“They are a reminder - and an indictment. While we were standing here, crying out "Crucify him!," we were clutching the branches that we used to sing out "Hosanna." The palms reveal our very human duplicity. How easily we turn. How quickly we pivot from faithful, to faithless...from belief to doubt...from being disciples to being betrayers.”
My spiritual journey these last forty days of Lent have been a continuation of what I started 77 days ago when I started my Bikram 101 challenge (I began on January 9th).In fact, there are so many parallels between practicing Bikram yoga and my Catholic faith.
No matter where I go in the world, even if I don’t understand a lick of what is being said, I can still participate in the 26 plus 2 or the Mass.Some days, I am totally disconnected or distracted while other days I walk out feeling sheer exhilaration, heightened awareness, and pure inspiration.I hear the words uttered from the person in the front yet I am certain that I internalize those words differently from the person next to me.I move as one in the crowd yet we are all at different points in our journey.As things draw to a close and I find myself on my knees – in camel or after receiving the Eucharist – I feel the most vulnerable yet the most connected to the Divine.
And at the end, I receive a blessing:Namaste!May almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.Amen.
It is advised that Lent be spent in prayer, penitence, almsgiving, and self-denial.This year, I found it easier to do these acts since I’ve been practicing them for 90 minutes in the sweat box daily.
Prayer?A 90-minute moving meditation.
Penitence?As I work my way through the tightness and 18-years of scar tissue in my knees in fixed firm, I find myself saying, pleading, “Please knees, forgive me for what I’ve put you through.I promise, I won’t abuse you in the way I used to.Please open up, please release, please heal.”
Almsgiving?I may not be giving wealth but I certainly give my energy and focus to those around me.“Oh no neighbor, please don’t sit down!Stay strong!Here, I have some energy, take it!Come join us when you are ready.”
Self-denial?“No mat. No water. No towel. No hair. No costume. No fidgeting.These things are all irrelevant to your practice.All you need is breathe and stillness,” one teacher always tells us in between postures.
When I first started practicing, I thought she was certifiably insane but now I’ve come to realize that she’s right.I’ve discovered a pattern with myself:when I’m uncomfortable – too hot, too weak, too frustrated – I am not still.Denying the body to move in mountain pose and savasana helps to still the mind and strengthen the spirit.
I am reminded daily of my humanity:my imperfections, my shortcomings, my inabilities.How is it that in the span of a day my body is different, my mind is different, my practice is different?How is it that I can balance on one leg today and fall out of it tomorrow?How come I touched my forehead to my knee in Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee pose yesterday but I can barely graze the tip of my nose to my knee today?Whaaaaat?!I have become aware of how easily I do pivot from praising myself to berating myself, from believing in myself to doubting myself.It’s really incredible how quickly my mind turns on me.
“Your mind is like a rabid dog,” one teacher said.Yes, I see that now.
Yet despite these quick turns of my mind, I have also discovered daily the one constant that never changes.Inevitably, at some point in the 90 minutes, I experience doubt, panic, or weakness.I find that despite these feelings, I still have the mental clarity to search into my dark eyes in the mirror, to take a deep breath, and reach into the deep well within myself, and access the power that I know I have but don’t always believe in.It is the Divine within me, the Spirit that is greater than my humanity.When I tap into this well, I know that everything will be alright, that everything happening in this moment is all that is supposed to be happening, and to accept and be at peace with it even if it is not happening the way I want it to happen.
Next Sunday, the season of Lent culminates with the celebration of Easter, my favorite holy day.The period of fasting and waiting is over.At Easter, I rejoice in the message of mercy, hope, love, and renewal.Easter reminds me that I have to go through suffering, tragedy, and pain before I can be renewed.
Bikram says, “In order to get to heaven you have to go through hell.”
In order to kill my “self” as thedancingj wrote earlier, I have to peel the layers away like the skin of an onion.Each new day is a clean slate; I rise up from sleep and I am in some sense, reborn.Ninety minutes of daily practice teaches me that I have a chance to connect to myself and connect to the Divine.Each new day, I have an opportunity to try again, to reach further, to dig deeper.
Yoga means union of mind, body, and spirit; communion with God and communion with each other.Faith is the same no matter how you practice it.So whether my hands are in prayer at church or in half tortoise, I ask for grace from the Divine so that I may be compassionate, merciful, loving, and at peace towards others but most especially, towards myself.
ActionJoJo has been a practicing Catholic all her life (except for that momentary lapse in college when she thoroughly questioned and eventually reaffirmed her faith) and a regular practitioner of Bikram since March 2009.A native New Yorker, she practices regularly at Bikram Yoga Union Square and is welcomed on the weekends at Bikram Yoga Astoria.Outside of the sweatbox, she enjoys eating, cooking, traveling, and spending time with her family.She dreams of hosting her own travel show and becoming a bikram teacher one day.Find out how she stays out of trouble at http://actionjojo.blogspot.com and check out some of her travel videos at http://www.tripfilms.com/users/thank_you_guppy.
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