March 21, 2012

Fear of Falling & Bikram Yoga.

I’ve never had any great love for Bikram yoga. As a matter of fact, due to the negative press it’s received, I’ve been somewhat skeptical.

In addition, my brother had tried it once, and as I recall, he had a somewhat negative experience. He either had gotten, dizzy, weak or had gotten a headache from the heat. I can’t remember exactly, but since my brother and I are yoga buddies, I trusted his review.

In any event, some years ago, I was a yoga teacher living in Boston and it was my habit to network with other teachers and studio owners. I had heard of a new “hot yoga” studio that had recently opened near Kenmore Square, and was invited by the owner to give it a whirl. The studio owner gave me a week’s worth of classes gratis, so what could I say?

The studio was not exactly billed as Bikram, but you know how that goes. Bikram by any other name is still just as hot!

(I should also preface this by saying I am not a huge fan of hot yoga period.)

Honestly though, having lived in Boston for 30 years, I did frequent Baptiste Power Yoga of Cambridge on occasion, and I always really loved the challenge of it. And yes, the heat and the sweating felt cleansing.

I was up for a new challenge and adventure! The studio itself was beautiful, very upscale and high-tech. And the owner was just as cordial, friendly and charming as a new studio owner can be.

I entered the yoga room—wham! Smitten by the heat! “Holy smokes,” I thought. “How does one practice vigorous yoga in a sauna?” But I was determined to press on! I was not going to wimp out, like my brother before me.

As I recall, the intensity began immediately. Every posture seemed somehow weirdly intense. The teacher had not a trace of spirituality in her tone or demeanor. As a matter of fact, she had a rough demeanor and was barking out orders like a drill sergeant. “Where is the yoga?” I thought. Regardless, I pressed on.

Alright, let me cut to the chase here. I noticed that there were a lot of standing balancing postures and standing postures in general. I noticed that there were no chaturangas (my fave at the time). I noticed that they bent their knee in trikonasana. And I noticed a pool of water had formed on my mat as sweat flowed forcefully out of every pore in my body.

I had one of the best shavasanas in recorded history! And BTW, I always judge a yoga class by the quality of my shavasana. If I go deep into shavasana, then the teacher has done her job. (In this case, the drill sergeant was posing as a yoga teacher.) I recall not wanting to wake up from that shavasana. I could’ve easily fallen asleep. It must’ve been from some combination of the heat and the yoga routine but I was definitely in the zone. “Blissed out,” as they say.

The downside for me was that this class was held at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning. As I recall, I was so drained from the heat (dehydration anyone?) that I was completely shot for the rest of the day, not wanting to do anything at all!

Fast forward to today. I’ve never again taken a Bikram class due to the negative fallout from the heat. It clearly did not agree with me. But I took something very precious with me from that class.

I’ve never been strong in standing balancing poses. I’ve always avoided them in my daily practice. But there is only so long you can go on avoiding something important.

About five  years ago, I found myself drawn to balancing postures with renewed interest. This was probably due to the fact that I was now a studio owner myself and felt an obligation to be a good role model for my students. I absolutely hated it when a student in my class was obviously more proficient than me in a basic posture. And this was generally the rule, when it came to balancing postures. I totally sucked at them!

So I took the bull by the horns and started balancing on a more regular basis in my daily practice. It began to pay off. My confidence grew and it became easier to demo things like ardha chandrasana, tree and dancer pose without totally losing my cool.

And somewhere in the back of my mind there was this nagging Bikram pose that I wanted to learn. I recalled that they did it somewhere near the beginning of the practice. But I never quite understood the posture. As I recall, they took one leg up and outstretched, clasped that leg with interlaced fingers under the foot, and for some odd reason, they then rounded their backs. I thought the rounded backs looked dorky and seemed like really bad form. So I decided I would practice the posture but with a flat back because it felt stronger that way.

I practiced this way for years. I never bothered to check out any sources to see if I was doing the posture correctly. I trusted my gut. It felt good. I was getting stronger! It never once occurred to me that you would try to take your nose to your knee. I didn’t see anyone taking their nose to their knee. Just rounding their backs and looking very dorky and uncomfortable.

I was recently asked to submit a professional self-produced yoga video, for a possible ongoing blogging position on a major website. I decided to create a video, demonstrating my expertise on that balancing posture that I had seen them doing in the Bikram class some seven years ago.

I researched it in Google and found out that the posture is called, Standing Head to Knee Pose.  Well that made total sense. I now understood that they were rounding their backs in an effort to get their head to touch their knee. But I neglected to check out any of the teaching videos for this posture, until after I had created my video.

Here is what I created:


Here is how Bikram teaches it and judges it:


I aspire to be able to get my head to my knee in the near future. Bikram Choudhury watch out! Here I come!

I learned a lot by checking out this video and many others that I found on Youtube.

I love incorporating elements from different styles into my practice!

Balancing postures are less intimidating for me these days. Teaching balancing postures is no longer scary. Thank you Mr. Bikram for planting that seed in me. (Even though they didn’t call it Bikram, I knew better!)


Editor: Brianna Bemel

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