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Bikram Yogis are Students of Life
If you’re reading this article you probably do Bikram Yoga regularly or at least have done it a few times. You know the grueling routine of the class. You’ve experienced the adversity of the heat and the classroom setting. You’ve stared into the cosmic mirror and had to face yourself, for better or worse, for more than an hour each time. “How does all this serve you?” you ask.
The physical benefits are obvious. The structure of the class is true to hatha yoga and its purpose of healing the body. No other yoga class or form of exercise works the body as thoroughly and effectively as the formula that is Bikram Yoga. Where else do you build strength, flexibility and balance while working all the major systems in the body and forcing them all to work together again?
You may wonder at times (usually in the middle of class) if this really is good for you, but then you lie in final savasana and your body systems begin to return to normal, your mind quiets and relaxation sets in. As peace takes over, the question fades away.
With the sequence of postures always the same, after completing one class you know what to expect in all future classes. All kinds of things will affect your performance in the class, most noticeably your diet (including level of hydration) and your mental and emotional states. The results of diet and hydration are very clear to see. We all understand that the food and drink we ingest is the fuel that we burn while exercising. The affect our mental and emotional states have on our performance are not nearly as easy to grasp.
Bikram speaks of how our minds are most often our worst enemy. We constantly underestimate ourselves and our abilities; our inner critic focuses on faults, both in ourselves and others. In essence, we see limitations instead of possibilities. Bikram teaches that by learning to control our bodies we learn to control our minds. As we learn to control our minds the true healing and change begins.
In Bikram Yoga, adversity is built into the classroom environment. We Bikram teachers are trained to push you to your limits. The more time you spend exerting yourself to your maximum capacity, the more your capacity will expand. You see by repeated experience in class after class that over time the things you once considered impossible might actually be possible. This is true about your physical body in the execution of the postures as well as about every other aspect of your life. Your mind begins subtly to shift from the state of “can’t” to “can”.
Bikram says that the biggest gifts we get from doing his beginning hatha yoga class are mental. He teaches us to keep our mind focused on the vision of doing the posture perfectly, whether we are able to or not, and not allow our minds to wander from that vision. By doing this we develop patience, our ability to concentrate, determination, self-discipline and faith, all integral aspects to living a truly healthy, well balanced life.
The class is meant to be a 90 minute, open-eyed, moving meditation. Spending time in meditation with eyes closed has its benefits but the tool is not readily translated into your normal everyday life. We go about our daily activities with our eyes open and in a state of constant interaction with potential distractions so learning to maintain a calm, peaceful state of mind throughout your day is where mastery of life is developed. When does your normal life afford you the time to close your eyes and escape?
We refer to the classroom mirror as the cosmic mirror. It can be extremely challenging to look at yourself in the mirror when there is something about your life that you don’t want to acknowledge. Yet when you look eye to eye at yourself in the mirror, you are looking into the eyes of your true teacher. You are being forced to face reality as it is now. Resisting reality keeps us controlled by it. Have you ever noticed similar situations recurring in your life on a regular basis? It seems the more irritating it is, the more it keeps happening. This is a result of resistance; your negative judgment creates an attachment that’s hard to shake. When you want something to change, you must first accept it at face value. The sooner we accept reality, the sooner it can change.
The sequence, repetition, heat, mirror and constant instructions from the teacher are all designed to help build strength and flexibility on the physical and mental levels. A strong mind is able to maintain its focus despite all kinds of distractions, and never gives up. A flexible mind is able to accept what is and, being resistance free, allows for other possibilities. Balance is a result of harmonizing strength and flexibility, in both mind and body.
Very few people see the correlation between their mental state and their emotional state. Most think these two states of being act independently of each other. This is not the case. If you doubt this it will only takes a bit of time in focused study to determine for yourself whether it is true or not.
Begin first with the postulate that the thoughts that you think affect the emotions that you feel. Choose a particular subject matter and tune yourself to (focus your attention on) how you feel at any given moment and then notice what you are thinking. Don’t simply discard the connection without further inquiry. If you doubt that the thoughts you are thinking are creating that feeling, that emotional state, try changing the thought or belief that you have about the subject and see if you notice a change in your emotional state. Try out many different beliefs or thoughts about the subject matter and notice how each makes you feel.
The best part about this exercise is that it puts you back in the driver seat of your life. You do not have to remain subject to your emotions, instead you can learn to control them by changing the thoughts that you think and the beliefs that you hold. If a thought doesn’t feel good, find another way to view the subject matter that feels better to you. In a process of tweaking your thoughts little by little to thoughts that feel good to you, you will little by little begin changing your life to match that of your dreams.
Set aside some quiet time each morning in which you can close your eyes and focus on a vision of how you want your day to unfold. Make sure that as you create the vision that you allow yourself to feel the emotional state that you wish to experience. Let this vision set the intention for your day and then let your day unfold as it will.
I always like to start each class by setting my intention to enjoy the meditation of the class and whatever else it brings with it. I encourage my students at the start of each class to do the same. With this we learn acceptance of what is.
When it comes to the yoga, Bikram says that the postures will change as your body changes, and as the postures change your body will change. Bring the mental attributes of Bikram’s teachings into the equation and take back control of your life.