It had been six years since my brother, sister and I had all seen each other. We met in to West Palm Beach, Florida to surprise my dad on his 65th birthday. Some of our other relatives came to celebrate too. When you haven’t been around family in a long time, it can be a surreal experience. They look like you, they act like you and they even talk like you! I am the only one in this large Catholic family that practices yoga. So, conversation revolved around experiences sans yoga. You know: stories of your life that you cherish and others that you’d rather forget. That’s family. But, family gatherings are not the only place that you get a chance to see who you are past, present and future. 

I just recently returned from a wonderful and exhausting trip to Hawaii attending Bikram’s advanced seminar. Held in Bikram’s brand new teacher training facility in Hawaii, the seminar was the first equipped with the “proper” heat. Proper means four hours of unabated high heat and extreme humidity. Not only was I dying in this eternal sweat lodge, but subject to Bikram’s repeated, shouted messages. 

Like family, yoga invites or forces (whichever you prefer) us to rediscover lost parts of ourselves. In both situations, I was confronted with owning the choices I’ve made in my life. With family, if you’re not careful, you can get caught up feeling the need to justify decisions you’ve made about a life you didn’t choose. However, Bikram, will push the crap out of you until you own the life you did choose. And, then encourage you, in his compassionate but maniac ways, to do more with it.

The first day of practice, my mind was screaming: Stop! Run! In fact, many students laid flat on their backs and Bikram in his straight up way, kicked them all out and told them to go jump in the ocean and don’t bother coming back. At that point, I decided to give my mind a rest. My mind, I decided, was no longer in charge. Bikram’s was. If he told me to lock out the knee, I locked out the knee. If he had told me to pick my nose, I would have picked my nose.  Keep in mind in a Bikram-led class there is no fan or window to cool down the room. The only thing I could choose to do was surrender. If I was going to die, I was going to die right there. Sounds crazy but it left me feeling liberated. There is amazing freedom in just letting go. 

Any Bikram yoga class has a way of breaking you down to build you up better than you were before. Taking class from Bikram himself, the impact is far greater. Nothing is lost in the translation. He simply uses his crazy and loving nudges to keep you going and strong. And, you know what? I didn’t die. Instead, I was able to silence the voice shouting at me to stop and leave the room. As a result, I emerged with a higher degree of confidence in what I can overcome and a heightened sense of my abilities. I left the seminar feeling clear and ready to take charge. 

Sometimes we give up when a breakthrough might be just 10 seconds away. Teach yourself to fight back by seeing past the mental anguish whether in the form of a sweltering heat cloud or a misunderstood family story. Practicing yoga and being with our families are both potent ways to give the old ego a healthy pounding. But, both provide us with information about ourselves.  Bikram calls it “self-realization.” Families label it “unconditional love.” Either version is an opportunity to grow if we surrender to the experience.