Twice a year, March and November, Bikram Yoga Boston holds a thirty day challenge – thirty classes in thirty days – to raise money for Dana Farber Cancer Center and to entice people to do more yoga. Although the ultimate goal is thirty classes in thirty days, less frequent practitioners are encouraged to create more realistic challenges; perhaps coming twice a week instead of once, five times a week instead of three. But what challenge exists for a zealot like me, since I already practice every day when I am in town.
On Saturday morning of challenge day two, the hot room is crowded and I wind up placing my mat in the front row. I dislike being in the front row. I tell others it’s because I can see only parts of me in the mirror, but in truth I don’t like the front row because it is hotter and the air is still; the ceiling fans barely make an impression on the bodies strung tight against the mirror. The front row is the scene of my greatest struggles. The only time I was so faint I had to escape the room, I was in the front row; the only time I was so hot I had to move my position mid-class, I was in the front row.
All of these trials race through my mind as I arrange my mat and towels. My body looms large so close to the mirror, my middle aged defects reflect back at me, brutally large. As I warm-up I realize what my March challenge needs to be: thirty days of class in the front row.
The month is more than half over and I have claimed the front row every day. The first few days I mourned passing my preferred spot under the fan. Midway through class, when some teachers accelerate the fans to provide a dose of relief, I bemoaned how little breeze swept over me. But I also realized that when I practice under the fan, I continually gauge the air movement. It is a welcome distraction but a distraction nonetheless. In the first row the fan is irrelevant and I have one less obstruction to my meditation.
The true virtue of practicing in the front row is focus. Although it is difficult to see my entire body in one view, I can concentrate on a particular point (that dreaded knee that will never lock) with laser sharpness. In the last month every one of my postures has improved, the balance postures most of all.
I am confident that I will remain in the front row for the remainder of my challenge. The real question is whether I will drift back under the fan when the challenge is over, or adopt the front row as my new normal. Only time will tell. The point of a challenge is to stretch my practice. Day after day in the front row I have lost all discomfort being there. I can choose that line if I want, I can slip back under the fan, or I can select an entirely different perspective in the hot room. For when we best our fears, however insignificant they may be, we grow stronger. We have more good choices available to us, which provide us more paths to pursue our goals.