I went to my first Bikram yoga class yesterday (and can I just say: OUCH today!). I’ve done a bit of yoga from time to time – two weeks on a holiday in Greece, a few sporadic sessions in the office, and lately using my Nintendo Wii fitness disc at home (I know, very zen) – but never anchored it in my lifestyle as a consistent habit. A friend of mine started a two-week trial of Bikram yoga in Stockholm and so I thought I’d tag along while I’m here.
In fact as it turns out my friend hasn’t been well, so my self-motivation was tested as to whether or not I would drag myself off to a class by myself. I’m happy to say that I succeeded and I’ve now completed my first 90-minute session, and hope to continue every other day for the next two weeks.
I did focus on my breathing, and on not falling over, but in the meantime I also had some thoughts on the broader relevance of what I was going through.
So here are my 5 things you can learn from Bikram yoga:
1. With great effort comes great satisfaction
These yoga classes are 90 minutes long in a room heated to 40.6 degrees (105 F) with 40% humidity. You can take breaks when needed but it’s recommended that you stay in the room for the full time. The instructor gives a running commentary as she takes you through the 26 asanas, or postures, repeated so you do two sets of each. It’s hard! You’re pushing your body for an extended period of time in an environment that is already both unfamiliar and demanding. (It’s especially difficult to hold onto your various body parts in the postures when you’re dripping with sweat!) But when you’re taking those final breaths in Śavāsana, corpse pose, at the end of the session you feel that you’ve really accomplished something.
The fact that working hard for something makes it all the more satisfying is true in all areas of life. In the world of theatre, for example, it would be so much easier to audition for the chorus and not to try for one of the lead roles. You avoid a whole lot of hard work and disappointment that way. You also rule out the possibility of ever getting that starring role. If, on the other hand, you prepare thoroughly, you learn the songs, you work on the harder bits… then there is a chance that you will get that role. If not, then at least you can say that you did what you could. There’s a tremendous amount of satisfaction simply in the act of trying. And who knows, maybe next time it will be you.
2. Perseverance is key
So many people say, “I’m not a yoga person,” as others say, “I’m just not a runner.” The truth is that every ‘yoga person’ started out not being a yoga person. And every runner started out not being a runner. These yogis and runners have got to where they are today – able to do a handstand with their feet on their head, or able to run 16k every Sunday afternoon – through consistent practice. I’ve run half-marathons after many weeks of training; today, I could probably run (very slowly) for 20 minutes.
At school, I did a little bit of netball, a little bit of hockey; a little bit of clarinet, a little bit of saxophone; a little bit of classical ballet, a little bit of modern dance; I got to be quite good at a lot of things but I was never great at anything. To some extent that’s just who I am – I love trying new things, I love the learning process, I love keeping things varied – but it does mean that I need to force myself to focus on one thing at a time. It also means that I often feel inferior as I tend to be surrounded by people who are better than me in anything I do.
3. Focus on yourself
…which leads to the next lesson: you need only focus on yourself, on what your own mind and body are capable of. Comparing yourself to others in the class – either that skinny girl with the amazing abs or the tattooed figure whose body bends like a contortionist – is disheartening and frustrating. I was never flexible as a child, even when doing gymnastics and ballet, so I have to work with what I have.
The same is true in blogging. It’s so easy to compare yourself when you’re first starting out to all the successful bloggers out there. You forget that they’ve been going since 2008 and that they will have started out from zero just like you, making mistakes and learning as they went along. Of course there’s a lot you can learn from other more experienced people in your field, so I’m not saying ignore everyone else altogether; but stay focused on your own talents, your own style, and your own plan for what you want to do.
4. Where your eyes go, your body will follow
This is interesting: you’re told to look at your toes when you’re reaching towards your feet in a forward bend, to look up at the ceiling when you’re stretching up and out of cobra. Look where you want your body to go.
So look up, look ahead, look towards where you want to go. Keeping the end goal in sight will help you to stay focused on what you’re trying to achieve, avoiding distractions along the way, and it will inspire you to keep working hard to get there.
5. You just have to show up and do your best
Our lovely American instructor said this towards the end of the 90-minute session. Each class will be different, and sometimes you can do more and sometimes less. You just have to commit to doing what you can, each time pushing yourself a bit further, without it being painful.
As Woody Allen says, 80% of life is just showing up. If you’ve showed up and tried your hardest then that’s all you can do. The rest is outside of your sphere of influence.
My two-week trial is at Bikram Yoga City in Stockholm.