It’s a joy to be back at the studio as a practitioner, teacher, and owner after so many months of seeing only a few people. I’m bubbling with glee to be in the yoga room with so many practitioners under one roof. Once masks became optional (if fully vaccinated), I bet that you, like me, found it freeing but strange. “Is this legal?” I found myself thinking. And with nothing covering most of my face, I was surprised that I felt so unacquainted with the person in the mirror. “Where have you been? You look so different,” I thought at first. 

I found myself wanting to show up for the person in the mirror and forget the past 15 months. It felt so good to feel myself open up inside, doing backbends and forward bends. I was joyfully sliding right into my old routine until, suddenly, I couldn’t breathe: my heart rate was out of control, my hamstrings screamed for mercy, and no amount of concentration could keep me balanced. I recall a class where I put my head down, wondering what had happened. Then, looking up, I felt as if I had let down my long-missed friend in the mirror.

Since we’ve been open to full capacity in the past six weeks, I’ve talked with many of you on a journey similar to mine. We joke and acknowledge that we’re “starting from scratch once again,” as it says above the entry to our yoga room. It feels good to laugh together as we share the discouragement of wanting to be where we once were in our practice and yet realizing that it will be challenging to get back there.  

As both student and teacher, I benefit from my dual perspective as a practitioner and my view on the podium. How many times in Standing Head to Knee Pose did I justify coming out early? How many times did I play it safe to hold the pose for fear of falling out? How many times did I hear my mind give up or build a story of self-pity? As a teacher, I watch you – like myself – do something the wrong way to get into a pose, or grab water in hopes that it will slow the heart down and give you the power to kick out and keep up. I see you; I see me. It is easy to overlook these actions that pierce the heart and soul of what yoga is all about: 99% right is 100% wrong. 

Several books written by Katherine Woodard Thomas cover the internal beliefs we carry from childhood that, if not surfaced, will project into all our relationships. She has a phrase that I love: “Once you’ve crossed the line into self-awareness, you can never go back.”

I know better. You know better.  

Bikram states in his first book, “Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class,” that you don’t need to be graceful, talented, or even athletic to do yoga. You only need “a little space and honesty.” Whoa! If I’m honest with myself, I look in the mirror with compassion, own my discouragement, and go back to the basics of each pose. If you’re honest with yourself, then it’s probably the same for you. When I’m on the podium, this means I give you the space to stop reaching for reasons you can’t do what you did before – stop leaning into old impulses that prevent you from growing further.  

And, unfortunately, growing may mean experiencing feelings you’d prefer not to.  

Recently, I took a class and could hear my memories of teacher training, with Bikram shouting at us to “FREEZE! Like a statue!” No more moving, time to go inwards now. As I did this, I found myself feeling great anger and was surprised by myself. I’m not an angry person; I recall not being angry much growing up, and then I realized how incredibly awesome it was for me to feel that anger. With my experience in awareness and spiritual maturity, I knew that I didn’t need to act on the anger but could let it move through me. That it did, and – like a movie – I watched myself kick, scream, judge, and yell during the whole class. With the final breathing exercise, I blew it all away, as Bikram states, to “return to empty.” Bliss! My message here is: YOU DO THE SAME – get in there with it, and then blow it all away.

Here are a couple of great quotes I’ve picked up in the last few months that have helped me A LOT:

Man cannot discover new oceans until he has the courage to lose sight of the shore. – Anonymous

Transform does not mean to fix or make go away whatever trauma and scars you may be carrying from childhood; instead, you slowly develop a new relationship with your difficulty, such that it is no longer a controlling factor in your life. – Phillip Moffitt, Yoga Journal

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you. – Jesus

(And lastly, this one is worthy of posting on your refrigerator:)

Spiritual life is about surrender, not understanding. Whenever that part of you that wants to figure it out, or know why, or know what for kicks in, kick it out. – Swami Chetanananda

If you get to know this lesson in your life and receive it well, congratulations! Until then, let’s journey towards this together in the hot room.