Did you happen to see Bikram on The Today Show on NBC? If you didn’t, don’t worry, I’ve linked the interview (see below) to this newsletter. It is always a treat to see this man, this yogi, in action, whether he is teaching a class, demonstrating a pose, or being interviewed on television, he is insightful and a delight to watch. This short but worthy piece had Jenna Wolfe of NBC interviewing Bikram at Teacher Training in Los Angeles. Jenna participated in the yoga and it turns out that she is an active practitioner! Bikram gave us his shining personality and some exact words that usually stun any audience: “Yes, I like money,” “I sell the truth,” “I don’t sleep; only one hour every night,” “I cure osteoporosis, scoliosis, bursitis, etc…” But, he saves the best for last: “People give up everything to be here. They have no health, no mind, no spirit and I give them hope, a new life.”
That part is hard to argue. If you practice like me and if you watched the video and were moved by seeing the hundreds of students taking class from Bikram, then you know that his yoga does bring new life to many. The older we get the more mileage we put on the body and the narrower our thinking can become. We go through a series of experiences that thread the tales of our lives. It’s only normal that we view our own lives with the filters we derive from each situation we’ve encountered. Taking Bikram Yoga not only helps to slow down the wear and tear on the body but it eliminates many of our filters so you can see and experience your life in newer, broader, perspectives. It’s like putting on glasses and seeing the same circumstance in a clear and brighter way. Bikram has another famous saying: “This is the only subject in the world where the object is you!” Take the yoga for a while and notice how life seems to work for you instead of you working for it. Bikram has a false reputation of being “cult-like.” That may be the addictive quality of the yoga at play here. When you find something that can help you live your most authentic and best life, you can’t help but get obsessed by it.
I have always loved trees. They inspire me. They root deeply, finding the nourishment they need and continually stretch up toward the light. I live in an urban area surrounded by some great landscaping, but there are mostly buildings. Luckily for me, I do have a tree outside my window. It’s a single tree in the midst of these buildings. It sits just outside my huge front window, centered perfectly. Call me silly, but I look forward to seeing that tree each day. This year in particular, I had doubts that it was going to make it. It isn’t a very strong tree, and if you recall, our weather went from great to really bad, and then back to pretty good, only to repeat it all again. We are only just now getting some spring type breeze and sunshine. My tree succumbed to frost a couple of times and was left barren, with few branches. But, to my surprise, it currently has the most leaves I’ve ever seen, and is full and flourishing! It’s decorated and dancing with green, with life!
In yoga, you hear us teachers reciting some of the benefits derived from the practice. For one, our discipline in that room teaches us to tolerate levels of discomfort beyond any threshold we are used to in our everyday life. For example, in Standing Separate Leg Stretching Forehead to the Knee, the knee must touch the forehead in order to get any benefit. That means your chin is tucked to your chest to the point where your throat is choking. Like all the poses, you must hold this pose for a period of time trying to breathe normally. This posture is mid-way through the class, so by the time you are doing this pose, you are hot and super sweaty, and in some cases very tired. It’s challenging and in the beginning, intolerable. However, over time, with frequency in your practice, you come to not only tolerate that throat choking sensation, but to detach from any feeling of discomfort and awaken to sensations that move you deeper into the posture. You become involved in the success of the pose instead of just getting through it. It’s a small but valuable analogy to my tree and to our lives, which grow in meaning with the repetition of the 26 poses. Day after day, just this one pose alone takes you on a journey to move away from familiar filters that can inhibit your growth to more heightened perceptions; perceptions that will free you to rediscover the power within you. These underlying but empowering truths will translate into areas of your life that seem dead, that need tolerance to get through that lack life.
Bikram will tell you that the biggest problem in this world is that we underestimate ourselves. Unfortunately, he’s right, and a lot of it comes from our unconscious, habitual thinking. He will also tell you that negative thoughts are nine times more powerful than positive thoughts. If this was put to a test, I’m certain that he’d be right again. Do the yoga every day and you will catch the doubts that hold you back, the self-sabotaging voice that says this is enough or I can’t do this, as well as those other routine thoughts of work and shopping for dinner that pull you away from being “here.” The yoga will expose the insecure thinking, but we must be present to “see” it.
Like I thought about my tree, we can make the mistake that we are so vulnerable to forces around us, which will keep us stuck at a certain point, not realizing our capacity. We can also fall victim to self-defeating forces within us if we stay asleep. But we are meant for exactly the opposite: like the resilient tree, to flourish and live our best life. We must be careful not to fall into an identity built on tolerance thresholds, as that will keep us living a mediocre life. Instead, we must focus our sights on the bigger picture we’d like to create for ourselves. In that way, we will build the tolerance to override the obstacles in the way of our vision of who we want to be. If the final vision carries more power than the image of the struggle in front of us, then there is no obstacle that we can’t overcome. Like my tree, we must never stop stretching upward, upward toward the light.