Monday, July 1, 2013

Breath in the Funk

My Bikram yoga instructor began Friday's evening class with a stern warning,"If your fingers start to go numb, it's very important to tell me right away so I can give you an electrolyte pack, otherwise your face will go numb and you won't be able to ask for one."

He was not joking.

It was sort of like hearing a perky flight attendant go through the oxygen mask "safety demonstration" right before taking off in a flying oblong box... unnerving.

Woody Allen said, "80% of success is showing up." Obviously, Woody Allen has never taken a hot yoga class before.

Bikram (aka hot yoga) is one of the hardest things I've ever survived - and as a "beginner"... surviving is the best you can hope for. Bikram definitely requires more than just showing up; it requires unwavering willpower and fearless focus in order to complete the 26 grueling postures in a studio that's ideally set at 105*F with 40% humidity.

You start sweating about 4 min into a Bikram class. And when I say sweat, I mean water gushing out of every pour in your body - so much sweat that you can't even grip your ankles because your hands slide right off.

There is an undeniable funk about hot yoga rooms, despite odor eating machines and regularly shampooed carpets. I guess that's part of it. You got to breath in everything in life - even the unpleasant - in order to push yourself towards improvement.

Our instructor was incredibly motivational. When students started dropping (and some always do), he would stand next to their mats and assure them "I'm with you." In addition to periodic reminders about finger numbness, he constantly reminded us to breath into poses. People tend to hold their breath when they are in pain; and "relaxing" into pain and nausea isn't an easy task. It's nearly impossible.

But that's the entire point. Bikram teaches you how to deal with your body when it's "uncomfortable" - which is exactly what people desperately try to avoid feeling on a daily basis.  It's about making thousands of tiny adjustments in order to just get from breath to breath - squeezing, pulling and bending your body into perfect form under imperfect conditions.

You may be thinking: if it's that hard, why do people do it? Because after finishing a class, you feel completely cleansed - spiritually and physically. Bikram gives you clarity, which is worth the suffering.

So tomorrow I'll go back to the studio - to breath in the funk and exhale everything not essential for surviving the moment.

My yoga class… is one long, hot meditation. We put incredible pressure on you to teach you to break your attachment to external things and go within. Instead of blaming others for your own weakness, fear and depression, you will learn to take responsibility for your own life.
You’ve got to face yourself in the mirror, every part you don’t like, every mistake you make, every excuse your mind creates to limit your potential liberation – there’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. No escape from reality…
After you learn to discipline your body and mind under these conditions, you will truly be able to concentrate; no external will be able to break your powerful focus.
That’s why I say that the darkest place in the world is under the brightest lamp. In the Torture Chamber of my class, you will find a beautiful light, and the source of that light is within you.

~Bikram Choudhury


  1. It sounds intense, but sweating things out is a very, very good feeling. I like that cartoon, by the way! ~Catherine

  2. Thanks Catherine! It's pretty intense.... especially in NYC heat wave