Living on the mat

Bikram yoga is done in a hot, humid room. You go through 26 postures in a 90 minute period. The practice begins and ends with a conscious breathing exercise.  Since the temperature is in the mid-40 degree Celsius, you sweat profusely. For beginners, it can feel as if you are trapped in a hell hole. So just staying in the room for the full period (and not even attempting to do the postures), is a success in its own right.

Heart pounding, legs burning, in the stillness of Trikanasana

Doing Bikram yoga is both physically and mentally demanding. Once in the room, you cannot escape the process. More importantly, you cannot escape yourself as you encounter the heat and the challenging postures.

For me, the nicest posture is ‘Savasana’. In this posture you just relax. You lie on you back and keep still. You don’t have to do anything. For some of us who lead active, hectic lives this posture may prove to be difficult. I suppose the ‘success’ of doing the posture can be measured by the stillness in the body. This stillness, needs to be matched by an emptiness in the mind.

The instructor talks continuously throughout the practice; explaining each posture in detail and guiding those in the room to follow. While these instructions may be helpful to the beginner, I would prefer more quietness. At times the constant talk irritates me. But it is not for me to question this, this is the way of Bikram yoga. I have learned to block out some of the talk. And as I enter my own meditative state, the talk moves further and further away in the distance and no longer becomes a distraction.

The body does not totally understand words. While it may respond to words in some way, it does best when it is grooved in repetition of doing (not thinking too much). The more the body does, the better it performs.

No one yoga session is ever the same. Some sessions flow easier than others. In contrast, there are some days when your body cries out in distress and the mind fights the simple routine that makes the Bikram process so powerful. You know what is coming as you move from one posture to the next in a predictable way. As in tai chi, it is the repetition that helps you enter the meditative state; when the mind stops resisting the process and simply lets the body go through the repetition without questioning.

Yesterday, I was lying on the mat in Savasana when the instructor stated that ‘how you respond to the postures on the mat is a mirror of how you deal with your everyday demands’. This comment resonated with me. As you encounter the posture on the mat, you encounter your ‘response’ to the posture. You may find yourself holding back, not trying your best; maybe giving up too easily. On the other extreme, you may experience yourself trying your best, not taking any short-cuts by coming out of the postures before the time. ‘Holding the posture’ is a reflection of your willingness to endure.

As I lay on the mat considering what was said, I realised how important my attitude was while in each and every posture. If I could be fully present in the moment and engage the challenge of keeping still in the taxing posture, then I would be enhancing my ability to deal with all of the challenges that life throws at me. This was an empowering idea. I tackled the next posture more mindful of the relationship between being ‘on the mat’ and ‘living life’.


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