Our popular contributor Kara-Leah writes about all kinds of things, from home practice and parenting to the etiquettes of yoga class and the ethics of yoga. In this article she reviews a Scott Bischke’s memoir about completing a Bikram Challenge.
by Kara-Leah Grant
Inspired by Scott Bischke’s book Good Camel, Good Life – Finding enlightenment one drop of sweat at a time I took myself off to a Bikram class recently.
I haven’t been in more than a year, and I was curious.
The last few classes I attended, I started class feeling calm and sattvic, and I ended class feeling agitated and rajas.
My mind was busier and louder coming out than it was going in.
Plus the very last class, I fainted.
Only for a moment, as I walked out the door, after taking a good long 15 minutes savasana.
As soon as my butt hit the ground, I came to… with the distinct feeling of being back in my body.
I concluded that right then, Bikram was not the kind of yoga I needed to be doing. It was sending me out of my body, rather than bringing me back in.
A year later, my yoga practice has shifted and changed, and my ability to be conscious of my own tendencies to leave my body means I was able to stay thoroughly grounded and present for the entire class.
And damn if I didn’t enjoy it.
It was yet another illustration to me that finding the right yoga for us at the right time is of utmost importance to our journey, and that what this yoga is can shift and change over our lifetime.
Sometimes it might be Bikram. At other times Astanaga, or Vinyasa Flow, or Kundalini, or none of the Hatha styles at all and instead Bhakti or Karma Yoga.
However, knowing which yoga is right for us at any given time is the tricky part.
Often we have fixed ideas about what we like and don’t like that have nothing to do with what we need or don’t need.
Plus it’s easy to listen to what everybody else has to say about a particular form of Hatha Yoga, like Bikram, or a particular path of yoga, like Bhakti. What’s right for them, may not be right for you. Or me.
Reading Good Camel, Good Life, I was reminded of this.
Scott does a most excellent job of telling the story of a Bikram Challenge he undertakes during a time when his wife is facing serious illness. He holds lightly to the intertwining threads of his story, moving effortlessly between the day-to-day challenges of his life, and the day-to-day challenges of completing sixty Bikram classes in seventy days.
For those of us who may think that Bikram Yoga is all about the ego of the body, Scott shows how his practice has an impact on his experience of life in a way that deepens his connection to All That Is. You might call it spirituality even. All the while, he’s discerning about aspects of the practice, and the man, that don’t sit well with him.
The heavy commercial overtones of Bikram Yoga bug me.
The commercialism might even offend my egalitarian side enough to send me looking for another place to practice, or another activity to undertake. But I choose to set all the outside criticisms and my own concerns aside for a measure that is far more tangible: doing Bikram Choudbury’s yoga sequence makes me feel good – physically, mentally, spiritually.
I have my own evidence that what he teaches is helping me transform into a better person. For me that’s enough.
It’s this straight-up style that makes Scott’s book so engaging – he’s no mindless minion trying to convince anybody of anything, but a thoughtful, insightful man sharing his experience in the hope that it will help someone else find their way, whether to Bikram, or another style of Hatha Yoga.
He also tosses in loads of background information that sheds some light on who Bikram is and how he operates.
There’s the story of how Richard Nixon gave him a green card after Bikram cured him of thrombophlebitis, the story of his yoga empire, and Bikram’s story of the history of yoga. It’s all fascinating, and for someone who may never have done yoga and is thinking of going along to class… it’s illuminating.
As is the way that Scott works in much of the Bikram class dialogue throughout each chapter, taking us from the first breathing exercise to the last, and hitting all 26 postures along the way. It’s a great technique for structuring the book, and gives awesome insight into the nitty-gritty of a Bikram class.
Especially if you’ve never ever done one before.
So if you’ve got a loved one you’re been trying to get along to a Bikram class for awhile now, maybe buy them a copy of Scott’s book.
It definitely got me back to Bikram, and for that I am grateful.
I’ve even gone and bought a concession card again…
You can check out Scott’s Facebook page for Good Camel, Good Life here.
Kara-Leah is a writer and yoga teacher who has always been infinitely curious about the make-up of the human psyche and body. Regular yoga helped her heal and recover from chronic back issues, including a spinal fusion at age 16, and two episodes of psychosis at age 29.
Her daily home yoga practice began in earnest when people kept asking her to teach them yoga. She’s since trained as a teacher with Shiva Rea, and immersed herself in practicing, teaching yoga and writing about yoga. Kara-Leah lives just outside of Queenstown, New Zealand with her son Samuel.
She’s the publisher of The Yoga Lunchbox and published her first book, Forty Days of Yoga – Breaking down the barriers to a home yoga practice in 2013. Her second book, The No-More-Excuses Guide to Yoga, has just been released. She’s also a regular contributor to the Elephant Journal.