As Bikram yoga teachers, so many students tell us this one is their "nemesis!" And we get it. SHTK not only requires you to use a ton of physical strength and stamina to develop your own flexibility, it also calls upon 110% of your will power, integrity and mental fortitude to stick with it, try the right way and not give up. The good news is, by using those aspects of your body and of your character you are building them up, and they (like this posture) will only get better with practice.
Health benefits include:
How to do:
Standing Head to Knee can be best understood by dividing it into a progression of stages or steps. Keep in mind that while we identify 4 main "steps" in the posture, there are a bazillion mini-steps along the way, and any one of the steps may take you weeks, months or years to master. For example, between grabbing your foot and locking both knees, you may find your maximum expression of the posture somewhere in-between for quite some time. No worries: as long as you try the right way and you don't give up, that's the ultimate destination!
*You want me to lock my knee??
Yes. But let's make sure you understand what we mean by that. In Bikram yoga, to "lock the knee" means 3 things: Straight leg (full extension of the knee joint) + thigh muscles (including quads) contracted + body weight even on the foot. This position provides a solid support for the knee joint, giving it lateral stability as well as allowing the hamstring on the back of the leg to be long and stretchable. Since your quadriceps were not "designed" to hold a contraction for a long period of time, during the posture, it's important to train them by sending the message over and over to them to contract, thereby improving their strength and stamina. All this leg work is a big part of what gets your heart rate up in this pose! Check out this video for more about locking the knee:
Eyes and abs!
Balancing on one foot is a big challenge for many beginners. Remember that your 2 best friends on your "balance team" are your abs and your eyes. So always keep your abdominal muscles pulled in firmly, and maintain your one point of focus on your standing knee throughout the posture.
Breathing properly is key. If you’re working on Step 1, simply breath normally with an engaged core. If you are kicking out into Step 2, inhale slowly by the nose while you kick your leg forward. Take another deep inhale when your both knees are locked and exhale as you bend your elbows down for Step 3. Take another deep breath and slowly exhale again as you tuck your chin to your chest for Step 4. This focused breathing keeps you calm and maintains oxygen moving through your body to feed your muscles. It also assists with the stretching and rounding of your spine and ribs.
Finally, the real secret to mastery of Standing Head to Knee is: attitude. Relish every step of the magical journey, because every step has something to offer your body, mind and soul. And more than anything, this posture demands that you activate and cultivate the connection between those! That's part of what makes it so tough, and that's also what makes it so... yoga.
Since our Founding Memberships went on sale a few days ago, seven people have purchased year-long memberships to a yoga studio they have never seen, because it isn't even built yet. I haven't met most of these people, but I can tell you they have a lot to teach us. They know how to do possibly one of the most important things in human life: They know how to leap.
You know, leaping. Like when you come to a giant, muddy puddle at the foot of your driveway, and the whole world is waiting on the other side- but you're not wearing your rain boots and it's hard to gauge the depth or whether your legs are long enough to make it across. It's tempting to walk around. Or even go back inside and wait for the sun to come out and dry things up! (Heh. Can you tell I'm originally a Californian?) Anyway, those are very practical solutions, and there's nothing wrong with them. Some of us, though... maybe we back up a bit, get something of a running start- and we leap the hell over that puddle and get on with the day.
Bikram Yoga St. Johns was a leap for us. When we found out we were going to be parents, my first impulse was to say "Let's wait with the business." We were going to have a baby to consider, after all! I wanted to go back inside and wait till the puddle dried, get an office job and put the kid in daycare. Save money. Play it safe.
It can be that way with the yoga sometimes, too. For many of us it was a huge leap to get to that first class, that's for sure. We had to get over worries about the heat, the fear of being vulnerable and sweaty in a room full of the beautiful people, concern that our bodies were somehow not up to the task- we had to let all that go and just leap ourselves into the hot room. And there are days like that even after practicing for years- coming back after an illness, or maybe just feeling really out of sorts and like we might not make it through two sets of half moon. If we go to class, we risk feeling uncomfortable, imperfect, even having to sit out a posture or three. On those days it feels much safer to stay on the couch and scroll through Facebook and let the hours pass us by.
But. Do you remember how you felt after your very first class? Have you had one of those "iffy" days, and then you go to class anyway? I know I have, and I've never regretted it. It's not always pretty, but in my experience you always feel better when you leap.
It certainly would have been easier for us to put the studio on hold. Sometimes I wonder if it would have been more responsible. But that puddle wasn't going anywhere! And did we want to teach our children to play it safe? That seems less responsible.
I'm not concerned about this community at all. It is being founded as we speak by people who are not afraid to take a chance. These people will build the kind of community that jumps in with all it's got. They will inspire new students to try that scary first class, they will make our studio vibrate with an adventurous spirit. Together with them- with you- we are setting exactly the example we want to set for our daughter.
Together, we will make this the best leap we all ever took!
A recent conversation with my husband, uploading stories onto our Testimonials page, teaching several classes this weekend full of super-motivated students, and watching my 1-month-old daughter's efforts on her movement mat have all got me thinking about: perseverance, drive, dedication. What great feats we are capable of when we pour in everything we have! Here's one of my favorite poems on the subject.
If you want a thing bad enough
To go out and fight for it,
Work day and night for it,
Give up your time and your peace and your sleep for it,
If only desire of it
Makes you quite mad enough
Never to tire of it,
Makes you hold other things tawdry and cheap for it;
If life seems all empty and useless without it
And all that you scheme and you dream is about it,
If gladly you'll sweat for it,
Fret for it,
Plan for it,
Lose all your terror of God or of man for it,
If you'll simply go after that thing that you want,
With all your capacity,
Strength and sagacity,
Faith, hope and confidence, stern pertinacity,
If neither cold poverty, famished and gaunt,
Nor sickness and pain
Of body or brain
Can turn you away from the thing that you want,
If dogged and grim you besiege and beset it,
You'll get it!
- Berton Braley
Even if you've never taken a Bikram yoga class, you can probably imagine a few ways sweating your guts out for 90 minutes a day might change your body. (Weight loss, lower blood pressure, increased stamina, improved digestion, anyone?) After all, Bikram yoga is a hatha yoga practice, meaning a practice of physical postures, called asanas, and breathing techniques, called pranayama. And hatha yoga offers tremendous health benefits for all the systems of your body. But that's not all, folks! By attending to your physical practice, you also cultivate certain qualities of mind which have the power to absolutely transform the way you see the world and the way you live your life:
How has Bikram yoga changed your mind? Leave a comment. We love to hear from you!
Bikram Yoga St. Johns' studio owner, yoga-doer and life-lover, Kay D.