I left class yesterday in tears. I was miserable. After just fifteen minutes, I could not catch my breath. I could not remain standing without feeling lightheaded and dizzy, but I could not sit down and stay seated because of my need to be doing everything. I was so exhausted and irritated at myself that it didn’t even work to remind myself what I usually do, when I have a hard class, which is, “Well, at least I’m here.”
There’s a meme going around right now that goes something like this:
Well, all I can say is, I have looked around the yoga room a lot in the last couple weeks (even though I am not supposed to) and compared to everyone else I am definitely not feeling particularly bad-ass. What I am feeling is entirely sick of getting my tush smushed in that damned hot room. The room in which, in four and a half years, only once I have felt too hot to stay. Only once have I wanted to leave so badly I spent the whole class on the floor. But I did not leave. I couldn’t do anything except lay there and feel like a loser and cry and not leave, but that was my practice for that day.
Now, all you non-Bikram yoga people, if at this point you are reading this and thinking, “Um, maybe it’s just me, but WTF? Get OUT, sister! Because what you’re describing is only a few degrees shy of a cultist sweat lodge incident!”, then I would suggest you only keep reading if you have enough faith in me to know I am not talking about life-threatening heat. And that I do know the difference between uncomfortable and dangerous.
The heat in the hot of Bikram has incredible benefits for the body, which will not be the subject of this post, and which I only mention in order to point out that in India, there is no hot yoga. On a 105 degree day, something I hear is rather routine there, there would just be yoga.
The heat, if dramatic to those of us from other cultures, is definitely life-threatening to all of us in one way, however: it is an ego-killer. Because no matter how horrible or excellent one is at performing the postures (and on most days I would aspire to just be the least lame), there is never achieving perfection in it. And no matter how good one gets, or looks, at some point in their practice everyone has to face the fact that the ego lies. The heat in Bikram just highlights what is true about all other forms of yoga: the only way to do yoga is to experience it. To be there with it. To be still with who we are right in each moment.
Even if who I am is a red-faced-dripping-with-sweat-struggling-not-to-cry woman in the front row, where everyone can see me?
Ironically, as I sat down to write this epic hissy fit about the cruelty of this heat, it actually occurred to me that I may be struggling because I am at the edge of a new level of growth: I am ready and able to get deeper into postures and hold them longer. So that pesky little habit of holding my breath while I concentrate actually doesn’t work very well anymore. I’ve heard one teacher say, “When the heart works hard the lungs get greedy”. Well my greedy lungs aren’t responding very well to “Wait a second. I think I’ve finally got this”.
In this heat wave, the panic attacks I used to have before my least favorite postures are back. I feel them coming in the seconds before the set up. I start my usual chanting of “I love triangle, I love triangle, I love triangle….”, but sometimes it just makes the panic worse. Also not working, “Tough. Panic in the posture, but set it up”.
What am I so afraid of? I ask myself. Why do I care so much? Why am I making this so difficult? Am I actually afraid of what I can do?
I read last week that Diana Nyad, (the woman who recently, at 64, swam from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage-her fifth try in 35 years), chooses a new mantra every year, and this year her mantra was “Find a way”.
So here’s my new mantra: “So what”.
Is this struggle enough to make me stop my practice? No. Is it truly a real problem? Compared to things like domestic violence, not having access to clean drinking water, and mass shootings? No. Does it still feel awful in the moment, do I still struggle with the drunken monkey (who sounds kind of cute but who is really an asshole)? YES.
And SO WHAT.
Until I figure out what the block is, or until I let go of trying to figure out the block, until my lungs get stronger, or not, until I find the perfect combination of sleep, electrolytes and breakfast, or not, if it’s not enough to make me give up and stop coming, then however class goes, SO WHAT.
And on the plus side, I’ll never, ever need a shark cage to come to class.