How to Set Up Your Mind for Bikram Yoga Online
Back in the summer of 2020, I shared some tips on our blog here for How to Set Up Your Hot Room (or not-so-hot room) for practicing Bikram Yoga at home.
Since then, many of my (seriously amazing) students have given me very helpful feedback. They have shared the best tools for the job: which space heater is best, which humidifier the most efficient, and other great little tips to help our home practices be nice and sweaty.
I mean, look at these folks. All of these photos were taken between March 19, 2020, and the first week of April 2020. And there are so many more.
Back when people thought this might be a 3- or 6-week shutdown.
Back before so many of my friends closed their Bikram Yoga schools for good.
Back in the first phase of being scrambling and unsettled.
But these super humans did not let this get in the way of their yoga practice. Some of them didn’t even miss a single day!
I am not saying it was easy. Several people cried the first time. Or even the first few times.
Some simply hated it. Some resisted it in various ways. Frustration, anger, and denial were part of this, too. After all, we lost the one sanctuary that never changed.
Bikram Yoga in the hot room was our rock. Our steadiness and consistency and grounding, no matter what our life circumstances threw at us.
So it is understandable that some of us initially got mad, had pity parties for ourselves, felt life wasn’t fair, resisted the change…you know the drill…or even acted out a bit! I still have some rough days, believe me…
But some eventually found the best possible combination of heat, humidity (steam up that shower, yes please!), and a small space.
Some wore layers and took them off as they warmed up.
And others had to try out 3 or 4 rooms or areas of their house before they got it right.
Others avoided it for a long time before realizing that life without this practice just doesn’t make much sense, even if it is not “like it used to be”.
Many still do not think it would be worth it – or nearly good enough compared to the hot room practice – to bother.
Others still cannot get over the psychological hurdle of change. Or over the momentum of the past 11 months of habits that have now become quite firmly entrenched.
I totally get it. One hundred percent. All of these possibilities. This is a huge and often devastating challenge for all of us.
But now, almost a year later, some of us are back in the absolutely GLORIOUS hot room together. (Yes, Bernie included.)
And we have learned to breathe again.
With our masks on.
We have actually become much better breathers.
By our noses only, steady and calm, with no sound.
In fact, the meaning of “Breathing Always Normal” has come to life on a whole new level! After all, it is the foundation of any hatha yoga. That instruction that we have always heard from our Bikram teachers but not necessarily practiced.
We have become more tolerant of the little obstacles.
Stronger, wiser, and steadier.
After all, most people don’t even have a proper hot room to go to any more. At all. The New York Times recently featured people’s creative “Hot Yoga” practices without a hot room. (Side note: Bikram Yoga practitioners have been doing the steam-up-the-bathroom thing FOR DECADES…whenever they are on the road! 🙂 )
So even though we have re-opened our hot room – twice now -, many have chosen to continue practicing online. We are continuing to livestream all of our hot room classes, regardless of the hot room status, so we can all be together.
We have also continued to welcome new students from around the world, people I refer to as “Bikram Yoga Orphans”. People who no longer have a Bikram studio to call home.
(Sad face with tears.)
Moving Forward in the Present Moment
So….in class last week, one of my newer online students from out-of-town – who has been practicing Bikram Yoga for almost 2 decades! – sent me a Zoom chat that said,
“It’s hard without the heat.”
Oh hunny, I know. It is not the same.
I know how amazing the pain relief is, that comes with the perfect hot room conditions.
- The anti-inflammation.
- The way your lungs feel twice as healthy for the rest of the day.
- The miraculous disappearance of the depression – or anxiety or obsessive thoughts – that you couldn’t otherwise shake that day.
- The way your skin is no longer dry, the way your sinuses and nasal passages feel free and clear and functional.
- The way you don’t even catch colds anymore.
- The way you can move joints that have been frozen and stiff for weeks (or months!).
- The way the dripping sweat seems to take so much OUT of the body that simply needs to get OUT!
- You can walk in the door and literally feel it instantaneously. (I was telling Dorothea and Kathy this morning about how, during my 2-month bout of pregnancy morning sickness, I would walk into the room to teach – not even to practice – and the nausea would immediately disappear. Yes, I consider this miraculous!)
And let’s not forget the way that in the hot room, no one and nothing can disturb you except for your own mind.
No texts, no pets, no family members, no notifications, no household chores. It really is a sanctuary.
All of this to say: I get it. So totally and completely.
So I wanted to share something with you, whether you are practicing on the livestream, or whether the fire of motivation has not quite been lit.
This might seem simple, or obvious, but I think it needs to be said.
There is something that needs to be “set up” for our home practice that has nothing to do with temperature or room conditions.
And this thing is our mind.
It is very likely you won’t be able to go “as far” into the depth of postures without the hot room amazingness. You’ll probably feel your body, your joints, and your muscles more intensely than when you are in the hot room.
Does this make the posture different? ______________ (Your answer here.)
Does this make the posture “not as good”? _________
(Come on now, honest answers please. 🙂 )
Is the point of the posture, the posture? ________________
In other words, are the postures the purpose of yoga? _________________ (I know some of you have heard this lecture before!)
Ok, spoiler alert. (Unless you have this firmly memorized from class :D! )
The postures are not the goal of yoga. Perfecting the posture itself is not what we are doing.
How can this be?!?! You might think.
How can Bikram teachers literally be telling me how to do the posture more correctly for 90 minutes, if we are not there to perfect the posture?
What IS the purpose? What are we doing? And what are we perfecting?
I’ll give you a second to think this through.
Q: What are we trying to create when we practice yoga?
A: A state of 100% pure, uninterrupted focus, on the correct effort, in the present moment, on exactly what I am doing.
(Which in this case happens to be a therapeutic yoga posture. And then another one. Put together in a most wonderful, accessible sequence that has stood the test of 50 years now. )
Even just a few moments of this present-moment state is, well, more valuable than gold.
I am creating moments when my mind completely hears and fully absorbs the words of the teacher, not my mind’s own crap-nonsense conditioned thoughts (haha, yes, that’s the technical term!).
Not plans for next week, not the unfinished to-do lists of yesterday. Not thoughts about what I am going to say to that person who has been pushing my buttons.
I am creating time when I feel every single part of my body and my breathing; moments when that is everything that I feel, think, and know.
Not time spent thinking how good or bad I think I am (abstract judgments). Not how I think I will be better if I can accomplish more (focusing on achievements). And not how I think this class is “worse” because I can’t go as far (judgment and achievement-focus).
Not even trying to show myself or anyone else who or what I am (identity).
Thoughts occurs, yes.
Visions of others appear, yes.
Emotions express themselves, sure.
These things are not a problem, but we choose – over and over and over again – to stay in, or go back to, the moment. To be pure effort and concentration. For 90 minutes of practice at a time.
And in this state, we observe and realize ourselves. More deeply, and ongoingly, for as long as we continue to practice.
Yoga practitioners are basically the poster definition of people who don’t give up.
Whew, that sounds kind of major, doesn’t it?
Yes, I guess I went all the way there.
But let’s break it down…
….by starting with some tangible, smaller things that you can focus on in your practice (especially if you are trying class in a not- or less-heated space, with a good supply of distractions).
What I am about to tell you is, of course, best for you to experience first-hand. But I am here to get you started.
When practicing in less heat, you have some very practical and tangible opportunities, which eventually lead to huge results. Some tend towards the physical and some towards the mental (haha, although they are never really separate!).
First – physically:
- You have an opportunity to strengthen muscles and develop more movement control than you probably ever did in the hot room.
- Instead of reaching for depth, you will experience the postures in their full complementarity of strength and flexibility.
- Triangle pose will almost feel like a weight-training pose rather than a “how far can I sit down?” pose.
- Hands-t0-feet-pose will feel like an abdominal workout more than a hamstring stretch.
Instead of just getting through the heat, you will be able to focus more intensely on what the whole posture feels like.
And ultimately, if you are able to go back to a hot room, you will take these new skills strengths with you.
Second – mentally:
- With an online practice, you have an opportunity to realize that you can practice anywhere, and ultimately, anytime of day.
- There really will be no more excuses available! (haha, your mind really might not like the prospect of that, at first)
- You can develop the discipline to practice through the potential distractions of your home, pets, noises, and family members (along with the usual distractions in your mind).
In a way, surrounded by these many obstacles to concentration, you actually increase your yoga powers!
In the hot room, we learn and practice that nothing can take our peace. No other person, no thought, no posture, nothing.
When practicing at home, new things will initially take our peace and attention, and that can be frustrating initially.
But just like in the hot room, we develop our concentration power and discipline. And soon we transition into a regular practice that has even more mental flexibility and steadiness than ever before.
So whether you have been practicing at home all this time, or whether you have resisted or put it off, I want you to know that you CAN do it, and it will be SO worth it. I am here to help you when your thoughts protest, or take over, or talk you out of it.
I LOVE hearing from you….
…whether it is about your particular struggles with a body part issue or your thought process. Or a tiny detail that you finally figured out after 500 classes. Or even a recent injury or MRI report needs conversation and exploration.
I invite you to share in the comments: What have you learned and observed in your practice at home, online, in the less-hot or not-hot room?
Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, logistically….on any level!
Thank you always and so deeply for your willingness to look at yourself, to reflect, and to share.
So…if you are ready to level up your life…
…regardless of the challenges, obstacles, and various (creative) excuses…