Wednesday, December 7, 2011

This Thing Called Life

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life." - Prince, from "Let's Go Crazy"

The teacher could begin every Bikram class with these words, and it would be totally applicable. For various reasons, I haven't been able to write as much in this blog over the past few months as I would prefer. I have no shortage of topics, but life has a way of throwing up all kinds of barriers and confusions. However, I've definitely been going to class, unfortunately not as much as I would like to.

As more and more strange things pop up in my life, the more I realize how valuable the non-physical benefits of the yoga are. The world is filled with traps and distractions and I've had my share of them of lately. There are numerous things in life that are tedious, irrelevant or just plain harmful. Daily existence can be a chore sometimes, work, bills, flakey people, you name it. In the larger scheme of things, practically none of that matters.

However, yoga does matter. It's not superficial or pretentious. You can count on it. Above all else, it's honest. It's truth. Sometimes that 90 minutes in the hot room is the only truth we'll get all day. Art and music have many of the same attributes, as there is plenty of truth in art as well. And it's something real, just like yoga. When you stand on your mat in that hot room, and look at your own eyes in the mirror, it's real. No illusions, no facade.

To be honest, lately I'd taken this gift for granted, I'd been doing it for so long. Oddly enough life can have a way of knocking you around and reminding you what's really important. Well life certainly reminded me lately and I'm truly grateful I always have the hot room to go to. If nothing else, at least I get truth in those 90 minutes, no matter what else goes on the rest of the day.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Enjoy the Process

Today before class I heard someone make a comment which I've heard many times before, including by some teachers. The comment is always something similar to, "Well I hate the class itself but it's worth it because I feel great afterwards." I happen to disagree with this line of thought and think it limits one's practice. Do I always enjoy the class when am in it? Of course not. Do I always look forward to class? Definitely not. However, for the most part, I do enjoy being in the hot room, doing the postures and yes - struggling.

Maybe it took me a while to realize it, but I am cognizant of the benefits of the yoga as I'm doing it, rather than just understanding the benefits to come later. I can feel the stretching, the detox, the meditation as it's happening and I enjoy it. If you just "grin and bear it" to get through the class than sorry to say, you're missing out on a lot. The class is often described as "a 90 minute open-eye moving meditation" which is spot-on. Part of that mediation is embracing the struggle and the difficulty and actually learning to appreciate it and enjoy it.

Perhaps that sounds a bit sadistic, as after all, why would anyone want to "torture" themselves for 90 minutes? But that's really the whole point. If you can embrace the torture chamber and accept it for what it is, you've really achieved something. If you continue to resist the heat, the humidity, the postures, etc, then you will continue to be adversely affected by it. The longer I practice Bikram Yoga, the more it becomes a mental exercise rather than a physical one, and as a result, I truly enjoy my 90 minutes in the room each day.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Technology of Bikram Yoga

The Merriam-Webster's Dictionary has four definitions of technology. Two of them are particularly applicable to Bikram yoga. One is "the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area" and another one is "a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods or knowledge."

Practically everything in life has a technology to it, from cooking to fixing a car. There is an exact manner to accomplish a certain task.

As you can see from these definitions, Bikram Yoga is a technology, but what is it a technology for? We'll get to that shortly. First, let's take a look at the first definition. Bikram is most definitely a practical application of knowledge in a particular area. The knowledge has been gleaned through quite literally thousands of years of experience with hatha yoga and distilled by Bikram into a series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises practiced in a hot room. As for the second definition above, Bikram yoga is certainly a manner of accomplishing a task, but which task?

The simplest way to put it is this: Bikram Yoga is a workable technology for healing the body. It doesn't mean it's the best technology, or the only technology, or that Bikram only heals the body and nothing else. It just means it works. One could certainly make a case that there are other, non-physical benefits to Bikram, some of which I have discussed in my blog earlier. However, mental and spiritual benefits are harder to quantify and highly subjective. So for our purposes, we'll stick with the physical healing aspects. Talk to anyone who practices Bikram regularly and they can tell you things that have been healed in their body, plus there are the untold number of ailments that are prevented from practicing.

However there is one caveat with this technology - it has to be applied correctly, by both the teachers and students. This means proper dialogue, a hot room, trying the postures the right way, etc. If some of these points aren't present, maybe the yoga will work and maybe it won't. That's why it's important to try the postures the right way, do all 26 postures in class (both sets) as much as possible and insist on correct dialogue and a hot room. If those points all exist, your body will improve and heal itself.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Posture Discussion Part XIII - Cobra Pose

Now we get into the discussion of my least favorite part of class - the spine strengthening series. As you've heard, the postures you like the least are the ones you need the most and all four of the spine strengthening series fit that description for me. As much as I don't look forward to these four postures, they are the ones that completely handled my back pain that existed prior to starting Bikram. They are fantastic for working all the different parts of the spine.

The first of these postures is Cobra pose, which works the lower back, and you can absolutely feel it in your lower back. Once in a while (not very often) my lower back is a little sore going into class but after this posture any soreness goes away immediately. Lower back pain is such a common occurrence that literally millions of people consider it a normal fact of existence and there are innumerable "cures" out there for lower back pain. Special chairs, special beds, special keyboards, pills, chiropractors, you name it, but this posture can put your spine in such good shape that you won't have to worry about lower back pain again.

It took me a while to get the form of this posture and the set up is extremely important. At first I didn't really feel like I was getting much of the posture, and I probably wasn't, but then I had some teachers check out my form and made a few corrections and I noticed a drastic improvement after that. As usual, the dialogue is excellent about what to do, but I would suggest having a teacher closely check out the position of your hands in the set up. It can make a world of difference.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Have Some Fun

Recently, two different friends of mine expressed some misgivings about continuing to practice Bikram yoga, at least temporarily. One of them had some disagreements about particular teachers and the other one is just a little burned out and wants a break. I completely understand both of their points and it reminded me of something extremely important in practicing Bikram. It's supposed to be fun.

The fact is, many hours per day each week are spent on things that wouldn't necessarily be considered fun - work, paying bills, dealing with traffic, personal drama, whatever. Above all else, the hot room should be a place of respite, of calm and somewhere you want to be. If it stops being someplace you want to be and something you want to do, then by all means, change things up a bit.

I know exactly what it feels like to be burned out, and I've blogged about it more than once. One thing that worked for me was to stop coming every single day. I've settled in to a pretty good groove of coming "only" six days a week, sometimes five, sometimes seven. I also like to get a nice variety of teachers every week, so I'm not just taking one or two teachers in a week. My studio has enough variety that it works out ok. Plus now with my work schedule, I get to take at different times and see a larger variety of other students, which is nice. Above all else, I just don't take things too seriously in class. I try my best but I don't stress over the postures. I certainly pay close attention to what I'm doing and always try to improve, but yoga lasts forever, so I'm not going to get too concerned if I'm having a rough class on a particular day.

Of course, what I describe above is what works for me. Plenty of people could be burned out coming six days a week or need to do something else to keep things interesting. If coming to class isn't fun anymore, then by all means, do something to change it up. Talk to your teachers about it, talk to other students and see what works best for you. If you've been coming a long time, you already know the benefits, but sometimes, you can have too much of a good thing.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Making Shapes

The following is a guest post I did for the Bikram 101 blog about a year and half ago. I've updated it a bit and added a few things. It's one of my favorite posts I've written and I was thinking about it recently, as our studio has another 30 day challenge going on and a number of people are dedicating themselves to the 30 day (or longer) journey. Plus I've picked up a number of readers over the past year and half (thank you!) and I want to make sure they can see this posting I did, since it technically never appeared on my website before.

"I had a very interesting discussion with a teacher a few weeks ago about the difference between practicing Bikram yoga vs. making shapes with your body. This topic came up as I was lamenting my lack of flexibility, and complaining that there are so many students that are more flexible than me. While many of these students are indeed very good, a few of them are just, well, making shapes. Having a good practice isn't just showing up and moving your body into different positions for 90 minutes. Just imagine doing the postures in the right sequence in the heated room, but add in loud music, people talking, wandering around the room, leaving the room, drinking water whenever they want, etc. Do you think you'd get a lot of that class? Of course not!

Of all the things I pay attention to when I'm practicing, it all begins with my focus. When that's good, then the breathing is good, the discipline is good, and the class just flows. If my focus goes out, you guessed it, I start just making shapes with my body. My focus is the thing I have the most control over. I don't know how my body will react to each posture, or if the room feels too hot or cold that day, or if the person next me is wandering around their mat. I can control if I'm in the room and focused and if I do that, it's a smooth ride for the whole class."

Update July 6th 2011: Over the nearly two years I've been doing this, my practice has evolved to a point where I'm no longer fixated on the mechanics of each posture while I'm in class. Oh believe me, I appreciate corrections and I want them (and complain sometimes if I don't get corrections), but it's not the most important thing. It really is a 90 minute moving meditation, not a workout program, and for me that evolved over time. There are some nice external physical benefits to practicing regularly, and more internal physical benefits that I probably even realize, but ultimately the focus, discipline and moving meditation are where the magic happens.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Posture Discussion Part XII - Wind Removing Pose and Sit Up

Wind Removing Pose:

One of my favorite postures to do. It's well placed right after the first savasana and right before the spine strengthening series. For a few months I thought that "Greg, pull harder!" was part of the dialogue for this posture. I eventually did start pulling harder and now I enjoy the posture. The dialogue is pretty clear what to do but there are a few points worth noting: 1) It's one of the only postures where you don't look in the mirror at all, so you really have to pay attention to what you're doing. It helps to have a teacher look at this one before or after class as you can only partially see what's going on. 2) The grips make a big difference, with the individual legs and with both. A strong grip greatly improves the benefits.

Sit Up:

This is a very underrated part of the class. Considering you do this twelve times in class, it's worth paying attention to it. Again the dialogue is very clear what to do. If you give a good effort then you end up having some more energy for the next posture, not to mention the other benefits the stretch gives you. One thing that I've had a few teachers point out is holding it for a second or two once you've grabbed your feet. It gives a little better stretch. And the breathing is what helps give you that extra energy. The first sit up helps quite a bit to get you ready for the spine strengthening series, and you definitely need all the energy you can get for those four postures.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Decision

Bear with me in this posting if you're not a sports fan. I'll bring this back to yoga as I always do, but the events in the world of sports this week made me think of my own journey and yet another example of how Bikram yoga has helped me in life.

This past week, Lebron James and the Miami Heat lost the basketball championship to Dallas. To give you a bit of background, Lebron is perhaps the most famous (or infamous) and talented basketball player in the world. For the first seven years of his career, he played for Cleveland, then last summer he left Cleveland to go play in Miami with another fantastic player, Dwayne Wade and another very good player, Chris Bosh. He made his announcement on a prime time special on ESPN, which was so poorly thought out and executed that it turned Lebron from a beloved athlete into the biggest villain in perhaps all of sports.

What's lost in the endless analysis of Lebron's decision and performance since then is that he did something almost unheard of in sports. He decided he didn't want to be THE MAN anymore. Most professional athletes have egos the size of football fields, which is both a blessing and a curse. So when Lebron decided that he didn't want to have the weight of an entire team and city on his shoulders it was unprecedented. He needed help and did what he felt was right, negative PR be damned.

About three years ago, I left Los Angeles and moved to Vegas. For the past few years I was in L.A. I had a job were I was most definitely THE MAN. I had authority over nearly 1,000 people and my word was law. It was great for my ego, but I was miserable. When I left, it came as a huge surprise to the people I worked with, and needless to say many of them weren't very happy about it. Just like Lebron, I made some enemies along the way, but ultimately I had to do what was right for me. I was falling apart physically, mentally and spiritually. It was time for a new game.

To bring this full circle, Bikram yoga has been an essential part of my new life. I started doing it about a year after I moved to Vegas and besides the astounding physical benefits it has given me, it helped me find peace. Peace with who I am, peace with my new goals and peace with life. Life is full of decisions and the most important ones are seldom easy. I'm fortunate to have Bikram yoga in my life to easy the decision I made a few years ago and any future ones.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Good Morning Bikram

In previous posts on my blog, I've mentioned how I hate morning classes and preferred night classes. Well, as fate would have it, my new job has a very different schedule guessed it, I have to take class in the morning almost every day now! I end up usually taking the 9 AM or sometimes the 11 AM. Once in a while I end up taking a night class, but I'm pretty much a morning yoga now. The amazing thing is, my body has started to adjust nicely to the change. I thought I'd list out some of the main differences for me that I've noticed between the morning classes and night class, in no particular order.

1. I love doing yoga before work, because I feel great all day. I used to go to yoga directly after work before, which was fine, but it really helps get me through the day after doing class in the morning.

2. It's colder. Ok, this is a good thing for some people, but not me. However, with certain teachers, it's still fairly hot. Of course, this is related to...

3. My muscles are tighter in the morning, especially my hamstrings. I generally feel sluggish and tight for the first few postures, but this generally is ok by the time we get to Standing Head to Knee. At night, I'm already loose from moving around all day, so the beginning postures go smoothly. My body is getting used to this change and I'm already feeling looser in the morning classes.

4. There are less people in the room. This is nice for getting a good spot in the room and it's rarely cramped for space. Of course, the energy at night tends to be better just because there are more people.

5. Less drama. We generally get a more experienced group of people in the morning classes. I guess it's less likely for new people to come to a random Tuesday 9 AM class. They tend to show up for the night classes. I love new people coming to class, but it is nice to have a veteran group with good energy.

6. I do much better on the floor series in the morning for reasons I don't totally understand, but it's nice. At night, I tend to have a strong standing series but not a great floor series. In the morning it's evenly balanced. However, the one exception so far seems to be...

7. Rabbit pose. I have no idea why this is so hard in the morning, maybe because my spine just isn't as loose in the morning. I can do this posture pretty well when I'm warmed up, it's just been a struggle in the morning so far.

All in all, I love doing class in the mornings now, and I hope my schedule allows me to continue doing it for the foreseeable future.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Posture Discussion Part XII - Savasana

Everyone loves Savasana, for obvious reasons. The first time you do it in class you've just finished the standing series and are ready for some relaxation, and of course you do it between each posture in the floor series. The teachers make it very clear what the benefits of this posture are, a rest stop, a chance to refuel after each posture, etc. There is one other major benefit that you may not have considered, which I'll discuss in a moment.

Before I get to that, I'll share one of the best pieces of advice a teacher has ever given me. At one point after practicing for a few months, I was still having a very hard time with the floor series. I was really tired and could barely do anything in the floor series. So this teacher told me to get into savasana as fast as possible after each posture. Don't drink water before savasana and don't delay getting right into it. If you need water, go ahead and drink some after savasana and before the next posture. I started following this advice and it made a tremendous difference in my practice. I had more energy and the floor series was much easier to get through. Still not easy and it's harder for me than the standing series, but at least I can DO the postures now.

As for the other benefit of this posture that you may not realize, savasana teaches you to hold a position in space without having to worry about balancing or stretching. The key here is that the power of an individual steps from their ability to hold a position in space. Let that sink in for a second. How does one generate power? By being there comfortably and holding their position in space. The implications are far reaching, from your job to relationships. If you can hold your ground and be there in any situation, you generate power. No one can strike you down, and you can accomplish almost anything - including the floor series:)


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

There's No Place Like Home

Recently, I’ve had quite a few things going on in my life, both personally and professionally. Some good, some bad, and many ups and downs in just the past couple weeks. It’s been a tumultuous time for me. Many people have said that the hot room is a good place to go to “escape” from reality, take a break from the world, etc. I don’t do yoga nearly every day of my life as some sort of respite from the world. I don’t go there to forget about my troubles.

I go there because it’s home.

It is a place of hope, a place of love, where anything is possible. There’s a great familiarity hearing the same dialogue every day, doing the same postures, seeing many of the same people. We are often told to stay in the moment in class, and that’s certainly true, but there’s also an element of the future, of what can be. The past doesn’t matter in the room. Heck, your present state of affairs doesn’t even really matter. The words and postures and meditation matter. Most all of to me, the future matters.

In the room every day, in that time and place, the future is endlessly beautiful, and it’s why it will always be home to me.


Thursday, April 28, 2011


Look at your own eyes in the mirror.

We hear this every time we take class, but why is it so important? There’s quite a bit going on by following this part of the dialogue, and it all boils down to confronting. Now this is not referring to the common definitions of confronting, which involve adversarial confrontation, or meeting face to face with someone or something, but rather some lessor known definitions of the word “confront.” Here are two that I dug up which are applicable to Bikram yoga.

“To bring together for examination or comparison”

This one is fairly obvious, and you could look at it a number of ways. We are all coming together in the room, or your mind, body and soul are coming together for examination or comparison. Pretty interesting way to look it. As we progress in our practice, we constantly exam or compare how we are doing to previous classes and only be confronting can we truly make meaningful improvements or changes. If you never saw how your postures look in the mirror, you wouldn’t have a very clear idea how to improve them.

“Face without flinching or avoiding.”

I like this definition, because it’s exactly what we’re doing in the room. In life, we all have situations we avoid or draw back from, whether it’s your own body or another person, a job situation, credit card bills, whatever. In the hot room, we confront ourselves without flinching or avoiding, or at least that’s what we are striving to do.

I had various physical problems before I started doing Bikram, long since handled. I was able to address them because I would go in the room everyday and face myself in the mirror. By confronting myself, I was able to handle these problems, and it became very simple. For years I had simply avoided things and didn’t confront, and this made everything very complicated. Only by confronting myself, did things get simple and finally resolve.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Posture Discussion Part XI - Tree Pose and Toe Stand

I’m putting these two postures together in one post for obvious reasons. They are the final two postures of the standing series, done in fairly rapid succession. They happen to be two of my favorite postures, even though I’m not particularly great at them. Let’s take a look at each one separately.

Tree Pose:

My two favorite things about this one are 1) it’s a great hip opener and 2) it slows down the heart rate. For the hip opener benefits, getting the foot up as high on your costume as possible is how you get the most out of it. My teachers point out all the time that it’s more important to get the foot up high than get both hands in prayer. As for prayer position, I still can only get one hand up comfortably. I still have to hold my foot to get maximum benefits. I can let go of my foot, and I do sometimes, but then I don’t feel like I get a good hip stretch.

The heart rate slow down shouldn’t be overlooked, especially if you’re having a rough time in class. Many times, I’ve been dying in the room and just want to sit down, but I always make sure to do Tree and Toe because it really does slow down your heart rate and make an easy transition to the floor series.

Toe Stand:

This is one of my favorite looking postures from the beginning series, it just looks wonderful when done correctly. A little oddity on this posture for me is that I’m not good on one side (the first one, balancing on left leg) but very good on the other side (balancing on right leg). One note on this, especially if you have bad knees is to put your hands on the floor before bending your knee. You can actually hurt your knees if you don’t follow this point of the dialogue. In the advanced series, you do Toe Stand without putting your hands on the floor (you stay in prayer the whole time going down and coming up), but of course this is the advanced series and isn’t something your average student should attempt. If you’re feeling up to it, by all means go for it, but ask a teacher to supervise it so nothing goes wrong. I can do the advanced variation on the right leg and once in a while I’ll do it in beginning class just for fun.


Friday, April 15, 2011

The Bikram Hangover

Many of you that have read my blog for a while may have noticed that I used to keep a running count of the number of classes I did compared the number of days. I started doing that from the beginning of my blog. About two months ago I stopped putting the count on my blog posts, because, well, I stopped counting altogether. Even more important, I stopped coming to class every day.

Ok, relax, I still come all the time, usually six days a week, sometimes seven, sometimes five, but no more “streak”, no more 30, 60, 100, 200 day challenges. In case anyone cares, I did get to 600 classes in 600 days. My studio is currently doing a 30 day challenge and one of my favorite teachers asked me if I was doing it, and I just told her I was retired from challenges. She told me that was a good idea!

There are two reasons I stopped coming every single day, both related to each other. The first is I simply don’t need to come every day anymore. When I started doing Bikram yoga, I had all kinds of things wrong with my body, which I’ve discussed in detail in previous posts. All, and I mean all of those problems are long gone. I had a bit of a realization when a few months ago I fell down some stairs and landed hard on my knees. The amazing thing was absolutely nothing bad happened. It didn’t hurt, I had no bruises and wasn’t even sore the next day. The few people that saw it couldn’t believe I was fine. It was then that I kind of realized, “Ok, I’m good, I don’t need to come every day anymore.”

The other reason I stopped coming every day was, quite frankly, I was getting burned out. It wasn’t fun anymore and I wasn’t enjoying coming to class every day. Physically it was rough as well. While I was obviously getting fantastic benefits, class itself was harder than it should have been. For a lack of a better description, it was a Bikram hangover.

So a few months ago I decided to start skipping at least one day a week and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. Since then, my body feels great, I don’t get burned out physically or mentally and my practice has actually gotten better. I have more energy in class and I’m excited to go again. I also had some great things happen to me in life outside of the room, and it’s not a coincidence.

Will I ever do another challenge? 30, 60 days or more in a row? Who knows? I’ll always have that choice, but I’m in a good place with the yoga now, and I plan to keep it that way.