Name: Sam Perkins-Prince
Occupation: Self-employed, single-parenting jack of many trades (and master of none)
From: Grand Rapids, MI
When you started practicing Bikram Yoga: March 2017
Favorite posture: It's a tie between the initial back bend and the final spine twisting poses. My ego wants to say something profound about them marking the beginning and end of my practice, serving as a litmus test for my growth. And that's true. But it's also because they're the two postures closest to being out of the room and breathing cooler air.
Why I Practice:
Author's Note: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”
-- Blaise Pascal
As a thirty-year-old-widowed-single-father-of-a-four-year-old-force-of-feminine-nature, I need all the help I can get. Especially if I want to maintain any shred of sanity I untangle from my brutal and beautiful mess of a life -- one I often feel both blessed and cursed to live.
Bikram Yoga found me in March 2017. It was either a fluke, a twist of fate, or an act of God. Maybe all of the above. Call it what you will, it changed my life.
It was a Sunday afternoon. I was sitting in the living room, and I had just decided to quit -- cold turkey -- the pack-a-week of cigarettes I'd been smoking as a means of coping with the copious amounts of pain and stress I was enduring. The past several years included more change, loss, trauma, and uncertainty than I can name. But that won’t stop me from trying:
Burnouts and breakdowns. Career changes. Ongoing financial hardship. Marriage. Pregnancy. My daughter’s preterm birth and her mother’s cancer diagnosis. A year of new life and unpredictable life-threatening treatments. The painful, untimely death of my beloved. Two cross-country moves scattered across umpteen accommodations -- all with an infant-toddler in tow. And ultimately: the overwhelming weight of unprocessed grief and trauma, which all but forced me to put my daughter in foster care for nearly two years as I wrestled to keep myself alive. I had to humbly discern whether I was capable of being the parent she needed and deserved. Not to mention all the pain, guilt, fear, and shame I carried around that, even as I knew it was the most loving thing I could do.
And this was just the second half of my twenties.
Anxiety, depression, insomnia, complicated grief, PTSD, and suicidal ideations were among my symptoms. On a few occasions, they almost got the best of me. But as I would come to learn in practice: where there's breath, there's hope.
And so it was, this Sunday afternoon, when one of my friends found a Groupon: $40 for six weeks of unlimited practice at Bikram South Pasadena. She invited me to join her. I figured, Why the hell not? I’d tried just about everything else to aid my healing, but I still wasn't satisfied with giving up.
So I started showing up. It wasn’t long before I decided Bikram Yoga was a much healthier addiction than cigarettes. While I've wrestled with it at times, one year later that decision still stands. And since July 2017, I’ve had my daughter back full-time to help me recommit.
Why do I practice?
First, I appreciate the predictability it offers with its twenty-six poses and two breathing exercises. Ninety minutes I don’t need to decide what to do or whom to take care of, other than myself. Given the near-perpetual state of chaos and caregiving my life entails, I covet this reprieve.
Second, Bikram Yoga is one of the only practices I've found to address the whole of my being -- physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual -- in a community where I can be as open or solitary as I need. Given the single-parenting constraints on my time and energy, this one-stop-shop has been crucial.
Third, it holds me accountable to healthy living. Even when I slip up in one area or another (which happens more often than not), my practice helps me reset and get back on track. And I know it works, so long as I show up.
What’s it like to practice?
I love and hate that when I’m in the room (a.k.a. the torture chamber) it's the only place my mind can be. I'm present, and unequivocally so, wrapped in a blanket of humidity and heat. If my mind tries to wander, my pulsing, fiery flesh and my need for breath make sure it stays where I am. This can be both comforting and suffocating.
If I'm honest, I'm confronted with a lot more ego, fear, pain, limitations, and insecurities than I'd like admit. But I also find -- because of what I encounter -- there's a lot more openness, compassion, kindness, courage, forgiveness, hope, and resilience than I tend to realize is accessible, however hard it can be to excavate at times.
When I leave the studio, I typically feel relieved, accomplished, exhausted, and energized -- even euphoric. But I’ll admit these feelings fade fast. (Except the exhaustion; I've come to accept that this one's here to stay, at least for now.) As I return to the juggling act that is my life, I struggle to maintain a connection with whatever peace or lessons I've gleaned from the mat. And that's what keeps me coming back.
Every time I return, I feel like a more integrated, wholehearted human being, not just the disjointed human doing I tend to become throughout the week. And no matter how a session goes, I know it’s not the end; I can always begin again. Being able to make that mental shift can mean the difference between life and death -- and I say that from experience. But it can’t just happen in my brain; I need to feel it in my veins. My practice aids in that integration.
"Knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in the muscle."
-- Proverb from the Asaro tribe of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea
What do I gain from my practice?
For lack of a better way of saying it, Bikram Yoga re-minds and re-incarnates me. It deepens, broadens, and softens my relationship with the whole of who I am -- body, head, heart -- and helps me to be more loving. It teaches me that showing up is enough; that it’s okay to be uncomfortable sometimes, and how to be patient -- with myself and others -- when my body or mind want quick relief; that if I can find my breath and keep it “normal" (although I'm still learning what that means!) I can do or endure a hell of a lot more than I may think. And even if I can't or simply don't do anything, it gives me an opportunity to be more gentle, less judgmental, with my feelings, flaws, and failures -- and others’ too. After all, they’re parts of what make us the humans we are. And while my inner critics often disagree, I‘d rather be present than perfect.
So Bikram Yoga helps me to be. Period.
It is that simple and that difficult.
And I'm grateful for the privilege to practice.
“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”
-- Rainer Maria Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet
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