Hi everyone, Michele Vennard here, owner of Bikram Yoga San Jose, chatting with staff teachers Matt and Sarah Newman. We thought it would be super fun to talk about a lot of the Bikram idioms that you hear in the dialogue. They have a good meaning to them in how you develop in your yoga practice, so we want to unpack some of those. One of the first that we were looking at is, “Having means nothing if you don’t know how to use it.”

Sarah: These are energizing statements when you’re in the class. It’s like this short, quick statement on the top of a goldmine that you can keep going into, but you don’t have to think too much intellectually about it.

Michele: What’s good about Bikram’s yoga is he keeps it simple, yet there’s such depth. One of the things that hits me with this idiom is the story he tells about a swimming pool. He had a house with a nice swimming pool. And it was beautiful to have, but he didn’t know how to swim. So he would always say, “What good is it that I have a swimming pool if I don’t know how to use it?” If you think about your body, you have it, but if you don’t know how to use it, you’re just carrying it around with you.

Sarah: I can relate to this remarkably well. When I started doing yoga, I was tremendously flexible; everybody would think that’s great. People come to yoga and say, “I’m not flexible enough to do it.” I was very flexible and didn’t know how to use any of my body. I had it, but I didn’t know how to use it at all. Bikram talks about the Ferrari, the car. If you don’t know how to drive it, it won’t perform like a Ferrari.

Michele: He would say the most flexible people have the hardest time. So, if you’re flexible and having a hard time, keep going. It will hit you, but you probably are not even aware of the muscles that you have.

Matt: We make a number of big erroneous assumptions. The first one is that when we learn to walk, we’ve nailed walking; we nailed moving the body. And we thought, from that point on, there were just a few subtle refinements. But we just scratched the surface of how to use the body. What we see in the yoga room is a lot of people think they’re tired, or they think they lack the power to do something, when actually there’s boatloads of muscle power in the body. But what’s missing is simply knowing how to use it, a connection between the mind and the body. We’re already complete but don’t know how to access it.

Concentration is fulfillment

Michele: Even with concentration, having means nothing unless you know how to use it. We have the ability to really concentrate. How many of us use a minuscule amount of it, but when we have a moment where we really use it, we feel so alive? You feel human, your ability to be an amazing human being. And you also feel contribution. You’re harnessing a gift that you have in whatever you’re doing, and you’re able to deliver that. Without concentration, it’s kind of mediocre; you’re not really of service. Concentration is such a huge gift.

Matt: It’s about knowing how to actually use it, not the theory of how to use it. For instance, like with threading a needle. Obviously, I, like most people on the planet, understand the theory of how to thread a needle. You take the thread, put it through the hole, and then pull it a little bit; it’s not rocket science. But if I’m not concentrating, threading the needle will take me five minutes. Is it because I lack the intellectual understanding? No, not at all. It’s because I’m not concentrating.

Michele: That’s why the repetition in the room is so important. The more you practice concentration, the more you’re able to turn it on, from zero to one, to zero to ten. The more you do it, the more you enhance that practice of good focus and concentration. And honestly, the better your life is going to be.

Sarah: And we all have things that we do that we love, and you can compare them with things you have to slug away at with 50% concentration. There are things you naturally concentrate on 99-100% that make you happy. Concentration makes you happy.

Matt: Bikram has another idiom: “The slower you go, you do better.” For instance, threading the needle is easy, bang, bang, bang, but five minutes go by, and it’s just not happening. But all it required was slowing down and concentrating. It’s the same thing in the yoga room. Sometimes, you see a student get past the first few classes, but they’re starting to get frustrated because they’re rushing into every posture, falling out, or messing it up. And then they get increasingly frustrated, and you think, just slow down and concentrate. One step at a time, and then it will be fine.

Your mind is your best friend and your worst enemy

Michele: If you’re not using your mind, you will fall into a state of depression. Using our mental strength keeps us useful and in a sense of order. If you’re unaware, you can fall down a rabbit hole quickly, in an unconscious way. You start to believe all the thoughts you have; you don’t have the awareness to know, “Wait a minute, I have that thought, but that doesn’t mean I need to believe it.” You’ve got to understand how to use your mind, otherwise it will use you. As human beings, we have this tool, and if we’re not careful, it can run us, but if we know it, look at how much we can capitalize on it and use it.

Matt: Bikram would say, “Your mind is your best friend and your worst enemy.” It’s a tool that will cut both ways, depending on how you use it.

Sarah: The negative thoughts, Bikram says, are nine times more powerful than the positive thoughts. It seems quite natural to us as human beings to think negative thoughts as we think about how the world works. Then, when somebody says, “Oh, you could think of a positive thought instead,” that may seem unnatural. But actually, you’re doing that work all the time – when you think of negative thoughts, they become normal and, therefore, nine times more powerful because they’re habitual. The positive thought feels weird, but it becomes habituated if you keep doing it.

Michele: The world can lean into chaos and negativity, right? And that’s why it’s a beautiful thing that we have the mind. We have to use it to alter and get us into a more positive state. The more you do that, and you’ll do that in the yoga room, the easier it becomes, and then your mind is less the enemy of you and more your best friend.

Matt: Bikram’s teacher, Bishnu Charan Ghosh, spoke about willpower, that force of will that if you want anything to happen in your life and in the world, you have to galvanize and channel and focus your willpower. One of the reasons Bikram Yoga is so immensely impactful and powerful is that every day you walk into that hot, humid room, you are practicing that muscle that will help you realize your visions and goals in your entire life. But you’re practicing it in a safe environment where you’re not being judged. You don’t need to worry about failing or anything like that. It’s a very simple environment in which to practice that muscle. And that’s what will overcome those negative thoughts and allow you to manifest in the world what you’re about.

Michele: You’re really doing it; it’s not something somebody is telling you about like when you’re reading it in a book. Instead, you’re doing it. That’s a good one, you guys; having means nothing if you don’t know how to use it.