"January 2, 2016 was my first real class. (Technically I took a class in 2010, but because it wasn’t at BYSJ, there was obviously no reason to continue. ;)
"I am my mother’s son, which is to say that because she was fanatical about Bikram yoga, she knew I’d be interested before I knew myself. On a visit from Texas over the holidays, she roped me into joining her at a BYSJ class shortly after the studio first opened. I’d grown up a ballet dancer and runner and have always enjoyed meditative movement. Bikram yoga has proven to be a natural complement to my other current extracurriculars: running, dance, and Pilates.
"Beyond the obvious benefit of having much better sex (TMI?), I’ve learned through Bikram yoga that life can simply be breath and point of focus. Received one too many passive aggressive emails at work? Breathe, do the yoga, focus on breathing. Sore knee, tight hamstrings, and a twitchy eye? Breathe, do the yoga, focus on breathing. Car battery’s dead, it’s been 12 days since you last saw the sun, and your cat just peed on your new comforter? Breathe, do the yoga, focus on breathing.
"I love coming up with different soothing visualizations to get me through class and life. Whether it’s a firehose wiping around spraying water in savasana, transforming into a hot air balloon in camel pose, or being drawn and quartered in full locust pose, there’s a lot of fun to be had coming up with visualizations that reframe The Struggle.
"Here are some tips I've derived from my personal scientific studies:
"But hey. I’m just the Mayor of BYSJ, what do I know?!" *
*Ben holds the title "Mayor" of BYSJ because he has the most check-ins on the app Swarm, where he has checked in every single time he's visited the studio- 225 and counting! Thanks, Ben!
i"The principle of Ardha-Matsyendrasana and of other spine-twisting asanas is the use of the legs as fulcrums or levers so that the pull of the arms on the two upper corners of the rib box can bring the spinal twist to its maximum potential. The value of the twist is that it exercises, adjusts and rejuvenates the spine, and that it stimulates all the organs of the trunk to better health."
(from "Yoga Postures for Health", compiled from articles in the 1956-59 Self Realization Magazine)
Half Spine Twisting pose improves blood circulation around the spinal nerves, veins and tissues. It increases flexibility of the entire spine and range of motion at the hip joints, helps alleviate back pain caused by lumbago, kyphosis, scoliosis and arthritis. Twisting improves digestion, relieves flatulence and strengthens the abdominal and thigh muscles while providing a tremendous stretch for the illiotibilal (IT) band.
So how come we only do 1 set of this fabulous pose? Bikram might say he ran out of time- but we think it's just so great that only 1 set of it does the job. ;)
How to do:
Especially if you practice Bikram yoga daily (shout out to our Revolution Challengers!!) it's critical to replenish your electrolytes and fuel your body with all the nutrients it needs. One of the most delicious ways to do that is by eating plenty of hydrating fruits and veggies. Here's one of our favorite go-to recipes, full of leafy greens and citrus. "Pro" tip: double the ingredients and keep the extra salad in the fridge for lunch tomorrow!
Ingredients for 2 servings
4 cups kale, thinly sliced in ribbons
1 can chickpeas/ garbanzo beans
1/2 avocado (use other 1/2 for garnish)
1 grapefruit, sectioned then cut in chunks
Tahini Citrus dressing:
1-1 1/2 Tbsp creamy tahini
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1-2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp maple (or agave) syrup
a few pinches black pepper
a few pinches cayenne (more if you like it spicy)
a pinch of sea salt
water if needed to thin it out
1. Add dressing ingredients to small bowl, whisk together.
2. Rinse your greens. Pat dry between paper towels and chop.
3. Rinse beans and toast briefly on a frying pan (optional)
4. Dice avocado, add to greens bowl. Set aside 1/2 of it sliced for garnish.
5. Add dressing to greens bowl and toss well.
6. Fold chickpeas and grapefruit chunks into greens.
7. Serve right away, or refrigerate covered for up to 3 days.
Adapted from the recipe at https://www.popsugar.com/Kale-Chickpea-Power-Salad-sweet-tahini-dressing-26959938
“I took my first Bikram class in January of 2011. I did 20 classes in 2 months and was hooked. I worked as a Karma yogi for a few years at another local studio, which allowed me to maintain a steady practice regardless of finances. In 2014 my practice began to take a back seat after a significant life change and although I would hear the call to the hot room from time to time and find myself sweating it out periodically over the years, It wasn’t until this last summer ‘17 that I decided it was time to make yoga a priority again.
“I had been experiencing worsening shoulder pain as a result of a car accident and years of repetitive stress due to an active job and lifestyle in general. When I came back to the St Johns studio in August, I was in excruciating pain, sleeping less than two hours of broken sleep a night and let’s just say, my mood was suffering as a result. After 5 months of regular practice, I feel energized, my skin is softer and clearer, I am sleeping almost through the night which I classify as a miracle, and my overall mood has improved significantly.
“Because, this time around, I am focused on nursing my bum shoulder, I spend my time in class focusing on the details of each step of every posture and what that means for my body that day. With a few minor adjustments and a lot of hard work I feel myself becoming more balanced and stronger every day. Even if my shoulder or whathaveyou don’t do what I wish they could, I feel the healing happening and I am excited about that!!
“The mental benefits that yoga provides for me are invaluable. I cope with anxiety and depression that can become severe if I don’t care for myself well. Bikram yoga and the active meditation of participating in class is my number one exercise for good mental health. Let me never forget that again!!”
Q: What if my forehead will never touch my toes?
A: Short answer: it doesn't matter. If you've been to my class (or if you've been reading this blog) you've probably heard me say/write something like "the goal is not the real goal." So while the "goal" of this posture as we say it in class is to touch your head to the feet- really the real goal is what happens along the way, the effect you create in your body simply by trying the right way. In this posture, the real goal is 360-degree-angle stretching, coccyx to toes, coccyx to head.
Q: Why do we grab the big toes only? I'd rather grab my feet!
A: Grabbing just the big toes ensures you create the 360-degree-angle stretching. Here's how it works: Because your only grip is on the toe, you are forced to use the fronts of your legs muscles (quadriceps and shins) to flex the feet and get the heels off the floor. Contracting the fronts of your legs means the backs of your legs can truly stretch from coccyx to the toes. When you pull the toes with your heels off the floor and stretch your body forward from the lower spine, you also stretch your spine from coccyx to the neck, creating 360-angle stretching. If you grabbed your feet from outside or the top (though it might seem more comfortable!) you wouldn't get that stretch to the lower back. As is so often the case (sigh) the uncomfortable way is the right way! So grab your big toes. ;)
The best way to learn any posture and experience for yourself the benefits it has to offer is to come to class on the regular (3-5 times a week is best) and make your body smile. Got other questions? Ask one of our certified instructors next time you are in for class- or drop us a line in the comments below!
"I signed up for Bikram yoga after seeing BYSJ's booth at the Farmer's Market in spring of 2016, and the timing could not have been more serendipitous. Deep down I knew I needed to do something to get back into a consistent exercise routine. The very first big difference thing that I noticed after a few weeks of practicing regular Bikram Yoga was the skin on the back of my upper arms/tricep was no longer bumpy (a very common skin thing)- - it was smooth!
Being in the military (at the Oregon Air National Guard in Portland - our F-15 airplanes share the runway with PDX) we have a PT (physical training) test each year. I had found recent years that I 'crammed' for it-- going into 'beast mode' about 6 weeks or so before the test (which comprises of timed situps & pushups-- 1 minute allotted for each-- not to mention waist measurement and a mile & a half run.
In June 2016 (about a month or so of getting into Bikram yoga) I scored the highest PT (physical training) score ever (in my 20+ yrs in the military) with a 96.9 (out of 100). To score Excellent, one must get 90 or above. Fortunately because of my regular yoga practice, i don't have to worry about not passing.
"Cramming at anything in life does not help anybody! I wanted a regular exercise practice that I liked and that give me great benefit and to also be a role model to my kids for a picture of health. Many career military folks lose their dedication to their health and I think it's so important to set the example but, more importantly, to live my best life (like Oprah says.) I was looking primarily for physical benefits; toning & flexibility appealed to me. My high school and college days of track and volleyball are far behind me, and now I have fallen in love w/ Bikram Yoga particularly. It's easy on the joints, non-competitive, and the benefits, as I've learned, are far more than physical: my practice has increased my patience and motivation in other areas of my life.
"The greatest benefits in the last year in particular are: 1) healing a fresh back injury! With physical therapy, I took a short break right after the injury and then got back into it right on time for January 2017's 30-day challenge! I took it very easy and did very little in some postures and it healed me 98%! The other 2% was just time. Today I am 100%. 2) I credit Bikram Yoga for the remarkable healing following an ovarian cyst removal surgery in early October 2017; after 3 days I felt restless and was ready to drive to my doctor's appointment. In each class when it's mentioned that we receive 100% of the benefit for every attempt we do, that really speaks to me. I have learned to really listen to my body since regularly practicing (I aim for 3x/week.)
"I love putting my energy into Bikram yoga. The 5:30am class is great for my work-life balance. When I get home after the early morning class, my husband and 2 kids are just getting up (so I don't miss family time) and I'm still able to get to work on time. I LOVE that our cozy St. Johns neighborhood has its own Bikram Yoga studio and I am proud to be part of it! "
This posture comes toward the very end of every Bikram yoga class, paired with Stretching Pose/ Paschimottanasana. Together the two postures provide a lovely final stretch for the hamstrings, shoulders and back while improving circulation to the internal abdominal organs.
How to do:
Among the many specific benefits of Head to Knee pose are:
Many students comment about the transition from Camel Pose to Rabbit Pose: it's very challenging, or it feels amazing- or both! Both poses deeply open the spine, helping ensure proper alignment as well as helping maintain the health of the intervertebral disks, whose spongy nature helps them absorb shock from daily movement.
Rabbit pose improves digestion, helps regulate metabolism and helps alleviate common cold and sinus symptoms as well as headaches. It benefits the central nervous system by creating maximum space between vertebrae along the back of the spine- which is not only great for stretching your back muscles, but also for the intervertebral disks and for the spinal cord which is protected by the bone joints of the spine.
The front-side compression helps strengthen and tone abdominal muscles. The "throat-choked" feeling of the chin tucked into the chest is where this pose nourishes the parathyroid and thyroid glands. Doing Rabbit pose also helps enhance mobility and flexibility of back muscles, spine, scapula and trapezius muscles. Come and try Rabbit in class today and make your body smile!
"I started Bikram yoga last January because wanted to lose 20 lbs of sexiness and to make sure I didn’t start smoking again. I still haven't smoked yet and I owe to Bikram yoga for sure. In 20 years I’ve never gone this long without smoking. Being able to breathe and heal and be good to myself physically and emotionally through practice has been better than smoking ever was.
"The greatest benefit I’ve gotten from Bikram yoga is how it quiets the crazy inside me. Bikram calms my mind unlike anything else. Amongst the sweat and poses and savasanas, the jagged edges of my thoughts become smoothed and rounded, feelings become clarified, and the voice inside me becomes kinder and gentler. Bikram is like a sweatier version of Zanax.
"I love how no two classes are the same, how a pose one day can vastly differ the very next in feel or fluidness, in difficulty or ease. I love when a breakthrough happens with a pose. It’s the sensation of falling or moving through water, as if the pose is happening to you. You find a new ceiling and a new you.
"I love how if I miss class, my whole body feels it, misses it. It’s like driving and slamming on breaks. My body is at rest but feels like it’s still in motion, longs to continue the forward momentum from the previous day.
"I love every teacher that has instructed me, corrected me, and encouraged me. More times than not, it has been their encouragement that has kept me going.
"I love the sense of community you share with a group of strangers in what amounts to your underwear. It’s the feeling of having survived a great storm, some indescribable test and done it together in one collective spirit, while in your undies."
Camel is great for so many things! Among its benefits are:
This is a posture where it's very normal, especially as a beginner, to feel dizzy, nauseous or emotional. The best thing to do is? Breathe. Immediately after you exit the posture, lie down in savasana (try to skip the water, handtowel, or whatever else you automatically reach for in that moment.) No worries, those feelings will pass- or you may even learn to like them! Backward bending this way is most likely a new sensation, and opening your chest, hips and throat can feel vulnerable.
Here's a video Peter and I shot earlier this summer with our special guest teacher Audrey Holst from Bikram Yoga Natick. I asked Audrey if she had noticed any trends among our students in the way we are practicing, and together we agreed that Camel pose could use some attention to make sure you all are getting the goody mentioned above, without causing strain or pain. Enjoy, and please let us know if these tips are helpful for you!
Bikram Yoga St. Johns' studio owner, yoga-doer and life-lover, Kay D.