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Grace in the Park

I signed up a couple weeks ago at the local Bikram studio, for the intro package. It's a deal at $29 for a month of unlimited classes. I have gone only twice in two weeks, and may not go again. Bikram reminds me why I enjoy a home practice so much. The 90 minute routine of 28 postures and 2 breathing exercises is completed in a very hot room. I begin dripping sweat about 1/3 of the way through the workout. The instructor is giving incessant, droning instructions, repetitive but neverending like a river. Constantly the demands come. Some of the instructions I can do, others I cannot. I sweat and keep trying. I strain and push and work at it. There is no flow other than the instructors voice which will not shut up for a moment.

In the shower line a tanned, just-retired doctor had a few things to say about his experience with Bikram. He said he'd been practicing for about 6 years and that he thinks he understands what Bikram the man was trying to accomplish with his teachings. He said that Bikram was not trying to make it easy on us with his yoga practice. American minds are so busy anyway, so the ranting instructor and "impossible" heat are just adding to the chaos that is already going on inside. He said that the point of the whole exercise was to be the candle flame burning steady in a tempest. Bikram isn't trying to lighten the load on our minds. He is trying to overhwelm our minds so we can get past them.

How much sooner I become the still bright flame when I am not beset with absurd heat and instructor overload. What I get out of Bikram is a reminder of a clear set of instructions for a few asanas that I can then practice on my own, modify as I please, and do in reasonable temperatures without anyone yelling at me. The routine starts with a few showy poses that requre great core strength. No core, no do those. Later postures are easier but deeper than the openers, and help people build toward completing the earlier tests. As time wears on I appreciate more and more how Bikram's choice of asanas really does strengthen the important muscles and joints of the body.

Of course, the man probably wouldn't appreciate my integrating his asanas without paying forever for the hot room. Makes him no money. But I am appreciative. Each teacher has something of value to offer.

I am glad that I happened upon Anusara yoga when I did, because it helped me to strengthen my hands after I foolishly injured them. The way that Anusara teaches to put the fingertips on the floor when practicing triangle or forward bend, and switching between squats by bounding upward on the fingertips, is very good for strengthening the hands. The hand grasping in Bikram may also prove valuable for my hands, and I will practice it his way sometimes. Anusara has very clear instructions for hand position and weighting to be used any time the hands are on the ground, for example in hand stand or downward facing dog.

Another thing that I love about Anusara is the principle of Opening to Grace. I practice it any time I practice at all. It may sound religious or fufu, but it is a physical realignment, too, that opens the heart and lifts the crown toward heaven. When you do the physical opening, and the Grace enters, you will feel it.

I find it most interesting to constrast the differences between yoga schools when they come up. For example. In doing standing backbends, Anusara teaches to hold the head in line with the rest of the spine, and Bikram teaches to let the head hang back loosely. Both are useful to me. Anusara teaches never to fully lock the knees (they're always terribly worried about how I "hyperextend" my knees), and Bikram teaches to lock them all the way and trust them. And guess what, my knees are just fine, and I am losing out on the best mechanics of my body if I always do as Anusara says. Much as I love the teachings of John Friend.

So I practice all this in the neighborhood park, behind the elementary school. It's especially quiet on weekends. I come home tingling. I don't have to carry a mat or towel or water bottle. I don't need a shower afterward. While I'm in the park, a few people pass by and they are generally friendly. People throw tennis balls for their dogs. People stand around and smoke. I figure, if they aren't embarassed to smoke in public, I'm not embarassed to show my practice.

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