Transforming stress with Bikram Yoga

YOGAChristine Carmichael, Ph.D., recently defended her doctoral dissertation in Michigan State University’s Department of Forestry.  We sat down with this Mason, Michigan native to get her personal take on the practice of Bikram Yoga and how it has influenced her life, her health, and her academic career.

How long have you been practicing yoga in general, and Bikram Yoga specifically? I started a regular practice at Bikram Yoga Capital Area in October 2015.  I had practiced in the same yoga lineage in Detroit for a few months prior to that, and many other types of yoga over the past several years.

How would you summarize the benefits you have gained from this yoga? There is so much to it. First of all, my anxiety no longer takes me away with it. In higher education, we are pressured to use our thoughts a lot.  But in order for that to work really well, your body and your core being of stillness also needs nurturing.  In academia you will get a lot of intellectual stimulation.  But I needed Bikram Yoga to have physical, emotional, and spiritual healing.  Specifically to be able to do the intellectual! I’d also say it has helped me be much more compassionate to my coworkers, to find more effective ways to work together, and to deal better with deadlines, external pressures, or internal insecurities.

Could you try to explain how Bikram Yoga has reduced your stress? In any professional setting, you never know who you are going to interact with, or what their own stress levels are going to be. Bikram Yoga has allowed me to cultivate a healthier response to any stimulation or response that I get from anyone else.  It has allowed me to enter into a stressful environment and still create a healthy space for myself. It is so powerful to be in a situation (i.e. the yoga class) where you encounter physical limitations, negative thoughts, and distractions, and to then learn how to focus and breathe. You learn how to keep moving towards healing, specifically in the midst of challenges.

What would you say to someone who has reservations about practicing? This yoga has nothing at all to do with being perfect at the posture. There are things that felt absolutely impossible when I first started.  I could not possibly take a six-count inhale and six-count exhale. But I kept trying.  And now I can. That is physical proof.  I can stay in postures that I never thought I would be able to stay in. So if you are someone who needs concrete evidence of health benefits, you will definitely get it with this practice.  You only have to try.

How does the practice help with situations outside of the room? The room is a microcosm of what you experience in life.  Things challenge you in multiple ways. Our instinct is usually to give up when we are in an intense situation. Now, you don’t have to go all out, but you also don’t need to give up.  You can try, and you can breathe.

Any words you would like to add? I am much more capable than I ever thought I was – of navigating any challenge, because of Bikram Yoga.  I do not know how I would have finished my degree without it.

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Ann Chrapkiewicz, owner and senior teacher (over 4000 hours experience), teaches daily and has taught over 4500 students since 2004.  She is accepting men and women of all ages who are motivated to make lasting improvements in their physical, mental, emotional, and interpersonal health.  New students may start with private intake consultations or group classes, and lower heat classes are offered.  

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