Losing My Inner Yogina

An author who friended me on Facebook is beginning her new year using a Bikram yoga dvd to get in shape. Bikram is basically one of the “hot yoga’s”. It’s creator lives in L.A. and stews over the fact that he hasn’t been allowed to lay copyright to the asanas/postures that make up the Bikram practice. As nearly as I can understand it without having gone to a class, there are 26 asanas that do not change from one practice to the next and the yoga is practiced in environments of 105F with 40% humidity levels. Oh, and hydration is frowned upon.

Anyway, this author has been updating on her progress and made a comment on the difficulty of doing the program in front of a mirror.

And I went – mirrors? Because I have yet to see mirrors in a yoga studio or be told by a teacher to go watch myself in a mirror. Aerobics is done in front of a mirror. Weight-lifting. Super narcissistic stuff. But yoga, as I have been taught and as I have read, is an inward focus for several reasons but one of the better ones is that to safely get into the postures – you have to be paying attention to what your body is telling you. Something, I have found, that people don’t do much of when they are worried about how they look.

My comment on the mirrors and inward focus elicited this reply:

Bikram is not chanty, third eye, meditate on the pretty flower yoga. Bikram is HARD CORE yoga and your posture counts! Hence, the mirrors!

Whoa! Step back from your organic fiber Lululemon mat there Yoga Princess.

Of course, I didn’t take that advice and launched a reply in spite of Rob’s advice to just let it go. But afterwards, I wondered how yogina that was of me. I had spent the evening before reading B.K.S. Iyengar’s definitive book Light on Yoga and nearly all of what he had to say struck deep chords. I wasn’t getting off to a good start as a budding teacher myself if I could let someone else’s misinformation ruffle me, was I? And picking a bone on someone else’s Facebook profile is just bad form.

So I deleted the comment though this post is certainly not the highest of the roads I could have taken. A more enlightened person wouldn’t have even written about the incident. But I am not quite the hemp wearing navel gazer yet (though I got the most awesome hemp yoga pants from Rob for my birthday) and feel compelled to set the record straight.

I don’t chant. I barely meditate though my inner focus is improving. I am all about the breathing and listening to my body because I am more concerned with still being about to use this body 25 years from now than I am about being a certain size. And it’s not posture. It’s alignment and it matters because you can really hurt yourself if you aren’t properly aligned though anyone who is paying even the slightest attention can align themselves without having to gaze at themselves.

Oh and there are no fucking flowers involved. Flowers? That is so Beatles. That’s TM, not yoga, and a tired Hollywood propagated stereo-type that should have been left behind with 80’s sitcoms.

Competitive yoga is like turning to the dark side of the force, and we all know how well that turns out in the long run. But it was bad, bad, bad to take it personally. Gotta work on that.

11 thoughts on “Losing My Inner Yogina

  1. Bikram Yoga is not Yoga. It’s what i would say is a stretch and detox class (through sweating) that uses Yoga postures. And it calls itself Yoga.
    I’ve been to several Bikram classes to make sure i knew what it was all about. I think if you are in great health and you want a good sweat in a really hot (dangerously) room and just work the hell out of yourself, its not bad. But, as a long time teacher, i can’t say its really doing Yoga.
    Yoga IS meditation, it is the third eye, it is the beauty of all the things (such as flowers) that that person condesendingly threw in your face. Hard core Yoga? Thats sitting in meditation and feels the cosmos within you, its being able to control the where abouts of your mind. it’s the ability to clear the mind to begin with and open the porthole.
    I guess not everyone goes there in there practice. But that is the only place that your asana practice is trying to lead you. To meditation. If that’s not where your going, your not doing Yoga. And give me a break on the mirrors, theres no question that mirrors have no use in a studio for the students.

    1. Meditation is the most difficult aspect in terms of difficulty and comfort.

      Another woman in my teacher training still does Bikram occasionally (I think it’s where she began) but “only to sweat”.

  2. First of all, Bikram yoga is awful. Just so rote. I did it once, and I almost walked out from boredom. And yes, the mirrors freaked me out.
    I am also a yogini (if I dare call myself that) who hates the chanting and meditation part of yoga. It’s so phony. I especially find it ludicrous when a bunch of Upper East Side yummy mommies spend 15 minutes of a class breathing through one nostril and then the other. Puh-leez!
    Now don’t get me wrong. I love yoga. I consider it great, fun, challenging exercise. But here’s where I’m going with this. Yoga, in America at least, is a competitive enterprise. Every class has yoga-divas in the front row, flaunting it — correct? The best teachers openly discourage this dynamic, but it’s inescapable.
    Or maybe I’m seeing things….

    1. I was asking my teacher about the competitive thing recently and she told me that even in the East, there is a competitive component to yoga. There is an olympics even, I did not know that. But she found that even those masters who took part in it admitted that competition was stupid – partly because the risk of injury is greater but also because the point of yoga is communion of mind, soul and body. When a person finds that union, they are enlightened although I am still fuzzy on what exactly enlightenment is.

      The nostril breathing? Great for clearing the sinuses but I don’t find it as cleansing or calming as I am apparently supposed to. I find most – not all – of those who push this on students to be questionable in intentions and that students in general, don’t really understand what they are doing. They are just being sheep. Being sheep seems to be what is expected of the privileged mom set in a way that reminds me too much of high school.

      I shied away from yoga in the states. My experiences with Tae Kwon Do left me with a bad taste as far was the westernization of Eastern practices. I think though that yoga, like most things “gym”, are practiced by people who are still very much concerned about the externals of life. I have to admit. I like some of the physical effects too, but anymore, it is being able to tune into what my body can do now that it couldn’t before and finding that I can undo some of the damages of the last decade that I was afraid I was stuck with forever.

      You would enjoy the studio I attend. Not a prancing diva in sight. In fact in my first class, I was the youngest person in the room by a good decade at least. 70 year old women in down dog are inspiring.

      Oh, and do call yourself a yogina. I think it suits you.

  3. Okay, one more comment from me… UB: the Bikram rooms I’ve been in were very clean. They did however have a smell similar to a high school gym. Not as pleasant a scent as a walk in the woods, but one with the promise of intense workout lying in wait. Like the gym, you forget the scent of other bodies when the action begins. I can promise you too that in the two Bikram studios I’ve been in, I was not aware of any competitiveness. It was intense, but I never heard anyone taking the class or teaching it say anything dismissive about other practices.

    And Annie, I can understand the “dismissive tone” piece. That can get to me too. Thanks for sharing that point.

    1. Well, I have heard that it is competitive and that some studios promote a sort of boot camp mentality that leads to the sneering and dismissive attitude of other practices. But Elizabeth’s comments lead me to believe that this is not the case overall. Competitive yoga makes me recoil. It seems at odds and physical activity that can lead to injury, as yoga can, shouldn’t be promoted that way to beginners. It’s counter productive.

      I do like intense workouts though.

  4. There are only a few activities I that I do where I am able to maintain my focus and turn off the chatter that usually takes up a good deal of my brain at any given time. That chatter does nothing to improve my ability to be peaceful and focused on whatever task may be in front of me so finding something that does that for me has made it possible to apply those techniques using sense memory in situations where I might normally be more scattered.

    Bikram yoga, rock climbing, and practicing my cello are those three activities. I have to say having been to less difficult yoga classes than Bikram, I prefer how I feel after a Bikram session. I welcome the heat as it feels cleansing and I have never ever been in a Bikram class that discouraged hydration, quite the opposite in fact.

    As to the mirrors, it’s been my experience that it’s not about vanity, posing or even the postures and alignment, but more about keeping your eyes focused on your eyes. There’s something meditative about that that works for me. Focusing on my own eyes helps me hear only my breathing and creates an intense awareness of what my body is saying as I work to achieve a particular posture. My instructors never said use the mirror to check your posture…it’s always keep your eyes on your own eyes.

    If I were considering teaching yoga, I would try all sorts with a qualified instructor and I certainly would not base too much of my criticism or information regarding what Bikram is or isn’t on what someone using a DVD said on Facebook. I mean that with all proper respect and it is not my intention to be snarky here. As someone who likes to understand my own motivations and reactions in similar circumstances, I have to say that I wonder why in the world her comments would it strike such a deep chord in you just as I now wonder why your post prompted me to take time to respond.

    1. It was the dismissive tone. Like “you don’t know what you are taking about little girl so just be quiet and let those of us who know do the instructing”. I hate being told what to do or what I know or that I don’t understand something when I do. But as my husband says, “These people are strangers. Who cares?” She didn’t mention the eyes or focus. Just the posture and it seemed very Jane Fonda.

      There are about eight different instructors within the area that I can access easily. I live a rural area and driving distances to more urban settings require planning and time that I don’t usually have. I have taken classes with about half of them with a few more having subbed for these teachers at different points. There is definitely something to the adage that when the pupil is ready – the teacher arrives. My most recent instructor inspired and has encouraged me to pursue teaching. I wouldn’t have done it if she hadn’t thought I was capable and ready.

      I prefer intense practices. Power yogas. Hatha classes can feel tame though it really depends on the instructor. One of my teachers is a strong Hatha person and you know you’ve used your body after an hour with her. Ashtanga is probably my favorite because it works up a sweat and I like to sweat. Iyengar is interesting. The style of my teaching training is a combo of that and Ashtanga although everything is ultimately Hatha.

  5. I’m with you on this.
    Mirrors are one step away from learning yoga in your living room in front of a television (don’t anyone attempt that, btw. you’ll definitely pull something!)

  6. sometimes the compelling urge to ‘smack stupid’ is important. i’m quite impressed that you went back to delete the comment… “hard core yoga”? i don’t know what that is, but the only “hard core” thing i know of that uses mirrors is porn…

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