You hear it all the time in class: “focus one point in the mirror”. And sometimes: “don’t even blink your eyes”. These words may sound a little strange to you, maybe even silly, but I love these words. These words changed my life.
My name is Anni. I’ve been teaching at Bikram Yoga Montreal for a few years now, and many of you have already heard my story. I first came to Bikram yoga about 8 years ago, broken. Or at least, almost broken, on my way towards a complete breakdown. I was stressed out, extremely anxious, and a severe insomniac. People who knew me back then would probably read this and be very surprised to hear it. Because as I went through my umpteenth night of no sleep, trapped by my own mind incessantly telling me that I would never be good enough, I still kept it together on the outside. I still did well at work, I still had fun with friends, I still trained for my next marathon. My gift, and ultimately my curse, was that I knew how to hide it all really well, and ‘keep it together’.
Another one of my gifts was that I listened. Really well. As a child I was always a good student: I listened to the teacher and did exactly as I was told. And although I rebelled against this to some extent at certain points in my life, I eventually came to accept that it really was a big part of what makes me, me. Fast forward to my first Bikram yoga class, and I was told to focus one point in the mirror. OK. Don’t even blink your eyes. Um… OK.
You mean I can’t even wipe that bead of sweat trickling down my face?
I don’t remember every detail of my first class (other than I did NOT enjoy it – I’ll save that story for another time), but I am fairly sure I wiped my sweat off no less than 50 times. Of course, being a really good listener I tried to be still. I really tried. But the sweat got the better of me. It was too ticklish, too uncomfortable, too distracting, and I reasoned: surely when the teacher said to be still, he didn’t mean to not wipe the sweat off… right? Cause I was really very good in between all the wiping. He didn’t actually mean that I should ignore every itch, every bead of sweat that trickled on my head, down my face, into my ear…?
I kept listening though. I tried focusing one point in the mirror rather than what the person in front me was doing. I tried really hard to not even blink my eyes, which at the time felt impossible. And as much as I made excuses, I knew I had not conquered the stillness thing. And being the type-A gal that I am (or was – I think), I knew that eventually I would have to just do it. Not because I thought it would be good for me, but because I could not admit defeat. So one day in class, I just decided that no matter how itchy, no matter how much sweat pours down my face, into my hair, into my eyes and into my ears, I’m just going to ignore it, and not move. At all. Whether I liked it or not.
So I did it.
I wish I could sit here and tell you it was wonderful, that a light bulb went off and my life changed in that instant, but in all honesty it was pure torture. My mind screamed at me for 90 minutes to scratch my head, to wipe my sweat, to look at anything other than one point in the mirror. It took everything I had, but for the first time in a long time, I managed to ignore my mind. Then next class I ignored it again. Then again. One day, lying down in Savasana, I realized that it had been a while since I even felt an itch or the trickling of sweat. Surely I was sweating just as much, if not more, than before. Nothing had changed physically. And yet everything had changed mentally. It hit me that the need to wipe, to scratch, to look around the room, was never a physical need, it was a mental one. And for the first time in years, for 90 minutes a day, I was no longer trapped by my own my mind. By forcing my body to be still, it eventually just became still. Magically, without me even trying, my mind just followed. It no longer screamed at me to do its bidding. For 90 glorious minutes everyday, I was free.
I heard this awesome quote at my teacher training: “are you scratching because you’re itchy, or are you itchy because you want to scratch?” Therein lies the key. Iyengar says “when the mind is controlled and still, what remains is the soul”. I love that quote, it speaks volumes to me. As absolutely cheesy as this sounds, the stillness I found for the first time in Bikram yoga – the stillness of my body, which was followed by the stillness of my mind – led me to know, to feel, to connect, to my soul.
Focus one point in the mirror. What do these words mean to you? For me it’s not really focusing, it’s… looking past yourself, looking beyond who you think you are. Beyond the mirror. Beyond the physical. Beyond the mind. Because you are not the image in the mirror. You are not your body. And you are not your thoughts. Well then, that obviously begs the question: who are you? Don’t even blink your eyes… and you may just find out.