How Bikram Yoga helped me get through the HSC

We chatted to Sally Bird, a regular at Bikram Brookvale.

When did you start doing Bikram?
It was 8 years ago when I was 17 years old in Byron Bay, Australia.

And why did you first come?
I started practising Bikram yoga during my HSC. I was living out of home, working full time and studying most classes distance education to try to juggle it all. I’m extremely high energy and that turned into extreme anxiety quite easily with all the pressures, dead lines and fears of failure. Regular yoga always frustrated me. It never calmed me down because I was too in my mind and always thinking. Bikram yoga was intense enough that even when I was exhausted to the point where I forgot how hard outside the room was and just concentrated on trying not to die during class. It taught me to survive discomfort and to rest when I wanted to quit. Not leaving the room was a struggle for years but I learnt after time that if I stayed my mind would learn to cope and my body would follow suit. It definitely reduced my anxiety. As I learnt (and continue to learn) that I cannot control the heat but I can control my mind’s reaction to the heat I grow more confident in myself and my abilities, inside and outside of the room.

Do you do other sports/ exercise?
Yes, I run and I also do a little bit of jujitsu and Thai boxing.

Does yoga help with those?
I can confidently say I can land a head kick on a 6ft gentlemen with ease thanks to my flexibility aided by Bikram yoga.

You frequently practice more than once a day. What do you get from that?
I’m results driven and curious really. I just want to see what will happen and if I can do it. I practiced four classes yesterday, morning and afternoon doubles. That was mostly because it was a Monday and every Monday after a big weekend I remember my first ever Bikram yoga teacher, Norma, giving me a hard time in front of the entire class when I was 18 and half drunk from the night before in a 6am saying “for everyone jagger bomb you had last night Sally I want you to practice one extra class this week!” Now I don’t know what you did when you were freshly 18, but I personally used to indulge in a solid 5-10 jagger bombs on a Friday night and dance until the lights came on in the club at 3am. Only once did I made the mistake of going to her 6am class after a night out just because I was still awake and lived around the corner from the studio and thought it would be a fun idea. #facepalm

What do you like about the Brookvale studio?
Oh where to begin. I love the Brookvale studio! I’ve practiced in London, Bali, LA, all over Sydney and in Byron and hands down Brookvale is the stand out. I had heard all about “the mother ship” from other studios and was over the moon when I met Jodie and all the beautiful instructors at this studio. I was thinking just the other day in class this is the one studio where I don’t have a favourite teacher. Normally I kind of end up aiming to attend the classes with teachers whose practice I gravitate towards but every single teacher at this studio offers something slightly different, they all care so much and make every single class worth it.

What changes do you see in yourself when you practice yoga regularly?
I notice I tone up quickly when I’m consistent and my flexibility improves dramatically. The cardio is also super impressive, I notice how much easier my runs become. I work away for at least 6 months of the year though so my practice is a bit of a yo-yo.

Overall, what’s the best thing about Bikram yoga for you?
The way I feel after a class. Getting there is hard some days, when I’m tired or angry, but I always feel sooo much better after a class.0

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How to do Rabbit pose (sasangasana)

Rabbit is one of the hardest postures to do, initially because you cannot see what you are doing!

Sometimes, we give up in our heads before we’ve even started a pose because we find the posture difficult. We decide that it will be hard and so we don’t give ourselves the best chance. There is one simple way to change this.

It is by paying 100% attention to the setup, the start of the posture. This gives you focus, stills your monkey mind (your own worst enemy!) and gives you the instructions necessary to execute the posture to the best of your ability on that day.

Once you understand Rabbit’s set up you will get so much more out of this fabulous posture.

By the time you arrive at Rabbit your spine is very warmed up. Joints are more mobile and comfortable, ready to take on one of the most radical and effective postures of the 26.

Benefits of Rabbit

Rabbit extends the spine and compresses the organs in the front of the body. It does a tremendous job of increasing the mobility of the whole spine, feeding the nervous system and relieving tension in the neck, shoulders and back.

Rabbit is one of the best postures for insomnia, depression and anxiety.

How to set up Rabbit 

Sit down on your heels. Knees together. Hips on your heels, ankles flat on the floor.

The GRIP

  • Flick your towel over your heels so that you have a dry strong grip.
  • Grab your heels over your towel, thumbs outside, fingers inside your foot.
  • In the beginning this grip can be awkward because your shoulders and wrists are a little tight. Don’t worry, in time these things will loosen!

THE CHIN

  • Tuck your chin in to your chest and hold your stomach in.
  • Keeping your hips down on your heels, slowly round into yourself. Think of your back curling round, nose to belly button.
  • The second you see your stomach keep looking at it. HOLD IT IN!
  • You are trying to get your forehead to your knees and top of the head on the floor.

THE MOVE

  • Adjust your grip now so it is strong.
  • Holding your stomach in, pull on your heels so that your hips lift up to the ceiling.
  • In the beginning, you may feel like this will be almost impossible. Like you are stuck in this position and nothing will move. Again, be patient because this will change as you practice regularly.
  • You will be surprised one day when you pull and your hips do rise beautifully towards the ceiling!

Now you must KEEP PULLING. This is the key to this posture.

Tips to help when you are in the posture

If your forehead is not touching your knees, walk the knees forward. In the start, this might be tricky. Your lower back feels tight, belly is in the way. Each time you come to class, you must try. Keep your stomach in and walk one then the other knee forward.

Keep your chin tucked into your chest.

Walking your knees forward starts to stretch your lower back gently. It’s relatively easy to stretch the upper back in rabbit, you want the whole spine to stretch.

There shouldn’t be too much weight on the head. Keep pulling on your heels to lessen that weight.

If you are practising a while, and rabbit feels more comfortable, bring your heels together. Both heels equally, and hold them tight.

And finally, one last time, the two key elements to make rabbit work for you – keep pulling on your heels and sucking your stomach in!

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How is Bikram Yoga a 90 Minute open eye meditation?

Did you know that in any one day you will thousands of thoughts? Neuroscientists tell us that our mind has a tendency to pay more attention to the negative thoughts/experiences and these are what cause stress in our lives. If you think about it, the greatest source of stress in your life stems entirely from your thoughts, not what happens to you, but how you react to what happens to you. The continual internal dialogue going on in your head is what we call the “monkey mind”.

“Our Mind can be our own worst enemy or our best friend”

Chronic unmanaged stress can cause a multitude of conditions – contributing to high BP, autoimmune disorders, insomnia, digestive BikramsBrookie (84 of 106)ailments, heart disease, to name just a few.

The scary thing is that we are not even aware of these thoughts and effects they have.  We live a life of grasping, worrying, struggling, wishing. These are our negative thoughts.

While many things in life are beyond our control, one thing that is within our control is our own state of mind.  By controlling our thoughts, we realise that we have a choice as to what we think, how we feel about something or someone, how we react to a situation.

When we realise this and start to take charge and change our thoughts for the better, then we have found the antidote for our own personal fears, anxieties, which cause limitations and boundaries which beset the human condition. To put it another way, by training our mind, we feel happier and more content.

The ultimate goal of any meditation is to train the mind, so that you can control your thoughts, therefore reducing stress and leading you literally to a happier and healthier life.

So, how is a Bikram Yoga class a 90 minute open eye meditation?

Have you ever been about to do a posture in a Bikram class and you think, maybe I’ll miss this one out I’m tired, hot and the teacher is bugging me? Then, for whatever reason, you just go – oh what the hell I’ll just do it – and the posture feels like one of your strongest ever?!!

Why?  Because you had no expectations.  Expectations are judgement, expectations avoid the present moment by using past experience and so they create limitations, not just in your yoga practice, but in your life.

Why do Bikram teachers tell you the same thing again and again, and expect you to listen even when, in fact, especially when, you are a regular student?grab the foot

Because the teacher is trying to get you to break your own expectations of yourself to get you to listen and simply do. Only you can do this, the teacher cannot – but through the dialogue, the command and the heat, over time we break down our perceived limitations, which are caused by our thoughts.

To not always do what you did last time, but to apply the instructions to your body to remove any idea of limits and boundaries because they are living in the past and will stop you from moving forward.  By simply listening to the instructions and putting them into your body, you truly are present, you are TRAINING your MIND to listen.

The goal of Bikram Yoga is to teach you to break your attachments to external things, to your past beliefs about yourself, to your past beliefs about your limits, your body’s capabilities, your fears, anxieties and weaknesses.

The common western understanding of meditation is that it involves a quietened, perhaps slightly darkened room, sitting possibly in lotus, or at least cross-legged, with eyes closed and no disturbances.  This is an environment for meditation, but it is only one possible environment for meditation.  You can meditate while you are washing the dishes, hanging the washing, playing tennis, eating your dinner.  Meditation is a tool – it is not the goal –  and there are many techniques you can apply, but every one of these techniques shares the same ultimate goal – training the mind.

How to Control the Monkey Mind

The only way to do this is to learn to control the monkey mind, to allow our state to become more receptive, so that it is open to see its own spirit – your true essence.  And only you know your true essence, nobody else.  To become more receptive, meditation is used as a tool to change your “normal” state that responds habitually to situations, based on what you think you know about yourself, your values, your limits, your monkey mind is so busy reinforcing all these that your spirit is lost.

And the ultimate goal of yoga is to find your true spirit.4

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The Story of the Tin Woman who fixed her broken knees (and broken heart)

This is the story of Kassie who has a lot of challenges in her life. Kassie sees herself as a bit of a rough diamond. She’s 53, works in child-care, is a divorced mother of two and grandmother of one.

How did you hear about Bikram Yoga?

I was introduced to it by a gym instructor.

When did you start Bikram Yoga?

I started in 2006 at the age of 42 because I had a very, very busy mind and no flexibility. I was a bit of a gym junkie and I needed to try and learn to be still. My 32 year marriage had ended and I was devastated.  I needed to sort myself out, I was broken.

You had a serious ski-ing accident last year. What happened?

I had such a bad accident I was off work for a year. I blew out both my knees’ ACLs, fractured both my patellas (knee caps) and tore the medial meniscii in both.  I really was a mess.

When did you come back to yoga?

So my accident was Feb 2015, and I was operated on very soon after. I came back in June 2016, 8 weeks after my second operation.

How often are you coming?

3 times a week

What was it like when you first came back?20160713_103847

Before the accident, I was pretty flexible and strong. I found it quite easy in the room, if I’m honest**. But coming back, I could barely stand up in the room. I couldn’t even lift my arms up, they felt like lead! But by the end of the first class back, I felt that I’d been hit by the yoga bus but I was back. I was smiling, I felt soooo good!!

So how were the knees?

I couldn’t do any kind of cardio at all, so yoga was really, really good because it was getting my heart rate up. In the beginning it was so painful even to put my weight on my knees, I would always start the pose correctly though and go to where I could go.  The teachers talk about “red light” pain and I followed their guidance and felt so safe to just move little by little to where I could. Some days were better than others but I understand from experience that every day is a different practice and I always feel so blessed to be walking in the room and know that long term, the knees are really getting better.  Plus I’ve been back 3 weeks and I’ve lost 3 kgs which is also helping my knees.

My specialists have told me that a lot of the pain is caused by the scarring and doing my yoga the pain would lessen.

The most important posture for you Kassie?

I did 12 months of rehab but I feel that I’m gaining more benefits from coming to yoga 3 times a week. The standing balancing postures are very hard for me but I know that they are the most important because they are rebuilding all the muscles around the knee, especially the VMO which stabilises the whole knee joint.

Did you find that stillness you were looking for?

I was learning the stillness before, but having the accident and feeling so blessed to be back in the room and back at work after a year in rehab at Delmar Hospital, 4 days a week, it felt easy to be still. That might not make sense but the accident put things in perspective, the ego went because I just felt so blessed to be in the land of the living!

Your mum has been ill for quite a few years. Tell me about that Kassie.

Mum’s been in a nursing home for 4 years in a vegetative state, she’s only 74. She was diagnosed with dementia at 50. That’s another reason I keep doing yoga. I’m 53.

How does the yoga help you handle what you are going through with your mum?

Mum can’t speak or use any part of her body. I feel like I’ve lost her but she’s still here. When I’m in the yoga room the outside world stops and I’m just there working on a particular pose. I really do understand now that it is a 90 minute meditation. I don’t think about the heat. I don’t think about the people around me, I’m facing my demons looking in the mirror just being in the moment.

What do you mean facing the demons?

I have a skin disease called vitiligo, it’s a loss of pigment brought on by a lot of trauma in my life. After the accident my skin got worse. Now that I’m practicing yoga again and feeling calm, my skin is improving.

Anything else you love about the yoga Kassie?

I met the man of my dreams here!!

Besides helping with your knee recovery, what has been the biggest thing Bikram Yoga has given you?

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My journey in this life is having faith in myself.  Learning to love myself, it’s
good to be different, but I feel different because of my skin and I’ve got to learn to accept my difference and be OK with it.  At home I avoid mirrors so looking in the mirror in the room is very confronting and I didn’t used to ever look in it. Now, I stare that mirror down!

 

 

 

Interview with Kim MacKechnie

July 2016

**Maybe you recognise Kassie from this backbending video we posted on Facebook. This was pre-accident.0

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The Story of My first 31 Day Challenge

When I did my first Bikram Challenge in 2006 I had been doing Bikram yoga for 5 years, coming a couple of times a week. I didn’t see myself as a sporty person, I certainly wasn’t a bendy person, I was just an ordinary, not very brave, mother of a 6 month old girl who wanted to get fit, toned and strong again and handle my new job (motherhood!).  I had no plans to do Bikram yoga every day for 31 days. But I am very very glad I did!  I wrote this at the time and unearthed it on my PC last week. So here’s how it happened and the story of my challenge…

Why I did a Challenge

The day before I started this challenge, I wouldn’t have believed I could have

Just before the Challenge

Just before the Challenge

done it.  Not only because of the logistics of physically getting to class every day (in fact that would be an excuse not a reason), but because I couldn’t imagine how I would cope with being in that hot room every day, every single day, not one break, for an entire month.

But when Jodie asked if I’d do the official challenge the school was running later in the year, I had to say yes, because she was giving me NO EXCUSES.  Jodie accepts nothing less than your best!  And so the seed was sown. Then that same day I mentioned it to a friend and she suggested I start the challenge that very day rather than waiting, I thought well, I’ve already done the 6am, I’m one class down.  The hardest thing in life is making a decision.

Once I’d committed to doing it, that was it, I was DOING IT.  There was no going back, there were no excuses, I was going to go every day for 31 days.  The first few days were pretty tough, not in the classroom but in my head.  I found it difficult to sleep, I think I was anxious about what I’d taken on. I was doing yoga postures in my sleep, and unfortunately it wasn’t savasana! 

I had no expectations about what to expect from the challenge.  I suppose secretly I hoped that I would lose weight and that my standing bow would be almost the standing splits.  Well anyway, I lost weight…..

I just went every day, there was no time to not look forward to going, like I did when I was going 2-3 times a week.  There was no option.  I couldn’t say, oh, I’m too tired, too busy, too lazy.  So that was good because it took the daily decision out of going.  In some ways it made the act of going to practice easier because I didn’t have to think about it.  And when I was in the class, the classes were definitely better, more consistently focused and stronger.

I saw some changes immediately.  My balancing poses for instance.   My balance just got better.  Interestingly in the last 3 -4 days of the challenge it all went pear-shaped.  Have no expectations.

Pranayama was better, I didn’t hate it anymore, it really felt like set up for class.

The Shock of Trying to do Things the Right Way!

Other things took a while.  I’ve never kept my heels together properly in the spine-strengthening series. And fortunately (in hindsight), Jodie pointed out this to me in no uncertain terms on day 2 –

“Why are your heels not together?” I think she said.  I think I apologized!

So now I had a focus and oh, man was that tough.  To keep my heels together for me, with my hips and legs the way they were, felt like trying to rotate them so that my knee-caps faced the ceiling, but without the pain.  It just felt weird.  But I persevered, despite the humiliation of no longer being able to soar like an aeroplane or curve my spine like a cobra. Like anyone’s looking at me!

Cobra was the biggest shock.  If I genuinely kept my heels together, I could barely get anything off the ground anymore, let alone my floating rib.  So for a few days, there I was on the floor barely moving, and then one day, I think Kaz was teaching and she got me to move my hands down a little, it suddenly clicked into place.  It was like my legs and hips went “Oh, you want me to do THIS!!” and I came up to where I used to be able to go, and my legs felt strong and powerful and my heels were still together!  YEAH!!

It began to occur to me that perhaps a lot of my physical “problems” were linked to this little quirky thing, that maybe wasn’t so little after all. That just keeping my heels together would start to fix my continually pulled hamstring, my squint hips, my sore shoulder and neck.

How Things started to Change

Over the 31 days, I gradually began to feel muscles in the legs working to help me, and supporting my back as it used its huge muscles to raise my torso up.

Despite practicing for 5 years, I’d always hated, feared the belly-down series.  I felt like a lead weight.  Now in my challenge, I really did feel like I had Denise’s helium balloons lifting me up.  I could breathe in the postures, I wasn’t just holding on, waiting for that beautiful word “change”.

The dialogue became more important to me, because I really was there with a purpose.  I had 31 days to change my world!  And when I listened, I learnt so much.  Often in the past I realized I’d switched off, because I knew what I was doing (allegedly!) and just put myself through the paces, but I’m learning loads by learning to listen.  Here’s a few things I need to remember:

  • In back bending poses, lift your heart up to the ceiling and imagine your shoulder blades are being wrapped around your spine.  Think of stretching the front of your body, don’t just focus on the bend in your back.
  • In Locust pose, Alex reminded us that single leg lifts are warm-ups for the double leg lift pose.  If you can get one leg that high, there’s no reason you can’t get both up. That’s the theory anyway!
  • I’ve really started to watch my hips in poses like Eagle, Tree and standing separate Leg stretching (coming down), to make sure my hips are aligned. In fact also Standing head to knee.
  • Standing and floor Bow I realized that I didn’t really really kick back.  I heard “equal and opposite” but I was thinking more about the arm than the leg because I used to not think about the arm at all.  So I started kicking back and felt much more balanced and grounded in the earth, rather than flailing slightly above it!

Some Notes from my Challenge Diary

Day 2 “Class was strange – I was obsessed with my horrible doughy stomach – has it always looked that bad?….Felt intensely aware that I have 29 more classes to get through. Not a great thought!”

Day 5 “still feeling really tired, despite 12 hours in bed! Going to increase magnesium. I nevertheless had a lovely class with very good focus…”

Day 6 “Today for the first time I feel quite confident about the challenge. I think I’ve settled into it a bit and believe it is possible.”

Day 7 “Today I actually feel normal – better than, I feel great!”

Day 8 “I’m sleeping fine now.”

Day 11 “I noticed today that when I stand my head tips slightly to the left.”

Day 13  ”Tonight’s class was HOT. I mean I got through it and possibly my aches make my stamina less, but mentally, I found it really hard. Definitely hardest since start. My neck and shoulder was really aching this morning. I resorted to denkorub and was overjoyed with the improvement but in class I felt it aching, especially after half tortoise.”

Day 14  “Stiffest class yet…I was so stiff though, which was weird considering I was in a class only 12 hours before….I’ve felt very energized all day too.  Probably best yet. ”

Day 16  “I don’t feel like I’m much better in the poses, but I feel more able to focus on the poses and me, my body, in them – rather than just getting through the class.”

Day 17 “I have had a great day energy wise.  I feel bouncy and light and have been busy and inspired.”

Day 18 ”My body feels like it’s turned a corner.”

Day 19 “I feel completely comfortable with yoga everyday now. In fact I enjoy it and look forward to challenging my body and mind.  I think I’ll miss it when it’s over!”

Day 22 “My upper back, around my scapula, was aching a week ago, in fact on and off during the entire challenge.  Now it’s OK.  The shoulder/neck pain I always got after half tortoise, camel and rabbit – NO MORE!”

Day 25  ”I occasionally get this peace come over me in class…it’s the 90 minute meditation Bikram talks about.  It’s not easy.  I can’t try and do it; in fact, it’s the opposite.  I have to try and let go.  Don’t think just do. Don’t analyse, listen to the dialogue.”

Day 27 “Two in one day!  The thought of it was much worse than the reality. 6.00 was fine, so NOT hot.  Tonight however was sweltering and although therefore much harder, so much more satisfying.  My energy wasn’t great…but I didn’t pull my shoulder and I feel great now.”

Day 28 “Ugh. Had been expecting a good class but was worst in challenge.  Lay out of 3 sets.  Was just so not coping, it was weird. I expected after 28 days – Well the lesson is to have NO expectations.  It is all a journey!  I felt fantastic for the rest of the day of course.”

Day 29 “My balance wasn’t great tonight. Perhaps standing in the middle of the room – too much pressure to perform! Also, now I’m near the end of the challenge.  I feel more like I did when I went 2 days/week.  I know my postures have changed, but mentally I’m a bit back to normal.”

Day 30 “I’ve really learnt that, just because I’d done yoga every day for 31 days, it won’t make my practice any better than the person next to me, than the day before, it makes me understand ME more.  That’s all.  It’s the same leg you’re balancing on as the night before, so why is it stronger/weaker than then?  It’s the MIND.”

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After the Challenge

Day 31 LAST DAY “So I walked out at the end of the class and just wanted to cry.  I never expected this emotion. It was like complete relief, combined with disbelief that I’d done it.  And pride.  But I felt like a shell.  Like I’d been holding it all together for 31 days, and now I could just LET GO. Which is I suppose, the thing I always want to be able to do.  So Bikram fixed that?! I sat in the corner outside and sobbed quietly.  I really wanted to sob loudly, but I waited till I was in the car to do that!

Gosh I felt different.  I think it was elation.  I felt this absolute sense of achievement, there was no question I’d done something I never thought I could do.  I felt calm, satisfied – peaceful.  I’d reached my goal!

In my diary there is a lot of talk about the pains I was suffering.  There was always something bothering me, but they all worked their way out, as long as I was aware in my practice.  Sometimes it was a pain from using a part of my body I hadn’t used much, so more of an ache.  Sometimes it was a genuine pain, but I really had to address what I was doing with my body in my practice to cause it, because I know it’s not the postures themselves causing the pain, it’s the way I use my body.  So for instance, in pranayama, I would raise my shoulders, not just my torso, and ended up with aching shoulders.  So for a while, I just didn’t bring my elbows up as high, while I retrained my body how to relax my shoulders and lift my whole body up more.

Today

Looking back I realise that doing this challenge changed everything about the yoga for me. I honestly never thought I could do Bikram Yoga every day, and I certainly never thought I could become a Bikram Yoga Teacher, although in my deepest heart, I realise that I really really wanted to. The challenge changed me to the point where, 3 years later I felt brave enough to see my heart and follow my heart. In November 2010 I qualified as a Bikram Yoga Teacher.  This yoga has really and truly changed things about me I didn’t know you could change.

Ten years on, I’m now 47 and my yoga practice has continued to grow and change me – physically, emotionally. I don’t practice every day, but I do make sure I practice 3 – 4 times every week. As I’ve got older it feels even more important for my overall health (back, hips, especially I feel if I don’t practice) and I can honestly say that I feel better now than I did when I was 28. No doubt! However cliched it sounds, we say it because it’s true – I am SO grateful that I have found this yoga. I don’t believe there is anything quite like it.

Kim MacKechnie

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Why We fall out of Standing Bow Pulling

This posture probably more than any other, divides us Bikram yogis! Some love it – “my favourite pos
ture!”  – while others find it a constant struggle simply to balance.

And there’s the word. Balance.The first thing I’d say about standing bow is to forget about the balance. The balance is the result of form, balance does not enable form.

So some magic tips about form to get the most out of this posture:

The first thing you do in this posture is grab your foot at the ankle. If you are newer to Bikram this can be tricky, be patient and keep trying. As your shoulder flexibility improves and your hips open through the 26 postures, you’ll get there.

Make sure you GRAB, don’t just hold the ankle. Grip on for dear life. Because when you work out the kick, you’ll need to hold on or you’ll lose the foot!

Now bring your arm up in front of you, chin close to the shoulder to stretch the arm up. This energises your entire spine ready for the posture.

So now you are ready. One more thing – knees together for alignment and balance. And don’t forget always the locked knee is your foundation.

Bow is really very simple. You have to kick back and stretch forward. Mastering these two aspects will transform this posture. Everything else comes from your honest attention to these 2 actions.

But I hear you say, kicking is HARD. Yes it is! Probably 90%of the people in the room are not kicking, they are holding their foot and hoping they don’t fall out. When you get the hang of the kick, everything else truly starts to fall into place.

Second Problem: Falling out. Don’t be scared to fall out trying. Again, the goal is not to balance, the goal is to kick so your foot comes over the top of your head and your body is parallel to the floor, stretching your fingers forward as much as possible . When you fall out, you learn. If you are scared to fall out, you’ll stay in the same position for EVER.

Check that your weight stays evenly over your standing foot. Bring your body down so that your abdomen and chest are parallel to the floor, to encourage the kick and raise the heart rate. Getting your body down also encourages the weight to be evenly distributed rather than back in the heel.

Don’t just point at the mirror, charge your body forward towards it like you want to touch it. If you are charging enough and kicking enough, you won’t fall out. In fact, you could balance there forever! How?

You have to try very hard to concentrate on kicking and stretching. Look at your standing knee to keep it locked and forget about balance. Building concentration is just as hard as building balance, and probably much more valuable in life, but we very rarely hear somebody say, “I need to learn to concentrate more.”  All balancing postures are about your concentration.

Think of this posture as a backbend/spine twist combo, that gives you a sense of what you are trying to achieve.

And always remember, as long as you are trying your best, you are getting your maximum benefit from the posture!standing bow for real people

Some Benefits of Standing Bow Pulling

  • A very comprehensive Posture improves the strength of all major muscles
  • Stimulates the cardiovascular system
  • Increases your spine flexibility
  • Increases blood circulation to heart and lungs
  • Stretches your hip flexors
  • Opens shoulder joints
  • Reduces abdominal fat

Now head in the hot room and give it a go!8

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Why Locking the Knee is so important in Bikram Yoga

How many times in class do you hear the teacher shouting  “Lock the Knee, lock the knee, lock the kStanding-Head-to-Knee-2.jpgnee!!”?

Locking the Knee is possibly one of the most misunderstood principles in Bikram Yoga.  In this blog, we’ll unlock (no pun intended) some of the myths by explaining why locking the knee is so important.

First let’s clear one thing up.  What it is NOT. Locking the knee is NOT jamming your knee back as far as you can and trying to balance on it.

Physically, when you “lock your knee” in a balancing posture in Bikram Yoga, you are contracting your quadriceps muscles in the front of your leg, and therefore releasing the hamstring sending the message via the nervous system for it to stretch.

In the beginning this may feel uncomfortable, even painful because the nerves are not used to the stretch and will send pain messages to the brain.  Our first impulse is to pull back, to avoid pain at all costs. However, if you want to improve stretch tolerance i.e. get more flexible, you may need to take the stretch to a point of pain. “Pain kills the pain”.  This is not to say that you should be in tears, gritting your teeth and holding your breath but if you don’t take a stretch to a point of pain, you are not likely overloading your nervous system well enough to improve stretch tolerance, to get more flexible!

A key principle in Bikram Yoga is that you are trying to overload the nervous system to increase your stretch tolerance. That is how you become more flexible, decrease the risk of injury and relax your nervous system so that it is less sensitive and therefore your body will stretch.

Put simply, the only way to improve your flexibility is to improve the function of your nervous system.  You’ll notice that when you are concentrating on locking the knee, you are less likely to fall out of the pose.  Why, because you ARE concentrating!

What does Locking the knee look like?

You know you are locking your knee when you see your kneecap raise and muscles bunched above the knee, this indicates that the qkneeuadriceps muscles are being contracted.

There are 4 muscles in the quadricep femoris muscle group in the front of your leg. The one that is hardest to “turn on” is the vastus medialis obliquus (VMO) on the inside of the leg just above the knee.  Its job is to extend the length of the thigh and to stabilize the patella (knee cap) so your knee tracks correctly.

The VMO muscle is a common centre of weakness in many people because it will not become fully strengthened unless the leg is regularly extended fully.  It becomes more fully activated when the knee is at a greater angle, especially when the leg is completely extended.

As we age, the VMO muscle is the first muscle that we will start to lose.  As it weakens this can bring problems with the knee, surrounding structure and cause chronic aching pain.

The good news…

Locking the knee is a highly effective way of building your VMO strength while also building density as you are standing and weight loading at the same time. And, you are completely normal if you find locking the knee very hard.  It is hard.  That is why you must CONCENTRATE to try to do it.  This is how concentration improves your physical health!

The struggle in your mind as you try to keep the knee locked instills discipline. Learning discipline in the room helps us apply discipline in our lives.  Ultimately, how we apply ourselves to the job of locking the knee is a metaphor to how we apply ourselves to the job of living.

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My Back to Bikram Experience!

by Michelle SimpsonMichelle Simpson

One morning I woke with yet another headache. Every second to third day I was waking with screaming headaches.  I had been going to my physio on a regular basis over the past year which definitely helped but the situation was not fixed. This particular morning I had enough!  I thought, “this has to stop and I’m the only one that can fix this”.  On the spot I decided to go back to Bikram.

I had stopped Bikram when I became pregnant with my son and so it had been about 2 years since my last class at Brookvale.  I took myself along, signed up for the month and headed for the room.  As I approached that Essence of Bikram hit me and immediately a loud crazy voice in my head screamed “OH NO, what were you thinking?!?”.

I walked into the room and an even louder voice… “You have GOT to be KIDDING, did you NOT remember how HOT this place was!”

Day 1  I survived!  

It went surprisingly well. After the initial shock of the heat I focused on following and it was OK.  The most significant moment was doing the Locust Pose where you turn your arms towards the floor and lay on your arms.  I was in excruciating pain and couldn’t bare my own weight.  This was so significant for me as I used to be able to do this pose, it was a defining moment that I had to establish a regular practice again.

Day 2 and 3 OMG I was sooooooo stiff and sore, I was questioning taking myself back to the torture chamber but I was determined to do a few days in a row.

Day 4 was a turning point, I was starting to feel good and decided to keep coming back.  I hadn’t planned to do a challenge but knew it was good to do a number of days in a row getting back into Bikram so decided to aim for 5 to 7 days.

Day 6 I went into the class with such high spirits. After 5 days of Bikram I was feeling amazing.  Guess what happen on day 6?  I was able to bare weight on my arms in the Locust Pose!

Day 7 was great and I decided “Well I’m at day 7, might as well go to 10 now” but the rest of the day I was exhausted.  I had the biggest energy slump since I started and struggled with the idea of going back the next day but I had already committed in my head to 10 days… so off I went!

Day 8 to 10  I was glad I dragged myself back as every day I was just feeling amazing and it was easy to go back each day (with enthusiasm).  I got to day 10 and it was basically…. “I’ve got this far, I might as well go for 14 days”.  The detoxing and the increased vitality I was feeling made it an easy decision.  I had not had a single piece of junk food, I was eating well and hadn’t craved anything sugary since I started.  Paul was a great support, encouraging me to keep going and chatting to me about food. In fact, all the teachers were awesome. Everyone was so supportive and I really felt welcomed back.

Day 11  After class – Yep another big slump day but… I still went back….

Days 12 to 14  Every day I was just feeling amazing, I was looking forward to each session and believe it or not I had to stop myself from going!  At that point I could have gone on and contemplated going to day 20.  I would have but by this stage I was so busy and things had got crazy as I hadn’t planned to do 14 days straight of Bikram so I had to do some serious catching up!

How would I describe the 14 Day Back to Bikram Experience?

I was really happy I had completed 14 days.  I felt fantastic and couldn’t believe how well, vibrant and energized I felt and no surprise – I had not had a single headache for 14 days!  For the next 14 days I continued going every second day and I’m still going regularly.

Reflecting on when I use to go a couple of years back compared to today, now I seem to be able to focus on the teacher’s instructions whereas previously it was over and over in my head…”it’s too hot, when are they going to open the window/door, when is the floor exercises, when is this going to end etc etc”.  It’s great knowing I can go to yoga and focus on what I’m there for (not saying there isn’t other chatter that cuts in every now and again but it is not usually heat related).

BikramsBrookie (147 of 53)Lastly, the whole month since I’ve come back for some unknown reason I’ve struggled with Standing separate leg head to knee pose. As Jodie would say, I have a relationship with this pose.

I have no idea why I struggle mentally and physically with it.  After a month of Bikram I decided I must just be trying too hard and, low and behold…our relationship is getting better!

 

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7 Reasons why Yoga is a Great Gift for Dads!

In honour of Fathers’ Day and all the dads out there, here’s 7 reasons why yoga is great for ALL Dads!

 

  1. Doing Yoga regularly gives you more TIME

We all know that Yoga is designed to improve your joint mobility and your flexibility, but it also gives you way more energy, and sharpens focus and concentration, so dad will be EVEN more productive at work, so he can spend less hours there and more time with you, his loving family!

  1. Yoga gives you Energy

When you do yoga regularly, you don’t need energy drinks, coffee or sugar, or anything else. (Although you might still like them anyway!) You can keep up with the kids, in fact you might even beat them!

  1. Yoga is great for your back

After 40, more people suffer with back pain than don’t. Yoga is one of the most effective ways to improve back pain. So dad can easily put on the socks you bought him for Fathers day!

  1. Yoga reduces stress

Stress is the number one cause of illness in Australia.

Stress is not what happens to you, it’s how you react to what happens to you. Yoga provides you with a toolset to deal with what happens to you and so reduce stress levels, whatever the situation.

  1. Yoga doesn’t need skills

You don’t need to be “good” at bikram yoga to benefit from it. It’s designed for beginners. You just need to turn up, put your toes on the line and try and you’ll come out the other end of 90 minutes feeling like you’ve had an incredible workout.

  1. Age is irrelevant

Yoga is quite unique activity in that it’s something you get better at as you get older! Bikram Yoga appeals to all ages and both sexes. At Brookvale, we have people in their 70s in the room doing their yoga beside teenagers.  Everyone is welcome, everyone can feel comfortable and we love it that way!

  1. Yoga is perfect for Dads who bodies are worn and torn from years of sport

Maybe dad was an ace footy player in his day and now his knees are shot, he played cricket obsessively and he’s living with chronic back pain or his time as a secret agent took a toll on his body. 🙂

Whatever, yoga is perfect for the dad who thinks he can’t do much anymore. Bikram is specifically designed to help to relieve chronic pain plus give you a cardio workout and help flexibility. A one stop body workshop!!2

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Spine Twist – Last but not Least

 

As the last posture in the series, spine twist is sometimes not given as much attention by students (and teachers!).  We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, the last breathing exercise is seconds away.

Don’t underestimate the importance of this posture. Spine Twist is the last posture in the Bikram series because your whole body is optimally warmed up and relaxed to get the most benefits.

Jodie says “Take your time! Go into it slowly, think about each step of the set up. That is the ONLY way you will get the benefits.”

Benefits….

Spine twist acts to neutralize the spine and release any residual tension after all the work you’ve been doing. It gives your digestive system a lovely massage and increases the blood supply to the nerves in the spinal column. It is excellent for postural scoliosis, lordosis and kyphosis.  With proper alignment it stretches deeply into hips and legs and is a great release for neck and shoulder tension.

What’s Happening

Let’s be more specific about the name Spine twist. It’s the upper and middle part of your back that are designed to twist – your cervical spine (neck) and thoracic (middlespine at the shoulder and chest area).

While your cervical and thoracic spine are designed to rotate, flex and extend, your lumbar spine is built to support your body weight and only to flex and extend (backbends and forward bends). Your lumbar spine is NOT really designed to rotate (twist) very much. This should come from your thoracic and cervical spine.

 

The Bad News

Modern living – prolonged periods of sitting, super soft sofas, poor posture, hunching over an electronic device (it’s not just teenagers who do it), carrying the world in your shoulder bag, holding babies, driving – means the thoracic area can lose its mobility and the lumbar spine is forced to do the work when you are twisting. Bad news for both the lumbar spine and the thoracic!

Your lumbar can handle a little twist but it’s not happy when it’s expected to do everything. Naturally, your lumbar spine has around 5 degrees rotation, your thoracic around 35 degrees and your cervical spine (your neck) about 50 degrees. So when you aren’t using your thoracic and cervical optimally, eventually your lower back will let you know it’s not happy, in the form of nagging aches, chronic pain, or worse. (Please note there are of course other reasons for lower back pain).

The Good News

When done correctly spine twist pose will increase the mobility into your thoracic and cervical spine. When we start Bikram yoga most of us find spine twist is a struggle because we don’t do spine rotations much in our daily lives.

Be patient! The great thing about this posture is that you have just spent almost 90 minutes stretching your body every which way and you are in the best position possible to get the best results. You might not feel you do spine twist “well”, (you’re human not a pretzel and that’s why you come to Bikram Yoga) but if you are doing it with the best form available to you today, you are most definitely doing it “well”. As Jodie says, take your time in the set up and you will get the benefits. Don’t rush.

 

So What’s the Trick?

If you haven’t worked it out by now, the key is the Setup.

SPINE TWIST SETUP (using the first side)

  • You start with both hips on the floor and both feet on the floor in front of you.
  • Now bend the left knee on to the floor and bring the left foot around outside the right hip.

At this point it’s very common for the hip of the bent up leg to raise slightly. That’s OK, it’s not “wrong”. One of the aims of spine twist is to do it with your hips nicely on the floor. That comes through practice.  Remember, always it’s what you are TRYING to do in yoga that matters. So you’re not there yet, don’t worry, but don’t forget about it.

  • Point the toes of the left foot.
  • Place the heel of your right foot touching your left knee. Left knee on the floor.Knee heel and hand touching

Many people bring the right foot in away from the knee, closer to the thigh.  This is likely to lift the right hip and lessen the twist by reducing traction in spine. Keep the heel exactly at the left knee.

  • Bring your left arm around, push your right knee out the way with the elbow and hold your left knee.

If you struggle to get the hand over the knee, lean the body out. This will straighten the back and increase the stretch.

Bikram says that for big strong guys where it is almost impossible to get the hand on the knee, as long as you sit with hips down best you can and grab the towel instead of the knee to create pressure between the arms, you will get the effect of the posture.

The left elbow and the right knee must touch throughout the posture.

  • Now look in the mirror and check the alignment of your spine.

If your spine doesn’t stay straight and upright i.e you’re slumping a bit (be honest with yourself), keep the other hand on the floor palm down, fingers away from spine and use this hand to leverage the spine straight. You might be leaning a little forward to try to keep the left knee and right hip down, that’s OK for a beginner and will straighten the spine.

Keep sucking stomach and lifting the chest up to the ceiling.

That’s the setup. Here’s the posture:

  • Start to look over your left shoulder. Think of twisting from the waist upwards to the neck and bring your eyes around just as much as you can.
  • Inhale chest up and stomach in and always twist on the exhale.

 

Focus on:

  • Try with each exhale to twist round a little more
  • Continuously stretch up as you exhale and twist. The spine should remain straight.
  • Keep the left knee and hand and the right heel all touching at the same place as you twist.
  • Try to keep your left knee and right hip down on the floor.
  • Keep gently pushing the knee back with the elbow.
  • If your bent knee on the floor has an injury and causes you discomfort, keep it straight, no problem.

 

Spine Twist may seem easy if you take the path of least resistance, but done with correct form it builds a strength in the torso, cleanses out your digestion and improves suppleness in the spine, hips and legs.

And when the last posture is done, this is how you feel….

Jodie Smiling3

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