A few days ago I caught up with a friend to try a bikram yoga class at the studio she trains at. I last did bikram about ten years ago when my beloved cousin took me to her studio in Malaysia. I have very fond memories of that day, buying my first pair of exercise shorts before the class and giving it my all as the teacher called out instructions to me in Mandarin.
The class yesterday was just what I hoped it could be, and then so much more. I was determined not to let my ego get the better of me and try and be stronger or more flexible than the people around me, though I had to admit that I would struggle to keep that resolution. Instead, I decided to be honest with myself and do my best to keep within my limits, rest if I needed to, and notice my self-judgements without needing to act on them.
To my great astonishment, my ego barely got in the way at all. I was a little self-conscious warming up, and it took me a little while to get into the swing of things when the class began. After about ten minutes, the heat became uncomfortable and I was courageous enough to take my shirt off even though I was worried my body didn’t look the way I wanted it to. As I glanced around the class from time to time, I realised that everybody had different body shapes and that they were all amazing yogis in their own ways. I finally came to accept (at least for that hour) that there is no ideal body shape, and that my beautiful healthy body is perfect just as it is.
Using the mirrors to correct my postures, I moved and stretched and balanced, and I became so intimately connected with my body and the things I love about it. At times when I looked in the mirror I was captivated by what I saw, a being full of strength, balance and vitality. I loved the glistening sweat that dripped off me, the ways my muscles flexed as I shifted and moved, how my whole body worked together to carry me through time and space. I wasn’t fixated on looking any particular way, I just had an appreciation and an admiration for this incredible body of mine, and it felt incredible.
For the rest of the day, I was super aware of how good it felt to be in my body. Without wanting to sound pretentious, I was incredibly aware of my posture and alignment. I felt really comfortable sitting cross-legged on the floor during a meeting at work, and when I decided to relax my posture, I did so conscientiously. I became aware that it really mattered to me what I put in my body, and when I chose to have a coffee I did so understanding the effects it would have on my system. And I felt so energised all day, like I was quietly buzzing even though I had expended so much energy in the morning. It was a pleasant paradox.
That experience of bikram was a perfect way to start the day, and it was everything I love about exercise and movement. I think I’m still building up my fitness because I hit a wall about forty minutes in and felt like I’d done enough for the day, but I kept going of course, working with my body and exploring its limits (beyond the ones I had self-imposed). Yoga isn’t easy: it’s beautiful and natural and pure in its self-discovery. And I have to say, two days later I’m still incredibly sore (which is a pleasant surprise!). In the words of the teacher, when a mirror was held up before me to show me my response when I encountered challenge, I am proud of what I saw.
I’m not sure when I’ll be able to go again, I just hope it’s soon! Namaste!