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Bikram Yoga

Things I've Learned in Bikram Yoga

By Boyd Martin

1. If yoga turns it on, yoga will turn it off. I've had many classes where a muscle or joint will "release" (I used to wrongly identify it as "strain"), causing pain and stiffness or soreness after class. By the end of the next class, invariably, that soreness and pain disappears.

2. Your body is stronger than you think it is. You have more energy than you think you do. One day in class I decided to completely ignore my thoughts as to what I could or couldn't do in class, and was surprised to find a whole new range of motion, and a whole new area of energy and strength. The body obeys the limitations imposed upon it by the mind. Because Bikram Yoga is one of the most strenuous forms of hatha yoga, it is easy to claim to myself that I MUST be tired after all that exertion. Letting myself engage in this way, certainly obtained the result. The REALITY of yoga class is that it CREATES energy. Although it is natural to feel weakness or exhaustion, that feeling is actually RECOVERY, and in a few minutes, I claim to myself that I am refreshed and energetically ready for life. And, magically, I am.

3. Trust your body to know what it needs to do. Patience. As obedient as the body is to the limitations of the mind, it has also retained the awareness of the sequence of how those limitations were imposed, and knows how to undo them. The deeper problem with this is that many times there seem to be opposing limitations and confused commands operating within the body. These were put there by the mind, resulting in the wrong muscles being used to do certain motions. The trick, of course, is to get the mind out of the way, and it WILL resolve.

4. How you do yoga is how you do your life. The corollary to this is what happens during yoga practice is a microcosm of what happens to you in life. Paying attention to this is the road to revelation--as well as some inner grins.

5. Flexibility and core strength are the keys to health. Nutrition is important, drinking lots of water is important, getting proper amounts of sleep is important--all things I had been doing throughout my life. Unfortunately, I had overlooked the two most important things. Exercise is inadequate (and I dare say useless) without flexibility and core strength training. Again, it has taken much more than I thought to keep my body's bank account from going into the red, and the quickest way into the black is with flexibility and core strength training. (By "core strength" I mean the deepest core muscles that create movement in the body, such as abdominal and back muscles.) With a high degree of flexibility, all the enzymes, minerals, blood flow, and myriad other rejuvenating substances the body creates to heal and build itself can get to those areas that need it. Without flexibility, there is withering and dying. I also noticed that I didn't engage my abdominal muscles when I should, such as when bending over, `lifting, carrying, walking, standing up. This set up bad habits of motion, and the obvious developing flacidity and inappropriate muscle recruitment.

6. Breathe. Combine this command with how you do yoga is how you do your life, and you'll quickly see where you cut off your life force in daily living. I would stop breathing when I felt weak, for example. Ooops.

7. Use your mind to guide and expand. This is a corollary to Number 3 above. I noticed that by setting and visualizing goals on each posture, as well as for the entire class, and by refusing to entertain any other thoughts--such as how hot it is in the room, what hurts, what I'm afraid of, etcetera, etcetera--lo and behold progress gets made. The body wants to feel better. Help it out by concentrating on improving each posture, and when not doing that, concentrating on breathing. I'm saving myself a lot of unnecessay torture by applying this point in my practice, and in my life.

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