I’m Michael, BYSJ’s marketing manager, jumping into the 60 Day Challenge with many of you. It’s the Fourth of July, and I went to a Bikram Yoga class in Monterey, where I live. Happy Independence Day! 🇺🇸 My yoga neighbor just a couple of feet away gave me a lesson in freedom.

During all of Pranayama, she held a wide grin with eyes closed and hands kept in prayer – no arms in the air filling the lungs. She was performing peacefulness, and it devolved from there.

Each posture was her opportunity to do something else; at one point, a fixed-firm-like pose during Triangle. 😳 When the teacher asked her to stay with the class, she said, “I know what my body needs!” I thought to myself, “uh-oh, she’s performing freedom.”

I know what my body needs!

I’ve heard that phrase before; it often comes in defense of medical and dietary beliefs. We ought to have agency over our bodies. No true freedom-loving American can deny it, but do we always know what our body needs? My favorite position is horizontal, but I also need to get up and do yoga.

What I’ve experienced in my yoga practice is a freedom that can result from getting close to discomfort and discipline. In a moving meditation like Bikram Yoga, there is no good or bad; it just is. If we’re focused, we transcend our opinions. 

One of my favorite sayings is, “don’t believe everything you think.” We willingly conform to the same sequence and precise instruction of the postures. No need for friction; just do it. What we think about it doesn’t help and may not be true anyway. 🤷‍♂️

The cult of discipline or freedom?

Many Eastern disciplines have been labeled as cultish, Bikram Yoga included – we do the same thing every day and praise the practice and teachers often. Is the honor and devotion given to a time-tested regimen a cult? Or is it a cult to insist that personal freedom always takes precedence? 

The sentiment of personal freedom runs deep in American culture. Yet we’ve accomplished so much together, and our rights are always intertwined. My teacher today said, “we don’t do American yoga; we do Hatha yoga.”

Freedom isn’t a performance; it goes much deeper. Life itself is limited; we all die. We regulate our activities to allow each other their liberty, like when we stop at a red light. In yoga, we regulate our movements to go inward, to take responsibility. We feel our limitations, and then we walk out of the room and into the world, flowing freely, ready to care for each other and do the right thing. 

My yoga neighbor walked out of the class early today. She couldn’t handle the requirement to work with us. I hope she finds her freedom.