By John Williams
There’s a young woman named Ari at the yoga studio where I recently began practicing in Kansas City. We’ve forged the most unlikely of friendships, at least based my expectations and experience. She’s an extremely proficient, 5’ tall, regional yoga champion. I’m a 6’2”, 53 year-old, former bull rider. She’s beautiful, Asian, and a dedicated vegan. I’m hillbilly, weathered, and a far-from-mindful eater. She develops software; I develop real estate. She’s graceful, poised and flexible; I’m clumsy, tense and tight. Ari comes to class 4 or 5 days a week, and I’m attempting the Bikram 101 Challenge. Whenever we’re in class at the same time, we practice alongside one another. She says we remind her of the elephant and the mouse.
The other night after class we were talking about bull riding and Ari said that it must be similar in many ways to yoga. I agreed that they both required balance and strength, courage and determination. Also, they both take place in pretty smelly environments. “But”, I said, “If yoga was like bull riding, when you fell out of a pose yoga would try to kill you. In fact, if yoga was like bull riding, we’d have yoga-fighters hanging around the studio so that they could distract yoga and keep yoga from killing you when you fell out of a pose. If yoga was like bull riding, occasionally you’d get stuck in a posture and yoga would drag you around the room and bash you on the walls until you got loose. Then yoga would try to kill you some more. There’s no killing in yoga!”
But Ari smiled and said, “Actually, there is killing in yoga, but it’s of a different kind. One of the goals of yoga is to bring about the death of the ego – and allow us to better see how connected we are to all things, rather than how different from one another we are.” Damn! I tried to cling to my arguments for the vast difference between yoga and bull riding. I started to argue that bulls are much stronger than yoga, but that’s not true. When you put 33 students in a yoga studio, yoga just gets stronger. If you put 33 cowboys in a chute with a bull, the bull would just give up and be like, WTF?
Also, there’s much less violent thrashing in yoga than in bull riding - unless you’re like me. For me, a Bikram class is pretty much a 90-minute thrash-fest. You know Edgar, the poor farmer whose body gets taken over by an alien in “Men in Black”? The guy who lurches and stumbles and flails around wherever he goes? The guy with no control whatsoever over his motor functions? That’s me in a Bikram class. So, at least for the foreseeable future, the violent thrashing is identical in yoga and bull riding.
Which leaves the actual participation of a bull as the only material difference between bull riding and yoga. I’ve always thought of bull riding as far more humane than bull fighting (just about anything is, actually), but Ari has been sharing her vegan beliefs and her thoughts about animal rights, and she does it in a way that isn’t self-righteous or judgmental. She also brings me some of the best food I’ve ever eaten in my life - and this vegan fare, along with regular attendance at the Bikram studio, seems to be making yoga easier (and if not easier, then better). This young woman, the most unlikely of friends, has become my guide as I explore yoga and the wide range of unexpected consequences and ideas that have sprung from a regular practice. She’s helping me glimpse the higher realms of yoga – unimaginable vistas that might someday be reached if I try hard enough and long enough.
I suppose it’s inevitable that she would find herself guiding a man like me. Ari’s full name is Ariadne. In Greek mythology, Ariadne was the princess that helped a man escape the darkness of a labyrinth – a labyrinth he had entered to do battle with a bull-creature. The labyrinth of the Minotaur.
Everyone is connected.
Everything is yoked.
Today is day 24.
John Williams began practicing Bikram yoga in October 2009. He lives in Kansas City and practices at Bikram Yoga Kansas City. He spends as much time as he can volunteering for Habitat in Central America. His goal is to retire in the next 10 years and work full time doing developmental aid in Africa. He has a 27-year-old daughter he adores. And he loves reading all the Bikram 101 blog entries by people from all over the world. Some days, in class, he can actually hook his foot behind his calf in Eagle. He feels, "Those are pretty good days."