Hatha yoga, this thousands of years old practice, has been called “the yoga of willpower.” Just doing it strengthens our will, an attribute of mind. When we have the positive experience of being able to do more than we expected, our confidence and self-esteem get a boost, fostering a more positive mind. We begin including positive thoughts about ourselves, and allow negative self-talk to fade away. Our practice strenthens our mind.
According to Bikram, the mind has five aspects which as they develop, bring equanimity to the mind. These are: Faith, Self-control, Determination, Concentration, and Patience. Each of these five develop by practicing Bikram’s yoga.
The roots of Vedanta philosophy ask us to believe in ourselves and believe in God. Karma yoga, the yoga of action, is knowing your gift and using it. No one can force you to do what’s not for you. In the Bhagvad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna, “It is better to follow your own calling imperfectly than follow another’s perfectly. If death should come while following your own path, this is surely better than living with the fear and anguish of following a false path.” (3:35) When we’re forced to do something that is against our own nature, our soul is unhappy, there is no peace. When the soul is unhappy, pain begins to trouble the body as well. Rather than change your ways to conform with the world, you must eventually find a way to express your truth from your heart regardless of the world.
What makes your soul happy? What is your goal? Since the rest of the world doesn’t care what your soul wants, it is up to you to find out. If you are struggling with these issues, engage in hatha yoga practice, and in the context of your practice–asana, meditation–you will soon find the Faith–your foundation or roots–to go in any direction in your life. As Bikram says, “If you believe it, it will work better. If you don’t believe it, it will happen anyway. The longer something takes to work, the longer it lasts.”
When we are lacking in self-control, materialistic attachments, sexual attachments, and “fun” will divert your attention from your path. Yoga practice, by developing a sound body, helps us develop a sound mind which is more conducive to positive thoughts. When we have positive thoughts, we are more likely to be grateful, generous, and loyal. According to Bikram, loyalty and gratitude are two of the most important inner attitudes to have. They help us keep our priorities straight–helping us to be supremely sensitive to others.
What is the connection between Bikram yoga and our emotions? When we have receive messages from our environment, they are conveyed through the nervous system via biochemical reactions to all our cells. When we have no self-control, we will be at the mercy of our biochemistry–good news stimulates “be happy” and bad news stimulates “be depressed” reactions. However, through asana practice, we begin to develop self-control , and whether the news is good or bad, a kind of stability is established in our biochemistry that enables us to not overreact to external events. We become able to “keep our cool,” and keeping things in perspective, we can develop an effective, appropriate response.
The story goes that Jesus studied with a guru in Joya, India from the ages of 12 to 30, then went to Tibet. After being persecuted in Tibet for preaching self-realization and God-realization, his disciples helped him return to Jerusalem, where he met with even stronger challenges. Jesus still taught us to turn the other cheek. People were jealous of him and tried to tear him down, but no one could take Jesus’ peace away from him because he was living in higher cosmic consciousness.
Another example of living in higher consciousness is that when Ghandhi was shot, he said “Jai Ram,” which roughly translates to “Amen.” In other words, he had the equanimity of mind to be in a state of love and devotion even upon being shot, and died with God’s name on his lips. And yet another example of someone who has become imperturbable because of his devotion is Ishar Chandra, the vice chancellor of Calcutta University. Bikram once saw him hide himself behind a wall rather be seen by, and therefore embarass, a man passing by who owed him money. What love, what sensitivity, for a man of such power!
Bikram’s talk about determination emphasizes “stick with it.” First, you have to know what your goal or destination is. Then you have to keep working towards your goal until you achieve it, without giving up. Yes, there will be bad or difficult times. Life is like waves in the ocean–up and down. If you wait long enough, the good comes. It’s a matter of finding skillful means to deal with the challenges.
For example, look at a difficult marriage. If the husband is working hard for the family but isn’t succeeding, the wife shouldn’t give up, but rather she should show moral support so he doesn’t give up. However, if the husband has alcohol or drug problems, the wife should ignore him and let him burn himself. Saying something in that event can make it worse. Since one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel, there should be a limit, a boundary in love. Beyond that limit, bad behavior can not be tolerated.
If you lose your self respect, you’re losing yourself. Bikram recommends: never make yourself cheap or expendable. Don’t go “to the basement.” Don’t invite negative people into your life. Ask yourself, “Who am I? Why have I come to this earth as a human being?” and stay concentrated on the activity that arises from your questions.
Concentration is an important precursor to meditation. It is difficult for many of us to sit still, it is even more difficult to keep our mind on just one thing for even 10-12 seconds. Without hatha yoga, we normally use only 3-5% of our bodies. With hatha yoga, we reenergize, revitalize and reorganize the body and become able to use 100% of the body.
The ancients created hatha yoga to prepare the body to sit still so the mind could be still. They modeled the postures after animals, and endowed the postures with supernatural powers. For example, the cobra posture was modeled after the animal with the strongest spine in the world, therefore in performing the posture, you develop a strong spine. The camel posture creates space in the throat so that like a camel, you don’t need as much water. The tortoise posture brings the body close and compact so the heart doesn’t have to pump as hard as normal, which relaxes the heart. In fact, if you breathe like a tortoise–2 minutes for each inhale, 2 minutes for each exhale, the tortoise endows you with long life. (Work your way up to this.)
The word “Ha Tha” conveys balance of opposites: Sun and Moon, right and left, male and female, warm and cool. Without the sun, there is no prana or life force. Without the moon to cool, there is too much energy and the object burns up. Once body/mind is in balance, it becomes easier to sit still, concentrate and enter meditation. These capabilities develop out of hatha yoga practice, particularly Bikram’s series, in which concentration is aroused from deep within your most internal self to perform the postures.
Determination and patience go hand in hand. Once you set your mind on your goal, and work with determination towards it, you need patience to ride the waves of life. With the fruits of hatha yoga practice–a good body and a good mind–you have the tools to reach your soul. In a Bikram yoga class, your patience is developed, because you can’t possibly accomplish the postures in one session. You develop a sense that effort over time brings the results that are truly satisfying and nourishing to the soul. When you please your soul, it releases more of itself to you. Then you become able to serve your Self and God and accomplish what you were created to do in this lifetime.