It was roughly two years ago that I took my first Bikram Yoga class. For those of you not familiar with Bikram Yoga, the series consists of two breathing exercises and 26 yoga poses, all performed in a room that is 105 degrees at 40 percent humidity. The 90-minute class seemed extremely daunting the first time that I entered the room and felt the heat, but it only took one class to hook me and keep me coming back for more. I have learned a lot about myself, meditation, life, mindfulness, and the human potential in the last two years.
I have always been extremely introverted and suffered from severe social anxiety. Crowds of people have never really been my thing. When meeting new people, I am best described as awkward. It has never been that I do not want to be social and friendly, but my anxiety held me back for a long time. So, when I found myself getting ready to start my first yoga class ever, in a room of 70 people who at least seemed to have some idea of what they were doing, I was intimidated. My self-talk immediately went into anxiety overdrive trying to tell myself that I had just made the biggest mistake of my life.
"You have no idea what you're doing."
"People are laughing at you."
"The instructor probably won't be happy about you bringing the class down."
"It's too hot in here. You can't make it through the whole class."
"If you quit then everybody will know you failed."
However, what I found instead was a group of people who were in it together. Granted, everybody was at their own point on their paths, but I felt accepted. The instructor helped me get into poses the best that I could and was very encouraging. Also, it turned out there were lots of new students so I was not alone in my struggle. After the class, I felt like I had actually accomplished something great.
The following classes became easier to deal with in terms of my anxiety levels. I had a system in which I would get to class early so that I could set up in the back row, and then would stay longer after class to meditate than others after class so that the majority of people were gone by the time I got into the locker room. Again, it wasn't that I wanted to avoid people, just me being awkward with people. This plan worked beautifully for a few months until one day, while I was setting up in my usual spot, one of the instructors encouraged me to move to the front row. I did not want to look afraid so I accepted and moved to the front. I loved it. It was an entirely new perspective on the class and allowed me to push a little outside of my comfort zone.
Again, this became comfortable, and my anxiety had begun to withdraw. That's when another opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone presented itself. Up to this point, I had worn basketball clothes to classes because, having played basketball my entire life, that's what I was comfortable in. On this fateful day, I forgot my shorts. There was not time to get back to my house and still make it to class, so I had to either go home and miss class or buy a pair of the yoga shorts sold at the studio.
I need to stress that calling them shorts is really giving them a lot of credit. They are small; very small. It's basically a man wearing "booty" shorts. Not exactly something I was super excited about. Ironically, the same instructor who got me to move to the front happened to be teaching that day, and with a little encouragement, he was able to convince me to buy them. So I went into class wearing my yoga man booty shorts and set up as far in the back of the class I could. Eventually, I returned to the front row, and because the shorts actually made yoga way easier than my basketball shorts, I continued to wear the yoga shorts.
These days, I love yoga more than ever. I have become friends with instructors and fellow yogis as well. I no longer feel like I need to avoid contact with the other people there, but can instead be friends and get to know them. The point to all of this, and it's the first lesson I learned from doing Bikram Yoga, is that your anxieties can be conquered. That does not necessarily mean that you are going to wake up tomorrow and they will simply be gone; I can only imagine the negative response I would have had if somebody had said to me, "Hey come do this yoga class. Also, there will be 70 people in the room. And, you'll have to set up in the front row. Oh, and of course, I need you to wear these little shorts." Never in a million years would that have happened, but with little steps outside of my comfort zone over time, I am doing that exact thing.
You can use this to destroy your fear. You do not need to go do the absolute craziest thing you can think of right this instant, but you can definitely decide to do something that is a very small step outside of your comfort zone until it becomes part of your comfort zone, and then continue this process until your comfort zone has expanded well beyond what you could have thought was possible.
So, in short, the first lessons learned from my experience with Bikram Yoga is that you can do things you didn't think you could do, and that you should never let your fears stop you from experiencing life. The underlying emotion through all of these steps was fear, and although the fear is there, you learn to be able to do great things despite it. I promise that, in the end, life isn't as scary as your anxiety and fears want you to think it is. Everybody else is in the same boat. Do not beat yourself up too much, take little steps, and the next thing you know, you'll be living the life of your dreams.