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Netflix & The Paradox of Bikram

The Paradox of Bikram:
A Response to Netflix’s “Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator”

by Maureen Bakis

My yoga class is that sweltering day. It’s one long, hot meditation. We put incredible pressure on you to teach you to break your attachment to external things and go within. Instead of blaming others for your own weakness, fear and depression, you will learn to take responsibility for your own life. You’ve got to face yourself in the mirror, every part you don’t like, every mistake you make, every excuse your mind creates to limit your potential liberationthere’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. No escape from reality (my italics). With these kinds of demands on your abilities and attention, you will soon forget that there is anyone on the next mat in the classroom, much less notice what they are wearing. After you learn to discipline your body and mind under these conditions, you will truly be able to concentrate; no external will be able to break your powerful focus. That’s why I say the darkest place in the world is under the brightest lamp. In the Torture Chamber of my class, you will find a beautiful light, and the source of that light is within you.
—BIKRAM CHOUDHURY

Perhaps it’s never been more heated and challenging to be a Bikram yogi, and that’s exactly why I and thousands more people continue to practice Bikram’s original yoga series without stopping and without intermission.

I began practicing Bikram Choudhury’s yoga series seven years ago, a kind of practice that is defined by coming into direct, embodied, conscious contact with my own unique suffering–– mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. In Bikram’s class, I receive an education in pain, challenge, surrender, self-inquiry, conscious awareness, radical honesty, compassion, learning, distress tolerance, flexibility, humility, and better, more balanced parenting skills on my path toward becoming a more autonomous, fully actualized, healthy human person. Yes– a long sentence listing loads of benefits. Each time I practice, I learn about the value of continuously observing who I am and what I am like, positively transforming my relationship with myself on the inside and improving my relationships with others on the outside. It’s a form of social justice.

Because of Bikram’s yoga practice, both inner and outer landscapes of my life take on much higher resolution and greater salience. And my attitude toward pain, suffering, limitation, possibility, comparison, achievement, and outcomes has transformed, a radical and overwhelming shift in perspective to process-living. I am joyful in the high heat and pressure of the present moment including all of its challenges from within myself and from the uncontrollable external world to which I am always exposed, naked, and vulnerable. Sounds positive but it’s often an ugly process. Most people have been conditioned to avoid challenge, exposure, and ugliness. We just don’t go there.

When I entered Bikram’s Torture Chamber at my local studio and years later when I left home in Massachusetts to attended Bikram’s Teacher Training in Thailand for 9 weeks, I  left a world in which I expended all of my precious attention and energy toward constructing a static, certain, and safe environment; the kind of approach to living that was focused on fulfilling my desires, gratifying my expectations, and meeting my “needs” that I was conditioned to believe would help me “win” at modern American life.  I entered into a present-moment awareness, process-oriented, fluid and flexible space, unexplored territory beyond my comfort zone, a place of uncertainty and adventure, of risk and doubt, of unknowing (and of stink, sweat, profanity, and grit). Therein, I was encouraged to “trust the process.” I soon recognized that Bikram’s torture chamber is the same metaphorical place where heroes from the great stories of antiquity enter, so really not Bikram’s place per se, but my own and every human person’s confrontation with suffering. Again, who is encouraged to look directly at their limitations and pain?

I was a well-educated, intelligent, high school humanities teacher and single mother of four who consciously and voluntarily chose to be at Bikram’s Training, to learn directly from the source––the person in the mirror looking back at me. Bikram was merely the facilitator, one example of the best and worst of our human nature,  who provided the conditions for my growth, just as we Bikram teachers do for others at our studios. I was not sent to training by my intelligent, wise, and powerful female studio owner as a pawn for Bikram to sexually exploit, as the misguided attorney so incorrectly and unfairly proposed in the Netflix documentary film about Bikram, the man and his hatha yoga series. I was sent to learn how to be a compassionate presence for myself so that I could provide that for others. As readers are already likely predisposed to interpret any language related to Bikram and his yoga as extreme, cult-like, or dangerous––and now “predatory,” the latest negative association being propagated through the media, I won’t describe my personal transformation during teacher training using cliche metaphors of “I was blind and now I can see” or “I died and went to heaven” or “I was asleep and now am awake.” However, precisely because of what I learned from Bikram, I am fully aware that I cannot control how other people interpret the meaning I am attempting to convey here, but that I can only do my very best to describe my experience.

At my Teacher Training,  Bikram lectured often about birth and death where he transmitted ancient wisdom to his students that to die is to be continuously reborn; it’s to shed parts of the (small, ego) self that are no longer useful to make room for one’s human potential to actualize (and allow the higher Self to shine forth). This process of actualization is a continual loss and painful, i.e. “torture” and obviously challenging, and Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn also teaches, “no mud, no lotus” about the path to liberation and vitality. This is only one of many important aspects of Bikram’s brand of yoga that many people don’t quite understand, his “torture” chamber metaphor often criticized or interpreted inaccurately to serve more twisted purposes. Bikram’s disciplined brand of yoga is simply too distasteful, too hard, too hot, to people who don’t like the idea of being solely responsible for their individual change and growth. It’s much easier to blame, and to blame someone like Bikram is quite convenient.

Bikram did not invent the self-realization and self-actualization process, but his prescription for vitality “works” because of the Dialogue, high heat, and gestalt-like methods that occur in a mirror-based, self-relational framework that is unique and uniquely misunderstood, especially by Western-conditioned minds that are surface-concerned, outcome-obsessed, and pleasure-based.  The Western egocentric mindset interprets yoga practice (and the meaning of life) narrowly, in surface, shallow, materialist ways, as the stereotypical image of the thin, hyper-feminized body, glistening with perspiration in her expensive leggings “posturing” in the mirror, and the even more sensationalized version that includes these type of women “posing” for Bikram Choudhury (and any other hyper-masculine, read “toxic,” man in the room) and inviting them to salivate over them as alluring prey, and hasn’t Bikram purposely shaped his yoginis to satisfy his personal appetite? Um, no. This picture is extreme and absurd, but undeniably convenient and effective for click-bait, attention-getting, and money-making.Labeling or creating such an exaggerated story about this healing modality of Bikram yoga using such a narrow, limited lens essentially closes its therapeutic possibilities to people, rather than opening up a future to those who might access the wisdom and wellness that comes from this practice.

Thankfully, another great aspect of Bikram’s yoga is that people don’t need to intellectually understand its intrinsic wisdom to reap its benefits; they only need show up and try the hatha practice, even for stress-reduction or physical activity, and it will work its magic on body, mind, and spirit. One only need have a slightly open mind, a crack, to allow the light  to shine through. Unfortunately, our media tends to feed people’s intrinsic fear of change, vulnerability, and anxiety through its use of limited camera angles and by constructing  narratives that promote dichotomous thinking and close-mindedness which causes more polarity both within individuals and among them. Ironically, a man came to the studio last week to try Bikram yoga because his interest was piqued after having watch the Netflix documentary about Bikram. I would encourage anyone who is interested in truth to come discover it, for themselves, within themselves, and in that mirror in Bikram’s “Torture Chamber.”

As one of Bikram’s yogis, I am happy for the heat of the hotroom, that is––my suffering, even the disillusionment and disappointment that results from something beyond my control in the form of a negative depiction of our yoga; Bikram taught me at training, through his intentional antics among other lessons, not to wait or waste time trying to control what I cannot or to allow anything or anyone to steal my peace. If I do, that’s lazy and that’s on me. I have learned through direct visceral experience in my yoga practice and at teacher training to welcome everything and push nothing away, whether good/pleasant or bad/unpleasant, so I can be alive in all of my life not just when it’s easy or convenient or preferable.

The purpose of the practice is to discover one’s human nature and not to deny any of it, to be fully, uniquely, wholly oneself––thus thriving, more healthy and alive.  It requires discipline and honesty– two things that don’t happen immediately or as easily as say, taking a pill to feel better. We don’t get rid of stress and difficulty; we don’t build walls to keep all illness or negativity that comes from a Netflix documentary out; we don’t fix other people or reactively and blindly fight against evil; we don’t help people “get into postures” or modify them for comfort; we integrate both negative and positive energy into ourselves and transform it to become more actualized and fully alive—a responsibility and heavy burden that makes us whole, wise, and well.

I am proud and humble to say that I am a product of Bikram’s yoga, a practice and environment that at first seemed foreign to me, smelly, uncomfortable, insane, abnormal, extreme, cruel, uninviting, strange, and something to resist and run from when viewed from my previous world where mainstream conventional thinking shaped my perceptions of myself and others. I observe this same resistance––the desire to run, push-away, or lash-out-at, and/or to “fix” in the name of virtue and social justice exhibiting itself in people’s reactivity to Bikram Choudhury and his failings, his corruption, and his tragic fall.

In the beginning of my practice, I, too, had a lot of resistance and aversion; loads of neediness for comfort and security. I wasn’t sure of yoga’s purpose, my purpose. I struggled to make rational sense of this yoga practice, then the practice taught me that the mental stories I created and paradigms I’d inherited and cultivated through repeated habit over time were insufficient and inaccurately labeling reality; I noticed I was closed and resistant, clinging to what I knew (or thought I knew). I thought I was my thoughts. I thought I was my feelings. When I could see, with more honest vision, I realized my own deeply ingrained, unhelpful, and undiscerning habits and my craving for sameness and stability out of fear, and then I saw the possibilities beyond my limits and a future opened up. Remaining in the present moment, concentrating, and realizing limits, however, were the necessary and painful first steps, part of a steady dose of gradual exposure therapy for better distress tolerance and a better life.

Bikram says, 30 days for a better body, 90 days for a better life. I, like many others, went to the studio to do yoga as exercise ––for the better, more attractive body––and discovered much later that Bikram yoga changed my life. Hundreds of other people can report the same. People, most often studio owners and lovers of the Bikram series often purport to, “Separate the man from the yoga” to justify a sort of permission to practice the hatha series without unsympathetically dismissing the pain and suffering of alleged victims of Bikram, the individual, flawed man. And I get that. I’ve often said it myself. And if this rationale for continuing to teach and practice Bikram’s original series with its implicit philosophy of self-study for self-realization with its grounding in Hinduism works for sustaining a modern business model and helping more people with this specific and uniquely designed practice, then it’s a practical and pragmatic solution to the branding and other problems Bikram himself has caused.

The yoga and Bikram have taught me to become, through challenging practice, less resistant and more forgiving. To accept everything and push nothing away, even when painful, evil, uncomfortable or undesirable. Accordingly, it seems dismissive to me to reflexively rely on “separate the man from the yoga” to quickly change an uncomfortable or embarrassing or hard conversation, to retreat back into a cognitive and affective comfort zone due to one’s desire for stability, to feel “right” or “justified” or to end the painful challenge that comes with human vulnerability and the subtle complexities of being human. To me, this is the opposite of what can be learned and has been learned by so many already from Bikram’s specific practice. Therein lies the paradox of Bikram and his yoga.

Observing my own psychological, physical and spiritual transformation encourages me to continue practicing, to allow Bikram’s magic yoga medicine to flow through me to be wise, well, humble, happy. I continue to share my story, the story of Bikram and his yoga, with others on and off the podium. So, when my guru is under fire for his bad behavior, choices, and human faults, so, too, is the yoga, and so, too, am I as a dedicated Bikram yogi. This makes me sad and uncomfortable and also happy and grateful for this opportunity to learn more from its challenge. Bikram taught me that.

Bikram yoga is an environment, a practice, a mindset, a space for action and contemplation in which peak experiences, self-realization, and self-actualization are fostered consciously, systematically, deliberately, that is–– mindfully. As a Bikram yogi, I am not merely more physically flexible or strong from stretching in a hot room for 90 minutes at a go, I’m deeply in love with my own life, all of my life––its wholeness and integration–– not only when everything is as I want or hope or desire it to be; not just when it’s good, comfortable, or happy and all my needs are met; not when the conditions are some version of perfect that my mind might conjure up based on my social and educational conditioning over time–– again, the paradox of Bikram and his yoga.

I say to the documentary filmmakers and their fans, rather than criticizing Bikram’s yoga by sensationalizing it and attempting to destroy the livelihood of studio owners and their students to capitalize financially on the residual audiences of the me-too movement, I urge you to practice Bikram’s yoga so you can truly understand it and simultaneously embark on a path toward wholeness and wellness both for yourself and others as a more positive form of social justice.

 

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Antidote to Disconnection

The overwhelming problems resulting from loneliness and disconnection from ourselves and from one another in our modern world has motivated me to write a curriculum for self-directed learning for self realization to encourage more connection– within individuals and among people.

The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide is a curriculum designed for people to find out exactly who they are so they can be wise and well. The Guide was inspired by, based on, and part of my Bikram yoga practice.

Growing in Awareness

Bikram’s hatha yoga series and other forms of introspection, including writing and meditation, are my forms of self study. I also learn more about human nature by studying the stories of the Humanities, ancient and modern, East and West, as a way to learn more about myself and our collective human experience.  

I noticed over many years as a high school teacher that the schooling process (institutionalized education) and modern parenting both lack an important focus on the individual person’s interior life.  People don’t talk about the soul or the spiritual. Young people are anxious and depressed for a number of reasons, some of which are the result of cultural conditioning and its over emphasis on “the other,” the material, and the “externals” of the social and economic landscape. The need for interior work is critical to restore balance within individuals and within culture.  Thus, my new purpose as a yoga teacher, writer, and mental health counselor is to bring awareness to this problem of a lack of attention to soul, spirit, and psyche and do whatever I can to help people find more balance in their lives. The first thing I must do is care for myself so that I am able to care for others. 

Focusing Inward for Self-Realization & Wellness

My Bikram yoga practice has changed my understanding of myself and thus has changed my understanding of reality, human nature, and how I live.  I have learned how to consciously learn about myself and that this is, in fact, my responsibility to attend to regularly for a life of quality and purpose.

Yoga is not only physical but psychological and spiritual therapy as well.  I am hopeful others can experience such therapy through yoga practice for growth and transformation, hence my desire to share the details of my own story which led to creating this blog and the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human  Self Study Guide for Wellness.

One striking result of my continual practice of self study for which I am enormously grateful is that I have developed an attitude of openness to my life experiences which has improved and expanded my relationship with myself and with others. I feel more connected to life, to my own mind and body, to others, and to nature, thus more able to overcome fear, anxiety, and the enormous amount of rapid change and chaos of our modern style of living.  Like many others, I had no idea that I would find the wisdom and wellness that comes from self realization when I initially tried Bikram yoga as a form of exercise.  It would be an understatement to say it was a pleasant surprise.

The Mirror: Who am I?

Bikram yogis don’t go to the yoga studio to find happiness, ease, or the answers to all their problems. A Bikram yogi exercises reflection–literally, as he or she looks in the mirror during class and is thus directed to more consciously notice the process of learning more about oneself.

The practice of this form of hatha yoga teaches us to cultivate an open awareness to our limitations: to watch how we think and act; to notice how we respond to our individual limitations and the challenges of and within our environment. We can see how we behave under pressure, in the face of physical or mental challenge; how we calmly respond or irrationally react to fear, change, and pain. We watch how we suffer, resist, or alternately embrace our struggle and fear; how we talk about ourselves to ourselves and judge our own behavior– how we judge our self-critical nature instead of showing ourselves compassion and love.

We notice and observe how we stay stuck with particular thoughts (often negative or untrue upon further examination); how we might cling to and or release from the security of our rituals and habits we have created for ourselves as a way of comforting ourselves and have come to rely on as ways to avoid, deny, or to appease the ego’s desires and expectations.  We observe what it is we are paying attention to and how the attention wanders, flits about, and sometimes settles…or not. It seems that attention has a mind of its own, and perhaps, indeed, there are two minds at work. 

Because of my yoga practice, I see that I am both rational, self-conscious, and aware, and also fleshy and animal in my nature. I learn about what I am like and to accept whatever is without judgment and with compassion.  Sometimes this process  of self realization includes answers, ease, and happiness, but not always. It’s not magic. It’s challenging, a burden meant to be carried in order to grow in wellness and vitality. As the wise Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, “No mud, no lotus.”

Reflection

On further reflection upon my yoga practice, I can ask: Do I give myself compassion when I struggle? Can I feel the tightness of resistance in my body from fear? What’s going on within? Who is in the mirror looking back at me? Is that my greatest teacher, or do I shy away from her and over-depend on the wisdom of others instead? Do I trust the “experts” more than I trust and have faith in myself? What more can I learn from what’s happening rather than critically judge it? Where is the root of my suffering? What can I learn from pain? 

Bikram yoga is not only a work out, stress reduction, or an opportunity to wear cute leggings. It’s not intended to be a social practice, though the collective works simultaneously in silent moving meditation together. The energy and love in the room is palpable, and it is encouraging to be in a space where people are becoming more human, more self-aware, struggling to accept and be more of their unique selves. Outsiders who might peek into a class will see bodies moving or lying in stillness, but they cannot see what’s going on inside each person, beneath the sweat and the physical posturing, as we yogis travel our inner landscapes.

Self Discovery

I find out more and more about who I am every time I practice—which is the final destination– to learn, and to be fully present within this process of ongoing change that is “me.” The Bikram series of 26 poses and 2 breathing exercises as well as its dialogue delivered by a teacher don’t ever change, so that I can see how much and how often I change, for no other reason than to realize my own impermanence. I don’t keep track of progress or grade myself in our usual culturally prescribed sense of achievement. I simply show up to be present in the moment and experience myself– this changing energy, being, presence, and vitality. 

Honest Practice is All

Yoga is so much more than positioning one’s physical body and balancing. Yoga is about developing more conscious awareness, and the discovery that it is our individual responsibility to continually learn more about who we are to grow and thrive. This is more than striving for and attaining happiness, zen, or tranquility after a day’s hard work; rather, it is engaging honestly in the process of self-realization and self-actualization, which includes the range of human experience, both pleasure and pain. It’s simple, but rarely easy. It is practice to fully experience one’s humanity and ongoing transformation, to actualize potential like a flower petal blooming.

Beyond the Studio a.k.a. Yoga Off the Mat

So, as a result of all I have learned and experienced in Bikram Yoga, I wrote the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide for Wellness based on its principles and philosophy of self-realization. I wrote it to help people transfer what they are learning in their yoga practice within the studio to their lives beyond the studio, as a collection of tools for introspection, including self auditing activities, meditation, yoga practice, and writing. People who already engage in yoga or meditation practice already can benefit too, particularly from the unique 5-Part Self Study Wheel and the many self-auditing activities and resources included.

The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide is meant to invite people into authentic learning and the process of self realization so that they can connect more deeply with their truest selves so that they can connect more deeply with others. The antidote to disconnection from others is connection with oneself. When each of us knows ourselves better and cares for ourselves with love and compassion, the world will be a better place.

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WHAT is Self-Study for Self-Realization?

Q & A

WHAT the hell is Self-Study for Self-Realization?

WHY to Self-Study to Self-Realize?

HOW to Self-Study to Self-Realize?

 

This little gem below attempts to give answers to the questions in detail and provides you with directions and activities to get your started knowing yourself better, but you can take a look at my answers below while you wait for your book to be delivered to your home or your Kindle!

Here are MY answers (not necessarily “the” answers):

1A. Self-study is slowing down enough to look inside yourself and answer: who am I? What am I like? What’s my body like? How does my mind work? What’s my personality? Disposition? What are my interests? What sort of choices do I make? What do I pay attention to on a daily/monthly/yearly basis and are those things good for me? What’s my relationship to learning? Do I see opportunities for growth or complain that life is unfair?

*I learned about attention through Bikram Yoga and through reflective journal writing. Perhaps these might also work for you. You will have to study yourself to know what will work for you and what will not. It’s your life.

1B. Self-realization: is ongoing realizations about who you are; seeing yourself as an ever-changing being full of limits and possibilities for becoming. A realization isn’t always in your control. Often having an “ah-ha” moment or making a crazy-amazing discovery about yourself “just happens” for you from beyond your control. A realization can come from “the other side” and outside your comfort zone.

*When I stopped forcing myself to achieve; when I stopped focusing on outcomes and started enjoying the process of being me; when I let go of expectations (mostly of others) and trying to control everything and everyone outside myself all the time; and when I started observing myself with curiosity, love, compassion, understanding, and acceptance (through yoga, reflective writing, introspection), I started taking the best care of myself because I saw my own value (despite all my horrible flaws) and that, still, my life is a gift. I am responsible for expressing the best of myself and for managing the worst.  The lies I had been telling myself about who I thought I was (“my identity” as this type of person or that) burned away and the truth, through realizations, start pouring in! Inspiration and creativity rushed through me, thus this blog and book etc…

2. Each person should study themselves (what I call the “inner landscape”) at least as often as they study the world around them (what I call the “external landscape”) to continually grow in wisdom which I am convinced is what makes a person healthy and thrive. The problem is that our modern culture conditions us to focus our attention on what’s on the “external landscape” to the detriment and neglect of the “inner landscape.” Why do you think people are trying to get more people to meditate? Why do you think mental health counselors are in such demand? Modern life is so overwhelmingly full of noise, material clutter, busyness, and excessive stress that most people are entirely distracted away from their interior life. They are disconnected from the inner place of wisdom and peace. It’s simple: SLOW THE FUCK DOWN and give yourself the loving attention and care that you deserve and are responsible for doing FOR YOURSELF throughout your life. That’s an opportunity and a responsibility. The dangers and challenges of the world aren’t going anywhere– you need to make yourself courageous enough, flexible enough, and strong enough to surf the waves of your life. When you study yourself and realize your whole self, you’ll be well and you’ll make others well in the process.

*I slowed my life down by practicing stopping and living in the moment in my yoga classes; I started practicing yoga outside the studio in my everyday life.  Loads of those moments were painful and uncomfortable (in and out of the studio), but when I explored my pain and suffering to understand it (not judge it), I learned to let it come (without pushing it away) and let it go. I got used to suffering and learned how to suffer better. I also learned how to fully savor all the joyful moments that I had rarely taken time to “be with” before I had slowed down. I cry more, laugh more, am more intimately connected to what and whom I value. Life is fucking good, not because I am rich materially (I am not), but because I am grounded in the truth of my own presence. I am in love with life. I am lively!

3. I propose that five things comprise a helpful self-study program for self-realization: 1. ATTENTION: start understanding what attention is, its value for health and wellness, practice strengthening your attention. You can do this in various ways that I explain in my book. 2. SELF-AWARENESS: Turn your attention inward to knowing who you are and becoming more aware of yourself. Study the workings of your mind and body so can provide optimal care for them. 3. CHALLENGE: Practice facing fear rather than running from it or distracting yourself from it; learn about pain and suffering– they aren’t going anywhere so you may as well learn to make friends with them. Part 3 of the Self-Study Guide can show you how. 4. CHOICE: Study your choices and learn more about the empowerment that comes from choice and mindful response to stress in your environment and within you. We life to blame things in the “external landscape” rather than taking personal responsibility for managing our responses to those stresses from the “inner landscape”or a central locus of control. You can practice getting better at making conscious choices for your wellness. 5. LEARNING: School-learning lives under the umbrella and a much broader definition of learning as a way of living. Learning is embracing a landscapes for learning mindset– to choose to see your life experiences (all of them) as opportunities for growing, expanding who you are, and to expressing your uniqueness. Learning is about the walking the line between what is known (mastery) and what is unknown– and the unknown is both scary and exciting. Get curious about what’s on the other side of your comfort zone and remain open to the possibilities of transcending your limits to thrive.

* Self-Study for Self-Realization is about slowing down, attending to yourself, and discovering what’s true about you and what’s false. It’s an ongoing life-time journey to live the truth to thrive! My book suggests looking at life as a landscape for learning and offers directions to follow to explore the landscape of you!

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In Memory of a Bikram Yogi

These are words I prepared to memorialize the passing of one of the members of our Bikram Yoga community, Ray Chasse. Rest in peace, Ray.

Thanks for being here in our very special community to honor and remember Ray.

I am going to read something I put together for this occasion drawn from some notes I wrote back in 2012 when Ray and I talked about writing his life story together. The main theme is that we—all of us—are not as different from one another as we like to think. In fact, we are more the same because of our suffering and our humanity—It’s hard to be human. We all have problems…it’s simply a matter of degree. Pain is pain, suffering is suffering, recovery is recovery. No comparison. No judgment. Only compassion—which literally means “to suffer with.”

The title of our book was to be “Living the Dream” and it was to be both a comedy and a tragedy—a funny and lively story of struggle and hope– the full range of drama that was Ray’s life. Joy, wild and wacky, full of energy, and pain – the yin and yang that is a life of meaning. Ray’s life meant something important. He was full of love, especially for his boys, his friends, many of whom are here today, and his yoga—intense and challenging, just like his journey.

So, this is a bit of what I drafted several years ago….

“This is a story about my friend, Ray Chasse, a guy who I thought was nothing like me. For sure, he is like nobody I’d ever known. He wasn’t the kind of guy I’d come across in my sheltered, small suburban world—“my world” as if I have ownership over any part of anything. As if the boundaries and territories that we set up – our comfort zones that make us feel secure and protect us from the “other” “the unknown,” “the mysterious” are actually real. It’s all in our head. One of the many lies our culture has taught us and used to pit us against each other, that which categorizes us as better and worse, having more value and worth or less. Silly. We have way more in common than we have been trained to believe, and sadly our perceived or learned differences are what alienate us from one another and cause so much disconnection and loneliness. I love this Bikram Yoga community because although each of us is unique and on our separate mats, we are all in this life right here right now, together. It’s more than just a work out.

Ray and I met at Bikram Yoga shortly before Mother’s Day in 2011. I was the beginner in the hot room that day.

The teacher said, “Maureen? Where are you? Your goal today is only to stay in the room. If you feel overwhelmed at all, just try to breathe and lay on your towel. Just try the best you can. We begin with Pranayama breathing… And, Maureen, we do everything here twice, so just look around at your neighbors and the people at the front of the room if you need to. Let’s begin.

Shit, I think to myself. What did I get myself into? It’s fucking HOT in here! And everyone is half naked. I don’t know what I’m doing. There’s a man standing next to me, sweat pouring off his body, an oversized silver crucifix dangling from a chain on his very tanned neck. He looks familiar. Wait…That’s my daughter’s friend, Ryan’s dad…oh God, I remember him. That’s Ray Chasse.”

Isn’t timing everything.

I think about WHY Ray and I happened to cross paths at this time in his life, at this time in my life, in this place—Bikram yoga? Why would God put a 40-something English teacher and writer with a semi-literate, ex-addict in a hot room to stretch for 90 minutes and hold poses in stillness?

I believe the universe has a certain way of tilting itself so that special, influential people enter my life and alter my view of myself and the world. It’s happened many times—this time the angel is Ray. The earth tilted this way and that until Ray and I ended up on route 1 in Danvers in a 105 degree room with 30 other profusely sweaty people and one yogini instructing us ever so calmly to hold ourselves still in a pose —to hold ourselves— like we are actually someone we care about, and isn’t that the greatest challenge? What the hell is going on? How is it that I am upside down and backwards, vulnerable, uncomfortable, and euphoric all at once? Why is it that I feel so much more alive after these excruciating difficult classes? Is this what it means to live the dream?

As every person who meets Ray at the studio learns, he is living the dream. He had a sticker on his truck that proclaimed the same. But what did it mean to live the dream according to Ray Chasse? For him, it meant he had lived through the present day without a syringe hanging out of his arm and a bottle of booze by his side. His words, not mine. Sounds simple, but not easy for Ray, as all of us have our special challenges—some greater than others.

Speaking of something greater.

A power much greater than Ray was directing the drama of his life, just as it directs all of our lives whether we choose to believe it or not. That’s the ironic lesson I learned about this yoga—we are trying to learn self-control in this room, trying realize who we are—and what I found at the bottom of this practice is that I am way more than just what I THINK. There’s something at work that is greater than little old me and my silly ego with all its desires and attachments—which is what Ray was telling me in the first place. Ask for help, he’d say. And he always said, “I’m praying for you, Maureen.” We can’t  copy Ray and find his faith or obtain grace—We have to figure it out for ourselves—the hard way, through showing up to practice and doing the best we can with what we’ve been given for however long we are destined to be alive.

And give the rest to God.

So here’s how I wasn’t any different from Ray or anyone else who suffers: we are not who we think we are because we all have stinkin’ thinkin’ mostly from how we have been raised and conditioned by our experiences—some traumatic, others just painful, sad, or heart-breaking. So how to suffer better? Suffering together helps—at least you know you aren’t alone in this fight, although each of us has to do “our work” one step at a time, one day at a time, the best we can and by asking for help from a source far greater than ourselves. Ray taught me that.

As it turns out, Ray taught me the same things the yoga taught me—that the serenity prayer is embodied, literally, in this yoga practice. God grant me the serenity to Accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. We need lots of humility, forgiveness, compassion, and love to get by— and a little help from our friends.

Yes, I was Ray’s yoga teacher, but who was teaching whom? Ray tried to teach me to just try to let go and let God. He talked about surrender. He showed me the challenge of living one day at a time. I saw him struggle terribly with that. He taught me the value of a smile, the importance of outstretched arms that demand a big giant hug, and the need for all of us to express our unconditional love for one another, by trying the best we can. I saw him do those things too.

We need to have compassion for ourselves when we fail, and for others, because to fail is to be human, and there’s just no other way to learn. And just like our yoga practice, every day our life presents us with challenges.  All we can do is show up, look in the mirror, concentrate, meditate, and begin—breathing in and out nice and slow, each one of us, together.

Thanks for showing up today. Ray would be so happy to see all of these smiling happy faces!

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Vulnerability

An excerpt from “Part V: Learning” in the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Bikram Yoga Teacher’s Self Study Guide for Wellness (available June 1 at Amazon.com)

Vulnerability

“Vulnerability is not weakness. I define vulnerability as emotional risk, exposure, uncertainty. It fuels our daily lives.”
Brene Brown

To be human is to be vulnerable. Allowing yourself to be open to experience and vulnerable is how one learns, grows, and thrives, but being vulnerable also invites the potential for pain and suffering, even death. Vulnerability is a double-edged sword. Vulnerability is a challenge, and how you accept, respond, and cope with it defines who you are. To know oneself is to understand one’s own vulnerability.

Bikram Yoga & Vulnerability

Many people question the level of challenge of Bikram Yoga, wondering why it’s not more relaxing and peaceful. Why is Bikram Yoga so hard? Why the high heat and strict discipline? Why can’t I close my eyes? Why do I feel so exposed and vulnerable to emotional and physical discomfort? Why must I labor through the poses for ninety minutes? There’s lots of resistance to Bikram Yoga practice—- and that is the point. The practice is about paying attention to the nature of your resistance and emotional reactivity to vulnerability. Learning to be with one’s vulnerability and practicing ways to transform it for wellness is an important part of the process of self-realization and self-actualization. 

In Bikram Yoga, the poses test a person’s response to their own feelings of vulnerability, whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. These asanas are an opportunity to experience what vulnerability feels like in one’s body and mind repeatedly in small doses within a safe environment (as exposure therapy). The class is like a laboratory to observe oneself and one’s stress. Through this practice of staying open to one’s own vulnerability, or learning through exposure therapy, vulnerability becomes less frightening over time. The practice and exposure teaches people to be open-minded about feeling their own stress, anxiety, and other fears and challenging sensations in one’s body and mind.

Rather than trying to avoid these postures, compromise them in order to control them for more comfort and less vulnerability, or to “perform” them for the sake of achieving physical prowess or perfection, we encourage our yogis to “trust” the process of the posture– to be with it– to do one step at a time, the best they are able and breathe. To fully experience the attempt to do what one is able in order to understand oneself better is the goal.

Again, this is how Bikram yoga is not about achieving the full expression of any pose, but it’s about living with how you are in each moment — exploring and observing the way one may refuse to experience and cope with vulnerability or the ways one becomes more willing to stay open and flexible in response to challenge to learn and grow.

It might hurt a little bit

As teachers, we are instructed in our Bikram Yoga Dialogue to alert practitioners that parts of some postures “might hurt a little bit” as a loving warning that they may and should experience some therapeutic discomfort that comes from vulnerability and opening themselves up more than they are likely to do otherwise because of their trepidation or reluctance to “be present” with discomfort and stress. In fact, in this way we are inviting them to cultivate being more comfortable with being uncomfortable and to get to know the pain and suffering associated with vulnerability rather than to fear it or run from it. Most people don’t understand their own bodies, thoughts, feelings, pain, or vulnerability, but when they come to Bikram Yoga class, they can learn more about these things. When people begin to discover more about themselves and develop more awareness, anxiety and stress lessens and wisdom and wellness result.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”
–Brene Brown

Just as some Bikram yogis try to modify and control their practice rather than following the commands of the teacher’s Dialogue during class as a way to avoid vulnerability and discomfort, many people, in general, strive continually for permanence in their lives and in their environment because this gives them a perceived feeling of safety and security; this is a way out of feeling vulnerable, but permanence is an illusion. Being human means being subject to constant change, relative security and insecurity, and vulnerability on an ongoing basis, but such fear, change, insecurity, and vulnerability can be motivation, inspiration and potential opportunities to grow, create, and fully self-actualize. It’s very challenging for people to accept this truth and gain the courage to trust this process. It is common for people to take one look at the Bikram Yoga series and say, “No, thanks. Who wants to voluntarily suffer? And to what end? I refuse to expose myself to that and face my fear.” We assure you that the environment you will enter is a compassionate, safe place to do what’s difficult to grow wiser and more well.

Letting Go of Control: Trust the Process

Also common is rather than taking personal responsibility and ownership over oneself — one’s particular emotional sensitivities, buttons, and triggers (the aspects of ourselves that can be discovered in Part II Self-awareness), some people often try to manipulate their environment or influence, overpower, and otherwise control other people and their environment to prevent their own feelings of insecurity or to protect themselves from the potential discomfort or loss that may come from such vulnerability. This is a very common human tendency, because we are wired biologically to react to threat and danger and in previous times needed such reactivity for our survival. In a more progressive modern world, sometimes we hang onto that reactivity and fear unnecessarily.

To an extent, a degree of reactivity and defensiveness is self-preservation and self-protection, but in many cases, people avoid personal responsibility because they don’t know they have choices about how to respond, have never been taught or trained to, or because it’s become socially common to blame, distract, or avoid challenge. They avoid doing the difficult work within themselves and instead put their attention and energy toward manipulating the external world, including other people, to suit them or give themselves a sense of security. This can cause a lot of unnecessary stress for oneself and for others.

Vulnerability & Overprotection

I observed in my high school teaching career how many parents try to change an environment or attempt to manipulate and regulate other people’s behavior in order to protect their kids from from uncertainty, discomfort, or loss because they perceive such things as “dangerous.” They do their children a great disservice by trying to create “safe spaces” in the world and over-protection that is beyond trying to ensure their physical wellbeing (Lukianoff & Haidt, 2018). Rather than teaching children to stay open to understand the important role of vulnerability in learning and creativity and developing healthy responses to stress and coping skills within themselves, children are conditioned instead to turn to find comfort outside of themselves (running to authorities, drugs, or developing other unhealthy dependencies).

Since we will be tested by truly threatening external stimuli and because much of life is beyond our control, it is better preparation and protection to build up our ability to respond to what life gives us than struggle to control the world or hide defensively in our comfort and security zones where no change or growth can possibly happen.

Learning & Tough Love

If our attention and effort is overly-focused on controlling and manipulating what is outside of ourselves to make the world conform to our desires—to make it conform to just how we’d like it (whether in a yoga class or in our “real” lives when we are uncomfortable), then we not only create more disappointment for ourselves and unnecessary suffering, but we also neglect using and thereby strengthening our inner resources to grow. We miss the opportunities to learn more about ourselves and who we really are. This is why a central tenet of teaching the original Bikram Yoga practice is to encourage people to refrain from “adjusting” things to comfort themselves, to make a posture more accessible, or to make their experiences easier or more enjoyable.

In Bikram Yoga, we don’t modify poses to suit people. We don’t use props. We don’t turn the heat down if people are uncomfortable or struggling to breathe. The conditions of the environment are specifically designed to challenge people to rely on themselves only— to turn inward, study their own mental  and physical habits, reactivity and responses to vulnerability and stress; to face their limits; to observe their specific kind of suffering, and practice coping skills rather than denial or running from such challenge. To know your vulnerability and suffering is to empower yourself to cope and thrive. That’s why Bikram says, “hard way is right way”–tough love, to allow space for people to grapple with their challenges. We stay in the here and now, with eyes wide open, to learn how to suffer as best we can for wellness. Ironically, there is a tremendous amount of freedom that comes from building such courage through personal discipline.

Explore Your Vulnerability

Sometimes people think Bikram Yoga teachers are unsympathetic or lack compassion when we encourage you to do what is uncomfortable or to refrain from relying on externals beyond yourself, but the opposite is true. We won’t spare you your suffering because to do so would rob you of what you need to become the best and most authentic person possible. Some people develop habits of relying on drinking water, wiping sweat with a towel, using straps or other props, or they develop other rituals (ways they try to control rather than letting go and trusting the process) that “help” discharge their discomfort. They do asanas their way rather than according to the teacher’s Dialogue, as a way to feel “in control.”

Bikram Yoga is designed specifically to encourage people to face their limitations and break attachments (or “let go”) to external dependencies. When we continually turn outside ourselves for answers, comfort, or to deny our suffering and vulnerability, we remain ignorant to ourselves, and we stop learning, growing and thriving. Imbalance results because we are focused too much on the external and not enough on the internal, where our true self resides. 

Freedom isn’t conditional on the environment or other people behaving “just so.” If you are waiting to be happy when everything is just as you want it to be, you’ll likely be waiting a long time or disappointed and frustrated. Perhaps you will call yourself unlucky. Through Bikram Yoga practice, you can learn how to be free and peaceful no matter the circumstances—and perhaps even learn to love your experiences (your life, other people, “what happens,” reality) unconditionally– that means without required conditions. This kind of freedom that comes from practicing and building discipline is possible and can be cultivated through Bikram Yoga. All you have to do is show up and be vulnerable.

HONEST PRACTICE

Writing About Vulnerability

In Bikram Yoga class, one has a wonderful opportunity to see how one handles their own vulnerability. The poses are opportunities to notice one’s reactions to discomfort and insecure feelings. How do you manage your anxiety and stress, whether physical, mental, or both?

Notice during your Bikram Yoga practice when you felt most vulnerable. Write about those experiences.

Notice during your Bikram Yoga practice how you responded or reacted to feelings of vulnerability. Write about those reactions and/or responses.

Notice during your Bikram Yoga practice how much of your thinking related to your own feelings of vulnerability caused you to feel stress compared to the physical feelings in your body from the movements of the asana.

Answer the three prompts above but replace the term “uncertainty” for “vulnerability.”

Think and write about times and situations where you have felt vulnerable. Be specific about when, where, why, and how vulnerability occurred. Write about your feelings of vulnerability and exposure to risk or potential or real danger.

Think and write about the various times and situations where you have been in a state of uncertainty. How long did it last? How did you feel while in this state of unknowing? What, if anything, did you do to cope with such feelings of uncertainty or unknowing?

Think and write about life experiences where you were protected unnecessarily (either self-protection or from others) and missed valuable opportunity to grow or learn more about yourself and the world. Were you “too sheltered” or not protected enough?

Think and write about various situations wherein you tried to manipulate the environment and/or others in an attempt to achieve safety, a sense of security, or personal gain. What motivated such behavior? What might you have learned from a bit more exposure or risk as opposed to over protection?

What can you learn from observing and reflecting on your own specific insecurities, uncertainty, fears, and vulnerability?

When, where, why, and how or with whom do you feel most vulnerable? Try to sit with the feeling of vulnerability to know it better. Write about your experience and what you learned.

*Excerpted from Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Bikram Yoga Teacher’s Self Study Guide for Wellness (available June 1 at Amazon.com)

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Yoga is Union

“You don’t know who you are!”

When Bikram Choudhury, the author of the specific type of yoga I practice, said, “You don’t know who you are” to me and my fellow prospective Bikram Yoga Teachers on our first day of Teacher Training, I immediately got defensive. I balked, “What does he mean that I don’t know who I am? Of course I do! I know exactly who I am!” And then I silently recited to myself  a reassuring list of labels and titles: mother, divorcée, girlfriend, college graduate, professional educator, published author, in addition to an endless list of personal preferences, skills, physical descriptors, and other mental images I lived according to and that I believed defined “me.” Soon, I would add Bikram Yoga Teacher to this list which would make me… who exactly? 

Self Image or Truth?

I had heard the many criticisms about this controversial guru and his antics, so I chalked up his statement to his notorious reputation. I focused on psyching myself up for “getting through” the physical challenge his rigorous nine-week training would bring, yet my own resistance to long held notions about who I thought I was would become the real challenge. Studying my long held conception of my “self” would be the impetus for major transformation of my perspective of reality and about the meaning of my very own life. Bikram was 100% right, of course: I had no clue about who I really was. But I was about to learn, continuously, without interruption and without intermission, that this yoga I was practicing and hoping to teach wasn’t only about physical fitness and wellness. For me, Bikram Yoga is about the wisdom that comes from self study for self realization. The toughest part of it, for me, is that it requires radical honesty. It is about facing and accepting reality as it is, not abandoning suffering or pain, learning, and change. Funny to look back now at my fairly random choice to just try a little yoga for a good workout. 

Values & Wellness

Understandably, it seems a bit crazy for anyone to suggest that you don’t know who you are. But the truth is, most people really don’t know who they are, likely because they have been raised in a fast and furious Western culture with values and priorities that not only fail to include introspection and self understanding but that in many ways condition us for un-wellness.  Yes, our values are directly related to our health and wellbeing. 

Time on Learning

In addition to my own lifelong, personal educational experiences, I saw while working as public school teacher how American students are taught to focus primarily on and value what is external—by that, I mean, we value “time on learning” practical skills and content knowledge in order to compete in an economic landscape, one filled with comparison and a race to some “top” or “end” where we are told we will find our happiness and fulfillment— the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We are schooled to achieve— to find happiness and satisfaction once the prize, award, grade, salary, acceptance, or fame is gotten…and then the next and the next and the next, and if we die too soon, the tragedy is that we did not achieve our full potential. Although hard skills and economic survival are critically important, of course, it isn’t the entire preparation required for being a good, healthy, whole human being and living a fulfilling and meaningful life— no matter how short or long we are fated to be here.

Wholeness

Our education system pays lip service to the development of the “whole child,” while in reality, the  institutionalized approach to teaching and learning neglects character development, creative expression, and soft skills. The imbalance in where we pay our attention—outward more often than inward is clear when we look at the results: increasing mental illness, anxiety, obesity, addiction, and other forms of unnecessary suffering that permeate our society. We really don’t know who we are. 

We teach kids about what to do with their “outer lives” and how to shape their “self” image rather than showing them how to cultivate who they are as human beings by exploring their “inner lives.” 

It’s Not About the Grades

I saw firsthand as a teacher and parent of four how school administrators, guidance counselors, and parents were more interested in the achievement of grades and prestigious college admission than time spent learning what it means to become oneself as a human being– it’s simply not our priority. We don’t value integration and wholeness perhaps because pain, problems, suffering, and sacrifice are involved with the process of becoming a true person— a person of integrity, authenticity and uniqueness. And we wonder why even the most successful and highest achievers in our society are unfulfilled or ill. We’ve simply not dedicated enough attention and energy to wholeness, being rather than doing, truth, and love. Instead, we have conditioned our children to live by primarily relying on their thinking minds and the frantic acquisition of knowledge for material gain rather than remaining open to listening to and following their heart and soul for wisdom and wellness. 

Yoga is Union: Antidote to Disconnection

We are, indeed, products of our environment, our modern lives defined by information overwhelm, artificial intelligence, excess, avoiding discomfort and pain at all costs, loneliness and disconnection, and illness rooted in chronic stress. It’s more challenging than ever to find balance, connection, peace, and wellbeing in a place where we are continually bombarded to consume empty values, treated for symptoms rather than causes, and continually manipulated to look outside of ourselves (to diets, fitness regimens, the Self Help industry, and other perceived authorities) for answers rather than within—one’s own body, mind, and spirit— for loving acceptance and connection.   

We’ve been conditioned to not know ourselves by being taught to play roles, wear masks, and pretend rather than to be who we truly are (Singh, 2019). Thus, we become alien to ourselves because we are so distracted and manipulated to focus our attention on everything and everyone else but our true inner being. As a result, many of us fail to observe and understand our own feelings, behaviors, and thoughts, (there’s simply no time in the day to meditate!) never mind learn how to accept, cope with, and leverage them for wellness and a good life. Because we are so busy competing on the external landscapes of life, we simply aren’t taught how to travel our inner landscapes to learn about who we really are and express our true nature and uniqueness.

Classic Wisdom for Modern Humans: “Know Thyself”

I, too, am a product of such cultural conditioning, living most of my life according to and amidst comparison and competition to achieve goals I was encouraged to pursue by others. Because I was “a good kid” for the most part doing as I was expected, avoiding mistakes, and was successful in “my” endeavors, such outward focus and attention to external pursuits kept me disconnected from following my heart, loving myself, and living according to my true nature. Thankfully, two forms of introspection, or self study, guided me inward towards a reconnection and reunion: Bikram Yoga and daily journal writing. I’ve decided to share my personal tools for “knowing thyself” in the form of a Self Study Guide. 

           When I discovered Bikram Yoga, or should I say, when Bikram’s yoga found me, by accident, I found a prescription for personal transformation and wellness that I think all modern people could use, and, as it turns out, it’s the same wisdom the great sages have recommended since ancient times: “know thyself.” 

If you could use a little help answering the question, who am I, to become the person you really are and thus become more wise and well, this Self Study Guidefor Wellness can show you how to engage with reflective practices and healing modalities including Bikram Yoga, meditation, journal writing, and more. You can teach yourself: 

  1. about your own attention and how to turn it inward 
  2. to become more introspective to increase your self awareness; 
  3. about the purpose and value of facing challenges and fear (a little bit at a time!);
  4. about how making more informed and mindful choices from a central locus of control are keys to wellness; and 
  5. about how adopting a landscapes for learning mindset will help you become far more open to experience, curious, humble, and flexible.

Be Your Own Guru

No guru or guide can provide answers, cure you, give you self realization, awaken you, define your identity, or give you a secret for lasting contentment– not me, not Bikram Choudhury, nobody. A teacher can certainly open a door for learning for you, but only you, the student, can learn through your own conscious and deliberate application of the knowledge gained through learning and through your own direct experience of yourself and your life. You have to be your own guru. Only you can answer who you are and become the person you are meant to be.

“Look in the Mirror, Concentrate, Meditate and Begin…”

My most important teacher in my Bikram Yoga class is not the individual on the podium supplying me with the words to move and pose for ninety minutes. My teacher is in the mirror looking back at me— applying the prescription for wisdom and wellness, struggling to be honest, as she continually changes and reveals that she is always more than who she may think she is. 

 It’s not selfishness to study yourself to know who you are. It’s a process of self acceptance and self love so you can love others. People often talk about radical empathy as the impetus for creativity and healing (Heller, 2019), but our empathy and compassion for others must begin with showing ourselves empathy and compassion first. To truly serve others and share one’s gifts with the world is to be whole as oneself— to discover and live one’s truth. The entire process is a tremendous challenge which is exactly why you should do it. 

So, if you are curious about what it means to become the real you; if you are open and willing to learn about living in this time of rapid change as the true being that you are; and if you are interested in expressing your unique nature to live with more love, integrity, and vitality, then the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A (Bikram Yoga Teacher’s) Self Study Guide for Wellness provides five directions and tools you might find useful to access your own wisdom as you travel your own unique path of self discovery for self realization.

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A Bikram Yoga Teacher’s Tools for Wellness

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Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self Study Guide for Wellness contains a few tools and practices for knowing your mind and body better, so you can connect with your interior world to love yourself and love others. That’s pretty much it, in a nutshell.

Bottom Line? The world will be well if each of us are well.

A 5-Part Guide for Wellness

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Wellness that comes from authenticity— of being the real you– takes attention, self awareness, grit, mindful choice, and a willingness to learn. These are the five parts of the Self Study Guide.

Self Realization

Answering, Who am I? is a lifetime process; it is a journey with no final destination. The Self Study Guide gives you several tools and practices for this journey to self realization, one of which is Bikram Yoga.

Breaking External Dependency

Bikram Yoga helped me realize that caring for my body is essential for a healthy mind and vice versa. I learned about how my very busy thinking mind has everything to do with how I feel, my stress levels, and my mood. I learned with consistent practice how an open-eyed 90 minute moving meditation is superior to my formal education, self help reading, and the various forms of dependence on things outside of myself I had unconsciously relied on for my wellness through my life. Bikram Yoga taught me that the key to wellness is self realization– an entirely interior process.

“To Thine Own Self Be True”
–William Shakespeare

I share my learning experiences in this Self StudyGuide to invite others to learn not about me or Bikram Yoga per se, but more about what it means to be a human person— and most important, to inspire and motivate you to find out what it means to be the real, authentic you. Self study for self realization is about honesty. It is that simple, but definitely not very easy.

Healing Modalities

My personal tools for wisdom and wellness are Bikram Yoga practice and daily journal writing, both of which work as therapeutic modalities. Both practices have led me to deeper, more conscious awareness; more humility; more openness to experience (flexibility); more love and compassion for myself and others; and more balance in my daily life. Neither has led me to perfection nor financial windfall, but I will admit that I am far more honest with myself and others, and I believe this is why I am healthy and happy.

Once you learn to confront “what is” without trying to push it away (aversion) or grip it too tightly (clinging), you understand more and more about the nature of your own suffering. If you can learn to stay in the space of experience, without judgment or reactivity, then you may be able to create more mindful responses to whatever life brings. You’ll likely appreciate the freedom such meditation brings. Can you say, game changer?

Wellness for Modern Humans

I’ve created this Self Study Guide for readers to learn more about one’s own unique, specific human nature through deliberate self study, as I have found this to be the foundation for a high quality life of meaning and purpose, especially in our modern world of rapid change. To “know thyself” is classic wisdom, so self study for self realization is critical for living well within a modern world full of information, distraction, noise, and unwellness stemming mostly from cultural values that don’t foster vitality. That is why throughout each part of the Self Study Guide I write about why and how each of the five parts of the self study wheel matters for both personal and social wellness. My work in the Self Study Guide also adds to what many others already understand about the state of unwellness in our modern world and are trying to address with their wonderful work. You will notice their influence throughout the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self Study Guide for Wellness.

I also wrote the Self Study Guide as an answer to the people who continually ask me to explain the connection between my Bikram yoga series practice and my “life outside the studio” which includes my level of vitality, physical and psychological transformation, and the resulting wellness and happiness from such ongoing growth.

Practical Tools for Wellness

In the past, I have written about my passion for yoga and about my passion for writing as ways of expressing who I am on my blog, but I wanted to give readers something tangible, some practical tools they could have and use for themselves, in their own personal way, for their own personal development, beyond just reading an inspiring or motivating testimonial. As well, I am always inviting people I meet to the studio to try a hot yoga class, but many are intimidated by the perceptions of what Bikram Hot Yoga is, the negativity surrounding its founder, and the presumed vanity associated with looking at oneself in a mirror with little clothing on for ninety minutes each day.

It is difficult to explain how looking at yourself in a mirror and stretching in a hot room leads to self realization in a few minutes of casual conversation. Hence— this Self Study Guide.

Appearance vs Reality

I hope this Self StudyGuide offers a bit of insight about how it is that so many Bikram yogis have been so utterly transformed (inside and out) despite Bikram Choudhury’s reputation, the criticism of our strict Dialogue method of instruction, and all of his and the yoga’s perceived flaws and controversy. I hope it helps people understand what profusely sweating in 105/40 heated room half naked with strangers (who become friends bound by compassion) is more than what it seems.

There is more to Bikram Yoga than meets the eye, so many more positives than people know or talk about beyond our Bikram Community. Perhaps more information to educate more people is due. And, of course, I’d like to invite more people to come try the practice by informing them about the personal development that may be possible for them by beginning, like I did, an ignorant but semi-willing, slightly open-minded person looking to try a physical, body-based yoga practice as a form of exercise.

Surface vs. Deep Learning

I started looking in the mirror during my early practice out of vanity, a desire to achieve, and as a performance because that was my previous, socially- conditioned, conventional mindset. The challenge of the workout drew me in, (I wanted to conquer it, not let it beat me), the practice itself magically got me to stay for reasons I could not explain, then to become a teacher to share my love for the practice, and then to write this Guide to spread that love further beyond just my local studio. Loads of other Bikram yogis have their stories of self realization too.

But if you want a spiritual treatise, this Self Study Guide is not that book. I am mute when it comes to enlightenment or theology or the soul. There are books about the limbs of yoga. There are books about yoga as medicine. I can only report in my Self Study Guide about the tools and practices I use to find out more about who I really am, my truth, with the hope that they benefit you to know yourself and express your uniqueness for a meaningful life of purpose and wellness.

Pay it Forward

Bikram Yoga was a gift of fate I was lucky enough to receive. I didn’t seek it; it found me, so I’m hoping this little book pays my gift forward by finding its way to you– to more people who don’t know Bikram Yoga exists or to people who thought they understood it (and themselves), but do not. In that sense, I hope it promotes more learning and thus, awakening. Perhaps when combining Bikram Yoga practice with other self study techniques I have included in the Self Study Guide like introspection, meditation, self-audits, and daily journal writing, readers can transform their lives for more wisdom and wellness as I and so many others have and continue to do.

Head to your local studio and try a few original, hot, 90-minute Bikram Yoga classes. And if it helps, read the Classic Wisdom for Modern Humans: A Self Study Guide to Wellness for additional tools useful for engaging in the process of self realization!

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Self Realization

Over the past couple of years, I have written about everything I have directly experienced in my own life as well as the wisdom I have received from great mentors both ancient and modern, from East and West, about the interesting process of self realization, self actualization, and wellness.

Much of my personal evolution has come from direct experience practicing Bikram Yoga. When I discovered Bikram Yoga, or shall I say when it found me, I found the existentialism, spiritualism, mysticism, and theories about consciousness and the unconscious I had studied in one form or another in my formal education, what I had only ever experienced intellectually, embodied in a wholly physical experience.

I became far more aware of who I am and what it means to be human in a 90 minute heated yoga class. I fell into self realization by accident. I discovered my true self (in distinct contrast to the social roles I’d been conditioned to adopt and adhere to for a sense of belonging, approval, and currency– that is– who I thought I was). I became aware of awareness, the conscious witness, the observer of my “small” self, by chance, and without expectation, and without complicated academic preparation and study. I know exactly where my mat was in the room when I experienced more awareness and insight. It was not intellectual. Lucky me.

I continue to look in the mirror each day and face my suffering only to be with it, and for no other reason. That is a process. There’s no product, no goal, no achievement, no desire for a better waistline. The mirror is not about vanity, and I am not looking for answers. It’s a simple process, though not easy. It’s become my meditation, my inward bound journey to freedom.

So, I figure, why not share my experience of transformation through Bikram yoga in order to invite others to stumble into more conscious awareness of their truth too? Pay it forward. It is likely that Bikram Yoga, since it is less esoteric, makes self realization more accessible, as it is far more realistic for everyday Westerners to drop by a local studio to practice each day than it is for them to sojourn to India or do a 500 day silent meditation retreat or something stereotypically more “spiritually rigorous.” You don’t have to perform the rituals of a priest or monk to know who you really are. No, you can “be free where you are,” as Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn says, no matter who or where you are. The path to freedom is within the inner landscape, not on the outer one with specific conditions meant for your transformation.

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Adventures in Learning Familiar & Foreign

I have heard Joe Rogan interview Jordan Peterson many times, so often that I was reluctant to listen to them talk again.  As I plugged in my headphones and headed out the door on my usual morning walk with my fantastic dog, Finn, I asked myself, what else can I possibly learn from these guys? Should I get out of this rabbit hole? Are they going to talk about the same things they always do? It’s all so familiar to me. Then I started thinking about the nature of the word “familiar” and all its associations: family, sense of security, home, contentment, but also complacency and boredom.

I noticed that once I think I “know” a thing really well, I like to switch the focus of my attention elsewhere, to what’s novel. I like constant stimulation. I like newness and challenge. But, on further reflection, I also know I like and need stability, order, and sameness for a sense of security, a base from which I can take new risks, handle new stimulation, and build more insight and experience. I am describing the yin and yang of authentic learning (which is an entirely different thing from schooling and academic achievement.)  Broadly speaking, learning is a psychological balance between a sense of permanence and novelty.

Personally, I am conscious of the value of the learning process in my own life, and am working hard here at Landscapes for Learning to make this process available to others in the form of a more complete and ongoing education for personal development and wellness. My way of keeping my wheel of self-study turning and rolling forward is to share my love for learning with others.

Sometimes I cling too tightly to security and resist change; sometimes I roll to the other extreme and risk too much and fail a bunch. The process is a balancing act on the landscapes for learning, but as long as I am active and consciously aware of my own learning, that wheel rolls. I believe that if more people can become consciously aware of this process of learning and understand themselves better, they’ll manage the balance most effectively for a happier and more fulfilling human experience.

Landscapes for Learning’s Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide contains motivation, tools, and practices to help people become new kinds of learners for a modern world that requires balance and change management more than ever before. It’s my way of sharing my personal tools and practices for wellness developed through my life as a humanities teacher, writer, Bikram yogi, and student of many amazing teachers (including the two men in the podcast embedded in this post). Knowing thyself is the key to self-realization and unlocking one’s potential and therefore wellness and wellbeing, especially now, in modern times. An attitude of openness to learning, flexible mindset, and humility– the realization that there’s always more to learn to grow— is essential for thriving with vitality in this new age. We cannot afford to stay stuck clinging to security and permanence which aren’t real but rather we must learn to find the balance between the familiar and foreign.

The landscapes of life are for learning– always —because we (and everything else) are always changing. Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson are always changing and learning; the interaction between them will always give birth to something new and include what’s stable between them. I can learn from them. I can learn more about myself because I am different from the last time I heard their previous conversations. Because we are alternately familiar to ourselves and foreign to ourselves, as the yin and yang of who we are, we can always know and learn more.

There’s no such thing as mastery when it comes to learning. You can never know it all, ever.  Jordan Peterson would say the process of learning is to walk the edge between chaos and order, and he is only restating in his own terms what the greatest minds over the course of human history of the East and West have discovered and said already; it’s the wisdom of humanity.

Jordan Peterson is only one of many who articulates the wisdom of humanity in interesting ways that make it particularly accessible to people struggling to find meaning in their lives. He’s made ancient wisdom modern self help. I am trying to do the same  through my Landscapes for Learning mission and the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide. which is curriculum that empowers people to figure out who they are.

Lots of people inform others about the keys to wellness or the wisdom of the past; my work in the Self Study Guide is about “the how” to inspire people and give them the motivation, support, tools, and practices to implement today, in their everyday lives, for wellness.

The video above is purposely cued for you to begin at the end of their almost three hour conversation because it is when they talk about how finding meaning in life is more about ATTENTION than it is about INTELLIGENCE. A meaningful life is more about DISCOVERY than it is about CONTROL.  (Listen to them talk about the antidote to moral relativism and the danger of intelligence from 2:09-2:19…)

Around the 2:20 point in the podcast, JRE and JBP talk about how much we don’t know about who we are and how you have to watch yourself and learn as YOU and life are constantly coming into being, as a series of continual births and deaths, as JBP says. Reflection is key. That, and honesty, are the foundational principles of the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide. Honest self reflection and writing go hand in hand to know what you think and feel in order to grow and learn, and to grow and learn is to be more alive and vital in the world. You provide yourself with your own therapy when you use the tools in the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide.

“Logos” is an interesting concept Jordan Peterson often talks about which is about how we articulate our selves through speech. Reading or observing ourselves and our experiences and articulating them by writing them down or talking about them is the crux of self-reflection and introspection that is necessary to know who we are. The Self-Study Guide I have created is designed for people to do just that– articulate who they are to themselves. Like my Bikram Yoga practice has been for me, introspective writing is another tool for self-realization, for unlocking one’s potential. As Peterson says in the interview with Rogan, personal reflection is essential for understanding how to get back into the place of FLOW, where you want to be– where meaning lives and where you are connected to the core of your being. Yes and Yes!

I have made it my job at Landscapes for Learning to help people discover themselves, who they really are to unlock their potential, find their “flow,” and be the best and most unique individual they were born to be. Through providing inspiring examples, motivation, various forms of education and curriculum, and coaching, I hope to empower people to self-actualize which is a lifetime process requiring tremendous honesty and effort. This is more than another self-help endeavor. Knowing who you are is your life’s work and totally worth the time and effort for the meaning and purpose it provides.

I didn’t think I could learn more from JRE and JBP because I am so familiar with them, but I always learn more both from what’s familiar or secure and from what’s novel or foreign. There’s always more potential waiting to be actualized if you intentionally engage with the path that lays itself out for you keeping that attitude of discovery Peterson talks about. Life is an adventure story and you are its hero.

Follow what you are drawn to as the way forward on your path, consciously choosing to approach all of your life as landscapes for learning. And if you pay careful attention to yourself to learn more about your own nature and who you are, that is– if you travel the inner landscapes with the attitude of a curious learner, you’ll never be stunted, bored, or complacent. The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide will show you how and give you concrete activities and exercises to do to learn to navigate the interior of you for a life of meaning and vitality.

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Podcast 011: Teri Almquist

 

“Every student deserves a good teacher,

every teacher deserves the opportunity to be a great teacher” 

-Teri Almquist

 

 

Building an inner connection with yourself isn’t easy. This union, or yoga, is hard work. It’s about  trust–first in a teacher when you don’t yet know how to trust yourself and you are overwhelmed by pain, fear, or self-doubt, and then little by little you begin to believe in yourself, then you begin to trust yourself, then you have genuine faith in yourself. You become stronger and more flexible, more balanced through this process. Your teacher is your trusted witness on your unique journey into your inner landscape. It’s important that every student has a good teacher and that every teacher has the opportunity to become a great teacher.

This enormously important teacher-student relationship built on trust can be transformative, life-changing. Teri’s first teacher, Diane Duscharme believed in her and supported her from the very first moment she entered the yoga studio with a badly injured neck and a pack a day smoking habit, and since then Teri has been paying her transformation forward– first by becoming a Bikram Yoga Teacher, then opening her own studio, and now providing continuing education for Bikram yoga teachers around the world.

A Bikram yoga class is an opportunity to focus in the mirror and concentrate on oneself– to travel one’s inner landscape. It’s practicing over and over again, consistently, in order to learn more about oneself.  It’s a chance to find that quiet space within us where our truest, most loving self lives— that place from which we can learn how to mindfully respond to life and all its challenges. It’s a landscape for learning.

Please enjoy my conversation with Teri Almquist, “Like” the podcast on iTunes, and feel free to comment!  You can find Teri and her work using the links below:

The Toolbox: Tools for Teaching Bikram Yoga by Teri Almquist available HERE (Amazon)

Visit Teri’s Studio at Bikram Yoga Merrimack Valley, North Andover, Massachusetts at https://www.bikramyogamv.com/

For more information about teaching seminars, webinars, and professional development visit: https://www.teachfromlove.yoga/

Webinars for teaching yoga at http://webinars.teachfromlove.yoga/

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Podcast: The Call of the Wild with exotic animal handler, Niki Cesar Tracchia

“All good things are wild & free”
-Henry David Thoreau

Niki tells her story about traveling across the landscapes of nature– as avid hiker/outdoor enthusiast, wolf-advocate (yes, they need our help!), Bikram yogi, and exotic animal handler. After a not-so-great, though sadly typical, experience with public high “schooling,” Niki blossomed into an avid learner and teacher after she answered what she terms her “Call of the Wild.”

Niki is a wonderful and interesting example of the various forms of learning and teaching that happen outside the narrow academic realm of school.

Click here to listen…

A few quotes from our conversation:

“When life is trying to tell you something, when the some ‘thing’ keeps calling you back, you should probably listen.”

“I learned not to have expectations… or believe in limits about what I could do or couldn’t do.”

“I just knew I was in the right place. I just knew– this is it. This is my life. This is me.”

“So many doors opened for me.”

“I am so grateful….I love my life. I wouldn’t change anything.”

I really hope you enjoy listening to Niki about her sense of self-awareness; interconnectedness; the wild; listening; and openness to what life brings. Her  enthusiasm for authentic forms of learning and teaching are contagious!

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For more information:

Curious Creatures @ https://www.curiouscreatures.org/ 
​The New England original
Interactive LIVE ANIMAL Programs & Parties
Established by Dean Kosch in 1987

Wolf Hollow @ http://www.wolfhollowipswich.org/
114 Essex Road
Ipswich, MA 01938
Tel: (978) 356-0216

Bikram Yoga 
Find a studio location anywhere in the world.
@https://www.bikramyoga.com/

LINK TO PODCAST

Creative Commons License for “Political Lunatics” by Earthling (intro and outro music)
“Political Lunatics” by Earthling

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Who am I?

My previous “Calling a Spade a Spade” post is about telling the truth– something our world desperately needs at this exact moment in time. Each of us has to talk about the truth, within our seemingly small and insignificant spheres of life, however uncomfortable or however much it may threaten our reputations.  Our integrity and identity need to be taken seriously.  It matters. But apparently there was a bit of confusion over the topic of that post, so I would like to clarify what in the world yoga has to do with the problems I am seeing within education today.

Who Am I?

The central topic of this post, then, is about the question, Who am I? or even perhaps more specifically, Who am I trying to be in my life vs. What am I trying to do in my life? One is about values, meaning and purpose, while the other is about practical goals to achieve “success.” Figuring out the answer to this question over the past two years in my own life generated this very Landscapes for Learning project. It turns out that I discovered my goals weren’t in line with my values, so I chose authentic living over and above expedience. YOLO, and I could no longer compromise my own values about learning which conflicted too often with my employer’s. If I cannot teach with integrity then who am I?

My Bikram yoga practice has led me, and continues to lead me, to the truth of who I am through a continual rediscovery of self, a continuous reconnection with authenticity.  I am trying to express myself here, on this blog, honestly and candidly  as part of  an ongoing, life-long process of learning across the landscapes. I am not necessarily trying to make friends here (although that would be great!) nor am I trying to make enemies or alienate people! I am simply trying to voice my truth and invite people into a dialogue about the things I care about.

At home with my four grown children, in high school, and in the Bikram yoga community– these are the spaces in which I live; this is my tiny sphere of influence; this is where my reputation matters. Because these places are where I both learn and teach,  obviously they shape my perspective. I have also been influenced by a number of intellectuals, writers, poets, psychologists, yogis, and podcasters from whom I have learned a tremendous amount about the nature of what it means to be human, therefore informing what it means to be me (see list below). Writers write about what they know. I am simply sharing the overlaps and interplay between both worlds of learning, which I discovered in my observations, experiences, and personal research. I am writing about what matters to me.

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It turns out that the principles I learned for myself, by myself, through my Bikram yoga practice are the very same principles that I believe are needed in contemporary parenting and public schooling. If we applied such character-building principles to the education process, it might help parents to parent better and kids to learn more authentically. Schools might be able to create a more balanced curriculum based on an updated value system that focuses on exploring inner landscapes as well as the external landscapes for learning.  And perhaps, I hope, this shift and rebalancing, would help address some part of the mental health crisis among teens. Bikram yoga is, afterall, a healing process. Although a focus on self-understanding, wisdom, and self-actualization is missing in lots of other areas throughout our culture, my focus is on my own limited range of experience which is within the world of teaching high school English, parenting, and Bikram yoga. This is my unique path, my niche, my angle.

The Landscapes for Learning mission is to revive authentic forms of learning and rebalance it with the aims of schooling– “balance” being the key term. Like yoga, my writing is about integration, connection to self, wholeness, and the kind of learning that comes from traveling both inward and across the varied landscapes of life, not just limited to within school or the academic realm.

Facing Discomfort as the New Normal 

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To understand oneself, to answer “who am I?” requires a deep and consistent exploration of one’s inner landscape.  This question arises (sometimes subconsciously and later may or may not surface to consciousness) when a person steps into the Bikram yoga room and looks into their own eyes in the mirror in front of them, under very bright lights. The mirror and lights are a spotlight on the self, and the conditions for the practice are meant to challenge the practitioner with discomfort. This crucial experience is what we have stolen away from kids by overly-focusing on achievement. Individuals in the yoga room are confronted with the question, Who is that person looking back at me? It is a very difficult question for many people to grapple with; some who try Bikram yoga might not come back because the discomfort is too much– it’s simply too hard. Those who remain learn to face their own pain and suffering. Over time, with effort and grit, they become more agile and flexible in body and mind. They wrestle with their inner world- their emotional bodies and their monkey-minds. They learn through an often difficult and painful process of trial and error. They grow. Adolescents and teenagers are asking this same “who am I,” question often– whether subconsciously or intentionally. They begin to grapple with the notion of identity and experiment with their own. Their bodies are changing, hormones are raging, the limbic system is still trying to figure out how to work better with the pre-frontal cortex that continues to grow into their early twenties (Sapolsky). They likely spend lots of time either in front of mirrors or avoiding them. They need teachers and parents to guide them through this very important period of their development, but not take away their struggles— their opportunities for authentic growth however painful. We damage them through over-protection.

This deep and difficult exploration of one’s inner landscape to answer the question of who am I should be something we teach our children early on, at home and in school, so they can become more consciously aware of the existence of their inner world rather than carried away entirely or unconsciously manipulated by the outer world that will most certainly define their identity without their conscious consent. They don’t have to practice the physical asanas of yoga per se (but they could and should because the body and mind work together), but they really ought to embrace raja yoga in combination with exercise and a commitment to physical health.

Search Inside Yourself

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Unfortunately we can never be another person, no matter how close we are or how much we love them; we can empathize with them, but only to the degree that we first understand ourselves; everyone has to travel their own path and shoulder the responsibility of knowing oneself. Talking about identity as a theme in English class can help; great stories, especially archetypal or universally applicable ones can be great models; however, an academic exercise isn’t the only kind of learning kids need. They need explicit instruction, including regular practice and failure, to learn how to become the hero of their own lives which has to take place in their real, live journey to the self, not just within some artificially constructed simulation.  It’s a solo mission for each of us, but parents and teachers have to be competent examples and guides through their own deep, inner work. And they can’t help kids too much. Less is more.

Attention, Concentration, Meditation

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The external world is a enormous sea of information that contains messages about who kids should be, how they should feel and act, what they should think or buy— a level of manipulation and influence like nothing we have ever seen in our world before. The world online is persistent, relentless, insidious–that is,  if we allow it to dominate our attention. Is it really no wonder the levels of depression and anxiety are out of control? Is it really so surprising that so many undergraduates get swept away with identity politics? One of the more positive attempts to address this phenomenon is the Mindfulness movement which has arrived in many schools. I am glad to see this happening, unfortunately I witnessed how such attempts at teaching kids meditation get co-opted in service to external goals rather than values rooted within the inner landscape. If a teen is using meditation to relax and escape their thoughts, clear their minds so that they can perform better on a quiz the next period, that isn’t really helpful. I know we can do better in guiding kids to be connected to themselves, to become grounded in being, not merely in service to doing. Maybe kids will learn that they are “enough” and loved just as they are, not just for what they can appear to be, complete, do, or achieve.

Schools don’t focus enough, in my estimation, on the inner world of kids; perhaps because parents don’t demand it. For whatever the reasons, it does not appear to be an important value that is lived out on a daily basis. What is the focus of attention, what is at the forefront for parents and schools are grades-–the symbol of academic achievement, mastery of content knowledge and skills which is revered over and above any notion of developing inner wisdom or nurturing the process of self-actualization. But if kids can easily acquire content knowledge and skills online, a new discussion about values and answering the “why” of mandatory public education are in order.  Should we take a closer look at exploring the inner landscapes and discovering the value of and within that landscape? Or should we continue with the status quo of schooling? Perhaps we can create a balance.

Love, not Fear

Unfortunately, it seems as though some schools and parents create their values from a place of fear rather than love– afraid their kids won’t survive in a knowledge-economy; fear they’ll suffer from a life of hard work; fear of losing to the competition. Fear their children will not recover from failure. Such motives seem to crowd out the desperate need for more love– a love of self, a love of authentic forms of learning.

If we, adults, continue our over-emphasis on conducting school as a business, encouraging kids to focus their attention primarily on the external landscapes; if we continue to over-value such focus on and attention to achieving goals that lack foundation in real values built within the inner landscapes; if we continue to neglect teaching kids that an inner world exists within them that is ripe for discovery and that is essential to attend to for their vitality, wholeness, and wellness, then we will continue to see our kids suffer with mental health problems like anxiety, depression, addiction, suicide, eating disorders, and senseless violence.

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Too Good, No Good

Kids are malleable and easily manipulated. Most kids are good kids! But what does “good” in this context of school mean? Our definition of “good” in formal schooling appears to be limited to academic achievement and performance. Nobody gets a trophy or an A for noticing that they have an inner guide or that they developed courage because they faced a fear. They don’t get a reward for taking time for themselves to just “be.” It’s all about the “doing”– the resume building; the homework completion and consistency; the degree to which they are able to find answers; how well they score on tests, rather than to muse, reflect inward or meta-cognitively; rather than to imagine, play, or focus on observing and understanding emotions and thoughts in order to know what it means to be a human being not just a human-doing. We don’t celebrate or talk about those things– they are private, unspoken victories (if one even recognizes that this is a good thing!). Inner landscapes are none of our school business; they’re too intimate–  too emotional, messy, tangled in confusion– too human. For every STEM lab there ought also be a Humanities Lab, each being valued equally! Students and teachers are in the business of school, not in the business of raising human beings. Such inner-world accomplishments and authentic growth and development aren’t tangible or measurable– so therefore within the narrow confines of school, they don’t hold real value. If they aren’t on the transcript, they just don’t count.

As well, because we adults jump in and do everything for our kids and over-protect, because we manipulate their environments and pad them for safety and sanitize them, because we insist kids remain within the safety of the indoors, because we hardly ever leave them to their own devices among their peers (because we are, again, working from fear) without constant adult supervision or cheerleading from the sidelines, we ultimately rob kids of the crucial and necessary opportunities to explore their inner landscapes in authentic ways (Haidt). We don’t afford them the opportunity to learn authentically—that is, to be uncomfortable through the process of trial and error so that they can develop self-knowledge, wisdom, deep trust and faith in themselves and their personalities and abilities, along with the coping skills to thrive— to feel physically and be psychologically alive and well. Instead, we are raising half-dead zombies addicted to their phones or whatever else they decide to pay attention to rather than themselves.

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Teenagers who are disengaged, those who are disconnected from their inner lives are weak, which makes them far more vulnerable to manipulation. They remain unaware of the existence of their Jungian shadow or what to make of it or how to respond to it when it rears its ugly head. They develop addictions to phones, to porn, and drugs and alcohol and develop co-dependencies on authority, needing protection and rescuing from the smallest of micro-aggressions that invade their safe spaces. Their narrative becomes one of victimhood and they find others who live the same story. The world within and without appear to be places to fear rather than to love and engage with. These are kids with serious problems; these are kids who are more vulnerable to manipulation by extreme ideas and violent people.

Disconnection and Reconnection 

Another problematic observation about the kids I taught in my fourteen-year tenure as a high school teacher was how many of them were passive, did as they were told, and copied the models they saw in their school culture. And many of them wound up sick. We are responsible for teaching kids where to put their attention– and it has to stop being overly-focused on external achievement. They need to value their inner lives as much as, or if not more than, they value the life of the external world. I am not arguing for no grades or no accountability or no skills and knowledge growth. I am lobbying for correcting what I see as an imbalance resulting from skewed values. Once kids are focused on everything outside of themselves, they  can very easily remain disconnected from their inner guide, their inner sense of themselves. If they aren’t taught earlier about how their bodies and minds work (how to recognize, feel, and manage emotions and thoughts), if they remain unaware that they can be an active and conscious participant in their own becoming, or that a self-actualization process exists for them, tragedy will continue in the form of addiction and illness.

Friend Yourself

Exploring the inner landscape is akin to becoming your own best friend– getting to know what makes you tick, your human nature, and discovering that you are a story-teller. These are the same things we learn as we practice Bikram yoga. You have thoughts and feelings that exist that are data to mine, not necessarily directives to live by (Davis). Kids will remain unaware of their own inner landscapes unless we reinforce their own discovery of it. Some kids are more intuitive than others– so we need to encourage these intuitive kids to honor their inner-knowing and actively, consciously, and consistently develop it.  An active transfer from receiving guidance from adults in their environment about their inner landscape to them taking full responsibility for it should happen throughout adolescence and adulthood. We all need to mentor children by exemplifying such attention to the inner landscapes of our own lives. An exploration of the inner landscape will help inform and re-contextualize kids understanding of the gazillion influences from the external world that are upon them. Just think of the simple notion of comparing oneself to another that teens have the tendency to do. Perhaps more enlightened, self-grounded, and inner-connected teens can say, “well that’s nice for that person, but that’s not what I am all about.” You cannot say that if you don’t actually know what you are all about! We must all do our own yoga practice. More conscious  judgement, discrimination, and therefore wise, informed choices can be made if a person has a better understanding of who they are at their core.

So how do you figure out who you are at your core? Well, when, in yoga, you stay with your discomfort, whether physical or mental or both, you create a space (the same one Victor Frankl is so famous for describing in his, Man’s Search for Meaning) — the space between stimulus and response, rather than automatic, unaware reactivity. You notice how you think and how you feel. You identify and name such thoughts and feelings and become familiar with them. You notice that some of the labels you apply to your thoughts and feelings may not be true! You recognize that not all the stories you tell yourself are true! You learn why you may have told those stories and that they no longer serve you,  and then you have the glorious opportunity to change them.  With repetition and regular practice, you become friends with your self and the inner world isn’t so foreign or scary as it once was. You know your own suffering and you develop responses to cope. This is not happiness, or high self-esteem, this is wholeness and wellness. This is a prescription for good health. It’s often a painful journey requiring lots of attention and honesty and grit, but one that is absolutely foundational to real happiness. This is the hero’s journey! (Campbell; Peterson)

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Values can be and should be rooted in such self-understanding that you have actively culled with attention, time, and great effort whether through yoga, journal writing, mindfulness practices, meditation, or other therapeutic techniques that are uniquely helpful to you. This must be an honest process, a difficult, uncomfortable process at times, and it is challenging for most. But there is so much value in doing something hard; in facing your fears — doing the exact thing you do not want to do (Jung; Peterson; Davis; Haidt). Once you begin to know yourself in a really deep, intimate, and loving way, you are better suited to realize the highest good for yourself and what promotes your best and highest self (Peterson). This will benefit the world. This is the path to social justice.

Strength, Flexibility, and Balance

My mission with Landscapes for Learning is to draw attention to and start a conversation with parents, kids, and schools about how this exploration of inner landscapes is the foundational value to better navigating the external landscapes (content knowledge, skills, practical forms of education, achievement and goal-setting that schools and parents over-value in my estimation) and seeing how the interplay and interconnectedness between the internal and external is essential for being with purpose and authenticity in the world. Rather than a teenager’s self-development focused primarily on ego-driven goals (Plotkin) he or she must achieve according to social norms, set by parents, schools, other institutions of influence and authority— external achievement and financial success, the focus should be on the intrinsic values that motivate a person to be their authentic selves.  In the process of self-actualization, the Bikram principles apply: balance between strength and flexibility,  proper alignment, and trying the right way— which is the hard way.

Setting Intentions for Your Practice

I don’t believe the problems we are seeing among kids today in schools result  from malicious intent— far from it. If anything, I think parents and schools are trying too hard and are too present and too helpful to the detriment of their kids’ independence and level of engagement with their own lives. Less might be more. I also don’t believe parents and schools are fully conscious about how their values and goals are so terribly misaligned. I think we’ve all simply lost our way in a sea of information, misinformation, and complete overwhelm and busy-ness due to economic, technological, and other forces that have happened upon us in the past few decades. Understandably, with so much rapid change, we struggle to find our balance, and this is exactly why yoga may be the antidote in shepherding us back home to ourselves.

 

Here is A Terribly Disorganized and Incomplete List of Influences, Resources, References, and inspirations cited improperly and according to no style manual. (I will professionalize it shortly…)

Tony Robbins, I am Not Your Guru netflix special

Dr. Susan Davis, her Ted Talk, appearance on Rich Roll Podcast, Emotional Agility

George Carlin (standup acts online, youtube)

The Rich Roll podcast

Rich Roll, Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, becoming one of the world’s most fittest men and discovering myself

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Lectures, Interviews, Maps of Meaning, podcasts

The Joe Rogan Experience (podcast); personal conversation with Joe Rogan

Bret Weinstein (interviews with Dave Rubin and Joe Rogan)

Eric Weinstein (interviews with Sam Harris, Joe Rogan, Dave Rubin on The Rubin Report)

Alan Watts,  lectures, The Way of Zen, The Wisdom of Insecurity, In my Own way: an autobiography

B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, inner peace and ultimate freedom

Duncan Trussell Family podcast

Sam Harris, Waking Up with Sam Harris Podcast (#121, telling the truth)

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way: 25th Anniversary Edition

Stephen Pressfield, The War of Art

Jon Kabat-Zinn: Full Catastrophe Living, Coming to Our Senses:Healing Ourselves and Our World through Mindfulness

Anne Lamott, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovery Mercy

Ken Robinson, Ph.D. The Element: How Finding your passion changes everything, videos about education system

Pema Chodron, Meditation: How to Meditate: A practical Guide, The Places that Scare you, 

Jack Kornfield, interview with Tim Ferriss; audio meditations and talks, The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings

Carl Jung: Modern Man in Search of Soul and other writings

Mary Oliver: Upstream, and other poems

Ally Hamilton,  Yoga’s Healing Power: Looking Inward for Change, Growth, and Peace

Bill Plotkin Nature and The Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World

Steven Pinker, videos and interviews with Sam Harris, Joe Rogan; A Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st century, The Blank Slate, and Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

David Hawkins, Letting Go The Path to Surrender

Tori Hicks-Glogowski (Views from the Podium blog)

Rumi: The Book of Love (Coleman Barks); the essential Rumi

Rilks’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God (Anita Barrows)

Writings in ecopsychology.

Writings of the Transcendentalists (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance, Henry David Thoreau, Walden, other writings)

On the Ragged Edge of Silence John Francis

John Muir, writings

Daniel Goleman, A force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World

Shakti Gawain, Living in the Light

Thich Naht Hahn, Silence. The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise, list other books

Joss Sheldon, The Little Voice: A rebellious novel

John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

Wayne Dyer, Change your thoughts, change you life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao

Zachary Slayback: The End of School: Reclaiming Education

Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

Mary Karr, The Liars’ Club:A Memoir, Lit, The Art of Memoir

Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Parker Palmer: The Courage to Teach, online videos

Kevin Griffin, Recovering Joy: A mindful life after addiction, One Breath at a time: Buddhism and the 12 steps

Tommy Rosen (online Recovery 2.0)

The Mindfulness Summit Online Conference (the mindfulnesssummit.com)

Gabor Mate (videos, and podcasts with Tim Ferriss)

Benjamin Lorr, Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for???

Chade-Meng Tan and Dan Goleman, Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to

Tim Ferriss, Tribe of Mentors, blog, The Tim Ferriss Show (podcast)

Behave, Robert Sapolsky and other online appearances and speeches; lectures on Youtube

 

 

 

 

 

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Calling a Spade a Spade

“To Err is human; to forgive, divine”—Alexander Pope

Softening, or “pussification,” as the late, great comedian George Carlin defined it, is destroying the integrity of authentic learning.

When people fuck with the integrity of the learning process, when they weaken it and make it soft, it corrupts individuals and society far more than we know or are willing to admit. Maybe, it’s that the can of worms is open and nobody knows how to get them all back in, or the culprits, kind people with likely decent intentions are afraid or embarrassed to admit their mistake and try to fix it. Maybe they feel too guilty to deal with the negative results that they just could not have predicted? Maybe they’re just weak and undisciplined. Maybe they are evil. I cannot talk in exact terms of correlation and causation. I am not a scientist, but after years working as a teacher in more than one field, my gut tells me that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

A former Facebook executive came out publicly to admit that Facebook contributed to corruption in the form of addictive feedback loops among users of social media. That’s an honest admission of guilt. Most people respect honesty, even from someone who is corrupt. At the time, the people at Facebook may have been unaware of the negative outcomes of their choices, decisions, or creations; maybe the consequences were intended or not; perhaps the creators did not understand the scope of the potential negative consequences at the time, but at least this one executive admitted to having erred and learned a terrible lesson. A big game of trial and error, where there’s now one score for that exec in the integrity category. Yes, people can still earn our respect (for these people can be our best teachers) even when they do terrible things, pre-meditated or accidentally with the best intentions. It’s really okay to admit an error; it’s okay to fail. It’s even better to be honest about it.

If we could only stop judging and communicating about complicated human issues using black and white approaches, reductionist thinking, and all-or-nothing terminology, perhaps more people would admit their mistakes and even work to correct them– ya know, stay humble, keep learning, make amends?

We are ALL flawed– each one of us. Everyone makes mistakes, which is actually the tragic irony here– because learning, by its very definition, is a simple process of trial and error. When you alter that very process, as many K-12 schools and universities seem to be doing, whether by “softening” or eliminating the “error” part, or by perhaps making the “trial” part too easy to guarantee success and avoid failure, or by substituting a safe space where no trials are allowed to happen at all (not sure what actually does happen in those spaces), you corrupt real learning; you weaken the learner. You alter the very definition of the term when you falsely manipulate or eliminate the necessary, usually painful or difficult, experiences a learner needs—er—to learn.

Yes, it might hurt a little bit.

We can already see the damage that weakening the authentic learning process contributes to in the form of skyrocketing levels of anxiety and depression, a lack of independence and coping skills, an increasingly longer list of “learning” disabilities, and lack of self-control and personal responsibility among young people; it’s also part of the equation of lack of consistent and effective discipline and safe-space-micro-aggression mentality and pedagogy in schools. The balance has been lost.

I cannot emphasize enough the degree to which the consequences of such alterations to the learning and teaching process will contribute to damaging young people and weakening the teaching profession and therefore damage and weaken the rest of our society. This cannot be blamed on a cultural shift, or increasing technology use, or the “kids are different these days” assumptions— the people in charge are fucking up, with wonderful, heartfelt intentions (sometimes, but I often wonder), but fucking up nonetheless.

Can we become responsible for our errors?

Can we stop ignoring morality or any discussion of right and wrong in this world simply because we are all deeply flawed and immoral?

Can we reinstate the integrity of learning?

When we mess with the learning process: slightly changing it here, and then a little bit there, and oh, just cut this seemingly small corner here, and make this tiny little exception there– just this once, for this one person only, I swear! When we alter a philosophy, even the little applications of that philosophy—and we don’t allow authentic learning to be what it is—often difficult and uncomfortable, maybe painful, at what point is it no longer learning? At what point, to what degree does it lose its identity as itself? Where is the line? How do you know your crossing it? When is it entirely corrupt and transformed into something else, beyond recognition? How far down the road have we traveled, and can we turn back? Balance needs to be restored.

I see this sad phenomenon of imbalance and compromising integrity happening within public education and  similarly within the now-fragmented Bikram yoga community.

Bikram yoga is a series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises assembled in a particular order, using precise, detailed commands to be recited in a specific order (called a dialogue) over the span of ninety minutes to achieve specific results and designed for beginners and every body type. This school of beginners yoga requires dialogue to be delivered orally by a Bikram yoga certified teacher who stands in a specific location in a “hotroom” (on a podium) which is a specifically designed environment with specific temperature and humidity levels.The students take their place in this environment in a specific way as well, on yoga mats, facing mirrors and under specific kinds of lighting. Bikram yoga teachers are trained by Bikram himself at a Bikram-certified training.

So, I ask you…

If a teacher who has not been trained and certified by Bikram walks around the room observing students from various angles while teaching and using words that differ from the commands of the dialogue, is that a Bikram yoga class? Can we call that teacher a Bikram yoga teacher? Can we call a studio with such teachers a Bikram yoga studio, or a hot yoga studio using the Bikram yoga method?

What percentage of Bikram yoga makes Bikram yoga, Bikram yoga? Do we need math to solve this obvious corruption? Where’s the line where the integrity of something is gone? If we are talking about school— a place where the learning process happens, then the degree to which this happens the right way matters— a lot! It doesn’t take much to alter the integrity of the process for the detriment of students. The same goes for Bikram yoga.

A popular argument espoused by some people who have corrupted Bikram yoga—-pussified, weakened, and softened it—-those who use the Bikram name to brand their own ripped-off versions, use a clever and believable sleight of hand argument to hide their own corruption. Because Bikram Choudhury himself, the man and creator of this yoga series and dialogue, has committed corruption in his personal and professional dealings, the people who stole his yoga use Bikram’s lack of integrity to mask or hide their own. And it stinks of hypocrisy. Justifying theft and dishonesty by pointing a finger at a weak, corrupt person—and away from one’s own weaknesses and corruption— how cliche. It’s exactly like a child’s emotional reaction when accused by his parent of bad behavior to spew, “Yeah, but he did it too!”

Another popular argument is based on a few former-Bikram teachers’ anger, frustration, and disappointment over Bikram’s stubborn foolishness– his stupidity as a businessman because he will not allow these people to take over or change his Bikram Teacher Training model and methods. Bikram has surely shot himself in the foot. These former Bikram-loyalists, those who love this yoga and understand its power and beauty and its value (which is why they want to spread it and be part of its success and benefit from it, exploit it for gain, personal and professional) wanted the ability to train teachers themselves, in locations of their choosing and convenience. Perhaps they also wanted to correct what they deemed flawed about the series or the dialogue, or the philosophy of strict discipline, or add their own flare, or unfranchise it, if you will.

But because Bikram did not give them his blessing or whatever it was they wanted, because he was unrelenting or uncooperative or just a downright dumb asshole and said no, which was his prerogative and it doesn’t matter his reasons or lack of rationality or rationale, these very nice, smart, capable lovers-of-Bikram yoga went ahead anyway and started their own teacher trainings. Some other of these very awesome yogis (I am not being sarcastic) were studio owners or became studio owners and began training their own teachers, using Bikram’s dialogue or slightly altered versions they created. Next, the dishonest actions of a few justified the dishonest actions of many, the floodgates opened, and now we have an almost entirely weakened, confused, and less-than-optimal Bikram yoga community, it’s identity and integrity not-entirely-ruined by diluted methods, changed philosophy, and dishonesty. But, I am confident that the truth shall prevail.

Studio owners who promote or define themselves, in one way or another, as a Bikram Yoga studio (even if the business name does not contain “Bikram”) and work to preserve the integrity of Bikram yoga– its philosophies, methods of instruction, conditions and environment, as well as its certification of it teaching staff—- is a true Bikram studio, 100%. It’s a studio with integrity. Most people appreciate integrity and honesty. And Bikram yoga, properly, is undeniably one of the most healing, transformative forms of yoga around and has been for almost 60 years. Integrity and truth will always prevail.

But is it right for studios that only do 75% of what’s required to call the yoga and their studio, “Bikram?” What if only slightly more than 50%? What about 85%?

Fake-Bikram teacher trainings that now “certify” teachers to teach Bikram yoga and studios who claim to be Bikram but are not, dishonestly capitalize, financially and otherwise, by hiring these unofficial Bikram teachers. Sorry, but that’s just wrong. Why can’t people object to bad behavior anymore? Will I be attacked for even writing about this?

Many of these unofficially trained teachers refer to themselves as “Bikram Yoga Teachers,” and that compromises my integrity as a genuine Bikram yoga teacher, something I worked hard to earn and something I believe in very deeply, something uniquely meaningful to me, as it is to so many of the other official Bikram teachers from all over the world who have shared this concern with me over my previous year of travel. Just because a few students had severely negative experiences and resent their trainings and hate Bikram, doesn’t mean that the entire training was corrupt. It simply is not true, yet an illogical conclusion that many consistently claim and use to justify their own bad behavior.

Fake-Bikram teachers use parts of the Bikram method, compromise the series of postures in various ways (for the express and other hybrid classes, for example), and alter the original Bikram dialogue by changing words and order of words, diction and syntax–which the last time I checked in my English teacher manual are key parts of the grammatical structure of our language. It’s how we understand one another and make meaning– specific meaning. There’s no such thing as, “well, close enough” when you are trying to help people be the best they can be by following a prescription to heal and be well. Would you use that logic with your sick dog? “Eh, it’s okay if Rover only gets bits and pieces of his medication. Close enough.”

The Bikram series is a disciplined practice where you do what you’re told, not what your ego wants. You take your medicine exactly as prescribed, like it or not. Yes, it’s hard, and people don’t like that. They resist, or they don’t come back. Adults can be just as bratty as kids and they make excuses all the time, but weak teachers contribute to this monkey mind phenomenon among students by being afraid to hold the line with them– by administering tough love.  Just like overly-indulgent parents, the helicopter kind, this kind of teaching spoils students, thus making them weaker, rather than stronger, both emotionally, psychologically, or physically. Hence— pussification.

I know, I know. I say something that might be true, and it hurts, so surely I’ll be criticized for lacking compassion, because in the make-believe world where fake-Bikram yoga teachers live, apparently people cannot be truthful and compassionate at the same time. I believe we call that tough love, in the real world. I was also accused of being “mean” when I told the truth about an underperforming student at an IEP meeting at my former high school job. How dare I share honest observations about a child with disabilities! How insensitive to use the truth to reach accurate conclusions and diagnoses!

Spare the rod, spoil the child is happening all over our society and in our yoga studios. It’s why I see more and more yogis using towels, guzzling water every posture, and rolling around acting crazy in savasana, asking out-loud for more fan or please open the door, coming in to the classroom late, leaving early, insisting on cell phones because they have to, they have special circumstances. It’s the same “exceptionalism” happening in K-12 public schools and universities all over this country. It all sounds suspiciously snowflakish to me.

To intentionally violate Bikram yoga’s integrity, calling the alterations to the dialogue “improvements,” calling alterations to its purpose “necessary” or “safer” or whatever else works to justify such corruption is the same thing as manipulating an unsuspecting victim as follows:

“This [corruption] is for your own good, my Darling. Don’t listen to the conservatives who don’t welcome change. Don’t listen to the dialogue nazi’s who believe that individual words, sentences, syntax of language have specific meaning. We should all welcome change! Change is growth! Change makes us better! New! and improved! These people need to get with the times. They must not know how to deal with their fear and their clinging. They don’t understand “yoga.” We are just only slightly “different” that’s all; and Darling, these defenders of the integrity of the Bikram yoga and its dialogue that defines it– they don’t accept “differences,” they are what you call “intolerant.” And Darling, precision means uptight, over-bearing, too structured, and who likes that? Any old words that are close-enough will do– they  have to just relax and let go of their expectations; Go with the flow; there is no such thing as “good” or “bad”; it’s all how you choose to look at it.”

Ummm. No.

Oh, I would laugh if this wasn’t so sad and exactly what is ruining our society today in the realm of politics and education. It’s our post-truth world! It’s frightening that people think they can just change language because they cannot handle the truth, yet they do, and unsuspecting or stupid people go along with it.  An appreciation for the necessary existence of and interaction between left and right, liberal and conservative, order and chaos is missing.  But I digress.

All of these “harmless” alterations, yet, these thieves still refer to what they teach as BIKRAM YOGA. They have indisputably changed Bikram yoga, yet still use the Bikram name and brand, whether through marketing and promotion which includes Google search terms, word-of-mouth referrals, or other means. They not only violate the integrity of Bikram yoga, yet want to capitalize on the amazing value they know it holds! How is this individual corruption and dishonesty different from Bikram Choudhury’s? Oh– it’s a matter of degree, is it? Ironic. And tragic. All of it disgusting.

I don’t know if I am more disappointed and angry with Bikram— for not having had better business sense, better foresight for the survival and continuation of an authentic Bikram training– or those thieves who have meddled with the integrity of Bikram yoga. Both parties have contributed to create the mess that currently exists (see bulleted list below). This isn’t a question about the degree to which some party is more or less at fault, more or less corrupt, because the answer about integrity is clear—making a poor business decision is mere stupidity, but stealing and lying are stealing and lying. One is a violation of integrity, and the other, well just plain old stupid. And, obviously, people who lie don’t exactly like the truth or talking about the truth; usually they just use more lies, sleights-of-hands and semantics, to bolster their own corruption.

I enjoy listening people try to talk their way out of things, believe their own bullshit. I am familiar with it within myself, and I’ve spent my career observing it in others. Do we, or do we not, encourage yogis to discover their limits, both physical and mental, including their mental masturbation, during class through honest attention?

Bikram’s lack of personal integrity is an absolute fact, one his detractors and admirers definitely would not dispute, but his personal failures have nothing to do with stealing his yoga and calling it your own. You can be both, simultaneously, a perpetrator and a victim; nasty people can do good things; good people can do nasty things. This is our nature; this is our world.

  • When people looking for Bikram yoga google “Bikram yoga” they might find the following:
  • A Bikram studio called a hot yoga studio.
  • A Bikram studio called a hot yoga studio or some derivation or something else that may or may not include yoga.
  • A Bikram studio called a hot yoga studio AND has Bikram in its name.
  • A Bikram studio that is an actual (as in, self-actualization) Bikram yoga studio.
  • A Bikram studio that calls itself a Bikram yoga studio, but there are no Bikram certified teachers who teach Bikram yoga there.
  • A Bikram studio that calls itself a Bikram yoga studio, but there is some combination of Bikram certified teachers and non-certified or illegitimately certified teachers who teach Bikram yoga there.
  • A Bikram studio that calls itself a Bikram yoga studio, but there is some combination of Bikram certified teachers and non-certified or illegitimately certified teachers who teach something akin to Bikram yoga or a derivation (because of new training, illegitimate training, or lack of ability) there, and still call it Bikram yoga.
  • A Bikram studio that calls itself a Bikram yoga studio, but there is some combination of Bikram certified teachers and non-certified or illegitimately certified teachers who teach something akin to Bikram yoga or a derivation there (as in, a 60 minute or otherwise altered classes and environments) and, still, call it Bikram yoga.

Maybe there are more but I cannot continue to enumerate the seemingly endless permutations of how a pure and simple form of yoga has been watered down, pussified, and weakened. Seriously.

Here’s the good news, folks. ALL kinds of studios can survive, if they conduct their business with integrity. And, please, my friends who are reading this, especially my actual friends, my description of the current state of affairs within the yoga community is not personal. I truly mean that. I love the people I work with who don’t teach a lick of dialogue. I love my friends who are excellent 26 & 2 teachers or whatever non-Bikram label they should be calling themselves. I love the studio owners who ask me to teach the express class and to whom I politely refuse; the owners who employed me and treated me well while running their own trainings with their own altered-dialogue. The studio owners who turn a blind eye to students who are confused because they are getting conflicting information in class due to the differences between Bikram and non-Bikram teachers. I am not waging a personal attack– I am shining a spotlight on the current state of affairs, based on my personal experiences and observations.

What I know about the non-Bikram trainings and their staff is impressive, competent, dynamic, life-affirming. Awesome, but technically, you’re existence no matter how talented and kind, is still rooted in inauthenticity. The people who run illegitimate studios and trainings, those who are known and unknown to me who have ripped-off, watered-down, or otherwise pussified the integrity of Bikram yoga– I would guess that probably, most likely, maybe nearly everyone is a lovely, kind, human being, with the best of intentions, but can we just call a spade a spade?

Can we make the distinction clear for everyone? Can we tell the truth to be clear to the public, to current students and potential students, and potential teachers?

The engineers at Facebook manned-up, so I think redemption can happen within the Bikram yoga community too. Each individual involved with this yoga can start defending its integrity, to name it properly, accurately and specifically, teach it the right way, try to practice it the right way, even if it’s the hard way.

If our still-loyal, dialogue-driven, Bikram Yoga community can be clear about its identity and its integrity, then it should clear up a lot of confusion and more people can thrive– especially the clients, who are the future of Bikram yoga and the people we are trying to serve with this yoga in the first place.

“It’s never too late, you’re never too old, never too sick, too bad, to start from scratch once again” as Bikram likes to say. And, since he gave us this yoga, maybe, just maybe, his detractors could even begin to forgive him for his limitations, his errors, his ugliness– the human qualities we loathe about him— the same ones we fear and struggle to manage within ourselves—-with the help of mirrors, under the bright lights, in the torture chamber– because that is our yoga, after all.

External Links:

Call a spade a spade

In case anyone thinks my title is racist.

https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=pussification

George Carlin’s bit on pussification.

http://www.dictionary.com/browse/something-is-rotten-in-the-state-of-denmark

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/dec/11/facebook-former-executive-ripping-society-apart

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2017/12/12/former-facebook-vp-says-social-media-is-destroying-society-with-dopamine-driven-feedback-loops/?utm_term=.e2dd6e57a0c7

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/canine-corner/201711/why-people-sometimes-care-more-about-dogs-humans

 

 

 

 

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Tough-Love Lessons of Bikram Yoga

“We students (and future teachers) needed to learn how to be “unknowing,” to embrace beginner’s mind, become skilled followers; we were being asked to suspend our authoritarian ways of thinking to become humble, open, and flexible enough to learn about yoga postures and anatomy and mostly ourselves. How can you understand others or help them (as a teacher) if you don’t understand or help yourself?”

disciplinefreedom

I love the idea of less.  Less isn’t so much about ridding oneself of problematic hoarding of cars, jewelry, furniture, houses, companies.  To me, it’s more about how I use my energy and channel the good and evil within. It’s about temperance: self-restraint and discipline, with a generous dose of compassion. You might also think about it as moderation or balance. Sometimes gaining more balance in life requires less– less resistance, less control, fewer expectations and lies, and less rigidity.

The idea of less occurred to me, as ideas so often do, when I was teaching yoga. In this particular class, three people practiced: One giant man who I hadn’t seen in class in a long while, one “regular” practitioner, and one other slightly crazy woman who always practices with sunglasses on in the back corner of the room and does everything but the postures I am teaching. As usual, an interesting combination of fellow humans from whom I learned four lessons.

Lesson 1: About Assumptions and Expectations…  

Expectations suck more than usual when they are based on unwarranted assumptions. It appeared to me that the students seem to believe that I expected them to go above and beyond in their practice because I had them in clear view. I believe they felt like they were “center stage” or “on the spot” because it was just the three of them and me. This was a not a class where they could feel comfortable “hiding” in the back, out of their teacher’s view. When people think they are being watched, judged, or held accountable for their actions, they seem to step up their “honest” effort.  (Yes, I made this assumption based on experience and instinct.)

However, I did not place any expectations on these people whatsoever. I assumed they would come into the room, set up their mats, and do their yoga. I assumed they would not try to kill me or charge the podium or tackle me or anything else irrational or uncharacteristic within that particular environment. (Again, assumptions based on a pattern of typical experience.)

Whatever perceived expectations they thought I had of them are the ones they came up with on their own. They likely made assumptions based on the conditions that evening, in that location, and made their own decisions to act according to the expectations they then set for themselves. (Does anyone else think about these things, or is it just me?) But, if I was a betting girl, I would put my money on the fact that none of these people even thought consciously about the expectations they put on themselves. I bet it happened out of habit.  And, let it be noted that I have absolutely no proof whatsoever that any of them had the expectations of themselves that I am ASSUMING they created and tried to meet. (Are you sufficiently confused?) But this, I think, is usual human interaction, eh? Each of us continually making assumptions, some warranted and some perhaps not, and setting expectations, usually unrealistic or unnecessary ones. (See The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz) When I observe, I learn.

plato

Lesson 2: About the Ego…

Excessive demands of the ego cause unnecessary suffering.  This is home grown suffering. It differs from suffering caused by unexpected, external events. We create our own suffering—unnecessarily, ALL. THE. TIME. I cannot speak beyond my own limited realm of experience and observation, but the problems we cause usually seem to be “first-world problems” that are completely irrelevant and unimportant in the global scheme of life.

Self-talk that literally causes unnecessary stress in your body (not the “good stress” of moving muscles and exertion) goes something like this:

I am so disappointed in myself/angry with myself/hate myself because I couldn’t kick my leg forward in Standing Head to Knee pose. When will my fat fucking ass ever be able to do this? My mother always told me I’d never amount to anything. And while I am on the subject, I hate my mother for never encouraging me or loving me unconditionally. I should just leave/quit/give up, because nobody will love me since I am so negative and I have abandonment issues. Nice attitude! God, I am so selfish! There are people with real problems in the world and here I am complaining in a yoga room. But the world sucks too and I didn’t cause poverty or violence or anything else, so why should I even care? I have my own problems, and everyone will die anyway, so what is the point?

Seem exaggerated? It’s not. It’s irrational, sure, but this is an example of real, internal dialogue for MANY PEOPLE. Negative. Judgmental. Critical. Cynical. Tyrannical!

Because we have been conditioned to shoot for MORE than perhaps we are capable of, and because we run up against limits and our ego doesn’t like that, we suffer. We, or the ego, always want more and more and more rather than valuing, loving, appreciating, and being grateful for what it already has or is. Chill the fuck out; you’re doing fine with all your limitations and you are loved whether you kick your leg our or not. If you didn’t have limits, you’d be God. You’re human, stop whining, and deal with it.

masterymindandbody

Lesson 3: About Being a Follower…

Is it such a bad thing to be a follower? And why don’t people just do what they are told? When I went to yoga training, Bikram told us to shut off our minds and just do what we were told. Some people reacted with fright to the thought of not being in control. Not being in charge. Not being the authority. Not trying to figure everything out. Not questioning nor analyzing.  Not drawing conclusions and/or critically judging or evaluating. Can you imagine? Aren’t these the things we naturally do by default? Or are they so conditioned within us that they seem natural? The people who could not do what they were told, who couldn’t be a good follower to learn, struggled through the entire 9 week training because they couldn’t turn themselves over or “trust the process.” Some people left training. Some railed and wailed and blamed Bikram for being an asshole. They struggled with letting go of control. The “shutting off the mind” was meant to be a reprieve (and relief) from always having to be in charge; it was time off from thinking, and planning, and plotting, and reminiscing, and worrying. 

We students (and future teachers) needed to learn how to be “unknowing” students, embrace beginner’s mind, become skilled followers; we were being asked to suspend our authoritarian ways of thinking to become humble, open, and flexible enough to learn some things about yoga postures and anatomy and mostly learn about ourselves. How can you understand others or help them (as a teacher) if you don’t understand or help yourself? Try the right way, the hard way, and get 100% benefit. 

The dialogue we learn to deliver in class commands students to, very precisely, do what they are told, yet they often refuse. Sometimes it may be the result of confusion, poor listening skills, or lack of concentration, but often times it’s about flat-out unwillingness and resistance; not letting go of control out of fear. The woman wearing sunglasses in the back of the room in my class wants to do what she wants to do– not the postures. They make her feel uncomfortable; she doesn’t like being uncomfortable (or for whatever other reasons) and she refuses to compromise. It feels better to her to leave her foot on the inside of her thigh rather than up on her hip. She bends her upper body in a circular motion rather than up to the ceiling and side to side as she is told. Perhaps she is closed, inflexible, ideological, and arrogant. She is rigid and clings to her own safety. She refuses to let go or to trust. She is afraid to lose control. She won’t bloom like a flower petal, and she is missing out on finding her truth. This is where tough love comes in (and what many critics of the Bikram method reject).

discipline-is-doing-what-you-know-needs-to-be-done-even-if-you-dont-want-to-do-it-quote-1

Perhaps the yoga teachers who refuse to say the dialogue as Bikram intended it do the same thing as that woman in the back of the room. They don’t like being told what to do or how to do. They think they know better. It’s more comfortable doing it their way rather than doing as they are told. Why is it so difficult for people to be honest and to trust? 

I know all of this seems slightly ironic: we inculcate students in school when they are children to do as they are told. Then we unschool them by teaching them to question authority and think for themselves. Don’t follow blindly, but blindly is the distinction. People should not follow without some understanding of what they are following or whom and why. I intended to learn how to teach yoga with the authority of that particular yoga system, Bikram Choudhury. I made a conscious, well-considered decision and choice to turn myself over to his direction. When you sign up for a Bikram yoga class as a student, you make the decision to do BIKRAM yoga- not some other form! You come into the room with a yoga mat and towel and you do as you are told. You follow the very precise commands given. You trust the process. If you don’t, you aren’t doing the yoga. Then, when you insist on doing things your way, maybe you hurt yourself and blame Bikram yoga and call it bullshit yoga.

As one of my favorite, seasoned teachers likes to say, “Bikram yoga is like a robbery. Do what I say and nobody gets hurt!”

AND THAT IS THE YOGA: doing what you are told. Sorry, but that’s tough love. Your teachers are here to make you better, not make you worse– to make you stronger and more flexible, not just in the body, but also in the mind.

Your ego wants you to be comfortable. You want the fans on. You want to avoid suffering. Welcome to the club. But you don’t always get what you want, and as a continually maturing human being—- you need to accept that truth and learn more effectively how to deal with it. (The Rolling Stones really did have it right, after all.) 

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If you are brave enough to struggle with all of this, one day you will discover that your ego went from being invisible to you, to visible. You see its existence and the power it holds; then you learn how to manage it– find out how, and when, and why it is useful and positive, and in alignment with your spirit and when it is not; when it is counterproductive, causes suffering, pain, and when it is the culprit of your misery and  discontent. You don’t ignore your ego– you identify it’s desires and you manage it in ways that don’t add additional suffering to your life or the life of others. That’s another reason we tell you to look at yourself in the mirror. Don’t move. Don’t even blink your eyes.

Lesson 4: About Flexibility….

Flexibility is a valuable commodity and something our world desperately needs right now.  A flexible rather than fixed mindset is helpful in preventing you from becoming so entrenched in your own perspective that you risk becoming a dangerous ideologue who is willing to destroy others to defend your views. A flexible mindset helps you listen with genuine attention and interest in learning more than what you think you already know. (There’s always more to learn). Oh, and here you were thinking this was about your body. Well, yes –when you regain full range of motion in your joints, or maintain the full range you already have, your body is more flexible too. People are not separately minds or bodies; these aspects of ourselves are intricately fused; they are inseparable. Yoga is becoming more flexible, in body and in mind. So stop fighting and start stretching.

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Yoga is an interesting state of being because the objective of the practice really isn’t about the posture– the object is you, and you are also the subject. Think about how simple this is: you move your body into a pose to the degree that you are honestly able (and only to that degree) and you hold still and breathe. That’s all. You come face to face with your limitations and you breathe. Simple, yet people love to make it (yoga and life) complicated. Why?  Because everything I have written here about the ego and the unwillingness to do as one is directed, flexible mindset, and assumptions and expectations are inherent in the human condition. Clearly, we wrestle with these things because the three people I taught in class the other night exhibited some sort of conflict with every single one of them.

Yoga is hard. Being a human being is a challenge, but what’s the alternative? Run away? Lay on the couch and cry, or blame life itself, the universe, for being unfair? Drown your sorrows and suffering in fleeting, unhealthy pleasures? Eat candy and play video games? Watch porn, hang out with others who do the same to justify your own degenerate and weak behavior? Or show up with an open mind and heart (and ears to listen), do exactly what your told, the best you are able– to your limits whatever they may be, and breathe within a loving environment among others who are trying to be the best they can be too.  Have faith that you will be better, stronger, more flexible, and good by honest effort, trying the right way, and not giving up– that’s the ultimate destination. 

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Observing those three students was my yoga, my opportunity to learn some great lessons that evening, and these students were excellent teachers. That’s why we, in Bikram yoga, refer to our instructions as a “dialogue.” It’s not just about the asanas, after all.

Namaste.

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Learning to Unlearn

It was in the hot room at a Bikram yoga studio,
standing directly under the bright lights,
in front of the mirrors,
trying to balance,
in silence,
everyday, for 90 minutes,
where I learned the art of unlearning.
I learned to let go.

A vital aspect of learning is unlearning.

Unlearning is intending to let go of what you have already learned or acquired. It’s an undoing the effect of, a discarding the habit of what you have learned. Unlearning must be intentional, deliberate, and active, otherwise it’s merely forgetting. Sounds simple, right? Not easy because the problem is that our learning leads to beliefs which lead to habits and, as you well know, habits are hard to break.

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Frustration, pain, crisis, and suffering usually catalyze the process of unlearning. This is why psychotherapists sometimes encourage us to “lean into” the painful experiences of our lives. Our yoga teachers do the same. “Hold” the uncomfortable posture, they say, “using stillness and breath.” With compassionate support, yoga helps us uncover lessons we might learn from our pain, cope with suffering, and see ourselves more clearly, all to enable functionality as a healthy human being in the world. For me, yoga is not about how high I can kick my foot to the ceiling or how deep my backward bending, it’s about living an authentic life of quality and purpose.

Pain is our best teacher. She is real and unrelenting in her demand for our attention. Almost always, her lesson involves unlearning, a letting go, a clearing-out, sloughing. When we run from pain and discomfort, we miss out on growth and added strength and flexibility in both our minds and physical bodies. Maybe we push too hard in our consistent pursuit for more, recklessly moving beyond our range of motion, causing unhealthy stress rather than healing. This is a common scenario for many people who have been raised with a Western mindset, schooled in an American culture of competition and lack. 

What’s challenging for most people about “Letting Go” is that it’s about loss, not gain. Letting go is unlearning the habit of clinging, of hanging on; of wanting to have more– more time, more money, more attention; it is the relentless battle— to the very end— to avoid losing; it’s the widely admired “never give up” attitude we reward and for which we earn trophies and accolades. The problem (among others) with these attitudes and habits intrinsic to a competitive mindset is that very often it involves personal comparison, which can lead to feelings of lack, of not having enough or believing we are not enough. We lose and feel inferior. We don’t “suffer with” a competitor (even if it is ourself); we try to outsmart, outdo, beat down, or absolutely destroy them to cross the finish line first or to win the match or to best our prior “time.”

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The fear of poverty and competition are taught to us when we are very young, when we are most vulnerable and open, by our schools (administered and reinforced through the grading system), cultural icons who act as our models and mentors, our peers, our families, and by industry, entertainment and social media. These values are then consistently reinforced over time. But I believe we can live compassionately within a competitive landscape. We can live a soul-centered life in an ego-centered world. Compassion and competition are not mutually exclusive; we do need to function and take care of ourselves in the world we find ourselves in. We have to survive.

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A little unlearning isn’t such a dangerous thing. By making yourself more open and a more compassionate competitor, you can bring out the best in yourself (if you really know who you are at your core) and your opponent. It’s about your intentions and aiming for balance.

Discovering yoga began some very crucial unlearning for me. While practicing, I learned how to lean into the discomfort I felt in my body and in my mind, under the duress of intense heat and within the strict discipline of the asanas, including savasana which requires lying still on your back with eyes open breathing consciously through the nose. In savasana, “less is more” which is incredibly challenging for people who are conditioned to solve problems, attain goals, want more, do more, be more, have more. In fact, it can be incredibly painful.

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Compassion literally means “suffering with.” I had to teach myself, through disciplined daily practice to stay with my suffering, to stay with myself, to not abandon myself or my pain. I had to stay loyal to that which underlies the labels and the cultural conditioning, my spirit. The yogis on their mats next to me aren’t my competition; they are my fellow sufferers, my fellow spirits. The hot room is a community of compassion. And, as I look back on the history of my most memorable life experiences, compassion was beckoning me to embrace it all along. Apparently, I wasn’t available to listen or open enough to accept its invitation. I am grateful yoga found me and that compassion continued to persistently knock at my door.

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By clearing the way, unlearning has positively affected my understanding of my own capabilities; my intrinsic value; my true strengths and weaknesses. In the past, I passively agreed to labels my environment pinned on me, and unknowingly, I internalized these labels, turned them into limiting beliefs, then turned them into “truths,” and acted accordingly. That was “me.” How could I be anything else?

And I wondered why I suffered.

Yoga taught me that the problems in my life were not the fault of others, as I had always hoped; blaming is easy, a shortcut, because it seems to relieve pain, at least temporarily. No, my suffering and frustration were the result of my own doing, my own “learned” habits, my carefully schooled perceptions. And although done to me when innocent and indefensible, I must take responsibility. I make my own choices. I agree more with my inner voice rather than with Father culture.  This is work. This is struggle. This is uncomfortable. This is freedom.  
Notes

Unlearning and unschooling are not new concepts. This post is about an example of how the notion of unlearning has affected my personal life through the yoga; but if you are also interested in the application of unlearning to business, click here and here, or if you are interested in unlearning as it applies to education, click here.

“My yoga class is that sweltering day. It’s one long, hot meditation. We put incredible pressure on you to teach you to break your attachment to external things and go within. Instead of blaming others for your own weakness, fear and depression, you will learn to take responsibility for your own life. You’ve got to face yourself in the mirror, every part you don’t like, every mistake you make, every excuse your mind creates to limit your potential liberation–there’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. No escape from reality. With these kinds of demands on your abilities and attention, you will soon forget that there is anyone on the next mat in the classroom, much less notice what they are wearing. After you learn to discipline your body and mind under these conditions, you will truly be able to concentrate; no external will be able to break your powerful focus. That’s why I say the the darkest place in the world is under the brightest lamp. In the Torture Chamber of my class, you will find a beautiful light, and the source of that light is within you.”

—–BIKRAM CHOUDHURY