Postcards From The Heat

Winter Solstice Renewal

2 Comments 27 December 2011

Celebrated by ancient agrarians, the Winter Solstice was observed to urge and welcome the return of the sun. Assorted cultures around the world still take note of this natural cycle; in this country it’s maybe just the shamans and yogis.

The studio held an evening class to honor the solstice, canceling the harsh overhead lights in favor of loops of tiny bulbs scalloped across the mirrors, and nightlights flickering like candles on the floor. Tranquil music played, and the teacher did not recite instructions nor issue corrections.

I relaxed in this class like never before. I could just do the postures, just flow with the movements. No words to focus on. No need for ears or mind. I did not fuss myself about whether my nose was straight or my toe pointed or my hip twisted. All I did was raise my limbs in patterns I know and love. It was as relaxing as dancing.

And as happened the last time I took a silent class set to music, I did every posture, every last sit-up. Listening carefully to the instructions takes a lot of energy, exerting myself to get deeper is what tires me. After this class, I felt light, buoyant, almost giddy—energized, as the teachers always promise.

But the best part of the class was, during the savasanas, the teacher read inspirational words about rebirth. She began the class by referring to Bikram’s statements about the practice asserting that one of its primary purposes is “To make you fall in love with yourself.”

I dedicated my practice to that thought, and what I fell in love with was my love of yoga. The magic of it all, the way stretching feels like breathing, resting like floating, heat like an embrace, the way water tastes so good. I felt grateful for my practice. My love for yoga was renewed, and my sense that yoga is itself renewing. Yoga is a Winter Solstice celebration every day.

Yoga Lily

Postcards From The Heat

Will is a muscle

14 Comments 19 December 2011

The other day, a student asked the teacher to open the door for air. This person was upfront about a health issue that made breathing difficult at that humid and hot moment. And while I sympathized—I am the first to need a cool blast to revive–I was also shocked.

I would never ask to have my weakness accommodated. It’s bad enough being weak. I’d rather be embarrassed about having to sit down than impose my need on others.

And while the teacher opened the door that day, Bikram yoga is of the “life on life’s terms” persuasion. In the hot box this means: Endure what is. You can’t change the heat, humidity, or postures, but you can change how you cope with the difficulty. Accept it, face it, maybe even rise to it. But what use is trying to ease it?

You can’t change the vicissitudes of life, make them easier, reverse your mother’s dying or losing your job or the use of your knee. You can only change your attitude toward the troubles life hands you. You can’t ask death to go away, your boss to rehire you, your meniscus to regain its integrity.

Asking the teacher to open the window is cheating yourself of the chance to practice fortitude.

A recent essay in The New York Times (November 27), “Willpower: It’s in Your Head” argued that will is a like a muscle: Use it or lose it. The authors wrote, “when people believe that willpower is self-renewing—that when you work hard, you’re energized to work more; that when you’ve resisted one temptation, you can better resist the next one—then people successfully exert more willpower.”

Bikram teachers often say, “Who you are on your mat is who you are in life.” If you give up in the studio, you are probably giving up in life. If you ask to have your burden eased in the studio, instead of ponying up your will to cope, (or at least facing the fact that at this moment you can’t), chances are you’re asking life to ease up on you too.

Good luck with that.

Yoga Lily

Postcards From The Heat

That Copyright Business

4 Comments 12 December 2011

I’ve done my vinyasa and felt vibrant. I’ve released my kundalini, heat waves whooshing up my spine. I took yoga for relaxation and ended by hovering above the ground, not feeling my body. Yoga is various. But I love me some Bikram, I just do. I’ve been practicing steadily for years now. I think I may never go back to another form of yoga.

Bikram is its own yoga experience, and in fact, it has been patented by the man who designed the series, to perennial outrage in the larger yoga community. I am biased, of course, a Bikram fan, as in fanatic, but I defend this practice as unique and in my non-lawyer opinion, deserving copyright protection.

One way I see it: Yoga asansas are an alphabet. That classic poster of the 84 basic postures makes it easy to think of poses as letters. Bikram made a poem with those letters. Or, as he says is, the practice is a love song to the body..

Another way to think of the copyright is to think of the 84 basic poses as piano keys, 88 notes you can combine to make Beethoven’s Fifth, “All the Single Ladies”, or “Amazing Grace”. Bikram picked 26 notes for his song; he wrote it, like George Gershwin wrote “Summertime,” and he gets the copyright.

But the practice is more than the sequence of poses. It’s also the heat, the mirror, the precise instructions, the ethos of pushing yourself, learning to cope with difficulty. It’s that there are no surprises—I used to injure myself all the time trying new poses. But with Bikram–no worries: I automatically relax when I walk in.

Or, think of yoga as like the human genome, each pose like a gene, a segment of biochemicals that make up an eye, a brain, the adroit hand. And just as Genentech uses some biochemicals to make a patentable medicine, so Bikram uses some poses and made a medicine. It’s working its cure on me, slowly but surely. I’m grateful for his invention.

Yoga Lily

Postcards From The Heat

The futility of envy

8 Comments 05 December 2011

The other day, I saw a hefty woman eyeballing every lithe figure as we waited for class to start. She was clearly envious, uncomfortable, down on herself. I saw myself in her, the part of me that is upset with my extra ten pounds that won’t go away. When she gave even me a despondent once-over, the futility of envy hit me.

She envies this one, I envy that one. It’s a vicious cycle of dissatisfaction, based on comparison.

It’s normal to compare. Common advice is to look at people “better” than you in some way, so as to aspire and strive. Sometimes people suggest looking at people “lesser” than you, so as to feel grateful and better about yourself.

Both forms of comparing waste time and emotion. Of what real use is comparison? Instead of looking up or down, it makes sense only to look at. To face what is, to accept what I have , and to strive to better that with whatever I can apply to the task. At least I never bemoan how unfair it is that strong people can use their strength to gain flexibility, whereas flexible people can not use flexibility to grain strength. So what? I have to use will to gain strength. What others have does not matter. What anyone else’s is is isn’t my business.

It’s not relevent that she’s gorgeous or he’s blind. What she has, what he hasn’t– irrelevant. What’s relevant is my goals for myself. Integrity resides in pursuing them. And accepting what I have and have not with grace.

Gratitude does not need comparison. Simply list the normals of your life and think of them as luxuries. My beautiful dog, my healthy children, the water piped to my kitchen, the floor under my feet, the fact that I am not awaiting the results of a biopsy and do not have a toothache or serious heart condition. If I feel envious of someone’s slim waist, I remind myself to be grateful to be able to walk.

One of the teachers in the studios says frequently, during savasana, “If you are feeling anything other than gratitude right now, stop it.” I second the motion, ten extra pounds and all.

Yoga Lily

Bikram Yoga NYC opened its doors in August 1999 and became Manhattan's first Bikram Yoga Studio! Owners Donna Rubin and Jennifer Lobo had both been avid practitioners of Bikram Yoga in other cities and knew that no city needed Bikram Yoga more than New York!

Our blogger, Yoga Lily has been practicing intensively in our studios for more than two years. She was inspired to begin this blog by the myriad benefits the yoga brings her. Yoga Lily lives in Manhattan with her two daughters, an oversized German Shepherd, and a Russian Blue cat.

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