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.
"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! "
Fixed Firm pose is the first in our series of kneeling postures. From the beginning you will feel a stretching or extension in your ankles, knees and quadriceps- and as you move deeper into the posture you will also stretch the spleen, lymph glands in your armpits. This posture employs the tourniquet effect right off the bat by compressing the knee joints, and as you move deeper you'll also compress the lower back and adrenal glands.
Physical benefits of Fixed Firm include: improved circulation to kidneys, liver, pancreas and bowels for improved digestion; increased flexibility of knees and ankles; boosted immune system through stimulation of the spleen and lymphatic system; improved adrenal funtion by compression in the lower back, stretching muscles of the thighs, abdomen and pelvis; flushing knees and ankles with fresh high speed blood to loosen scar tissue and relieve arthritic symptoms; improved menstrual symptoms; relief of sciatica, gout and varicose veins.
One major psychological or spiritual benefit of this one (especially when dealing with knee injury or tightness) is... Patience! Keep in mind it could take you weeks, months or even years to even sit your hips down between the heels. Remember that as long as you try the right way one step at a time you are getting 100% of the benefit.
Fixed Firm can be challenging for athletes with tight quads and anyone experiencing knee injuries, chronic tightness or knee pain. The key to success is: take it easy, honey. This is an anatomically correct pose! It helps rebuild a natural range of motion for the knee, which is mainly a hinge joint but also does have a bit of rotation. Only go so far in the posture as you feel discomfort- but never pain- in the knees.
For this one it will help you to always remember one of our favorite Bikram quotes: “Do not mess with the knees. You can mess with the gods, but you cannot mess with the knees.” – Bikram Choudhury
Our building has no roof access. For months now, I've been trying to coordinate a really tall ladder- or a really tall guy with strong shoulders- to get us on the roof of Bikram Yoga St. Johns and hang our temporary banner signs. For various reasons, my original plan wasn't looking promising, so my husband and I decided to do it on our own instead. If we couldn't get on the roof, we'd hang it from the balcony! That's how Orlo ended up spending yesterday afternoon scrambling all over the building facade, string held in his teeth and balancing precariously in compromising positions while all the high schoolers at the bus stop across Lombard pointed and giggled.
By the time he called me to come by and check his work, he had the whole thing rigged. It wasn't what I'd imagined. I'd pictured a precisely hung banner attached to the building by some magical invisible method in such a perfect way that passersby wouldn't notice the vinyl or grommets or string or nails but would simply think immediately "Oh! Let's do yoga there!"
I frowned and looked at my feet and softly kicked the ground. I didn't want to ask him to take down what he'd done- he had worked so hard and pretty much risked his life crawling around up there. But it just wasn't exactly right. It looked messy. There were no convenient places to attach the sign, so string criss-crossed the facade at odd angles. A corner had torn from the banner when Orlo pulled it taut (using his yoga-chops to balance on one foot atop the 8-foot tall entry gate) and he had repaired it with a green tarp clip he found in our shed at home. There was a lightbox in the way, so the banner had to be folded up at the bottom instead of hanging flat. One corner was a few inches higher than the other. You get the idea.
I was concerned that this banner would give the wrong impression of our business. I worried that potential students would see it and think we were sloppy, we were unprofessional, we were imperfect. I thought some of them might even decide, seeing our fumbled attempt at banner-mounting, not to give us a try. I told Orlo all of this.
By the way, Orlo is the best. He said he was going to finish tightening some of the strings, and calmly assured me we could cut it all down if I still wasn't happy when he was done.
I am so glad I had a few minutes to reconsider. Because here's the thing: that banner gives exactly the right impression of who we are. And no, we're not sloppy or unprofessional. We're the kind of people- and ours will be the kind of studio- I think any prospective student would be pleased to get their yoga from.
We are people who see a problem and use the tools and skills at our disposal to fix it. We are people who are not afraid to take things on. We build businesses in the same year we get married and birth our first baby. We get stuff done. We clamber up and down building facades to hang banners, and when they tear we repair them with the best thing we've got. We are not sleek or streamlined. We're not putting in granite counter tops. We are scrappy and tenacious and we work. We throw our bodies into everything we do. We couldn't wait for a ladder to tell you we are here, because we know we have something to offer you which will change your life, as it has ours.
We don't mind if things get a little messy. That's something the yoga lets us practice: what's important is showing up and doing your darnedest. As one of my teachers says, "The perfection is in your effort." I almost forgot. But now I have a banner to remind me.
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.