I am, perhaps, a yoga cliché. A mid-50s, bookish, somewhat perfectionist, slightly workaholic sort of person who had begin to wonder if that modest but persistent pain in her left hip was innocuous and temporary or whether my body was just deciding to ache, possibly forever.

Then, almost precisely a year and a half ago, I quit smoking after a life-long habit, and 4 months later I took my first Bikram yoga class. It’s been something of a conversion experience, honestly. Bikram involves a fixed 90-minute regimen of 26 asanas or postures, two sets of each posture, performed in a room heated to 105 degrees. The heat increases flexibility, and it also puts the cardiovascular system into overdrive, and creates a kind of peak experience for even a novice practitioner.

The goal of my first class, as a person who had never practiced yoga, let alone yoga in such heat, was simply to keep up as best I could and not leave the room. I succeeded at that, though I felt I might expire or possibly throw up; the sense of centered physical and spiritual well-being that came over me after that first class was so astonishing, I have gone back 3 or 4 times a week ever since, acclimating to the heat, and thriving on the yoga. My experience of Bikram yoga is almost liturgical — the 90-minute regimen offers the same Sanskrit postures in the same order, and even the same directions from the instructors — echoing the Latin liturgy of my Catholic girlhood in a powerful, almost sub-molecular way.

It goes without saying that yoga creates physical strength and wellness — I no longer experience chronic neck pain from sitting slouched for long hours over a computer keyboard, and I don’t see a chiropractor every 3-4 weeks to adjust my lower back any more. The pain in my hip went away. Yet yoga most importantly brings me actual revelations — revelations that start as a new physical experience and then seep into consciousness.

About three months in, I started being able to perform a full camel posture, which means I was greatly increasing the strength and flexibility of my back, and was also opening my chest and my hips. But on a more interior level, the effect of the camel is spiritually profound. A regular practice that includes the camel posture changes my perspective; it helps me open my mind to new ideas — the very ideas where my mind has been closed; it makes it possible to give up resentments; it occasionally causes me to express grief I thought was done and past: the death of a parent, the loss of a love. I don’t mean that I cry in my yoga class (though I have had a few quiet sobs surface after a camel pose once or twice), or that this is therapy. I don’t, and it’s not. I mean that if you engage vigorously with this “ancient technology,” as Krista calls it in the show, the yoga will in fact diagnose your imbalances — physical, emotional, and intellectual — and gently, incrementally, begin to correct them.

There have been times in my life when as a spiritual seeker and a somewhat but not entirely lapsed Catholic I have felt deeply separate from God, whatever my inchoate concept of God was at the time. The most painful and dangerous (to myself and to others) distance from God I have ever known has come through the experience of addiction. Then, at some point in my recovery I had the simple insight that I was unable to experience the love of God because I was not putting myself in the way of it. After all, if you want to feel the sun on your back, you have to stand in the sunlight, yes? At the most basic level, I feel yoga puts me in the way of God. Then, what happens, happens.

In the picture above, snapped with an iPhone after a class this past Tuesday evening, I am practicing the corpse pose. What the instructor calls “the most important posture in the series.” Being fully, deeply relaxed, focused, and cognizant of one’s body allows the teaching of yoga to settle in and take hold. This is what Seane Corne calls “mystical work.”


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Reflections

Bikram yoga has had a profound impact on me since I began going regularly in February. I had been dabbling with different kinds of yoga for years, not finding the right setting or routine to make it stick. Bikram has changed all that. The heat helps me get out of my head, as Krista says, and the routine is comforting but never dull. And certainly never easy! The Bikram practice is like a mini-metaphor for life: some days are harder than others. Somedays, just showing up is the best you can do. On the best days, you kick butt in practice and walk out on top of the world. But always, when I make it through the challenge of a 90 minute Bikram session, I feel stronger, braver, wiser, and more open to the universe. I don't quite understand it and that's okay too. It's mystical, but it's real.

I discovered yoga in the late 90's in an attempt to heal severe tendonitis from years of swimming (and surfing). This was back in the day when the only class I could find was at the senior center. I was hooked immediately. Not only did my shoulder heal, but my surfing improved dramatically! I started looking for a yoga program specifically for surfing, but there weren't any, so I became certified as a yoga instructor myself and produced a (very well-received!) instructional DVD series called Yoga for Surfers. I was determined to share my passion for yoga and surfing! I ended up quitting my long-time job as an administrator at the University of California and plunged full-time into health and wellness. Now I teach my own style of yoga (an eclectic hatha blend, informed from my studies and practice of Kundalini, Asthanga, Iyengar and Vinyasa styles) at Yoga Works in Laguna Beach, CA. I also write frequently on yoga, health and wellness in various national and international publications. I'm also a contributing editor for Clean Eating Magazine, focusing on mind-body topics. One of my epiphanies was applying the priniciples of mindfulness to the act of eating! Now I teach people how to make peace with food through my Yoga of Eating programs. For more information, please visit www.PeggyHall.com and www.yogaforsurfers.com

Thank you for this. I had a heat crisis in Bikram, even after practicing it for about a year, but I experienced many of the benefits you and Krista describe in your blogs. You (and Seane Corn) have reminded me that I need to get back to yoga--in either a hot room or not--and resume the practice of release and acceptance.

Kate's remarks resonate with me becasue I am her older sister. It's becasue of Kate and my daugher Sara's encouragement I began studying Bikram yoga almost one year ago. For me it's every thing that Kate writes about but most of all I love how clean, clear, strong and energetic I feel after my practice. As our 6:00 AM teachers in Minneapolis oftern remind us, this is the hardest thing you will do all day so make the intention to do your best to get through it and out of the way. Everything else will be easy compared to this. And it is true... my old fears and lack of confidence are left with my sweat on the matt to be washed away with a little soap and water. Getting spirituall and physically so clean has never been so rewarding!

Nice to hear from my sister Mary! In fact, Bikram has spread virally in our family ever since her daughter Sara showed up at a family gathering looking so glowing and strong & we all wondered what was up with her. It's a wonderful practice to share, and I am grateful for it every day.
Kate

Cliche is good word for how I felt reading this essay, Kate. There is much we share, and many ways we are different, but your thoughts stimulated a recollection of the very cliched (if that's a made up word, so be it): "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear".

I'm also a yoga convert, and a recent one at that. Oh, I had tried a few classes, and even bought a couple of tapes (yes, tapes) a few years back. But, in spite of the fact hat I enjoyed the sessions and the spirituality of the folks I met along the way, I had let my practice lapse - much like my Catholicism. It was this show on Seane Corn that stimulated me to try again, and I'm so glad that I gave in to that impulse. It has been hard for me not to give in to the feeling that the time i have been away from yoga was foolishly wasted, but one day at a time (yup, also a recovering addict / alcoholic) I have found a growing peace and serenity in my practice that I hope to be able to carry over into my daily life.

At 66, some postures are quite daunting, and some I suppose I'll never master. But you know something, I honestly don't care, which is a foreign feeling for this "type A" personality, but one I'm enjoying very much. My focus is simply on doing what I can, growing where I can, heeding the maxim to "take what you need and leave the rest". I'm happy in my yoga practice, and I'm looking forward to even more learning from it in the future. Just today I signed up for the Wanderlust yoga and music festival in Vermont in late June. So like a convert, huh - just a bit over the top. But that's okay...for today.

Thanks to you, Kriista, your staff and to Seane as well for a great, inspiring show. And thanks to you, in particular, for sharing your yoga journey here. Namaste.

I am not a huge yoga aficionado, but when my three year old will watch my wife's Yoga DVD and try to raptly perform the rituals... I can not help but try to do them with her.  Maybe, I'll be a convert, too.

As a frequent listener to "On Being" with moderator Krista Tippet, I also visit the OB website for more inspiration.  When I read Kate's self describing comments, "A mid-50s, bookish, somewhat perfectionist, slightly workaholic sort of person who had begin to wonder..." and when she also referred to her Catholic girlhood, Kate could have been talking about me!  As an on-again off-again Catholic and Hatha yoga student, I've just made a decision to give Bikram a try.  Maria D. from Waterford, MI

Thanks for share it. I have heard about Bikram Yoga and he has also historical event. Now it becomes grows their business all over the world.

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