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Leah wanders among the students, propelling the class forward even as she stops to adjust an arm angle here or perform a thyroid-massaging chin tuck there. She urges noncompetition, with oneself ("However you do the posture today is how you should do the posture") and with others ("How can you compare yourself to your neighbor? You don't have the same body!"). Her monologue becomes a mantra, returning my oft-wandering focus back to the pose I'm attempting. Where is my center of balance? Can I feel my spine stretch if I imagine my head and tailbone pulling in opposite directions? How does my alignment shift when I turn my foot three degrees to the right?
Some people criticize Bikram for being too arduous, but as with all yoga, much of the responsibility falls to the individual. I welcome this opportunity to eschew faster, higher and stronger in favor of deeper. In this regard, the simplicity of Bikram's poses is one more way to avoid being distracted from myself.
To spend this much time slowly and gently stretching is a luxury that I enjoy nowhere else in my life. At the end of the class, after Leah has thanked us for letting her teach and told us to congratulate ourselves for getting up so early, I feel calm and loose and energized. Muscle kinks have dissipated. I feel more powerful, and for the rest of the day standing straight is a relief rather than a discipline.
As for the singing, I still wouldn't mind complete silence in those final minutes of rest, but I'm starting to see it as Leah's goodwilled send-off into the day. And every week I find myself eternally grateful that at the very least, Leah can carry a tune.
--By Lise Funderburg