Smoking Camels

Dear Joani and fellow classmates at Bikram’s Yoga College of India,

I discovered that I might have an issue to deal with about four years ago when I took my first Bikram Hot yoga class with Tony… fear. I realized I was filled with fear.

I went to my first yoga class oblivious of what I was committing to. Ignorance is bliss, so they say. When I first arrived at the studio, I was surprised to find that it was a “heated” class. Not 100% certain what that meant, I reassured myself with the notion that, “Heck, I live in Houston. How hot can this be?” Somehow, I had not truly processed the fact that I would be in 105+ degree temperatures for at least 90 minutes. An hour into the class, I said out loud to the person closest to me, “How long is this class, anyway?”

What really hit home was CAMEL-and that’s where the fear thing comes into play. After completing the first of the two camel poses, I was overwhelmed by a sense that I had been covered in a cloak of black. I could barely breathe. I could not see. Fear had literally enveloped me. “Wow,” I thought. “I had better pay attention. This is not the norm.” Tony reassured us that whatever emotions we might be feeling were normal, and not to worry. I thought otherwise.

Since that time, many emotions have surfaced, or have not surfaced. The past four years have truly been a journey. Here is what I have noticed:

1. I am stronger-on the inside and out.
2. I am stronger-on the outside and in.

Sometimes, I am more flexible, sometimes I am thinner, sometimes fatter and/or less flexible, but always, I am stronger. And definitely, I am no longer afraid. I never feel the cloak of enveloping fear. I know I can handle whatever comes my way. This yoga has been my salvation.

The journey of a thousand camels…

Once, after camel, I had the experience that my body was filled with shooting stars. I just loved that class. Another time, I felt really, really angry. Furious. Beyond the beyond-but it went away in just a moment, so that was good. For a period of several weeks, during the camel pose, I found myself very annoyed, wondering, “Who would have the audacity to smoke during a yoga class?” The smell was so strong and so distinct that it seemed to be coming from myself or someone right next to me in the yoga studio. As I seemed to be next to a different person each time I took a class, and have never, ever smoked anything in my entire life, I asked Joani, my totally favorite person in the world after my husband, mom, dad and daughters. With smiling eyes, she said in her wise and gentle way, “You are releasing toxins. Did anyone near to you ever smoke?” “Well, yes,” I said, “My grandmother smoked. But, she died in 1988.” Joanie assured me that this was probably where the smell was coming from. Wow. Some days, I have this warm, abiding sense of love for all humanity. Really. It’s one of the reasons I keep coming back. It gives me hope.

But in truth, I am just waiting for the day that I can have the kind of camel result that Tony had the first time he performed this pose-unstoppable joy and laughter. What wellspring did that come from, Tony? Each time I come out of camel, I try to hurry into Savasana to see what might surface. Most days, I just feel hot and sweaty and sore. I try to focus on healing. I never, ever feel afraid. And for this, I am truly, eternally grateful.

Your fellow Yogini,

Kate Lowrey Henninger