There are many things about Bikram yoga that people find peculiar. The most obvious (obviously) is the heat, 105 degrees of pure unadulterated sweat producing heat. Then there’s the carpet, which most people find disgusting at first but, like the heat, eventually come to embrace. Finally, there are the mirrors.
Bikram yoga requires at least one set of mirrors at the front of the room, but most Bikram yoga studios have two or three mirrored walls. While this is standard practice in most major gyms, it has been a sticking point for a lot of non-Bikram yogis and yoginis. The mirrors seem to them like vain temptations, an invitation to admire one’s flesh (while ignoring the mind and spirit) continuously for 90 minutes. The mirror to those who do not understand is nothing more than three walls of vainglory, hubris of the highest order.
However, the mirror is a tool, and like any other tool the mirror can be misused. It’s intended purpose (which I’ll talk about in a minute) is not one of vainglory but of Self-discovery. We can choose to look into the mirror, recognize the beauty of the Self and use that recognition to enhance our understanding of ourselves and others. Or, like Narcissus before us, we can become so enthralled with our reflection and drown in our own self-admiration. Same tool, different outcomes. When used correctly, the mirror becomes a didactic tool that open up levels of the self that may not have been possible otherwise.
The mirror is there to ask you a single question: Do you love me?
There you stand before it, almost naked, every one of your flaws on display: every fold, every wrinkle, every scar, every layer of excess skin, every hairy mole. And for 90 minutes the mirror continuously asks, do you love me? You can’t hide from this question, not in that 90 minutes (or really anywhere else for that matter).
Out in the world when you may be able to distract yourself with the plethora of mind altering alternatives (and they don’t have to be drugs) that exist; you can ignore, temporarily, the incessant inquiry that is continuously asked by your Spirit. However, in the yoga room where there is nothing but yourself and the mirror for 90 minutes, even ignoring the question is answering it. Averting your eyes, or looking at the pretty girl behind you, or staring at the floor is just a way of saying, “no, I do not.”
Sometimes as yogis we pay too much attention to the mind and the spirit.
Yoga ultimately is a union between the mind, body and the spirit. But there can be no union of the three is there is no love for one, in this case the body. Many of us meditate for hours on end, chant, light incense etc, all in an attempt to escape what we see to be the least important of the trinity. We practice a modern and, at times, damaging form of self-flagellation in order to prove that we have mastery over our bodies, that we have freed the mind from its fleshy prison.
But this perspective is flawed. The body does not imprison the spirit, it houses it; the body doesn’t keep the spirit from expressing itself, it magnifies its creativity and gives it a medium with which to shine. But this is only possible if there is as much love for the body as there is for the mind and the spirit. If there is no love for the body, if there is only begrudging acceptance, then there can be no union, there can be no yoga.
If each time your reflection asks “do you love me?” and you reply “no”, you move one step further away from completion, one step away from union. And though you may move as gracefully as the lithest of swans, bend your body into shapes and sizes unseen since the dawn of time, you will have accomplished nothing, for you hate yourself, and hate is the path to disunion.
Any mirror, whether it be in a Bikram studio or on your bathroom wall, gives you an opportunity to confront what it is about yourself that you find so unlovable. And with that, an opportunity to let go. Just let go.
What tools help you get a deeper understanding of yoga, and, by extension, yourself?