Full disclosure: I am both a Bikram yoga instructor and an active participant in yoga competition. That doesn’t make me a fanatic, and that doesn’t make me an automatic asshole, as some would have you believe. But it does mean I love Bikram yoga in spite of all the baggage that comes along with it – of which there is sometimes a lot. There is a great deal of controversy surrounding Bikram the man, the yoga, and the competition, otherwise this post wouldn’t be worth writing. Perhaps a post on my experiences with Bikram the man is a good thing for another day, but suffice to say he is a brilliant yet divisive yoga teacher who creates haters and lovers wherever he goes. Today I’m going to focus on the yoga and why it is the way it is.
If you’ve never done Bikram yoga before, I will tell you what I tell all my first time students. It’s hot, sometimes really hot, and you might get dizzy or feel overwhelmed. Take a knee if you need, first class you’re just feeling it out. But stay inside the room. Why? Because once you leave you will always know that you can leave. That’s not how life works, at least not any life that I’ve seen – sometimes you have to stick it out. However, if you have diarrhea you can totally leave, nobody needs to shit their pants at yoga.
Now I understand that not all Bikram teachers are going to have that same attitude. (I’ve heard of a Bikram teacher being fired for yelling at a student for yawning too much. True story.) Some are arrogant and lack compassion. This isn’t a product of Bikram yoga, this is a personal problem. I have seen this attitude in teachers of other yogas, just as I have seen brilliant, compassionate teachers of other yogas. Same goes for university professors. And bosses. And parents. You’d almost think it’s part of being human. And yoga teachers, alas, are painfully human. Part of the reason I even went to teacher training was because I hoped being a yoga teacher was a one-way ticket out of humanville into some sweet sweet divine realm of blissed-out spirituality. I was naÃ¯ve. And wrong. Here’s the thing, Bikram yoga is recognizable and it’s practically everywhere. It’s identifiable. There is more opportunity to be exposed to a greater variety of teachers. And let’s be honest, the bad ones are always at least as memorable as the good ones, in any given situation.
As for the level of competitiveness in the room. Absolutely a good teacher will seek to create a safe, positive space for his or her students to practice in. But as someone who believes in the unlimited capacity of each and every human being to overcome perceived personal limitations and exceed their own expectations, I will always encourage you to push harder, to stay in it longer, to never never give up on yourself. I have had teachers do this for me, and it has amazed me to begin to see what I am capable of. This doesn’t mean that what you do isn’t enough, or is better or worse than your neighbour. You are perfect the way you are and you always will be. But this life is short – let’s see what we can do with it. Here’s the catch, if the yoga didn’t challenge you, you might never know. All of this is based on the understanding that your practice is a micro of the macro. Who you are in the room (or any practice you do for that matter) is who you are in life. Cosmic mirror. Scary. But wow, the potential. Change your habits in the room, learn to look yourself in the mirror and see who you honestly are and holy shit! Look at that brilliant, beautiful, strong person!
Finally, I would also add that it doesn’t matter what other people are doing in the room, most people are so wrapped up in their own misery/joy/life that they don’t really notice anybody else. And if they do, it has nothing to do with you. If Bikram has taught me anything it’s that nobody can steal your peace, unless you let them. Doing Bikram yoga is to practice equanimity in the face of challenging circumstances, be it an obnoxious teacher in hot pink pants who talks too fast or too loud, half naked yogis sweating all over everybody else’s space, the godforsaken heat, or locking your knee.
Next time I’ll post on yoga competition. If you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer and explain.