I used to be a gym rat. My daily gym routine consisted of reading 2-3 magazines while I rode the bike or did the elliptical machine. I’d also talk to several of my gym buddies, making the experience last well over an hour and a half. That was fine, but the workouts never allowed my mind to be still. Today, I’ve left the gym behind. Instead I run (sometimes solo, sometimes with my running peeps), or do yoga. Pretty low-key, one track activities with little room for noise and distractions.
Except of course, distractions in the form of head traffic. I’ve found that while it’s easy to leave home or work for 45 minutes to run, it isn’t always easy to escape from concerns of daily life. And while yes, I’ve worked out one or two problems while on a run, I’ve also carried burdens and concerns with me for miles and returned home feeling no better. To this, the yogis of the world would say that sometimes the mind just needs time to rest. Yet we’re so used to constantly thinking that we don’t ever stop to think about this concept. I credit Bikram Yoga for offering this revelation and giving me the opportunity to do so during each 90 minute class. The goal is that this practice can be used in other situations- offering peace and calm on a run, in a courtroom, in a car, grocery line or wherever. As Bikram himself says, “Learn how to control mind, learn how to control life.”
First, a word about Bikram Yoga. 90 minutes of yoga in a 105 degree room is not always fun. Many times my mind wanders to thoughts of how much I hate what I’m doing, hate the instructor, hate the girl in front of me for having an orange mat. Pretty much everyone in class has similar thoughts, which is why the instructors remind us often about the “yogic experience.” We are told it is a “moving meditation” and all we have to do is listen to the script. (The exact same dialog is read each class, making the experience robotic and predictable so that we can effectively shut our minds off.) Each instructor has their own way of telling us to stop our head traffic; sometimes I listen, sometimes not.
Today, however, I was captivated by the accent and philosophies of our guest instructor, Tomask from Poland. I tried hard to focus on his dialog and have a true yogic class. Yet, like most days, thoughts and worries from my life joined me on my yoga mat. One of these thoughts was interrupted by a mini- lecture between poses. Tomask told us, “When you come to studio, you leave your shoes at the door.” (It’s true, we all leave our shoes at the entrance; a rule to this point I thought had to do with keeping the floors clean.) “You leave your shoes, and with your shoes, you must also leave your troubles. We all have troubles. In here, we are all the same. We sweat the same, we breathe the same. But here, you have only your mind. Your mind is key to peace or key to trouble. You must turn your mind off so you turn troubles off.”
I really liked two things about his lecture. First of all, the reminder that hello… we all have troubles. Yet, how many times in the middle of sweaty yoga classes, cold and icy runs, hard marathons, boring meetings, or stressful days do we feel as if we are the only ones going through such stuff? Sure, logically, we know that not to be true, but when it feels true, it makes everything seem worse. Yet, Tomask hit the nail on the head; we are all the same in our troubles and struggles and desire for inner peace. Somehow, in the middle of that sweaty yoga studio, realizing that made me feel just a bit better.
Secondly, another bit of obvious logic from my Polish Yogi: “Your mind is key to peace or key to trouble.” Again, not an entirely new concept, but when this information is delivered with a cool accent in the middle of a yoga class, you really have nowhere to go with it. Consequently, it tends to sink in. I decided I could turn the negative “I hate this heat and I hate these poses” part of my mind off, and instead try to enjoy myself. Similarly, I thought about cold Wisconsin runs that challenge my body, mind, and spirit. Maybe if I learn how to turn off my mind, and its reminders of things I don’t like, I’d be better off.
I know the revelations I had today aren’t a guarantee for a stress and problem-free life. Yet, I know that as I run through this thing called life, my shoes collect a lot of junk. So from now on, I’m going to remember that wherever I am, I always have the option to leave them at the door.