Thursday, August 25, 2011

Como se llama?

One of the most frequent comments I hear about Bikram Yoga is,
"it's f%$#*ing hard!" That's the point-- to work so hard physically that you get yourself to a different place mentally. For those of us who are nervous, crazy nutbags, practicing Bikram Yoga is just basic mental health maintenance.

Most people who do Bikram Yoga are, if not competitive, a little intense. I see it every day when I teach-- people sigh in frustration when they lose their balance, students sit up, lie down, sit down again, trying to fight their dizziness. The combination of wanting to work hard and wanting to be "good" can leave students feeling confused about how to find peace in their practice.

Bikram Yoga is like learning a new language. I remember when I started learning Spanish. My first mastery of a conversation piece made me so happy. "Como se llama?" became my most favorite group of sounds. I worked at perfecting my accent for those three words. I eventually learned more, but never felt really confident. There were always things I couldn't say. Elbow, for example. Garage? How do you say that? So I played it safe, rotating my small arsenal of words and phrases. This worked for me. My Spanish was for entertainment purposes, I didn't really need it.

Then, when I was twenty, I went to Spain to live for a year. The beginning was awful. I was so glaringly not a Spanish speaker and I was screwed because I didn't have a choice to speak Spanish or not. Smoking cigarettes helped me feel a little bit more native, but even with that prop, I couldn't go round just asking everyone what their name was. The conversation would always progress and I had to say something.

After about three months, I was able to have regular conversations. I was still nervous, awkward, not able to conjure every Spanish phrase I needed, but I was really working at it, trying all the time. I had no choice, and eventually it just became my way-- cigarrette in hand, I'd talk to anyone, say anything. When I left Spain after 12 months, I was fluent. While Spanish would never be my first language, I felt like I belonged, like I was in my second home. I even talked myself out of being arrested by the policia after passing out in the post office. They thought I was drunk, and I was able to explain in great Spanish detail that I was wasn't drunk, but had in fact just returned from Greece and had a bottle of Ouzo in my pocket that I was planning to bring to a friend (in my fall from fainting, the bottle had broken in my pocket). For several years after my return from Spain, I felt really confident about my Spanish. Then I stopped practicing. Now, I'm somewhere between "como se llama" and fluent.

Bikram Yoga practice follows a similar trajectory. At first, it's so huge, there are so many pieces, that we are overwhelmed. We keep it safe, cling to the postures we're good at, that are easy for us. Then, as we learn a little bit more, we push a bit harder, take some risks. Eventually, we really lean in, going for it, trying new things, even if it means we do something wrong, fall out, need a break. Fluency is about being fully in it, moving beyond "como se llama" even if we never learn "garage." Bikram yoga is f%$#*ing hard. It's like learning a language. Keep practicing. It will get easier and eventually, you'll find your peace and feel right at home, exactly where you belong.


  1. Are you saying in three months I'll finally feel like I can do this yoga?

  2. No way Jose....
    I would never say that!


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