Posted on 1 Comment

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.

 

Posted on Leave a comment

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.

Posted on Leave a comment

Practicing Gratitude

My Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self Study Guide for Wellness (now on sale in the Kindle Store and in paperback at Amazon.com) is the result of so many other people’s work and their unique service to others. The content within the Self Study Guide I have created isn’t anything new–it’s classic wisdom– to know thyself—but the way I divide self study into five parts, each with tools and practices that work for me in my life and hopefully might work for yours, is original.

My perspective of classic wisdom in the context of my unique experiences as a mother, high school teacher, and Bikram Yoga teacher, and student of counseling psychology is also unique. Still, people might ask, why bother writing about what so many others already teach? My answer is this: more help for wellness is always needed in the world; the reputation of Bikram Yoga could use some redemption by sharing more detailed information about the psycho-therapeutic value of the practice; and although I definitely don’t think I can deliver this important information any better than others, (I give my writing a B) I can do it differently which may make the same information (know thyself for wellness) more accessible to some folks, compared to the way others might also be conveying it. You never know how your work may resonate with people, so you should share it! It won’t have any chance of doing anyone any good if I don’t– that is for certain.

Anyway…everything I read, watched, and listened to over the past several years spoke directly to what I had been learning in my personal Bikram yoga practice, through my travels, in my teaching, while parenting, and writing. Lots of what I was discovering through my own introspection and reflection, what I call traveling my inner landscape, was being articulated in various ways by the many people listed below.  I thank them for speaking their truth in their own ways, using their own means and talents, within their own spheres of influence. Such connection with others– whether family, friends, strangers, or the long since deceased through their classic work is an amazing part of being human. I am grateful. The Acknowledgements section from the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human follows below.

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank my son for our many conversations and his referrals to podcasts and book titles, philosophical, historical, psychological and otherwise. Jack introduced me to The Joe Rogan Experience which, in turn, led me to many other interesting, informative teachers and entertaining guests, like podcaster Rich Roll.  Both Roll’s life story (Finding Ultra) and Rogan’s most recommended book, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield motivated me to identify and conquer my own “ inner bitch” otherwise known as “Resistance” (with a capital “R”) and radically change my life, at midlife. I quit my job as a high school teacher, packed one small bag, and traveled the world to teach Bikram Yoga, write, and promote self-realization “process living” —my own and others’ for wellness. 

Rich Roll’s personal story of transformation and his work in new media exemplifies the results of all five tenets of this Self Study Guide. His life story illustrates that redemption is possible when we discover our truest most authentic selves and live its fullest expression. It takes audacity, courage, and grit to not “live a life of quiet desperation” in the words of H.D.Thoreau, a line Roll often references. We are all in need of recovery and redemption, and we do have what it takes deep inside of us to become our truest most human selves, if we could only tap into it through quiet introspection to awaken and undo our cultural conditioning. Roll and his wife, Julie often say, “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” If each of us can realize this, and drop our masks, it would radically transform us enough to collectively heal ourselves and our planet.

Another guest I heard on the Joe Rogan Experience and need to thank is Dr. Jordan B. Peterson. Bowled over at how he articulated so much of what I had intuitively learned from my yoga practice and from having studied and taught the great stories and philosophers of the Western humanities tradition, I like many thousands of people, immersed myself in learning from his lectures online, completing the Self Authoring Suite and personality tests at Understandmyself.com. All of this helped me with my own personal self study and my continual transformation. Through Dr. Peterson’s work, I discovered the connections between psychoanalysis, archetypal stories from the Humanities traditions both East and West, and yoga in a broader sense. He introduced me to Carl Jung and Carl Rogers, which helped me realize that I was interested in pursuing a more therapeutic relationship with students as human beings who are trying to “become people” (Rogers, 1961) and away from a strictly academic relationship that is more about delivering curriculum and judging and assessing “hard” academic skills. Readers will recognize the influences of these psychologists throughout the Self Study Guide. Studying human nature (as a concept, as an intellectual exercise, through teaching world literature) in the classroom led me to studying actual individuals’ natures and, of course, my own.

Thanks, again, to my son, I found the Tim Ferriss podcast which led me to so many other wise teachers and great learning resources. Ferriss gave me access to Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way her “morning pages” and so much more about identity and discovery of the true self through writing. Cameron’s work is about human nature and spirituality which is why it is a book for everyone, not just writers and creative types. As well, I traveled solo for almost a year inspired by Ferriss’ example and Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding I learned more about integrity and relationship building as well as modern education’s need for teaching more “soft skills” from Seth Godin a regular Ferriss podcast guest. Finally, two of the most interesting and genuinely personal conversations happened between Ferriss and Buddhist teacher and psychologist, Jack Kornfield, as well as his talk with addiction and recovery specialist, Dr. Gabor Mate. Tim Ferriss was learning about himself, becoming more awakened I think, in those conversations and it was profound to hear. Like Rogan and Roll’s conversations with a variety of amazing human beings, that sort of rich, deep and authentic dialogue about pain, love, humanity, integration, wholeness and meaning is the therapy we need to immerse ourselves in, especially in our modern culture. 

Along with these wise mentors, Cathy Heller’s “Don’t Keep Your Day Job” podcast provided the enthusiasm, concrete reasons, and practical examples of how I could actually become exactly who I was meant to be and why I’d be inauthentic and unhappy if I didn’t! Cathy just seemed to keep saying everything I needed to hear at exactly the right times. I owe her much gratitude for being herself and expressing herself boldly and bravely without giving a fu*k, as Mark Manson, another important influence would say. Manson’s audacious writing voice and style encouraged me to unabashedly exercise my own, publicly, and inspired me to start blogging. He is candid and courageous to write about the subject of values, especially honesty, which is sorely needed right now. 

I also discovered The Minimalists and Leo Babauta (Zenhabits.net), who I credit for teaching me that it is possible to live out of one bag, with nothing but my own core values, not only for a year of travel as a Bikram Yoga teacher but for the rest of my days at home. In a world of excess, The Minimalists’ message echoes that of Henry David Thoreau— the classic wisdom of living simply and deliberately— for modern times. Simplifying encouraged me to make more mindful choices in my daily life and shaped my perspective about what really matters.

Most of all I need to thank Bikram Choudhury, the rogue of the American yoga world– the controversial guru modern yogis love to reject. Bikram is a great teacher both in spite of and because of his flaws and mostly for his brutal honesty. He taught me about how much we reject the truth when it hurts the most and how we are keen to run from pain and vulnerability. I see him as a wonderful example of what we humans Resist (with a capital R) about our own human nature. His yoga system and his Teacher Training changed my life which, in turn, has (hopefully) positively impacted more students of mine than I can count. This Self Study Guide is my attempt to bring the message of Bikram’s yoga, which is about self realization, to as many people as possible.  

Practicing Bikram Yoga is about facing fear, finding truth, and becoming more vital and alive. It’s a present moment laboratory for observing one’s own human struggle between the animal and rational. I am more real, congruent as famed psychologist Carl Rogers (1980) would say, and authentically me in all ways mental, physical, and spiritual because of this embodied practice of self study. 

By breaking attachment and dependencies on externals and struggling with self understanding to change and heal through yoga, I learn to accept life as it is rather than how I want it to be. I don’t do any of this consistently or with ease, but I try, consciously and deliberately to suffer better. I try more courageously to express my creativity and truth, because I understand it, deeply and intuitively, as a life force that flows through me, rather than thinking I could possibly conjure anything like it on my own. 

Learning to love and accept my whole self and my limited, challenging human condition empowers me to love all living things, fiercely and with great empathy and compassion. The world needs such love and compassion now, more than ever; it needs more dialogue too, especially more mindful listening to ourselves, our intuition, and to others. I hope the Self Study Guide can inch people closer to knowing themselves by slowing, quieting, and listening to discover, express, and share their uniqueness and their truth with others.

If each of us struggles to follow the classic wisdom to “know thyself,” and love and accept ourselves, truly, not the roles we play or the masks we wear but the true being that we each are: animal thus limited, yet conscious and perhaps even divine, we can minimize unnecessary suffering and suffer better, together. 

The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human: A Self Study Guide for Wellness is the result of everything I’ve learned from these people noted above and many other very wise people below who encouraged me to “do my yoga”— in other words, to study myself to know the real me and live my truth.

Additional love and gratitude to: Rob Donovan, Ryan Quinn, Grace Tempany, Myozen Joan Amaral, Hector Lopez, Pierre Ratte, Frank Murray, Brandy Keevan, Shannon Englehardt, Teri Almquist, Rachel Horwitz, Polly Edwards, Jason Destasio, all my Bikram Yoga Teacher Training mates, fellow Bikram Yoga teachers and traveling teacher mates, especially Changu, Claire, Sarah, & Kiran. Thank you to my children: Jack, Shea, Regan and Riley, and all my past and present students– you’ve always been my best and most valued teachers. 

Posted on Leave a comment

Classic Wisdom for Modern Humans: A WORK IN PROGRESS

The soon-to-be-completed Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide contains the why and how to “know thyself” for wellness. It is a collection of tools and practices for you to know yourself better so you can express your uniqueness for a lifetime of wellness and wellbeing. The ancient  dictum, “know thyself” from the Oracle at Delphi is the very definition of “classic” wisdom because it is archetypal, definitive, remarkable, and judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality. Living according the dictum can help you pursue truth and thereby wellness in our modern world.

 

LANDSCAPES FOR LEARNING

I believe so strongly that dedicating more time and energy to understanding oneself is the foundation for balance and wellness in this day and age of speed and data overwhelm that I left the security of my long career as a high school teacher to create Landscapes for Learning, this online classroom where my mission is to inspire, motivate, and foster the growth of individual uniqueness and encourage individual expression through a life time of learning.

BALANCE IS WELLNESS

I had been grappling with the increasing anxiety and unwellness among my students and observing it throughout the school’s culture, while at the same time I was helping people to grow in healthy self-realization as a Bikram yoga teacher. The principles and philosophy of Bikram’s brand of yoga seemed to be the exact antidote needed to address many of the problems pervading not only school culture but also the problems in modern American life in general. I wondered how I could possibly bring the principles and philosophy of the yoga into schools to improve  wellness and promote balance, if I could not get students (and their parents and my co-workers) to visit the studio to actually practice the physical postures of the hatha series. So, I did what I love to do most, I wrote curriculum and called it the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide. Its five central tenets (or learning units) are derived from my professional experiences teaching the Humanities and my personal Bikra yoga practice, a combination of the wisdom traditions of West and East, and are meant to help you– teens and adults– pursue optimal wellness through self study. 

FRIEND YOURSELF

Everyone needs to be their own best friend, parent, partner, counselor, and teacher– the person who knows you best, you can trust the most, and always has your back, no matter what. I became that person for myself by discovering the real value of following the classic advice to “know thyself” through my own deep self-study. By traveling the landscapes of my life– both inbound to my core through practicing yoga and writing and outbound across the outer landscapes of the world as a student, traveler, and teacher, I learned to express my uniqueness, to “do me,” with integrity and purpose. Becoming a better version of myself, overcoming fear and limits, and managing constant change took conscious effort and lots of trial and error, and it continues to be an ongoing journey toward wholeness. We should never stop learning, moving, or growing. 

I was inspired and motivated by prominent writers, podcasters, yoga enthusiasts, and many other teachers in various fields who were all both working to become whole and healthy individual human beings and promoting this same journey toward integration and wholeness through knowing oneself.

I heard over and over again that many of the problems and illnesses of our modern day are due to lack of knowing who we really are and that we are disconnected from our truth. I agreed because I was witnessing this reality in my own life- my own personal experience and in my role as mother, high school teacher, teacher of teachers, and yoga teacher.  I also knew that learning was the answer along with yoga and journal writing, as these were my practical, everyday tools for my own self study, growth, and wellness.

I am hopeful that the almost completed Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide, based on my insight gained from a deep work approach to self study, will improve your relationship with yourself (and others) as it did my own and continues to do. I am currently trying to walk the walk as I talk the talk, and this website is evidence of my own journey forward to expressing the truest me possible.  As you may have noticed, there are “WORK IN PROGRESS” images on almost every page! Our work to live as our truest selves is never done!

HONEST PRACTICE

The pursuit of classic wisdom, to “know thyself,” is to be a traveler with no final destination but the means to live authentically. In other words, the landscapes of your life are for learning– forever. Unlike schooling, learning is a journey of trial and error where trying and failing is the point— it’s the meaning and purpose of your one, unique life. So you ought to expect messy, to get a little bit dirty, and be bumped around a bit as you fail forward in your effort to know yourself and find your truest expression. As we say in the Bikram yoga community, when it comes to self-realization, there is no perfect— only practice. We are all, always, a work in progress!

Subscribe now to be first to receive the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide and discounts on products and services at LandscapesForLearning.com!

 

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Tools FOR Inner Landscape Learning

I write a lot about how we need to encourage young people to travel the inner landscape FOR learning.

Here’s one way (Vipassana/meditation)

And another way: 

 

And, of course, my favourite way: 

Posted on Leave a comment

Podcast Redux with Grace Tempany

Traveling Landscapes for Learning, Inside and Out, with Grace Tempany

“One is never afraid of the unknown; one is afraid of the known coming to an end.”

—-Jiddu Krishnamurti

Traveling the landscapes for learning is a challenge for so many of us human beings, but Grace Tempany’s personality, disposition, and training in self-inquiry makes her unusually well-suited for riding the waves of change and challenge. She fluidly balances between both the comfort of home and job and the security and order they provide as well as following her restlessness and desire for exploring new landscapes– the novelty of new people, places, and cultures. She is a dynamic warrior-yogini on the hero’s journey! 

Grace is self-described “full of contradictions”– equally at home with one foot in such formal, structured academic settings like education as well as the other foot in the Yin Yoga and Bikram Yoga communities. Grace refers to both Jiddhu Krishnamurti about holding opposing ideas simultaneously rather than feverishly defending an idea and Pema Chodron who teaches about staying with pain and discomfort rather than running from it and to not give up on this struggle. Grace believes that the people who shy away from discomfort will not only die with regret but miss out on their very own life. She urges people to become aware that an important life-learning process exists, and with methods and practices like meditation and yoga you can become fully alive and present for your own life.

In this podcast episode, she talks with me about her tools for introspection and contemplation as well as how understanding the ways that her mind works is a key component in her increased self-awareness and therefore indispensable to being fully awake which enables her to live with vitality and appreciation.

Grace also talks with me about traveling beyond one’s literal geographical and internally-prescribed boundaries and limits and being comfortable with that very often uncomfortable process, and how this type of travel is the journey of authentic learning which is going from the known, familiar, and secure to the unknown, unfamiliar, and disorienting place beyond, a process that is anxiety-provoking for many people and requires training. Alas, there are ways to make yourself more open and vulnerable to the unknown, one step at a time!

I hope you enjoy this discussion about landscapes, learning, and our shared humanity.

Visit: http://www.gracetempany.com

To Listen to Previous Podcast with Grace 

Grace Tempany Podcast #1 Below:

Posted on Leave a comment

The Pain and Hurt of Yoga

One fine morning after teaching a Bikram yoga class, a student charged out into the lobby to ask me why I used the word “pain” and “hurt” repeatedly throughout class with regard to the postures.  She clearly didn’t like it.

You know how sometimes some people begin an oncoming verbal attack with a seemingly polite question? You know, they’re “just curious” about something? This was one of those times. I wasn’t surprised by the question as much as I was shocked by her obvious fury, though I shouldn’t have been, as I have dealt with similar people and complaints in my job as a high school teacher.

“…push your head back until your neck hurts a little bit…”

“…you’re back is going to hurt don’t be scared…”

“…creating a tremendous stretching feeling, pain sensation…”

“…your back is supposed to hurt…”

“…elbows are supposed to hurt…”

“…make sure your back hurt…”

“…make sure your shoulders hurt…”

“…neck might hurt a little bit…”

Clearly, she wanted to engage me in an argument. She wanted justice done — for me to eliminate saying the words “pain” and “hurt,” as she believed the terms were misleading at best and flat out wrong at worst; to be telling people they should feel pain during a yoga posture seemed heretical to her. The notion of feeling pain, hurt, or any sort of discomfort seemed counter to her notions about yoga as healing and serene, among her other perhaps stereotypical perceptions about yoga practice— you know, namaste and all that shit.

This interaction presented me with a wonderful opportunity to think about the role of pain and hurt in the process of yoga practice, and more generally, to life and learning. Such thinking has led me to articulate for myself what makes my life as a teacher meaningful.

I don’t recall providing her with a fully articulated response at the time, but upon reflection, this is what I would have liked to have said. The first answer about pain comes from B.K.S. Iyengar who writes in Light on Life:

“…pain is an unavoidable part of asana practice…The pain is there as a teacher, because life is filled with pain. In the struggle alone, there is knowledge. Only when there is pain will you see the light. Pain is your guru. As we experience pleasures happily, we must also learn not to lose our happiness when pain comes. As we see good in pleasure, we should learn to see good in pain. Learn to find comfort even in discomfort. We must not try to run from the pain but to move through and beyond it. This is the cultivation of tenacity and perseverance, which is a spiritual attitude toward yoga. This is also the spiritual attitude toward life. Just as the ethical codes of yoga purify our actions in the world, the asanas and pranayama purify our inner world. We use these practices to help us learn to bear and overcome the inevitable pains and afflictions of life.”  (Iyengar, 871-877)

Iyengar’s words suggest that we remain humble and curious, respectful toward pain, as it is our teacher, our guru. This takes discipline and practice to learn, to get better at, to master, so the repeated reminders about “hurt” and “pain” within the Bikram yoga dialogue seem not only merely warranted or justified but appropriate and absolutely necessary.

Perhaps some yoga teachers will disagree with me (or Iyengar) on this point about pain, and that’s to be expected, but as a high school teacher, I have additional experience with resistance to such assertions.

I have many students and parents (and ,occasionally, other educators) who, like the questioning woman in my yoga class, object quite vociferously to the appropriate and necessary pain involved in the learning process that typically results from failure not only to learn but to achieve desired grades (and, by the way, yes, there’s a very important distinction between the two- a post for another day.)

The pain my students might experience and the variety of suffering they learn to cope with and manage in my classroom is healthy and paramount to their success and authentic growth as human beings, just as it is among the yogis within the asanas in the hot room. However, in today’s cultural climate of “everybody is a winner!” and “snowflake” parenting, such proclamations about pain are considered subversive.

People don’t like pain. They run from it, avoid it, and believe everyone else does the same which justifies such behavior and group think. Nevertheless, as a yogi who has developed an unconventional relationship with pain, I often seem to walk on thin ice, as my attitudes and approach to teaching and learning run counter to local cultural norms and expectations. I do not encourage risk-aversion, and that makes people uncomfortable– which is the point and the thing to practice.  

Adherence to the notion that real learning involves pain and sometimes hurt and a little to a lot of suffering is grounded in what it means to be human. I know this to be true through study of human nature and as witness to the amazing success of my colleagues over many years teaching and being a student of great teachers myself. This boldness and bravery is what enables me to be a perennial learner and therefore to walk the walk,  as teacher, without becoming completely discouraged. Such an attitude and disposition is exactly what is required to be effective within the institution of education today– that is, to get people to actually learn about themselves and their own humanity rather than merely achieve high grades or other unrelated objectives that have become fashionable. 

I am with Iyengar, all the way, on pain being the guru, whether it comes to learning math, writing, chemistry, dealing with romantic breakups, social phobias or anxiety, or whatever other dragons people or potential heroes may need to slay in their individual lives. No true growth and change happen without the presence of pain. The sooner you change your mind about it and make friends with it, the better. 

Living out the belief about teaching and learning as painful is difficult, as I am sure many teachers can understand. It would be easier to eliminate the words from the yoga dialogue to appease that woman and anyone else like her, or tell my students’ parents what they want to hear about their child, or inflate a grade to avoid problems with a supervisor. I have to defend my practical philosophy with steadfastness, on a regular basis, and that takes rationality, discipline, energy, and confidence; I am consistently making critical judgments and trusting my gut about when to spare the rod, apply tough love, or witness additional struggling of students. I am always trying to figure out whether to listen or speak, jump in and help, or allow the person to flounder and suffer more to reach their ultimate destination. Sometimes teaching is like sitting next to a terminally ill person and watching them die— because, in fact, sometimes people have to burn up and destroy themselves altogether before they can put themselves back together or be reborn. It’s painful to do, and painful to watch. 

It’s physically and emotionally challenging to be a part of so many people’s pain-filled journeys each day, over the course of many years, in the classroom and in the yoga studio. There’s a lot of energy that a teacher both gives and receives from collections of students each day, each class. There’s a lot of resistance. But, just like our students, we continue to engage with our own pain, learn how to resist it less, and try to be the model of learning our students need. 

Setting limits that cause a student to “hurt a little bit,” like saying no as a parent, or rejecting one good cause to enact a great and far more beneficial cause is something for which teachers need understanding. They don’t necessarily need your blessing or agreement, but fewer obstacles and objections would be nice, so they can continue to “be there” for students, to remain present as the steady witness to the learner on their unique, individual journey. Empathy is all. Suffering, as best we can, together is compassion.

Explaining this process to teenagers (and their parents and other staff) who struggle with the notion of the inevitable pain and hurt of learning— stewarding them through their “school yoga” is an enormous challenge, but one I still believe is worth taking on, even though on many days, the resistance to this process seems overwhelming. 

Life is a series of continual states of brief comfort alternating with disruption, disorientation, and discomfort, yes, including pain and hurt. We are constantly mapping out our lives, and re-mapping when obstacles arise, as they inevitably will. In this constant tooling and re-tooling process, theorizing, or what others have called mental masturbation, does nothing to prepare you for the real, practical challenges you will face in your life.

So the yoga practice? the life learning? Yes, it has to hurt a little bit, it has to be real, it has to be acted out, and even cause a “pain sensation,” because “tremendous stretching” hurts, whether you like it or not, think it’s unfair or not. Bikram’s dialogue is precise and accurate, carefully construed. Eliminating the words of “pain” or “supposed to hurt” robs students of important learning and the potential for authentic mental physical and spiritual growth.

As Iyengar says, “…the practices of yoga show us how much pain the body can bear and how much affliction the mind can tolerate. Since pain is inevitable, asana is a laboratory in which we discover how to tolerate the pain that cannot be avoided and how to transform the pain that can.”

Gaining such wisdom might hurt a little bit, but there’s no better process to dedicate yourself to than mining your own suffering for meaning and truth. And there is no better profession than teaching to witness such beautiful transformation.

*Bikram Yoga Beginning Yoga Practice, Teacher’s Dialogue

**Iyengar, B.K.S.. Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom (Kindle Locations 877-879). Rodale. Kindle Edition.