During the Fourth Annual Yoga Competition, at the very beginning of my three-minute yoga routine, I noticed that my standing leg felt as wobbly as a Jell-O dessert! After calmly waiting the entire day to get on stage, I suddenly felt out of sorts as my dependable leg went noodle! This required me to increase my focus and heightened my awareness of every move in those three minutes. Recently, I had an opportunity to talk about this with Mary Jarvis, respected Bikram Yoga teacher and coach to many of the participants in the Yoga Competition. “Yes, Michele. It is through repetition that you will override that hormonal response.”

How often do we find ourselves in an uncomfortable pose and notice that our immediate instinct is to stop, hold our breath or even run out of the room? The “fight or flight” response kicks in and all of a sudden we sense danger like a cavewoman encountering a saber-tooth tiger! With awareness and practice – a huge part of what Bikram Yoga offers – we can override our instinct to abandon ship both inside the studio and out.

Just underneath our initial instinct to flee is something quite useful. When we choose awareness, we quickly learn that we end up better equipped for our next move, whether we are in Head-to-Knee pose or deciding how to handle a child’s poor progress report. It is this discipline of the mind that helps us respond appropriately, whatever the situation. Often, something as simple as focus is all that is needed to give us confidence and peace of mind.

Recently, I attended a Kriya Yoga service taught by Roy Eugene Davis, a direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda. Davis, too, emphasized the need to calm the fluctuations of the mind. In his terms, it is meditating, or a continual practice of concentration, that can help us stay focused on what’s important, consciously disregarding those concerns that are mundane, useless. “Rest on a single point of purpose and watch how you will begin to ignore that which you don’t want to be involved with,” states Roy.

In retrospect, I see what made that noodle of a leg more sufficiently al dente. Having repeated the Bikram poses over the last years helped me override the hormonal cues that were ready to throw me off balance. I stayed attentive and did not fight or flee. It’s the same for all of us in the classroom. In fact, it’s the same for us in many circumstances that “take our breath away.” Sometimes, we are so ready to react that we pass up an opportunity to learn.

Concentrate. Wait and really learn to listen to your body. Is that really pain you’re experiencing, or is that sensation actually a deep stretch that will help open up those frozen shoulders? Don’t quit the moment when things feel a bit unfamiliar. Instead, breathe, be aware, and act accordingly. And, watch how this escalating development of self-control and focus in the classroom will pay off during those uncomfortable situations outside the classroom. Rather than reacting, use your Bikram skills to create the space you need to respond calmly, wisely and, ultimately, with great satisfaction.