Entries in copenhagen (1)

Wednesday
May112011

From Asthanga to Bikram

I went from Hatha to Asthanga in 2009 and quickly fell in love with the vinyasa (alignment of movement and breath and jumping back and through your arms between the asana). I loved that the yoga was so dynamic but still meditative and that it focuses so much on badhas and breath. My Mysore practice slowly progressed but I somewhere along the way I started feeling frustrated that my practice would take two hours - and that it would be two hours of not feeling very elegant and of struggling with certain asana that I had to complete in order to progress. When it occurred to me that I always dragged myself down to the yoga shala and was focusing on what I couldn’t do, I realised that it was time to try something else and cheat on my practice; I chose Bikram yoga as my mistress.

I felt very cocky when I showed up at the Bikram Studio the first time. I had my yoga shit together, I was flexible and strong. And the heat? I’d done yoga in India and Morocco where it’s pretty hot - so not a problem. I’d even tried hot yoga before. Even when signing a contract saying that I wouldn’t hold the studio responsible if I injured myself and putting my partner’s name and number down as In Case of Emergency I felt confident that this was just another yoga class. When the teacher said that my (and the other new girl’s) job during this first class was just to stay in the room for the 90 minutes I thought he was joking. Turns out I was wrong.

Halfway through the class I was down on the floor not able to move or lie still or breathe through my nose. The teacher, Tu, who is by far the toughest teacher in the studio (Sorry Tu, if you read this but you are!) kept telling us not to let our bodies panic and just to breathe and stay on the mat. I didn’t want to stay on the mat. I wanted to get out. I wanted to be able to take a good, long breath of cold air. But every time I looked at Tu he signaled to just stay and breathe. It was worse to lie still than to stand up. The air did not move at all down on the floor so I had to get up and just do the asana as well as I could.

Back in the day, Patanjali wrote in the Yoga Sutra ‘Sthiram Sukham Asanam’ that asana are steady and give a feeling of joy. In that case this was not asana. This was something else. And what was with the talking? Tu was not quiet for more than a breath throughout the 90 minutes. Not even during Savasana would he shut up. The words just kept coming and coming as if he didn’t even have to think about them. And the pushing? The teacher would call out people’s names and ask - no, demand - they go deeper, pull harder and stretch higher. What happened to just being with what is? To accepting your limitations? There’s none of that in Bikram.

During the years I’ve done yoga I’ve only once before seen myself in a mirror during practice. In Bikram you are to focus on yourself in the mirror throughout the asana. I looked like I’d been in a pool. Completely soaked in sweat and red as a lobster. I did not look like someone who had their yoga shit together.

In the final Savasana Tu would tell us to force ourselves to stay longer than what was comfortable. I got up as soon as he said Namaste and left the room. As soon as I was out in the cold and had a liter of cold water I felt good. I felt great actually. I felt like I had cleaned out my entire body. That all the old ‘stuff’ had come out, that I was clean and that my whole body was light. I’d actually say that I had a feeling of joy.

I came back the next day.