July 24, 2011

Bikram, The Dentist, And Getting The Mind Over The Matter.

A screamy rant on the joy–and necessity–of discipline.

Here’s a fun fact: in my spare time, which is to say when I’m not busy being a professional Bikram student and world-class yoga dork, I manage a dental office!

Yes! That’s my actual office! Fancy, no?

I check patients in and out, make appointments, handle insurance claims, photocopy things, file stuff, boss people around. You know, normal office stuff. It’s all extremely sophisticated and very glamourous. Really.

Today, our 2p.m. surgery patient was 15 minutes late. Now this may not be a big deal in the many medical offices that perpetually run minutes, hours, (days?) late, but my office runs on time. Like, to the second on time. We take pride in that. So when a patient arrives late, it throws us off.

Around 2:15p.m. the patient breezes into the office.

“OH, I could have walked faster than that subway!” she says dramatically. This patient is very dramatic.

“We’ll be with you in just a second,” I say, sending an alert to the surgical assistant that the patient is finally here.

“Great.” she says. “But wait… maybe I should…”

Oh god, don’t tell me.

“I just think I might…”

No. No. Why why why do they always do this?!?

“Do I have time to run to the restroom?”

Arrrrrrrghhh!!! It never fails; the already-late patient finally arrives, only to spend another 10-15 minutes in the bathroom.

“It’s really mind over matter, you see,” the patient says, “once I get in that chair,” (she gestures toward the dental chair) “I just know I’ll have to go!”

She takes the bathroom key and leaves, just as the surgical assistant comes running up to the front to take her back into the operatory.

Now. Of all the things that are irritating about this scenario, at least to me as the office manager, the one that put a real bee in my bonnet, and the reason I’m sitting at my desk right now typing away like a lunatic instead of scanning some random document or bossing someone around, is that, you guys…


(Climbs red-faced up onto soapbox…)

What the what! Mind over matter does not mean going to the bathroom now so you don’t have to go later! It would be ‘mind over matter’ if you had to go, and didn’t! Like, if you used the power of your mind to get through the sensation of being uncomfortable produced by having to urinate! This woman’s got it all bass ackwards!

Ok, I know what you’re thinking. And no, I am not some kind of crazed masochistic drill sergeant who never lets patients go to the bathroom and hates people who run to the loo to relieve themselves when necessary. Frankly, I don’t care too much about that. I mean, when ya gotta go, ya gotta go, right? I will certainly not be the one to deny you the many joys of peeing in the semi-privacy of the dental office bathroom. No.

What bothered me so much about this exchange, was that this woman—this grown-up, middle aged, fully adult woman—did not know what the phrase ‘mind over matter’ meant.

I mean, what?!?! How can this possibly be?!?!


It seems so simple! Bikram Choudhury, founder of the popular yet oft controversial Bikram Yoga

Wait, what’s that? Oh yes, I said ‘Bikram yoga’! I’m sure you’ve heard of it! It’s the yoga that’s done in a room heated to 105⁰ Fahrenheit? The one that’s always the same series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises, no matter where you go or who your teacher is? The one where people wear teeny tiny outfits and you sweat so much it looks like you’ve taken a dip in a swimming pool by the time you’re done? Yes, that Bikram yoga!

–uses the phrase all the time. It’s become a popular mantra among all Bikram teachers, students, and devotees.

I should know, I go to class every day.

How many times have I heard this mantra? How many times have I thought it to myself, over and over,  teeth gritted with determination as I relentlessly push my body forward through heat, discomfort, exhaustion, locking my knee in Standing Head To Knee Pose, pulling hard on my heels trying to get my forehead to touch the ground in Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose, kicking my feet into my hands with all my might in Bow Pose, when all I really want to do is get my ass out of that horrible hot room and onto a floaty raft in a lazy river full of cool, blue, icy water? ‘Mind over the matter’ is what gets me through! It’s the mantra of discipline! It’s the essence of yoga! It’s what we’re in that hot room to learn!

People often wonder why the Bikram practice must be so strict. Why do we have to wait 25 minutes before we have water? Why can we not leave the room during class? Why are the teachers so adamant that no one make any extraneous movements between poses? Why all this seemingly needless emphasis on unpleasant rules, regulations, and discipline? Why why whyyyyy???

The reason, of course, is that this practice doesn’t just train our bodies; it also trains our minds. It presents us with a series of intense and immediate challenges within the safety of the yoga room that we can practice working through. (Get it? ‘Practice’? Like ‘Yoga Practice’? Thank you, thank you, I’m here all week!) We work through the challenges in our practice so we can eventually work through the challenges in our lives with a little more ease, and a little more grace.

When you think about it, ‘mind over the matter’ isn’t just a mantra for yoga, it’s a mantra for life! Anything can be tolerated, and what’s more, anything can be accomplished with a little ‘mind over the matter’. Without it? I’m not sure we’d get very far.

Getting back to my late patient. If this woman doesn’t even know how to use the phrase properly, she probably doesn’t know what it means. And if she doesn’t know what it means, well… what do you think the chances are of her knowing how to do it? Slim to none, I say.

It’s things like this that really make me appreciate the Bikram yoga practice for the discipline and the strength that it teaches. Sure, I complain bitterly all the time about the heat, and how I get dizzy, and thirsty, and tired and ommigod you guys this is all just so hard and I’m so uncomfortable and my body hurts and I’m miserable and I just want to die wahhhhh, poor meeeeee!, but really, moments like this make me so grateful for these things. They have been my greatest teachers.

It’s the unpleasant stuff that teaches us the discipline and makes our minds strong. And you guys, it’s the mental strength that we learn in this practice that extends way beyond the yoga room and into every aspect of our lives, so that we can really live our lives, and live them better!


So the next time you’re struggling–whether it be with a difficult Asana, or an on-the-job dilemma, or maybe–just maybe!–you’re in the dentist’s office and about to grab that bathroom key when you notice the office manager giving you a dirty look (goddam that girl, what’s her deal anyway?!), just remember that in yoga and in life, it’s all about getting the MIND OVER THE MATTER!

(Looks around. Coughs lightly. Rubs neck in embarrassed fashion. Gets down off of soapbox… Sheepish grin?)

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