hurts, it's taught me a compassion I never knew before. Wow this posture makes my knee feel great. Ok, this one I need to be a little gentle - but I can still do it!" Practice like this - unifying your raw will and determination with a fierce sense of value and purpose toward the positive fulfillment of your efforts & enjoy the journey.
5. Stay stoic - except for crying, laughing, and smiling - do those a lot:
Amazingly, between postures, some find the time to sit down / drink water / blow their nose / then use the same nose rag to again wipe their sweat and face / then put the towel on the floor - somehow in the near invisible space between postures. Everyone has one or two of these classes, or some goofy behavior, but for some these behaviors become the practice. Watch out. It's marvelous at times how unconscious the most conscious individuals can behave - stacking up challenges for themselves in order to feel victories over battles that never existed. Bikram's instructions are very clear after each posture "eyes open, breathing normal." He does not say, drink water, wipe sweat, blow nose, stand on head, eat oatmeal, do 10 jumping jacks, and then be still. Often times, when we distract ourselves with useless austerities, we may feel like we're doing work, making progress - but really what's happening is avoiding the main issue in exchange for a bunch of other small tasks. You say, 'I'm working so hard - I have sweat in my eyes, what else am I supposed to do but wipe it away? Geez I need to blow my nose, you're saying I can't blow my nose?! I'm outta here!" Instead of rolling up your mat, roll up your capris and take a look at the alternative. Our emotions are incredibly powerful. Left out of check, they can create scenarios in our minds that don't quite match up with the reality of what we're trying to achieve (#1 above). By subverting the emotional desire to outwardly act - we put our focus inside. This is very scary stuff at first but is the first step in meditation :: observe your senses :: observe your reactions to your senses. When we remove our external attempts to control our emotional state, it's like building a Hoover Dam inside us. The Hoover Dam uses all that power of the river to create steam and energy condensed. This too will happen in your Yoga practice. There's even a word for this energy: it's called 'agni' - or, 'the fire that burns karma.' You will discover a new source of fuel created by the waves of the past crashing into the power of the present moment. In this space you will be greatly challenged - anything to remove the pressure or break down the dam to get back to 'normal' will come up (wipe the sweat, hold back in a posture you know you can do, run for the door, scream cause it's so hot - hold it in!). You're a Yogi - so retreat is impossible. You must cope, breathe, and be still. It is from this place, from this well-spring of emotional power and energy that the true expression of healing are accessed: tears, laughter, and smiles. Your past will rush to the present and like a river you'll sweat it away and be left with a profound sense of renewed energy for the future. Before you know it, the sweat won't bother you, the heat won't bother you, you won't bother you, nothing can steal your peace. #feelamazing
Boiler House Yoga, Studio Director