"I have always been active and used to run quite a bit, but that took a toll on my knees. When I originally started at Bikram Yoga St. Johns in 2016, I was looking for something to help my joints and lower back issues.
"For me the obvious benefits of regular practice have been decreased knee pain and conditioning for my low back. But more importantly I find that it really helps control my anxiety through the focused breathing. I am very conscious of my breathing in class and I find it transitions to other stressful situations in my life. When I found out I was pregnant I was so thankful that my doctor was so encouraging about continuing to practice throughout pregnancy. There is so much misguided information out there, and Kay has been an amazing resource through this journey.
"When I really started to show, my pesky low back issues started to creep up again and were exacerbated by a trip I had to take for work. I returned home with sciatica and could barely walk without limping. After just a couple of classes, my back improved again and I have had hardly any issues since. It sometimes feels daunting when I am getting ready to go to class at almost 8 months pregnant, but I always feel so good after and know the breathing and focus will help me when its time to welcome my baby to world!"
Update: Bridget gave birth to a healthy baby girl on February 28, 2018! Congratulations to the whole family!!
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:
"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! "
"About seven years ago my friend told me what a deep and awesome yoga series Bikram Yoga was for her; I had heard about Bikram before, but seeing her enthusiasm really sparked my interest. When I finally made the decision to go, I really went because I wanted to heal my spine from a car accident and in general I wanted to develop a more healthy lifestyle.
I hoped to lose body fat, and build muscle and bone strength. I wanted to quit smoking. I knew that if anything would help any combination of these things, it would be reintroducing a yoga practice into my life. I had practiced Ashtanga yoga, years prior to trying Bikram and my car accident, and I was looking to try something new.
My regular practice has helped me achieve all of these goals! I once suffered from three bulging discs in my lumbar spine. My bulging disks often became inflamed in other exercises she tried, and through the warmth of the heat and the progressive backward bending and aligning postures of the Bikram yoga series, I no longer have any bulging discs or discomfort in my back.
"I lost close to 30 lbs that I took on after my car accident and struggled to lose before. I began to have strength and definition in parts of my body that had previously felt static. I also quit smoking. My regular practice has helped me achieve all of the goals I started with, but has moreso helped me realize that by making it an integral part of my life it helps me in many more ways!
"My yoga practice has become my catalyst to overcome whatever it is that I need to work out, literally or figuratively, each day. It's amazing how the same series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises remains consistent, but my experience changes daily based on the external energy I bring in from outside of the hot room.
"Besides the obvious physical benefits, I've also been most grateful for the spiritual, mental, and emotional growth that has come by integrating my Bikram yoga practice into my life. By embracing the uncomfortable obstacles I encounter in the hot room (the heat, my stiffness, distractions, the sweat!) I find I have great strength to take on challenges I meet outside of the hot room. Simply put: practicing this series makes me a better human!
"The thing that continues to amaze me most is the reassurance I gain from the practice that BIG things are possible: that if you apply action, with patience and intention, and the willingness to fail, and try again, that anything is possible.
"I am preparing to go to Bikram's Teacher Training this fall, and I am so excited! By becoming a Bikram Yoga teacher I will be able to inspire and help others heal themselves through this yoga. I want to study and know in depth the science and meaning behind every bit of the dialogue. I want to deepen my personal practice. I want to dedicate myself to Bikram yoga for life. It has improved my life so much for the better and it's time to share it with others!"
"I started Bikram yoga in Grapevine, Texas in June of 2015 with the 30-day challenge. I had herniated my L5 disc in my back and was in physical therapy for 6 months with no real results for the pain. A friend recommended Bikram hot yoga. Though painfully wonderful the first 30 days, the pain subsided and I began to recover.
"In 2016 during a regular physical exam (after I had paused from Bikram yoga for about 9 months) the doctor informed me I had high blood pressure. He wanted to evaluate after 30 days with a recommendation of lower salt intake, weight loss and more exercise. I told him I was going to return to Bikram yoga and see if I could resolve the blood pressure issue. The following results speak for themselves:
"My goals were: Lower Blood pressure (Achieved); Lose Weight 210 lbs (Close!); Heart Beat in lowest level for my age (Achieved); No prescriptions (Achieved); No alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, caffeine (Achieved); Low daily sugar 23g per day; Fun every day! (Achieved)
September 12, 2016
Heart Beat Per Minute 65
--> 30 days later!
Heart Beat Per Minute 51
"When I returned for my follow-up, my doctor was shocked that these results were achieved within 30 days of my September exam. He asked me how I did it. My response was: Bikram hot yoga, 3-4 times a week. Bikram hot yoga has now been added to my normal routine and I am convinced it has cured my ailments and redefined my body, mind and soul! Bikram hot yoga should be a required prescription in our medical system, for the results are stunning and life-long."
These photos were taken on Independence Day. First (the ones where my forehead is nowhere near my knee!) are what my Head to Knee and Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee poses looked like about 1 year ago, when my lower back was in continuous muscle spasm from lifting my baby the wrong way one too many times. The second photos in each pair are what my postures look like now- and also what they looked like just 5 days after my back injury.
I remember the date because I had to miss my good friends' wedding- I could not bear the pain of sitting in the car to get there. I could not pick up my daughter to hold her if she cried. For several days, I lost my independence. I could not cook my food, do my laundry, pick up a bag, open a door, or even stand for over a minute without severe pain.
What could I do? I could come to yoga.
And I did. I came to yoga every day for 5 days. I did very very gentle stretching. In many postures this meant I could only do the very first step or two in setting up the posture. I did not do any sit-ups. Even in the backward bending postures- and I think this part gets overlooked sometimes- I did not "kill myself," as is normally encouraged when practicing with a spine that's feeling a-ok. I got myself to the place where I could tolerate the pain, and I held it and worked my breath. My Cobra pose for example, where the instructions are to get the upper body off the floor until only the belly button is touching? I got my chin off the floor a little. Yeah. And that was my posture. It hurt! But I could breathe.
And when I let it go, I felt a wash of relaxation across my back, like my back was exhaling.
I wanted to share these images with you because I hope they will drive home the point our teachers are always making in class: when you're in pain you need to do less of a posture, you need to take it easy, sometimes you even need to skip a posture- and all of that is perfect. Especially for those of us who started this yoga without a specific physical limitation or pain, it can be difficult to translate what "doing less" means when we find ourselves practicing with an injury. These photos (the first in each pair) are an example of what it looks like to "do less."
Notice that I didn't change a thing about the form or technique of the pose- I simply started slow and did step 1, then (maybe) step 2, etc, and stopped as soon as I needed to in the sequence. I did not concern myself with how my posture looked or felt before my injury, I just focused on what I could do right then. Since I've practiced through injury before, I knew this was the way.
This yoga is meant for healing as well as for prevention of injury- depending on our goal, we need to practice in an appropriate way.
I always see injuries as a gift and an opportunity to learn. Because practicing to heal injury means honing the invaluable skill of understanding and attending to my body's signals. Too much pain? Back off. Feels all right? Go for it, little by little. Too exhausted to go on? Lie down as long as you need to and enjoy the benefits of the hot, humid room. This skill can only serve me and it will never ever hurt me.
If you are hurting, there is only one thing you must do to start healing: come to class! Bikram yoga works amazingly for not only chronic conditions but acute injuries as well. Do not stay home and wait until you feel better- coming to yoga will help you feel better.
Using Bikram yoga for healing means coming more often and doing less.
For me, one of the hardest parts of being in debilitating pain was the loss of independence. I needed others to help me do things I wanted to do for myself. So I took the one thing I could do and the one thing I knew I had to do, and I changed everything around. That's my story, but it isn't unique. It is no more than cause and effect, action and reaction. The results can be replicated by you.
If you simply commit to caring for yourself during injury by practicing in a therapeutic way, Bikram yoga is sure to help you restore the independence of pain-free (or at the very least, pain-reduced!) living. And that is something worth celebrating!
After focusing on the lower back with Cobra, the upper back with Locust and the middle back with Full Locust pose, our Spine Strengthening Series concludes by tying it all together with a Bow! A Bow pose, that is: Dhanurasana. ;)
In Bow pose, we practice keeping a good tight grip on the feet while kicking the legs up and back to move the total spine into a backward bend- against the force of gravity! Sounds purty impressive, doesn't it? It sure is, and here's why:
Bending your spine backwards using your strength counter-balances the many forward-bending positions you put your body in throughout the day. This helps to straighten out your spine, which improves posture and relieves or prevents back pain. Holding your feet from outside while you kick causes the rib cage to open, improving pigeonchest and permitting maximum expansion of lungs and increased oxygen intake. Balancing on a stretched-out belly while compressing the back improves function of the intestines, liver, kidneys, and spleen.
But that's not all: Back-bending revitalizes the spinal nerves by increasing circulation along the spine. Bow pose strengthens abdominal muscles, upper arms, thighs and hips while developing flexibility of the scapula, latissimus dorsi, deltoid, and trapezius muscles. Improved posture, pain prevention and relief, strength, flexibility- all that in just 20 seconds at a time. Not too shabby, eh?
TIP: "What if I Can't Get My Feet??"
If you are unable to grab both of your feet (yet!) that is perfectly normal. It might be a stiff knee, back or shoulder that's limiting you. Simply keep coming and trying the right way- your body will open up in time! Here's how to start:
“My first Bikram yoga class was in New York City about 16 years ago when a friend invited me to share in her new obsession. One day after work I jumped on the subway and made my way downtown to Chambers Street with just enough time before class to chug a Starbucks latte… I didn’t know anything about this hot yoga! Halfway through the standing series I ran out of the room and threw up in an aptly placed trashcan by the studio door.
“It took me a couple of years to gather the courage to go back, and this time I knew how to better prepare for class. I came hydrated, went to find peace and some relief from the stress NYC provided with unlimited generosity. I walked into class angry, grumpy, tired and walked out of class serene and sweaty: I was hooked!
“For me, Bikram yoga is primarily my mental health medicine. Sure, it keeps me toned and focused on healthy eating, but what it really does is reorganize my energy and keep my brain and body in balanced, optimal working order. One class solves a design problem, another class offers forgiveness or releases sadness, some classes cultivate joy or compassion, or sometimes it’s just the sweat that washes away the day.
“Recently I was surprised to receive physical healing for my body. This is what most people proclaim as their primary benefit! But, because I’ve never had injuries, I didn’t seek yoga to heal my physical body. This past winter (probably from the stress of driving in that dangerous winter weather) I experienced great sciatic pain. The pain disturbed my sleep, distracted my work, and was overall exhausting. During my 30-day-yoga-challenge, I worked through the pain, gently stretched the sciatic nerve, and used the meditation of class to help relax the spasms of muscles surrounding the nerve. The pain has gone away!
This past spring I ‘threw my back out’ from sitting in a 3-day conference. I could hardly move I was in so much pain. I came to yoga every day for a week and each day the pain was reduced and my range of motion was increased.
“What is magical is how Bikram yoga gives me what I need each class. Each day is different. Bikram yoga is unconditional in offerings and I am always finding more ways to appreciate and learn from my practice. As teacher Bill says: “You are your best teacher!” Using Bikram yoga to feel better requires that I listen carefully to how my body speaks to me. I am learning how and when I can be my own healer, or to work in concert with other modalities of healing.
“Here at Bikram Yoga St. Johns, we are all part of a community of positivity and joy! This studio is unlike any other studio I have practiced in. Here we are all equal, all included, we are all working together to be our better self, we are open, vulnerable and strong together. Being part of this community is one of the most special gifts I have received this year and I thank you all for being here with me! See you in the hot room soon.”
BONUS: Charlotte is our cuurent featured artist at the studio! Check out her colorful, joyful prints on your way to the yoga room today...
"I decided to try Bikram yoga because I had recently gone through a challenging time in my life and my good friend, a Bikram yoga instructor, told me that Bikram yoga could help me get through it- emotionally. What she didn't know was that it was going to also dramatically help me physically, too.
My first Bikram yoga class ever was on February 23rd, 2017, at BYSJ. I tried other yoga classes about 10 years ago, but they hurt my back so I didn't continue. (I have a deteriorated disc in my back between L4 and L5 from a construction injury in 1998.)
Until 1998, I had worked in the field in construction as an equipment operator and a foreman. When I injured my back, it forced me out of the trades and I became a project manager. Ever since then, I have tried various treatments to help reduce the pain and increase my back's physical capacity. I did physical therapy, deep massage, chiropractic treatments, acupuncture, back braces, ice packs, hot packs, and lots of pain medication. Through all these years and treatments I don't remember ever sleeping more than a couple hours without flipping from side to side because staying in one position for too long hurt too much and would wake me up.
In 2012, I got in to see a back surgeon, and after performing an MRI, CAT scan, and a discogram, the diagnosis included disc degeneration, arthritis, bone spurs, and bone fractures. It was recommended that I get my L4 and L5 vertebrae fused together, because the disc between them had 0% containment of the dye during the discogram (basically there is no disc there at all!) and the entire area around it showed signs of arthritis setting in. I thought about it for a week, and then decided that I couldn't afford to take off that much work (6 month recover time), so I would go on as long as I could before having the surgery... I got used to living with pain, using plenty of ibuprofen daily to keep it tolerable.
When I went to my first Bikram yoga class, I was nervous and expected it to render me somewhat useless the next day, as many other physical activities could- but to my greatest surprise it did the opposite. During class, I was shocked that I was able to bend my back in every direction without it immediately hurting, and then after class I was waiting for the muscle craps in my lower back to kick-in, but they never came.
I was exhausted from the class, so I laid down on my back in bed expecting to turn over on my side after 15 minutes, and woke up 7 hours later in the same position- without budging an inch all night. This has never happened to me before.
Here is the exact text message that I sent my instructor friend the morning after, at 8:48 am: "OMG- I feel so good! I usually have a hard time sleeping and I toss all night. Last night I slept on my back and didn't even budge once all night! I was worried about the yoga hurting my back and shoulder, but it didn't. I'm planning to go again tonight. ;-). Thank you!!"
I have now attended 55 classes in 3 months and, without exception, I feel better every single time after class then I felt at the beginning of class. I have gone from taking 800 to 1600 mg of Ibuprofen a day, to taking it once or twice a week when I push myself at work or playing volleyball. In the mornings after going to Bikram yoga the night before, I generally wake up without any back pain, and when I skip a couple days without going to yoga I can't wait to go again. It truly has changed my life! I am grateful to my friend and to all the instructors at Bikram Yoga St. Johns for getting me started and creating a wonderful environment take motivates me to make it a regular part of my weekly routine.
There are many other benefits I have noticed from my practice, too. My flexibility has increased in every aspect to levels that I haven't had since high school (30 years ago.) The sweating and exertion makes me drink lots of water and want to eat better and choose healthier foods because that makes yoga easier the next day if I feel better. My cardio and lung capacity is much better. When I play volleyball, I can play almost twice as long now because my cardio and my back are stronger. My body is leaner and healthier-looking from sweating a lot, which flushes toxins and helps my skin.
Most importantly, Bikram yoga makes me want to take better care of myself. It has actually changed my inner motivation to live a healthier life. It is my personal form of meditation. Whatever stresses happen during the day at work, they all disappear when I go to yoga at night, and my mind quiets down and returns to the moment. I always leave the studio feeling peaceful and happy from the inside out. In some ways the major pain relief was just the beginning!"
Locust pose strengthens the muscles and connective tissues around the upper back and shoulders, helping to alleviate many back or spinal problems such as slipped disc and sciatica. Stretching the elbow joints with your body weight applied helps prevent or cure tennis elbow, tendonitis, arthritis and carpel tunnel syndrome. Lifting your legs like that is also excellent for firming your buttocks and hips!
A Few Tips for Locust Pose:
Bikram Yoga St. Johns' studio owner, yoga-doer and life-lover, Kay D.