I used to think Bikram yoga was the only yoga worth doing so much so I called it “the yoga.” Thing is, I hadn’t ever done any other yoga.
Then I went to a non-heated vinyasa based class and the teacher started by reading about a Niyama. I thought to myself “what is this, yoga church?” She guided us through a series of Sun Salutations. None of the famous/infamous 26 postures of Bikram could be teased into or out of that reverent, but confused first sun salutation of mine. (Okay, maybe one, that forward fold). Though I had been practicing Bikram six times a week for four years at that point, I signed up for a beginner’s series at this unbranded studio. A few sessions in, I started to question my devotion to 105 plus degrees, scripted dialogue, booty shorts, and those 26 postures.
Don’t get me wrong. I have an inexplicable respect for this first yoga that I ever practiced and those early teachers in Boston and Phoenix who guided me toward building an actual reality based relationship with my body. Those teachers and that practice taught me to anchor myself to the present through gaze, breath, and asana.
I am grateful. It’s just that once I experienced something else, well, I knew there was something more.
As I packed my sweaty bag and got off the Bikram train, I wondered if perhaps I would explore and come back. Maybe I would explore and leave behind that middle of the mat, lock your knee, don’t move practice all together.
Turns out, I didn’t leave, not completely, but I no longer preach the gospel of 26. I practice strict Bikram probably once a season. Mostly out of a sense of nostalgia and because I miss one of the best yoga teachers, who happened to be Bikram (and other yoga) trained that I have ever met, Brooke Sterling.
Recently I came across a book that brought back so many of my early Bikram/Yoga memories. Hell Bent by Benjamin Lorr is raw, honest, profoundly human, hilarious, edgy, and insightful like “the yoga.”
In one reading, I experienced 1,000 Bikram classes. Somehow Lorr tapped into the sheer insanity and outright genius of “the yoga” in his book.
Though my path has led me to 1,008 other asanas, a series of salutations to the moon, sun, and back, to chanted and tranced- out classes, to tongue curling, and candle gazing meditations- Lorr’s book brought me home to that very first time I stood, toes and heels together, eyes fixed on my own vulnerable image in the mirror, knuckles locked underneath my chin, inhaling stale, burning, freedom laced air.