Since discovering and consistently practicing Bikram yoga, I've deliberately integrated my practice into my day-to-day life.
That's the whole point, right? To use our self-discovery on the mat into our daily lives.
Like most people, my life outside the studio is quite full and far from quiet.
I'm a NYC public school teacher and a mother of two children, aged 8 and 5. The demands of being an educator are not only mentally challenging but physically, as well. I have no down time. It's like being on stage all day. To be effective in guiding children, one must be engaging and energetic.
My classroom consists of 31 eight-year-olds. It's noisy. Meeting every child's individual educational, social, and emotional needs is far from easy.
I have found that my yoga practice has served my profession, as well as my relationship with my own children... most of the time.
When I began practicing regularly, I remember noticing subtle changes in my life. For example, A classroom full of energetic third graders requires patience, and I felt more in command of my reactions. I breathed more deeply, and felt more patient.
As any educator can agree, there's always that one child (or several) each school year that challenges our patience and tolerance, that one child who needs us to be our best selves more than anything, the child who needs an adult to see past their behavior and into their true potential.
I noticed myself seeing more into the heart of these students. Bikram yoga has many heart opening postures, and I've certainly felt my heart begin to open more deeply to my students.
Rather than coming home exhausted and hoping that my own children didn't have too much homework, I was now more energetic and engaged at home as well.
I began to have more tolerance for the driver that had just cut me off and I felt naturally more at peace.
Don't cue the angel hymns just yet… this was in the beginning of my practice.
As time went on, I noticed these effects... wear off. I'd have days where I was downright cranky. I found myself rolling my eyes at the barista at my local coffee shop when she moved at a glacial pace, and the man who cut me off sent my heart racing. I did not feel like the patient Earth Mother at home, gently guiding my children to talk out their problems as I once did.
I was the annoyed, cranky mom.
My students became positively insufferable on days like these.
I remember feeling frustrated with myself, thinking, I’m a yogi. Should I stop practicing? I'm in the studio four times a week and it's just… not working. Yogis are supposed to be calm and centered. I'm still an impatient, fast-paced New Yorker.
As I stepped into the studio one night after a long day, I lay on my mat in the hot room and tried to meditate. My monkey mind swung from one thought to another.
I got to thinking about my practice. Had my heart chakra become too open? Was I becoming a vacuum for negative energy? Had I just grown acclimated to the effects of my yoga practice? Was I not going deeper and simply stagnating? Maybe it was a combination of all of these possibilities.
As class began, I took a stand and rooted myself on my mat.
Like almost all of my moments of clarity, I began my practice that night, and a few things came flowing into my consciousness. As I lay in savasana at the end of class, I came to contemplate three things:
In our yoga practice, we’re reminded to always come back to our breath. When we feel overwhelmed or our mind starts to take over, we turn our attention to our breathing. It's important to remember the purpose of mindful breathing. While breathing helps calm the body, slows the heart rate, and helps us have more control over a posture, it also helps us let go of our thoughts. It brings our awareness back to ourselves.
My instructors always say, "it's yoga practice, not yoga perfect." That's true on many levels outside the studio. We are not perfect. We are human beings who have stressful lives. Our yoga practice helps us have more awareness on our mat and off. My mind-set has changed since then. When I have a tough day, I try to practice yoga: I come back to my breath, and try to be more self aware. Not perfect.
At the beginning of each session we set our intention to have a wonderful class. We are eager to practice. We are eager to go further. We are trying to cultivate a life of discipline that promotes relaxation and compassion. But, we often do not have compassion for ourselves. I was being hard on myself for not being peaceful enough. Why not set our intentions before embarking on any activity?
We can set our daily intention to have more patience with our children, or to breath deeply when someone is moving slowly. We can even set a daily intention to just be more self aware in our body language and facial expressions. Intentions are goals and commitments.
In class, as we begin our triangle pose the instructor reminds us not to lean on our knee or put weight on the floor. They remind us, "You're only cheating yourself if you do that." Being mindful in our daily lives and setting intentions can awaken us. If we do not reach our goals one day, we can start again. In submitting to doubt in our abilities, we only cheat ourselves.
About two months ago, I was fortunate enough to experience a silent class. The instructor put the entire class in the middle of the room so that the flow of energy could be more fluid. I remember actually feeling intoxicated when class was over. I felt euphoric. We were all moving together, holding the postures and letting them go in unison. The positive flow of energy was palpable.
A few days later, I took a class with 10 brand-new yogis. They were overwhelmed by the heat, complaining, and looking at one another with that what-did-I-get-myself-into stare that we've all experienced upon first discovering Bikram yoga.
That day, I fell out of almost every posture in the balancing series.
I was allowing my focus to drift. The energy in the room was somewhat negative and I was letting it penetrate my mind and body. Very often, as we start our day and things are going wrong, we carry that with us longer than we need to. We let it penetrate our energy field. We begin to have the expectation that we're going to have a bad day. We are already planning for a negative experience. We begin to complain, and even our body language changes.
I got to thinking about the energy that people bring into a room. We can always tell when we are in the presence of someone who is exuding positive energy. Just like in our yoga practice, we let go of a posture when it's over. In our daily life, we can let go of a negative experience and move on with our day. We can bring positive energy into our next endeavor. We can give it to our neighbor because we’re all connected, just like in the studio.
In our yoga practice, we meditate on our bodies, quiet our minds, and focus on our form while trying to go deeper into each posture. As my instructor guides our class, he always reminds us that even if we only go one millimeter deeper into a posture, we are making progress.
As we integrate our practice into our daily lives, as we try to go deeper and access our true nature of peace and compassion, we are making progress... even if it's only a millimeter.