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I’ve heard several people say that they don’t like Bikram yoga because it’s not meditative or spiritual. I suppose on the surface it looks like boot camp, but it is not purely physical; it is an incredibly deep meditative practice.

I get panic attacks. I have been carried out of restaurants, bars, house parties and art galleries because I am a hyperventilating, sobbing mess. For a time they were so debilitating it was difficult to leave my house.

I thought Bikram might help me manage stress but I was very nervous about trying it. It involved going to a place I had never been and staying in a room for 90 minutes with people I didn’t know. This is a terrifying prospect for someone with panics like mine. I literally had an entire therapy session dedicated to discussing if I could survive my first Bikram yoga class.

I did survive. In fact, I thrived.

It is all well and good to meditate in a candle lit room with soothing music and people using gentle voices. It does feel great and I enjoy those types yoga classes, too. But they didn’t help me with my reality. I need to learn to relax when my brain throws some serious, hardcore panic at me.

Bikram has trained me to breathe and meditate when I am trapped in a room that is really bright, a million degrees, packed with people who smell and a teacher who is loud. That’s why I can now survive life in my head.

When I panic, it is bright and loud and I’m dizzy and nauseous. I can’t run away from that situation, either, but that’s fine because this yoga has taught me that there are options beyond fight or flight.

I rarely get panic attacks anymore. I have the same stress and the same triggers. The panics rise up and threaten me; they insist that I can’t breathe and I am going to die immediately. Then, I hear my teacher:

Meet resistance with breath. – Lizzie.

Don’t meet panic with frustration or defeat or anger. Just take a moment. Then, I hear another teacher:

This is going to hurt like hell. It’s O.K. Don’t be scared.  – Kirk.

I know I can do it, I can make it through this just like I make it through class four times a week. Then, I hear another teacher:

Deep breath in. Let it out slow. – Amy

And that’s exactly what I do.

The hot room is my training ground for the real world. Those instructions – seemingly about my physical practice – are the deepest, most spiritually profound lessons I could imagine.

Maybe it looks like boot camp to you, but to me, it’s church.

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