6 PAINFULLY BEAUTIFUL Life Lessons from 700 hours of Bikram Yoga

This is going to sound like a marketing campaign for Bikram Yoga, but the truth is, you could replace “Bikram Yoga” in this article with any “work” or “hobby”. The only rule is: it must take time, energy and consistency to master. And the progress is measured by inches.

I’ve committed three years to this regular practice and I’ve got more than sculpted arms to show for it. (thankfully or I probably would have quit 2 and a half years ago! Sculpted arms are nice to have, but won’t leave you feeling gratified long term).  When I started the practice, my original intention was getting my body (and emotional sanity) back after having a baby, but I’ve received so much more than I could have anticipated.

Clichés are clichés for a reason – because they are true and because they are universal. But until you have a “felt sense” experience of these learnings, they can simply feel like, well, clichés.

Bikram Yoga has been a safe space for me to learn difficult and valuable lessons about myself and about life.

1. This Too Shall Pass
That goes for the bad moments in life – and the good ones, unfortunately. There are yoga poses that I used to hate with every ounce of my being (mostly because they were hard and I wasn’t good at them). Now the ones I hate are the ones I look forward to, And the ones I used to think were a piece of cake, crush me. So not only does my experience with a pose change, the actual poses always end at some point. Even the entire 90 minute class – be it joyful or miserable –concludes at some point. This commitment to Bikram yoga is a journey, for better or for worse. And like life, the more you experience, the less you realize you know.

One thing I now know: This, Too, Shall Pass.

It reminds me to appreciate the easy moments when everything seems to be going my way, or when I have joyful belly laughs with friends. Because they will end and be replaced by dark, isolating moments of struggle where it all feels hard and uncertain. But thankfully, those, too, will, inevitably pass.

Which brings me to another learning…

2. You aren’t in control (The universe has a say)
I can show up to a yoga class, feeling healthy, flexible, and energetic. Yet, some days the universe has other plans for me. The teacher is annoying. The room is so hot that I feel positively incapable, more like wet rag than a strong athlete. I’m not solely in control of my experience in this world. You can do everything right, and still feel like shit. Still fail.

It helps to decide what my integrity is (sometimes it’s as simple as, “do your best and let that be enough”.) and orient from there. Then my losses or the disappointments aren’t so painful because I’m not projecting an expectation or outcome that will be bitterly out of reach.

BUT… at the same time…

3. Change your circumstances, and YOU CHANGE your circumstances
Any time I am struggling to solve a problem or create something new, (i.e. content for a workshop, website design etc.) if I am willing to step away from it (and go take a yoga class) the answer usually comes to me. It’s like I’ve allowed a little white space. A little room for the “solve” to magically drop in.

This goes back to the universe involvement. If I give up being headstrong (nose to the grindstone), and sure I’m going to solve the problem if I stare it square in the face… if I let go of control a little bit, the universe makes the much-needed connection for me.

Conversely, whenever I have a strong craving for instant gratification (i.e. doing things that are ultimately unfulfilling and sometimes destructive … mine is usually wine or food or shopping)…after taking a Bikram Yoga class I no longer have the desire to numb or be stimulated by outside sources (i.e. “filling up the emptiness”). And I’m left feeling more grounded, more present, more capable, and more content (thank you, endorphins!).

Your “white space” might not be a yoga hot room. it might be painting, or walking under redwood trees, but if you change your environment, you stand a good chance of changing your perspective.

4. If you can, you must
The Bikram Yoga teachers say this sometimes, and they usually time it right at the moment when I’m exhausted and sick of trying so hard; when my ego is silently screaming “this is your money, your time, you can quit any time you want to! Or you can at least take a rest!”.

Then I hear the teacher’s words, and my essential self (a much quieter, kinder voice) knows I can, and so I must. This goes for real life too.

Do I want to cold call Human Resources departments to see who handles their Learning and Development, and ask if they will hire me to lead workshops? No. Can I? Yes. Of course. And will it be good for me, and for everyone? Yes. If I can, I must. UGH. LOL.

5. But you don’t have to be perfect…
Malcom Gladwell is right: 10,000 hours – at anything – will make you an expert.

If I average out 3x a week over 3 years, that’s 700 hours of Bikram Yoga. Which is what I’ve done to date. If I continue going only 3x a week, I’m going to need to do this for another 43 years to become an expert. 43 years!!! That’s real humbling to realize. Maybe in retirement, I’ll up my frequency to 5x a week and get to expert status slightly sooner. Either way, I’m committed to the beauty of the journey, not just the outcome. And after 3 years, I can hold a killer bow pose, like I’m the Bikram version of Katniss Everdreen.

I’m not an expert, but I’ve become more advanced, and the progress heartens and emboldens me towards becoming an expert. At anything. Courage is in the doing.

6. And you don’t have to do it alone…
We need community.
Humans are energy, and we’re all connected (for better or for worse) to a quantum field. I need the person standing next to me in class, and they need me. It is motivating and supportive. And after 3 years, I’m thrilled to call some of those people my friends. Simply by showing up for each other day in day out, and going through challenges and wins and losses (and that’s just inside the hot room!)…and slowly sharing little bits of our personalities or personal lives with each other, you develop relationships. Humans are a community-based species – we need connection to thrive. I am so grateful for the men and women in my Bikram community.

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