I’ve always been a bit of… well, a bit of a scatterbrain. Convinced that I have undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder, I’ve managed to create a method to my scattered madness. It has been typical for me to begin reading a book with so much enthusiasm, while halfway through, another catches my attention and I end up feverishly reading, writing in the margins, only to end up going back to the original object of my desire. Yes, I end up reading both, eventually, but staying focused has always been a true challenge for me.
Since discovering Bikram yoga, I feel as if a lamp has been lit in my scattered mind. This light has been an awakening that I need not judge my imperfections. Perfection is an illusion. Where some may be completely whole and healthy in some areas, they are cracked or broken in others.
Focus, Focus, Focus
As I begin my 90 minute practice in 105 degree room, sweat pours from my nose and from my fingertips, as I cup my hands under my heels for Hands to Feet pose. I’m instructed to bring my forehead to my shins and squeeze so tight that there is no room for light or air. As I rise for the second set, sweat now dripping onto my towel, I try not to think about the (almost humorous) reality that this is only the first posture in the 90 minute series. There is no room for distraction. No room for scattered thoughts, and apparently, no room for light or air. Just focus. Forehead to the shins. I never knew that I had it in me to stay completely focused on one goal.
Stillness Through Movement
“The only thing you’ll get if you sit in Lotus Position for two hours is a fat ass.” ~Bikram Choudhury
Bikram Yoga has been an incredibly transformative tool for concentration and consistency in my very busy life. As a working mother of two, bustling through the high energy and fast pace of New York City- my energy is inevitably scattered. Before becoming a mother, I would sit on my meditation cushion and practice different forms of meditation that I had been taught by my teacher.
After having two children, I would sit on that same cushion in lotus pose, while listening to my Falling Waters CD. The call of “Mommy” would echo through the house. Simultaneously, the dogs would bark adding an extra special touch of urgency. Needless to say, finding time to consistently sit in meditation became extremely challenging.
While the popular view is that Bikram yoga is more closely tied with physical progress, I have found that there are sublime moments where body, mind, and spirit are exquisitely transformed. The physical aspect of this 90 minute moving meditation has brought me to the root cause of my scattered energy: lack of concentration. Through movement, it has helped move me into a deeper level of practicing stillness no matter what is going on around me. No matter what my mind wants, I am in control of my mind on the mat- not the other way around. Bikram yoga has taught me more about mental stillness than anything else in my life.
Leveling The Playing Field
I’ve never been much of an athlete, nor have I had any kind of inclination toward physical competition in any form. I’d always felt rather uncoordinated and not very physically strong in athletic endeavors. Due to lack of confidence, I would give up pretty easily. While yoga is a personal journey inward, I’d be lying if I said that I couldn’t help but notice the incredibly buff young man practicing behind me who appears to be my physical superior in every way; kneeling down, sucking wind, with his hand over his head as he tries to collect his mind and come back to stand. As I hold a pretty solid triangle pose, I feel proud as a peacock. I know, I know… not a very “yogi minded” observation, but hey, it feels damn good to make progress in an area of my life that was so under developed before.
Our bodies and our practice change everyday. The control that we yearn for, and the confidence of yesterday’s class are not part of this journey. Impermanence is all around us, yet we cling to our attachments. My yoga practice has stopped me in my tracks of hope and attachment to outcome and ideas. There is always progress to be made, and change is inevitable. I remember one class where I pressed my forehead firmly to the floor during Standing Separate Leg Stretching. I wanted to yell out, “Look at me! My forehead is on the floor!” Sensing my satisfaction, my instructor affirmed, “Very good, Nicole. Now step your legs in closer and challenge yourself.” That was the end of forehead to the floor for a while.
As I remembered the buff guy down on one knee sucking wind while I relished in my solid triangle pose, I thought “Not so fast!” That was my ego talking. I have been down on one knee many times, while the day before I was the confident yoga rock star.
“Be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe. No less than the trees and the stars. In the noisy confusion of life keep peace in your soul. ~Max Ehrmann
Our yoga practice helps us to be at peace with what is. It helps us to experience our vibrant existence in the present moment, and brings our attention to the true joy in the awareness of our beautiful imperfections. I’m still my scattered self. Patanjali defines concentration as "quieting the mind of its compulsions." Through time and discipline, I have become less scattered, more self aware, and my practice has helped me move more fluidly through focusing on the big picture rather than on the details of distraction.