There are the classic do’s and don’ts that every hot room newbie hears, as they nervously prepare for their first class. It’s usually about setting up, drinking water and where to leave their sweaty rental towel.
But the practice of Bikram yoga is full of subtleties that I wish I had known when I got started. Here are just a few of them:
~ Sweat is sexy. I know you think it’s gross. But it’s so not. Sweat means passion. Dedication. Hard work. Health. It’s hot. Seriously.
~ Don’t worry about getting into better shape or getting more flexible before you come to your first class. We were all kinds of broken down messes when we first came. Fitness and flexibility come from going to class. Just start where you are.
~ Don’t set up in the front row on your first class, but stagger your mat so that you can see yourself in the mirror. You don’t like to look in a mirror, you say? You cringe at the sight of yourself in work-out clothes? That is exactly why you are here. It’s not to get the cute yoga ass you’ve heard so much about; that’s just a side effect. You are here to learn to love your reflection. We all had that critical voice in our head when we got here; you are here to kill that voice. You are here so that you can look in the mirror and smile kindly at yourself, like you are an old friend. You are here so that someday you can look yourself in the eyes and bow to your own grace and strength.
~ You will learn that us Bikram yogis love our bodies. Not that we are all perfect, by any means, but we love the incredible things that our forms are capable of. We treat them with respect and pride. This means we are not afraid to wear the smallest yoga clothes possible and we’re fine with nudity in the change room. We gave up shame around class #5. You will, too.
~ Savasana really is the hardest posture we do. When you are in camel, you might think I am full of it. But really, it’s savasana. It’s brutal to be still, in both mind and body, but that is OK. This is a lifelong practice.
~ The postures build on themselves; there will be a first step, then a next step. If you feel too challenged by a posture, go back to an earlier step and work on mastering that. Substituting different yoga postures or crunches or wind-sprints does not impress us. It makes us worry you will hurt yourself. You can take an improv class on a different night.
~ When you begin, you might think Bikram is all about the work-out because it’s all you can get your mind around. Be reassured that this practice is about embracing stillness, managing your ego and getting control of your monkey mind. It’s a profoundly spiritual meditation practice – it just takes a few classes to get your mind to shut the hell up long enough to realize that.
~ I promise you that even though it is all you can think about – leaving the room will not help you. I’ve seen several people pass out, all of them were attempting to leave the room when they went down. Sit or lie down on your mat and let the community energy and the watchful eye of the instructor support you. Breathe.
~ Get ready. If you decide to stick with this, get ready for a community more supportive that you could ever imagine. Get ready for huge challenges and more huge rewards. Get ready to cry in postures because you never thought it was possible that you could ever do them. Get ready to crave time in the hot room. Get ready to wonder what you ever did without it. Get ready for the yoga to change your body, mind and relationships in ways that will shock you.
Then get in there.
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