When I first started practicing Bikram yoga, I stood in the back of the class to learn from the people standing in front. In the beginning, this technique was helpful; however, months later I still hid in the back of the class because it felt safe and easy.
Over time I became more comfortable, gradually moving my mat around the room and eventually ending up in the front of the class. No longer feeling awkward or shy, I noticed that one of the things blocking me from moving out of my safe zone was this feeling of anxiety about being next to the yoga mega stars standing in the front of the class. I didn't want to embarrass myself while at the same time I believed that somehow the state of my yoga practice would have a negative impact on the person standing next to me.
Four years into my Bikram yoga practice, and I can't even fathom thinking in this way anymore. First of all, and this is a huge lesson to learn, nothing anyone does in the yoga room has any direct impact on my practice unless I choose to make it so. The only thing that affects how I do yoga is whatever is going on in my head and how I choose to react. This is a truth that is not only valid in the yoga room but in your life.
Secondly, there is no better or worse yogi. The spirit of each person holds very special medicine and standing near someone allows you to have unique access to the wisdom they hold within their body. Believing that yoga is all about how well you do a pose is one way to limit and separate oneself from a place of interconnection -- a profound experience that has no expectations, measurements, or end results in mind.
I don't know when I finally began to understand the true nature of the yoga room, but one of the things that influenced my transformation is this idea of the "permission friend." In the yoga room, a "permission friend" is someone who may have more experience, appear more centered, takes greater risks, and exhibits a great deal of strength or flexibility. Standing next to this kind of person in the yoga room, stretches you from where you are now into something new.
In life, a "permission friend" encourages you to go places you have never been before because they act as a role model for something you have yet to experience. They give you permission to seek a kind of excellence that isn't about winning or losing but about finding the most beautiful expression of who you are in each moment.
Growth happens by stretching yourself beyond what feels safe and easy. This year, I hope you too will seek out and stand next to those people in your life, "permission friends," who will challenge you to grow in ways you've never dared.
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.