• Life Lessons from Yoga #5

    Wiping sweat only makes you sweat more.

    Part of my August series on life philosophies learned from yoga.

    I have tried all different types of yoga and while my favorite is a good warm vinyasa (or flow) class, I have done a fair bit of Bikram yoga too.  This is the type of yoga people are often referring to when they talk about hot yoga.   It consists of the exact same series of 26 poses repeated in a specific sequence (which lasts 90 minutes) in a room heated to at least 105 degrees F and 40% humidity.  I spent a lot of time disliking this type of yoga but after doing it as my workday default since there is a studio right by my building, I began to recognize some really special things about it.

    One thing that characterizes Bikram is the strict obedience it requires.  In other types of yoga, you’re somewhat free to do your interpretation of a pose, to move however your body needs.  In other words, Bikram is sort of like military school whereas flow class is a little bit more like Montessori school. For that reason, it’s a great sequence for people who suffer from concentration and focus issues.  Bikram requires all of the class to move at the exact same time, and to look the exact same place in each pose.  There is only one water break suggested (though you can drink as necessary) and standing idly and toweling off the sweat that is pouring down your face and making your entire body slippery is discouraged.

    When you first start Bikram, the inability to constantly wipe away your sweat is one of the hardest things to get used to (just behind the heat).  At first, I didn’t understand why the instruction to be still instead of toweling off existed.  But then I came to realize it was for our own well-being.  Wiping away the sweat is pointless.  New droplets immediately appear within seconds of wiping so all that you’ve accomplished is taking your concentration and focus away from the present moment and expended energy you could have used in the pose.

    If you look up the reasoning behind heated yoga, most of it will refer to the physical reasons why it is so hot.  While these are valid reasons, I believe the real utility is something less obvious.  It’s a metaphor for life in that conditions are never ideal.  When you are in the studio for that 90 minutes, highly discouraged from leaving for any reason except extreme illness, you have to find ways to cope with the heat as the sweat pools around you and to continue to manipulate your body and maintain your focus.

    Are conditions ever ideal in life?  How many times do we say, “I’m going to start working toward that goal when…or “I’m going to have the talk with her when …” or “I’m going to settle down/get married/have kids when…” or “I’m going to pursue this dream when…”  When we do this, sometimes that perfect moment, that “when,” never comes.

    What if we worked at accomplishing the difficult task when the sweat was pouring down our face, stinging our eyes, and turning us bright red instead of expending the energy wiping away the sweat for a momentary reprieve? After the wipe, it is almost instantly borderline unbearable again.  How may “wipes” do we take in life?  What if we saved up the energy of ten wipes and just put it toward the task at hand in less-than-ideal conditions and completed it?


  • Life Lessons From Yoga #2

    Usually the pose that is hardest for you is the one you need the most.

    Part of my August series on life philosophies learned from yoga.

    Almost everyone has poses they love and poses they dread.  I know the one that I dread during every class is triangle (as it’s called in Bikram and Baptiste) or extended side angle, as it’s sometimes called.  I’m not sure what it is about this pose I can’t stand except that my hips just don’t really go the way they’re meant to.  It also impinges on my neck and forces me to squeeze my inner thighs together to prevent slipping but it never really seems to work too well because I’m also trying to rotate my thigh externally to maintain the hip position.  It just generally gets me frustrated and kind of makes me feel inept.

    So why is it most important that I keep doing this pose?  Because obviously I have tight hips, weak thighs and a gravely neck.  Recognizing that I need to work on all those things helps me pinpoint some of my shortcomings, both the physical, and the mental for keeping my cool and being tenacious during my annoyance with the pose.

    It is this exact same situation in life.  I have heard that a person won’t leave your life until they have finished teaching you something you needed to know.  It’s like having to deal with an infuriatingly slow person when you tend to think, talk, and move a mile a minute.  Maybe you were glossing over important details before or were lacking patience.  Or maybe you get stuck with a co-worker who issues particularly biting passive-aggressive comments.  Because you can’t just blow up at this person, perhaps your reaction and response to those comments will teach you how to deal gracefully with other haters in your life.

    Going in to these positions that you don’t like also teaches you where your edge is and how to breathe and work through situations that you find uncomfortable.  As I talked about in my risk and regrets post, if you’re not falling or stumbling, then you’re not really learning anything and not really pushing the boundaries on making yourself a better person.  If you’re always in the comfort zone, you won’t learn the necessary skills to push through when the going gets tough.  It’s usually then that growth opportunities or a chance to differentiate yourself come along.

    The funny thing about these poses we don’t like is that they often end up being the ones we love the most.  Certainly this can happen in life too, with people, places, and jobs.  Even if you don’t end up loving them, they probably do end up teaching you valuable lessons you are thankful for later.  I know I have become that way with toe stand.  It used to be so hard for me and I have now realized it was because I was not listening carefully, I was envisioning falling, and wasn’t focusing on the right spot…all perfect metaphors for what could happen to send your life awry.

    An example of how that happened to me about a place is that I had some of the most difficult years of my life in Houston and just when I thought I couldn’t stand to live here one year longer, my future husband, Chief, walked in to the restaurant I was eating at by myself.  I instantly knew we would spend the rest of our lives together before we even spoke.  Much of what had happened in the years leading up to that taught me what was necessary for a loving relationship that would allow me to blossom.  What if I had skedaddled from this place the second I felt like I couldn’t stand it anymore?  I’m so glad I hung in for that last uncomfortable moment and gave myself the opportunity to grow and find the best of things out of the worst of things.

    How could the hardest parts of your life be helping you identify your weaknesses and teaching you the most valuable lessons?