I LOVE Bikram Yoga.
It’s a series of 26 postures, done in 105 degree room at almost 50 percent humidity. It’s hard. You work. You sweat more than you ever thought possible. Nothing compares to the feeling of satisfaction of hobbling back to the locker room after class, plopping yourself down on the floor, eyes glazed over, looking at the clouds through the skylight feeling energized, invigorated and schweddy.
I go about once a week as a compliment to my Crossfit classes. I find it restorative and it really helps to keep me flexible.
The Bikram class is a spiritual experience. Class is filled with dedicated, hard working yogis staring intently into their own eyes in the mirror, breathing with themselves, shifting things. I swear I feel like a new person every time I leave that room. There is a sacredness to the whole thing.
One class, I completely forgot about the whole sacred, look into your eyes thing. As is prone to happen, my stupid ego decided to take the wheel.
The lesson I learned was monumental.
The class started off like any other: half naked yogis rolling out their mats, laying down and getting centered before class starts. In the front row, I spotted one of the teachers unrolling her mat and getting ready to take the class herself. Suddenly a surge of confidence bolted through me; I marched up right next to her and unrolled my mat.
Me Vs. Her.
I’ve gained a lot of confidence in my athletic abilities since doing Crossfit, I decided to put my strength to the test by going head to head with one of the Bikram instructors. I was determined to do each pose with more flexibility, determination, and fierceness than her. It was no longer two lovely yogis posing in the mirror and working on themselves, but a scary, weird competition of who could ‘do yoga the best.’
The class starts, I’m feeling great. Keeping up with her and even going a bit further than her with some poses. “Great,” I think. “I have got this in the bag.”
She goes down.
Laying down is what you do in Bikram when you are feeling especially overwhelmed or tired. It conserves your energy and gives your body a break so you can make it through the rest of the class.
I’m ELATED. Here I am, trudging through perfect execution of the poses, and my foe, the teacher next to me is LAYING DOWN.
“I’m no where near having to lay down”, I think to myself. “I’ve won!”
Then, while twisted up in some pose, I hear a noise next to me. It starts as a small whimper, then continues into a full on sob. Here we are, a full class and the teacher is laying on her back, eyes closed. Full on sobbing. She won.
CRYING IN BIKRAM YOGA IS THE TRUMP CARD.
It doesn’t matter how well I executed the poses of the rest of the class, there was nothing else I could do. The competition was over. She blew me out of the water. Tears don’t happen often, but when they do it’s huge. Something about the combination of the heat, the postures and the mental stamina bring them out. It means you have become so surrendered and done so much work that trapped emotions are literally being expelled from your body. The crying is uncontrollable, full-body, and enormously cathartic.
Things got real. There I was, sweating, brow furrowed, stuck in gross competition vibe, in my pose staring down at her.
It only took a second for compassion to sweep over me. Just watching this person, tears streaming down her face, full-on sobbing in a class of Brooklyn hipsters was enough for the lesson to sink in.
She had more courage than I did. She allowed herself to go to that emotional, vulnerable place. It didn’t matter that I could get lower to the ground than her in chair pose, she had more courage and emotional capacity than I did.
In that moment, the whole idea of competition completely crumbled.
What I got out of this:
- Not all progress is visible. She probably worked up to this moment through years of classes and personal work.
- I gained a TON of compassion for this girl. It was incredible to watch her release years of pent-up emotions and blocked energy. Who knows what she has been through, but to see it all released was a truly humbling experience.
- Competition in this capacity is totally gross. It turned me into a sweaty, greedy, monster. I’m so happy I bounced back from that gross place and was able to actually see the lesson available for me.
Andrew Carter is the interwebs fiercest Self-Actualization Amigo, who says the hard thing, makes the difference, and basically gets your ass in gear. He is based in NYC.