I found a book at the thrift store today that was about yoga. It caught my eye from the bin and realizing it contained American yoga teachers I flipped through its pages and decided to purchase it for the library.

Looking at the section on Erich Schiffmann it quoted Erich as saying that he only heard Krishnamacharya say three things. The one that caught me was, “yoga is not mechanical.” I’m unsure of the context or how the phrase passed Krishnamcharya’s lips but it struck me.

All during classes I’m talking students through the physical. Move your knee here, turn your arm this way, reach towards the mirror. They sweat, they struggle and often they laugh. In leading them through practice I’ve always told them it’s your yoga, not mine. I’m leading them through what I know of yoga asana. This physical manifestation is very mechanical. Iyengar was often criticized for this in his teaching of yoga but I find the paradox contained within yoga practice keeps me coming back for more.

An asana may be physical but it’s not mechanical. There are pieces and parts, anatomy moving here and there but in the end what do you feel? Done without feeling yoga is just exercise. Done with feeling yoga not only helps keep you in shape, it can teach you who you really are. It’s a path. The discovery of where it leads is the fun part, the journey.

Focusing on the anatomy of a yoga pose is a fun exercise for me. With an anatomy background I enjoy knowing what my body is doing in certain poses but it will never replace the feeling. In a deep forward bend where I feel calm and serene do I consider my hamstrings? Usually I’m just lost in some feeling, some sensation of what is going on. Merge. Breathe.

Excluding the feeling of a pose is a little like discussing love and explaining that dopamine and oxytocin are released and promote the sense of being in love. It can help explain the science and mechanics but does nothing to express the feeling of having your lover embraced in your arms.

Long term the practice gives you intuition. I stop thinking so much and start feeling to the point that of the available actions, I choose the one that suits the situation best. Improv as life. Do your yoga asana with feeling and the real yoga begins. I’ll see you soon in class.

Bikram’s torture chamber

Bikram yoga is one of my favorite discussions in the yoga community. Nothing else that I know of is quite as controversial and with as many varied opinions. Those in the yoga community tend to fall into camps. They prefer certain teachers, certain styles and although some are eclectic I find strong opinions in people that are nearly religious in their fervor. Bikram is separate, nearly reviled by those who do not practice it and loved and held in high estreem by those who do. It’s something akin to the disdain people have for the Grateful Dead and their music while Deadheads keep dancing merrily.

I took maybe 6 classes of Bikram before moving to Austin. I was excited upon moving here to live in a city that offered Bikram and signed up immediately and have not looked back. On average I’ve practiced once a week for 6 years. Yogagroove has supplied a steady supportive base for me to continue my practice over this time.

A few months into my jaunt I got together with college friends. All of their families are from India. As we ate curry, yoga came up. The modern situation one finds oneself in amazes me. Three Indian guys and one ScottsIrish from south Louisiana. I not only do yoga, I teach it. They’ve barely done more than a sun salutation.

Bikram came up as that was on my mind at the time. Immediately I was told that Bikram was horrible. The hot room was bad for you and what was worse, Bikram was selling the culture of India. I took all of this information in and respectfully as possible replied to certain concepts. It is true that Bikram’s business practices have received attention. Court battles have been fought and won and no one can teach Bikram yoga unless you train with Bikram. At its core Bikram isn’t selling yoga or Indian culture he’s marketing the sequence that he developed and now sells.

In the same way that a song is copyrighted, so is Bikram yoga, and it gives Bikram sole ownership. Many do not like this, they do feel he’s sold part of Indian culture. When I get these complaints much as I did that day with my friends, I ask them a question, “Have you ever done his yoga?” Usually the reply is what I heard that day, a confused look comes over their face and they say, “No.”

When you’ve practiced his yoga, done what he’s asking and looked at it the way I have you form different opinions. Having old injuries, inflammation and scar tissue the heat in a Bikram studio warms me and makes me pliable. It helps me open into those areas and flush blood to help heal old wounds. My body is stronger, leaner, more healthy and I can eat what I want. It’s not much of a sacrifice for 1.5 hours of my time once a week. It’s the only regular purposeful exercise I get. I’ve learned to hydrate well, drink little alcohol, eat lightly and prepare my body for the rigors of his practice. He in turn has helped me with my aches and makes my life more tolerable. I’m one of the healthiest people I know.

Bikram codified his sequence in the heated room for a particular reason, he’s working with Americans first and foremost. Americans are often overweight, lazy, work in air conditioned office like environments and are not yoga aficionados. Bikram’s yoga can take someone who is out of shape and wake them up. I’m not saying it is for everyone, if it doesn’t suit you go do something else. 105F isn’t for everyone but with patience and practice Bikram’s yoga can transform people, of that I’ve little doubt. I’ve done it for 6 years and I’m still finding new levels of health, alignment and openness. The practice gets less difficult but it’s never easy.

Bikram doesn’t have to tell his students to hydrate, they do so because they must to practice his yoga. Bikram does not have to tell his students to practice on a nearly empty stomach, they learn that they will have trouble practicing if they don’t. Bikram does not have to tell people to lay off of the alcohol, they will simply learn that they will be dehydrated if they do not. Bikram’s yoga can turn out of shape people into healthy liberated beings.

It’s not everything. It’s not all of yoga. It’s Bikram. I honor his work and teachings for the differences it’s made in my health and body as do I other teachers, particularly BKS Iyengar.

The heat helps someone who is tight begin to stretch. The heat means they will not be thinking about their grocery list during asana, they’ll be focusing on not passing out. The cardiovascular workout people receive in that light sauna environment gets their heart pumping. That blood circulating does what circulating blood does but add to it asana and its tourniquet effect and you have a way of cleaning out your body. That blood cut off then released flushes the organs, glands and helps heal injury.

Bikram developed his sequence after destroying his knee in a weight lifting accident to the point that doctors told him he would not walk again. Many I’ve spoken to in the Bikram community have overcome injuries due to his yoga. My clients are often overweight, they are lazy, they suffer from American average. If they have a remotely athletic bone in their body I tell them to do Bikram. The reason is that I know this yoga and what the clients will be doing. If I send them to just any studio what will the teacher be teaching? It will vary from teacher to teacher and class to class as does my teaching. This is one benefit to the practice as someone who would recommend yoga to clients.

I do not expect all to like Bikram or his yoga. I see results from my practice. If people practiced Bikram’s yoga they would not wander into my office with a list of medications for illnesses that only affect people in the 1st world. They would not complain about their upper back and neck because they work on a computer 40 hours a week and get no exercise while eating too much fast food.

It is not the only yoga I practice but I honor what he has done. If I ever meet him I’ll polish his Rolls Royce with my taut white keister.

Thank you mister Choudhury and thank you to my friends and teachers at Yogagroove.