1.12.2012

The Enlightening Mat: Turning the Other Way

Reno Sky, Beth Hemmila

Lately, I've been using my Bikram Yoga practice as a laboratory to experiment with my habits. That may sound strange, but if you've been inside a Bikram Yoga studio, quickly you become aware that yogis develop a lot of strange personal habits that they would very much like to keep intact. Some of them are strategic like sitting near air flow and wanting to be in front of the mirror or hidden in the back of class. While other rituals are psychological mind tricks that help people check out of the experience like drinking water at a particular time, always grabbing a tissue, routinely quitting the same posture every class, etc.

When you are sweating your butt off in a hot and humid yoga room, these seemingly insignificant habits can feel like reaching shore after the perfect storm. I'm sure every Bikram yogi will confess to the mini temper tantrum that erupts in one's head when your favorite habit is unknowingly shattered by a teacher or the actions of a fellow student. Letting go is the hardest thing.

I think one of the most surprising things I've noted about myself is how many habits I actually have constructed. One of my ways of dealing with this understanding is developing a sense of humor, and when something outside myself asks me to adjust my habit seeing it as an opportunity to laugh at my silliness.

One habit I've been observing is my insistence on turning clockwise. During the second half of class, after our resting pose, you are asked to sit up and then turn around and face the mirror. My most instinctual movement is to turn clockwise; however, many times I am sitting next to someone who turns counterclockwise, and if we are sitting too close it becomes a sort of dance of who goes first.

So one day I decided to join my classmate sitting next to me and turn counterclockwise every time. Wow was this hard!! First of all my body's interpretation of this new movement was that it took twice as long to do because I was going twice as far. Even though logically I knew that it was the same distance, because it was a new movement this is how my brain registered the experience. My brain was saying, "This is so much harder. To be fast and efficient you should move clockwise." And if my brain's argument wasn't enough to convince me to change back, my body felt seasick turning counterclockwise.

The brain doesn't like new. It likes old, familiar, tried and true. Use the thing that has worked in the past is the brain's philosophy. So if changing a little habit like turning the other way will create an all out rebellion in your body and mind, think about how much determination it takes to change those long held habits we have with drinking, smoking, sugar, anger, negative thinking, or self-doubt. Overwhelming, no?

My way of dealing with the landslide of gigantic habits I'd like to transform is to not get caught up in the hugeness of it but just chip away one bit at a time. And maybe by starting out small and turning the other way in my yoga habits, I will have the platform to tackle those colossal habits that seem to get in the way of me being fully alive.

The Enlightening Mat is a blog series exploring moments of awareness that come to Beth Hemmila while practicing Bikram Yoga.

To shop for yoga charms that celebrate the different poses click here to view this blog post Sterling Silver Charms for Bikram Yoga Postures

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