In one of our Bikram classes this week, a young man in his first class began to feel overwhelmed in the final few postures. Before the class, the teacher, Olivia, had given the usual advice for that situation — sit or kneel down, be still, breathe — and told him again when he started to struggle. Soon, though, he was lost into his own misery and far from Olivia’s soothing words, breathing heavily, getting up too quickly and flopping back down on his mat, covering his face with his hands.
It was all totally understandable for a first day in a hot room (and on a hot day in a full class, to boot) but proved a powerful reminder of the wisdom of Bikram’s instructions. The best way to counter rough patches in any part of life is to be still and breathe (kneeling, however, is not always appropriate). But this is not the way our minds want to react. Our minds want to fix the discomfort, broadcast it to everyone around. The mind wants to DO something. We pant, flail, moan. In yoga, you realize how much energy that actually requires, as opposed to breathing and being still, which is the restorative response.
It became noticeable in the class last night when the students around the struggling man responded by breathing more deeply and focusing harder. They were countering the anxiety in the room by leaning on what they had already learned.
Not reacting to stress is much harder than reacting. Stillness doesn’t come naturally. But once you learn, it becomes perhaps the most potent weapon you have.
The next step along that road is to actually embrace life’s — and yoga’s — difficult moments, to understand that those moments force us to learn and grow. Happiness and contentment are wonderful, but rarely when we learn life’s — and yoga’s — important lessons. There is a hilarious soliloquy by Steve Carell’s character in the movie “Little Miss Sunshine” on that topic as he tries to explain to young Dwayne that high school is valuable because they are prime suffering years.
It usually takes a lifetime to learn that lesson, but you don’t have to learn it in a movie. You can learn it every day in yoga class.