It is kind of sad, because a Bikram practice could do so much for people who play sports and who learned in a traditional sports culture, but the strivers rarely last. They are focused on DOING all the postures and grow frustrated when they can’t check them off some mental list. They miss the concept that the postures are their own journeys — journeys that can take years and never have any shortcuts. Yoga is the around-the-world cruise with no itinerary, not the six-cities-in-six-nights power tour. Bikram himself calls Standing Head to Knee a 10-year posture.
The people who stick with Bikram quickly understand that the yoga is in the trying. And the effort has to come honestly, step by tiny step, “trying the right way,” in Bikram’s words, even when the destination seems unfathomably far away. You have to have faith in the words, with no evidence that faith will be rewarded. To some, that is unsatisfying. To others, it is liberating.
The beauty of trying the right way is that it works. And often in a delightful way. Talk to anyone who has practiced for awhile and they will have a story of a posture they were lost in, felt no hope of improvement and one day something just clicked. Sometimes it’s just discovering what muscles to use, and finding those muscles finally strong enough to do something new. It’s why doing only a small percentage of the posture right is far more valuable than doing all of it wrong. Because when all that trying the right way bears fruit, it is a fantastic feeling. It is worth waiting for.
I compare it to hiking up a mountain. At altitude, sometimes you are walking so slowly you think, “I can’t possibly get to the top of a mountain moving this slowly.” But then you realize, the ONLY way you’re getting to the top of the mountain is by moving that slowly. You can’t run or you’d pass out. There are no shortcuts. So you have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. And you get there. Just like yoga. Although in yoga, you are far less likely to be hit by lightning.
The whole process, if you embrace it, also frees you from the usual social pressures, the need to compete against others or some defined standard. Trying to compete with anyone else in the room is pointless because everyone is in a different place in their life/practice. Once you realize everyone is so focused on their own practice, you also realize no one cares how you look or how accomplished you are at the postures. You can tap into the collective spirit and energy of the class and let go of all the usual worries. You can channel your competitive instincts against your perceived limitations and take them on every day.
And that is something worth striving toward.