Oh, wait. Maybe the reason you're feeling a bit stunned and terrified has to do with none of the above.
Maybe it's your hot neighbor. Or better yet: the teacher standing up on the podium there. Or the day when you unexpectedly find yourself side-by-side with that well-built, well-practiced Bikram instructor, their lovely muscles shiny with sweat and oh-so-close to your very own mat.
Throughout pranayama breathing, you find yourself sporadically glancing their way. Your eyes meet for a moment in the mirror, as a rush of embarrassment floods your cheeks. Great: now your face is red from the heat and the shame of revealing your interest in the other yogi's currently seriously-flexible shoulders and audible throat-like-a-valve inhales.
Let's be honest: we've all experienced intimidation in the hot room. There are those days where we wish the notion of competition didn't get in the way of a posture's integrity, and we push past our edge for the wrong reasons.
Or, in my case, I look around the room after class to discover a teacher who I find rather intimidating executing beautiful, bold, sturdy handstands. I mean, we're talking muscular strength in all its glory. Balance and grace and tenacity all rolled into one vigorous posture. And this is after class, people! Most everyone else in the room is half-asleep, doggedly making their way to the door, or oogling in his direction.
Don't get me wrong, but I felt a tinge of jealousy as I watched him fling his legs skyward with athletic control and freeze in the statuesque spot. Jeez, I thought to myself. I wonder if I could ever do that?
It was a momentary blend of feeling like a miserably-inexperienced yogi with little potential, but then simultaneously realizing how long it must have taken to develop such a skill. It was inspiring.
In the same way that I've been intrigued by the teacher since my first class with him -- the calm, smooth tone of his voice as he delivers the dialogue, his fierce demands of yogis during class (especially his strictness when it comes to unifying the class), and (perhaps most of all), his bald, lovely, perfectly rounded head. His physique looks a bit like a statue itself, I've sometimes thought. And combined with his stern expression and posture, he seems a bit like an ancient Egyptian or some expert yoga guru or something.
A couple of days ago I experienced a breakthrough about this guy, though. For all of his outwardly exotic allure, his severity while leading class, and his mastery as a practicing yogi, I could make an equally compelling case for his normalcy.
He might sit behind the studio desk looking mysterious in his head wrap, but I'm pretty sure he doesn't mean intimidation by it.
And hey, when it comes to the yoga, we're all getting the same benefits, as long as we're working at our maximum.
It's just as Bikram reminds us: we should bring no expectations to the hot room. It should be a place where we go to lose, not boost, our own egos.
Truly falling in love with Bikram means bringing humility to our mat every time we practice -- and using that lack of pretentiousness to build a strong collective energy, an inspiring sense of grace, comfort, and love in the room. We use our humble hearts to welcome others -- no matter their level of flexibility or strength -- to the power and beauty of yoga.
The other night as I was leaving the studio after an energetic class with Mr. Bald Yoga Guru Guy, I made my way quietly to the door, ready to slip out unnoticed and into the post-Bikram bliss of the rest of my evening. Much to my surprise, he turned to me with a sheepish grin, a cheerful wave of his hand, and joyfully exclaimed, "Nice job tonight!"
I felt a little burst of butterflies in my stomach, the excitement of being recognized filling my core. In that little moment, I was so proud, so thankful for the practice. Grateful for the guidance of exceptional teachers, and for their mystique as a tool for bringing me to my knees and boosting me up at the same time.
Who knows: maybe someday we'll be doing those handstands side by side in the Bikram studio, Mr. Bald Yoga Guru Guy. You just never know.
Photo Via Maui Yoga.