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Warning: Naughty language ahead!
I’m a Bikram Yoga teacher.
I practice Bikram Yoga as many times a week as my schedule allows.
It feeds me, makes me feel empowered; it has healed my broken body and screw-loose brain, taught me compassion and opened my eyes to other meditative practices. I love it.
I also love teaching this yoga—regardless of what my paycheck reflects, I believe the work I’m doing is important. People trust me with their bodies, believing, whether they consciously know it or not, that I will create a safe space for them to engage in personal transformational work.
But I’m not here to pick a fight or convince you that this yoga is the shit (even though my basic human, egotistical instincts at times nearly convince me to write a very long rebuttal in the form of an article, maybe even a book, to counter all the blogs posted online these days about how there is only humiliation and injury to be found in the hot room).
I have countless reasons why I fucking love this yoga, so come ’round for a tea sometime or ask for my Skype username and we’ll have a little chat, free of social media platforms.
Instead, I’m here to ask you non-Bikram yogis and teachers to listen to my words if you come to my class as a first-timer. And many of you will probably show up as 2015 gets off to a roaring start, whether what sparks your interest is something as innocent as curiosity or as deep as the need to feel alive again.
The good eggs in the Bikram Yoga community always look forward to this rush of newbies. It’s second Christmas for us. A gift for us and for you as well. Any mortal who enters the hot room for the first time is a brave one, surely, and we see a potential new beginning for each of them.
But reality hits. It’s hard, it’s hot and it just seems outrageous how big those mirrors are and how little that chick’s shorts are. Trust me, I get it. My first few classes in the hot room were spent belly up silently plotting my escape from the combination of surrounding flesh and humidity.
None of that matters, though, if you listen to my words—I promise.
The hot room, a place where deep shit can be released, is not for the faint of heart. It is unavoidable to run into some resistance, which is often just a side effect of feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable (not always bad things!).
You’d be surprised at whom we find the most attitude from. Not yoga virgins who are struggling with their health or physical injuries. Not the shy, insecure individuals who are intimidated by the idea of being half naked.
It usually comes from experienced yogis or instructors from different practices, most of them overflowing with the negative “Hot Yoga isn’t Real Yoga!” feedback they read online before they even walk into the studio. Those folks who are confident in the strength of their Trikanasana. Those bendy people who like to elaborately stretch in the front row before class even starts.
They don’t listen to us. On purpose. Defiantly.
I say “feet together, toes and heels touching.” They bring their feet 6 inches apart.
I say “Interlock your ten fingers, release your index fingers, thumbs crossed.” They put their palms in prayer position.
I say, “Turn your head and look up to the ceiling.” They stare at themselves in the mirror.
Bikram Yoga teachers give instructions for specific reasons, many of them proven to be physiologically sound (all those supposed “injuries” you might hear about online rarely show up in medical case studies or emergency room reports; injury, due to various circumstances, appears in all forms of fitness and yoga, not just Bikram).
We aren’t correcting you because it makes us feel like Mr. Vernon from the Breakfast Club. We are bidding you to touch your forehead to your knee to compress your internal organs and balance out your hormones. We are instructing you to bring your knees together, touching, to keep your hips in one line.
But if you come in revved up, firmly believing that this yoga is the road to hell, you will likely use that aggression to harm yourself and my instructions won’t mean a damn thing.
So please give Bikram Yoga a shot the right way—not the way you think it should be done or how you saw it in your favorite magazine. Rather, by listening to what we have to say, even if it seems a bit different than how you previously learned it.
I implore you to consider another notion if you still think I’m just some militant shmuck who gets off on people following my orders: If we can’t respect each other in a yoga room, how are we supposed to lead exemplary yogi lives?
Look, I like to mix it up, so I took a vinyasa flow class this morning. When Ardha-Chandrasana Half Moon came along, I didn’t froth at the fact that it wasn’t anything remotely close to how I teach it. I followed the nice lady’s instructions word by word. When even the Sanskrit names didn’t match the English like I’m used to, I didn’t pout or sneer around the room to see if any other miserable person would join me in my tirade. I opened up my stubborn mind and allowed her to lead me through the sequence, which I unexpectedly enjoyed.
Our yoga community is small—about 20 percent of the American population practices yoga regularly (I thought the statistic was much higher, but that merely shows I need to branch out in my social life). We are like-minded even if we can’t see it sometimes; if we weren’t, why would we all be bending together so often?
If we can’t honor each other within our own community, how do you expect we will show love and support to the groups of people who are starkly different from us when they need us the most? Even the smallest changes we make to respect and honor each other can echo on a grander scale outside the yoga bubble.
I promise to consistently make beginners feel welcome in my class, to come with an open heart and a decent sense of humor. Join me in listening to your teacher’s words the next time you try a new yoga.
And when you come into my hot room, please lock your damn knee.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Gina Florio
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Used with Permission by Paula May Photography