Monthly Archives: January 2011

Bikram doesn’t believe in me, either

I have told a few people to check out this blog, which means there’s a chance you already know that while I continue to practice hot hatha yoga, I’ve decided to stop practicing at the studios licensed by modern guru Bikram Choudhury. But I thought I’d go ahead an include the quote that tipped the scale:

“You Westerners are like spiritual babies,” Choudhury says. “You were born in the wrong country, with the wrong skin color, in the wrong culture. You can never be spiritual! It is not your fault. I’m sorry about that. If you can even get the body right, that much is good enough for you!”

The quote is from the same magazine story I mentioned in my previous post, and it infuriates me because I am hurt he would dismiss humans so simply. Who is he to tell me of my spiritual capabilities? I would love to hear what Deepak Chopra would have to say to Bikram. Chopra’s new book, The Soul of Leadership, says that the best leaders use guidance of the soul and heart, not just the mind. And soulful leadership does not involve denying the spirituality of your followers.

This isn’t the first time a role model has let me down. When I was in high school I adored the Counting Crows. Adam Duritz’s soulful crooning on August and Everything After spoke to my heart, and I was a devoted fan for years–until I read an interview in which he says his debut album was an embarrassment, that it didn’t represent his true self. Well, if his true self is more like his later albums I’m sorry to hear that because August is still my favorite, and it still has meaning for me.

Discovering that Bikram is sort of a jerk prompts a similar defiant disappointment: Just because I no longer admire the creator doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the creation. Bikram yoga–which for the purposes of this blog will be hereafter known as hot hatha yoga–is a genius combination of asanas. I’m not so sure the extreme heat and humidity is necessary, but there’s no denying the magic worked by my muscles in that room. So thank goodness for all the yogis out there with the determination and passion to open hot studios that veer from the patented path. I am grateful for alternatives that celebrate–or at least allow for–my spirituality.

Bye-bye Bikram

I am going to get my 200-hour certification, which is a pretty standard achievement in the yoga world. It’s a generalized pre-req that may or may not carry weight or meaning, depending on where you go and who you talk to. (According to this New York Times profile of Tara Stiles, certification is worthless. I respectfully disagree.)

But whatever the pros and cons of becoming a Registered Yoga Teacher, it’s a nationally recognized status, and it’s fairly general. With it I am licensed, so to speak, to teach yoga in any form. Or rather, any form that doesn’t require its own specialization.

Bikram yoga is one of the exclusive styles: You can only teach it if Bikram says so. He designed a sequence of twenty-six postures that he says works every part of your body in an efficient fashion. Do his sequence every day and you’ll live a happy life.

I spent the last two years practicing Bikram yoga regularly so I understand what he means. I might even agree with him, to an extent. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say Bikram is for everyone. Yoga, yes. I do think yoga is for everyone. But as I’ve indicated before, yoga is a subjective term that extends far beyond the boundaries of Bikram’s beliefs and postures. (Some of which are questionable, to say the least.)

Which is why I am expanding my personal  repertoire and learning to teach power vinyasa. Vinyasa is very different from Bikram, or hatha, yoga. In a hatha yoga class you move from one pose to another slowly. You hold each position for as long as a minute and rarely less than twenty seconds. There is an emphasis on careful attention to detail, particularly as it pertains to alignment. “Traditional hot yoga” is hatha with heat. In a vinyasa class, you move from pose to pose in a repeated rhythm, called a flow. Keeping pace and moving gracefully seem to be a big part of it. (Or at least two goals of mine; I don’t have as  much vinyasa experience.) You can add heat, but it’s not as common as with hatha.

Both forms are good workouts based in the breath, and while I currently prefer hot yoga, it’s also true that the more vinyasa I do the more appreciation I gain for it.  I think it’s useful to practice them both, and I intend to–but I’m no longer going to be endorsing Bikram.

Because Bikram trademarked his sequence of twenty-six postures (a move that is being debated in court), currently it is technically illegal to teach “his” yoga without his approval. To get his approval, you must participate in a ten-week training that requires you to take a leave of absence from your life and live at a hotel. There, you practice hot yoga twice a day and in between learn anatomy and how to present the dialogue and who knows what else. I sure don’t, because I’m not willing to quit my job and I don’t have $10,000 to spare.

I do, on the other hand, have a sincere interest in learning about what else is out there, and my upcoming training will provide me with information and experience that doesn’t altogether disrupt my life balance. I can keep my job–and even keep practicing hot hatha yoga while I learn about other styles. And as long as quality alternatives are available, I’m pleased to ditch the brand name.

So, thanks for the good times (and the bad times), but, bye-bye, Bikram!

Breathing easy

I was supposed to go to yoga on Friday night. It was going to be a cathartic, restorative, grounding experience. I was going to love my body, and push it physically, and laugh good-naturedly. I was going to move to live music, soaking in the vibrant frequency of the energy around me. I was going to emerge renewed, just after midnight, welcoming the weekend with wholesome gratitude.

Instead I got drunk.

Well, not really. I only had one drink, and it wasn’t even good. But I may have well as gotten wasted, because I definitely didn’t go to yoga. I was on the verge of condemning myself for my decision, several hours and not a lot of fun later. But it was then, on the cab ride home, that I remembered that the basic foundation of yoga is the breath. And I can breathe anywhere.

Too often I act as though yoga exists only in the studio, like my practice remains suspended between classes, as if the flow of energy occurs when I am officially in costume and at no other time. But yoga is everywhere, in every conscious breath I take. In fact, breath is the very basis for yoga. So there in the cab, I started inhaling with deliberate rhythm, pulling air slowly in through my nose and calmly, carefully releasing it out again. Inhale for eight, exhale for eight. Repeat. Relax. Repeat. Then, to increase my focus, I began mentally chanting my favorite mantra: I am, I am, I am.

Full of potential, incapable of being labeled, my true essence simply is. I am. That’s all. My less spiritually centered self is all too able to limit, to label, to judge. But by grounding myself with my breath, I found forgiveness and compassion for my lack of self-discipline, for my defiant determination to be social. I found acceptance of the present moment, of the air that goes in and out of me, a quiet and vital exchange of energy with the universe.

The peace only lasted a few moments–I’m an amateur meditator at best. But it was long enough for me to find my own version of a yoga practice on Friday night, one based in the breath, and where I made an honest effort. And for that I am grateful.

Getting personal

My coworkers ate lunch together in the lounge today and I told them I started this blog. Soon thereafter I realized some people don’t care about yoga. They don’t have anything against it; they just don’t care. Which means they don’t try to learn anything about it. Which really troubles me.

I know I cannot change other people. I know, I know, I know. And still, I struggle not to try. I can accept that my coworker has no interest, but I have trouble resisting the urge to explain why interest is warranted.

Because it is so clear to me that yoga can change the world, for serious. I have a hard time keeping this information to myself. I want to tell anyone who will listen, or at least let me talk.

But for people to listen, they have to care what I’m saying. And since one of my biggest goals with this blog and my future website is to communicate with people whose minds may not already be open to my ideas, I’m going to need a hook that isn’t exclusively related to yoga.

And that’s where it gets personal. My posts are a blend of fact and opinion, and for you to care about either it helps to know who I am. After all, everything is conveyed through a filter–that’s why it’s so important to be aware of who’s talking.

I believe I am a reliable and qualified narrator. I have a fancy journalism degree and a longstanding love for fiction, which equates to a deep understanding of how to tell a true story.  I am a writer and choose my words with care. I’m not sure I believe anything can be objective, so I don’t pretend that’s what I am. But I do my best to be aware of bias and to acknowledge it.

So, for instance, I know I am biased toward loving yoga. On a logical level I understand it won’t appeal to everyone, but I still believe that it could. I sincerely believe the world would be a better place if yoga were a daily practice for all humans. And I don’t see why every human couldn’t have a daily practice. It is truly possible, and I find that inspiring.

There is only one true truth, and the path to understanding it is necessarily personal. No one can travel your journey but you, and there is no single solution or cure-all for your pain. But yoga provides a universal access road, a structure and philosophy that will help you get where you are going, if you make an honest effort. Yoga teaches us how to rest our anxious and fearful minds, allowing grace and acceptance to flow through our bodies, out of our calmly breathing mouths, and into the world we create.

Interested yet?

A new beginning

Back in October I had a breakthrough of sorts. A few of them, actually, but the one that resulted in this blog was the web domain I promptly purchased. In a fit of foresight, I snagged this blog name as well, but until today, nothing has been written for either the website or the blog.

I am still shaping my vision (and my source code) for the website, but I’m ready to explore the purpose of its accompanying blog. For now, I intend to use this space as an outlet to document my personal growth, particularly as it relates to my becoming a Registered Yoga Teacher. One month from today I embark on a ten-week intensive program of learning and healing that I hope will provide me with the experience necessary to determine the next step of my journey.

As a moderately experienced yogi, I know I have a long way to go and a lot to absorb, and I am grateful to have discovered a subject I feel passionate enough about to study in depth. I would also like to put my journalism degree to some use, and I believe yoga is a topic worthy of promotion. There is a lot to be explained. But at its essence, yoga is simple. It is breath, which is the path to peace.

If that sounds like hooey to you, stay tuned. I’ll clarify, and you might even discover you are interested. That maybe yoga is for you. Which, of course, it is. Yoga is for everyone. And I’m going to write about it.