you don’t need to suffer

In the Bikram world, we talk a lot about pain, about suffering.

Your neck might hurt a little bit…. your back is going to hurt like hell, don’t be scared ….. elbows are supposed to hurt…. For goodness sake, it’s nicknamed the “torture chamber!”

There’s this masochistic mentality in Bikram yoga that the more you suffer, the more you gain. It’s one cultivated by Bikram himself (too many examples to list), and it trickles down and shapes every teacher and many students. I know I’m guilty of this a thousand times over. Students rave about how the teacher “kicked their ass,” how they “died,” even that the teacher was a Dominatrix or a Nazi.

Bikram yogis, like many athletes, find pride in the toughness, in the difficulty of the task. As teachers, we’ve been groomed to become bulletproof, fireproof.  The problem is that, of course, we treat our yoga practice like it’s a punishment.

Nobody looks forward to punishment. We fear it, we avoid it. So even as we take steps towards healing ourselves by making the decision to come to class and practice, we stunt the possibility of growth by approaching it from a mind and heart full of fear and the expectation of pain. How much change can possibly happen under those circumstances, when you are holding yourself back?

Mary Jarvis, who has taught Bikram yoga for 29 years and owns Global Yoga in San Francisco, pointed out to us recent training graduates that we should never revel in cruelty and that having students think of you as cruel should not and does not mean you taught a good strong class. You do not have to suffer to have a strong class and to receive the benefits of yoga.

Teaching yoga, like practicing, should be about love and healing and compassion. Instead of focusing on pain, she says, focus on the possibility that something magnificent and transformative is happening. And she’s right. As a teacher, I am there to lead the class. If I come with the goal of killing my students I am failing them. I am there to inspire them to believe that they have the ability to change themselves.

I tried teaching class yesterday with this wisdom of Mary’s in mind, in the hopes that it would help me to find that balance between pushing people to their edge (in order to accomplish change) and pushing students over the edge. I have no measurable way to tell if it worked, but I think it did.

What a great way to teach my 30th class!