by Sarah Kraatz
I remember my first Bikram Yoga class like it was yesterday. I was an undergrad student, overwhelmed and insecure, so it’s no surprise that I was captivated by the ad entitled: “Look great naked!” I was immediately transfixed because a) I had never seen beads of sweat drip off of me like that before, and b) I had no idea that yoga meant kicking my own butt into submission. And I mean this in the nicest way possible. Bikram Yoga is HARD. But, no matter how much my body shook, I always walked away with a piece of wisdom for my broken soul, either directly from the teacher or something internal I discovered while performing one of the postures. I was hooked, and I kept going back religiously for many years.
The Other Woman
My Bikram bubble was burst when my friend invited me to come try a class at our local Moksha Yoga Studio. I went into my first class with hundreds of Bikram classes under my belt, having had those 26 postures drilled into my head, over and over again. I thought I had yoga all figured out.
…I was wrong. I imagine that the transition I went through could be comparable to what it would be like to move to another country and experience culture shock. Lights dimmed – “what?” Soft welcoming voice as we lay in Savasana with our eyes closed – “huh?” Being told to listen to myself and only do what my body is asking for today – “Ok, I don’t even know what that means.” Standing Bow was no longer such, it is called Dancer and I’m not supposed to lock my standing knee. In Triangle I’m told to bring my top hip back rather than forward. In backbends I’m cautioned to not go back too far, that I should only feel a subtle lift in the chest. Foreign postures left me feeling like a newborn giraffe, confused and clumsy.
However, as I continued my Moksha practice I started to let go of the attachments I had to the difference between postures and started to notice a distinct improvement of peacefulness within my mind and a new ability to actually notice what my body needed. But this transition didn’t come easy. I battled with extreme feelings of guilt, as if I was doing something wrong.
Investigating the Stigma
Why was I feeling so guilty changing styles? Well, unfortunately it is human nature to be judgmental. We are creatures that, by evolution, have learned to thrive off of comparison. Entering a different yoga world caused my attention to be heightened on the words of others. Many yogis who had never tried, or simply disliked Bikram would speak negatively of its “militant” nature. Fair enough, everyone is entitled to an opinion. However, I have found that this is not the case. I personally see the routine script as an enforcement of harmless discipline, when practiced honestly. On the other end of the spectrum, there were some Bikram yogis who dismissed other forms of yoga stating they are “fluffy” and “sloppy.” I distinctly remember one Bikram yogi poking fun at different forms of yoga stating “they just like to burn incense and extend their arms up in Tree Pose” laughing, as if it were something to be frowned upon. And these are just a few examples.
Witnessing these comparisons left me feeling conflicted. Here I was gaining more peace and balance in my own asana practice. I was becoming unified by the different styles, while it seemed that many of the yogis around me were divided. The words of others created a sense of segregation, separation and hierarchy, as though one style was better than the other. With this powerful feeling of conflict I had, I knew deeply that I did not want yoga to become that for me. I’ve learned that passion can be found within the burning frustrations that truly anger you.
For me, the conflict I felt fueled the flame for my passion of yoga and it guided me forward into becoming the yogi that I knew I wanted to be.
Fast forward a year or two to where I am now, months away from becoming a yoga instructor myself (with Pranalife Yoga), I have done some in-depth studying of the Yoga Sutras. I didn’t know what they were back then, but looking back now I realize that I practiced many of these yogic principles in order to overcome my dilemma. There is a term asteya – non-stealing. I understood then that by gossiping or speaking without loving kindness towards others, it would be stealing from that person/group’s reputation. I had to practice this myself and be an example of the change I hoped to see in the world around me. Brahmacharya – the pursuit of sacred spiritual knowledge – to me means always acting from a place of “namaste” and recognizing the divine in others. I acted under the belief that one style was in fact not better than the other, and I did not dismiss others for practicing a certain style. These are just a few examples of how the wise teachings of yoga helped to carry me through.
It’s all Yoga…
With six years under my belt and some fairly intense study into the practice of yoga, I can reflect back now and see with knowing eyes this one simple thing…it’s all yoga. Whether I’m pushing myself and sweating like a pig, or moving softly and quietly, it is all yoga. No matter what, yoga would always offer me the same results; stilling my mind and cultivating awareness.
To this day I still love and practice both styles. I have come to learn that the different postures do actually complement each other. My hamstrings have opened up significantly since trying Moksha (and now Ashtanga/vinyasa styles), thereby improving my forward folds in Bikram. The discipline that I have established from my Bikram practice has likely allowed me to go deeper into other various postures than I would have otherwise. By staying versatile, I‘m deeply in tune with my body and have become seriously stronger than ever before.
My intention here was to share with you my authentic personal struggles with a topic that I feel is taboo, a struggle that I know many other yogis have experienced as well. My goal was to look lovingly, yet critical, into these two yoga communities and start to understand why the difference exists. It is my hope to ignite conversation. To challenge practitioners to reflect inward and go ahead and try something new! My own discovery has fostered my ability to be curious and playful, to evolve past what I thought I was capable of, and to find solace amidst chaos.
In yoga we are always learning and growing, we are life-long students. And if there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that this thing called yoga has the power to magically transform us, if you simply let it.
Sarah began her yoga journey with a rigorous practice of Bikram Yoga in 2009 and has since expanded her scope of practice, including the Ashtanga Series and other vinyasa styles. She is in the process of completing her 200hr Yoga Teacher Training with Pranalife Yoga in Ontario, Canada. Sarah believes that yoga is first and foremost a practice of the mind; she has experienced this first-hand with personal struggles through anxiety and self-esteem issues. She is known for her warm smile, quirky sense of humor, and genuine belief in the power of universal love and kindness. Random acts of kindness are probably her favorite thing, ever.
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