“The little victories are addictive,” says Autumn Cypres, 49, who first came to Bikram Yoga Richmond in July 2014. “The first time you can grab your foot for Standing Head to Knee pose, the first time your right toe goes all the way around your left calf for Eagle pose.”
And then: “The first time you can do a backbend against the wall and touch the floor.”
(Editor’s note: None of the above victories should be considered “little.”)
“I was very intimidated my first two months,” says Autumn. “I am not an athlete. I am not thin, I am not coordinated, and I have horrible balance. I could not bear to look at myself in the mirror.”
And then there were the yogis in the back row practicing their advanced poses and preparing for competition.
“I felt like I did not deserve to be there,” Autumn says.
Then she made a discovery: “Even the most gifted students struggle. That was a huge surprise! And they are so humble and encouraging to me.”
The lesson: “It does not really matter what I look like in class. What matters is that I am trying. And for 90 minutes I don’t think about all the other very stressful things in my day.”
Autumn is a professor of educational leadership at VCU and also chairs that department. “It’s like having a job and going to school—I always have homework.”
She will be leaving Richmond for a new position in New York City, as Research Professor at St. John’s University, where her job and homework will be about expanding research and preparing school leaders.
Meantime, she says, “I am always thinking, worrying, or writing in my mind. Yoga has helped me to learn to relax, and turn my mind to something else, like locking my knee.”
A regular in the 5:30 a.m. classes, since January, Autumn’s also been working on Peacock pose. She became inspired after seeing it demonstrated by a 70-year-old yogi in North Carolina.
“He had on a denim work shirt and blue jeans. He was lecturing about stress reduction. When someone in the audience said they did not understand what he meant by Peacock, he just bent down, put his arms down and then levitated.”
That’s when she decided she wanted to master the pose.
“When I started,” she says, “I couldn’t do a pushup. I was not even able to lift my head. Now I can balance for about half a minute with my legs bent. I am shocked my arms are so strong.”
“It’s challenging to tell a colleague or friend how profound a moment can really be when you overcome your own doubts and hold a pose for the entire duration of the dialog. It’s difficult to explain the joy of being able to lift your legs up one-quarter of an inch higher in locust. But it is a joy.”