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.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Posture Discussion Part X - Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose

Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose is often referred to as “that posture after Triangle”, but I like to refer to it as “the posture almost no one does correctly.” I have a bit of a pet peeve with the posture not being corrected by teachers very much, at least in my experience. Let me explain…

What’s one of the first parts of the set-up of the posture? Arms above your head, hands together and palms flat together. Palms flat. Next time you’re in class, see if you get your palms flat and look around the room and see how many people, if any, get their palms flat together. Now as with any posture, I understand if you can’t physically do it right away, but for some reason it’s not corrected by teachers very much, if at all. The closest corrections I ever hear are to fix people that interlock their fingers instead of putting the palms flat together.

Is this really a big deal? Maybe, maybe not, but I think it is. I’ve discussed this point with numerous teachers and correctly so, they tell me they have to focus on getting people to keep contact of their forehead and their knee. And it’s true, that’s by far the most important part of the posture. However, if you closely listen to all of the dialogue, you’ll see it is important to keep the palms flat. Bikram did realize how difficult it can be for people, because he even tells you to bring your palms back together again near the end of the posture before you come back up.

If you can keep your palms together the entire time with your forehead on your knee, you’ve really done a good job on this one, and you’ll get fantastic benefits. You get a much better stretch of the shoulders and you work your core much better as well.

As a note, in the advanced series, any of the postures you interlock your fingers together in are replaced (ideally) by putting the palms together flat. In other words, in the advanced series, you do half-moon for example with palms flat, instead of interlocking the fingers together.

One other point on the posture is ask your teachers sometimes for the full list of benefits from this postures. There’s quite a bit, so even though you’re probably nice and tired at this point of the class after Triangle, do your best to give 100% effort on Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose.

Next up (after some other topics)… Tree Pose and Toe Stand.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Kurt Cobain, Yoga and Rebellion

“I’d rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not.” – Kurt Cobain.

Seventeen years ago today, the world lost one of its great artists, Kurt Cobain, singer and guitarist for Nirvana. I will never forget the first time I heard Nirvana. It was like being hit over the head with the reality of what was and the possibility of what could be. Nirvana arrived into a musical world dominated by mostly meaningless hair bands and electronic pop of the 80’s, music with no heart and soul. Whether you liked the music and lyrics of Cobain and Nirvana or not, you could never deny one thing – it was real. No sugar coating, no fake smile, but rather the music was a real communication and it resonated with people unlike anything heard in years or even decades.

His music and lyrics had a profound effect on the way I viewed the world. When I first heard Nirvana in 1991 I was nearing the end of high school and had various options ahead of me. I could have gone with various safe options, but like Cobain I didn’t take the easy or safe road. I ended up leaving my comfort zone of Cleveland, Ohio and moving 3,000 miles away to southern California, much to the surprise of my friends and family, who all assumed I would stay in my little corner of the world like they all did. It was the best decision I ever made, and I’ve never looked back.

Cobain never agreed with the way things were, he was a rebel who wouldn’t confirm to society’s supposed ideals. He saw beyond the horizon whereas so many others just saw the four walls that surround them. So what does this have to do with yoga?

Everyone who practices yoga is rebelling. Against illness, age, exhaustion and the false idea that you can’t change your body, mind and soul for the better. Greatness and real change is not achieved by conforming, going along for the ride or sticking to the status quo. It is done by pushing beyond your boundaries and past the accepted norm. When we step into the hot room, when we push ourselves to go a little further in a posture, when we hold a posture a little longer, we are all rebelling against the status quo. And at that moment, there’s a little bit of Kurt in all of us.