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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Tip of the Week: Look in the Mirror

Here are the reasons why the mirror in Bikram yoga is crucial:

1. The mirror helps you ensure you are in proper alignment in poses. It gives you instant feedback if you are performing a pose incorrectly so you can adjust.

2. The mirror allows you to monitor your progress. As you work hard at something, you will gradually see improvement. And what is more gratifying than witnessing yourself improve?

3. Drishti is a point of focus where the gaze rests during yoga practice, and the reflection in the mirror serves as one during balancing poses. Focusing on a single point aids concentration because it is easier to become distracted when the eyes are wandering all over the room.

4. The mirror lets you view your half-naked body and every flaw it has and gradually make peace with yourself through familiarity. Let’s face it: we’re all so busy, who really has time to become at peace with their reflection in the mirror? Bikram yoga and the mirror provide this opportunity.

5. When you start to get tired or hot, the mirror becomes an outlet to look up and smile at yourself – or laugh if you lose your balance. Your yoga practice should be fun and uplifting. Don’t forget to give yourself some much-needed encouragement now and then by turning up the left side of your mouth and then the right to form a smile. (No, that is not one of the 26 Bikram yoga postures, but I think it should be!)

When you attend your next Bikram yoga class, please make sure to stagger yourself with other yogis around you, providing everyone with the maximum benefit of gazing at their own reflection in the mirror.


Monday, December 12, 2016

Tip of the Week: Yoga for Stress

What happens in your body when you get stressed out?

• Where do you feel sensation?
• What is the quality of your breath?
• How does your energy feel?
• What is going on in your mind and your thoughts?

Under stress, vicious cycles of all kinds can take hold – inactivity or overworking, overeating or under-nourishing, isolation or distraction, sleep deprivation or oversleeping, substance abuse or digital addictions. Coping behaviors can lead to even more stress. So how do we break the cycle?
We all have bad habits and good habits. Habits are just an accumulation of repeated thoughts and activities. Thoughts repeated become patterns… patterns repeated become behaviors… behaviors repeated can become personalities… and personalities repeated can become reality. In other words, our thoughts shape and can become our reality.
Repetition of thoughts and actions starts to create grooves, or samskaras, in our lives. Once you’re in a groove, it’s easier to stay there than to get out of that groove and into another one. Cars on the road or water on the ground follows the same pattern: staying in a smoothly worn path or channel is simply a lot easier to do than climbing up and out. Inertia and momentum are at work here.
So how does yoga and yoga philosophy figure into all of this? The first step is awareness. We can start by simply noticing what it feels like when we are stressed out – what are the sensations in body, breath, and mind. And the quality of awareness is non-judging. We simply observe.
Why is awareness so important? It’s nearly impossible to shift and change out of patterns that we don’t think are working for us if we don’t even know what they are!
Yoga asana is an amazing place to start practicing this awareness. Can we simply notice and observe what’s happening in a pose (as long as there’s no pain) without judgment? Without striving? Without clinging or pushing away what’s actually happening? When we can simply be with what IS rather than resisting it or wanting it to be otherwise, there’s less of an internal struggle, less resistance. We can reduce the extra layers of pain, suffering, and stress that we add on top of whatever it is that’s already going on.
The more we practice awareness in the safe space of a yoga class, on the mat, the easier and more familiar it becomes to carry that witnessing, observational quality off the mat into our day to day lives…. to not get so caught up in believing everything that is going on in our thoughts.
And that’s in itself is the definition of yoga: the stilling of the turnings or the mind, or citta vritti nirodha. We give the mind something to focus on so that instead of running around, it can calm down.

• When we focus solely on our bodies and breath in asana, we give our minds something to focus on and keep coming back to in order to stay present in the moment.
• When we practice breathing or pranayama, we keep our brains occupied with the quality and direction of our vital life force moving in and out.
• When we sit to practice concentration or meditation, no matter how briefly, we can start by concentrating single-pointedly on following the breath, or silently repeating a mantra – a word or phrase, or on a powerful image.

Once we have the ability to find a little bit of calm in our own heads, it’s easier to recognize thoughts and feelings without being swept away with them and without identifying with them. We can get to know our own patterns and simultaneously discover that those thought and emotion patterns are not who we are – they’re simply how we have become accustomed to reacting to a kind of stressful situation.
When we can notice our reactions without getting wrapped up in them, we can actually be more connected to the moment and what’s actually happening right now. And then we can notice more skillfully what are the conditions that are causing us stress – and eliciting strong thoughts and feelings. Some of these conditions we might even be creating ourselves!
But many stress triggers will be beyond our control. So instead of fighting or fleeing from stressful situations, we can start to learn to flow with that stress… to stay present to whatever is arising – without struggle – and simply do the best we can given all the current circumstances. We can’t control what happens to us in the world, but with patience, awareness, nonjudgmental awareness, and mindfulness, we can start to learn how to cultivate more pure presence and less stories and layers of reaction. We can be more and more in the moment.
While many yogic practices help us to look at our negative thought patterns and allow us the opportunity to notice them and weed them little by little out of the fertile garden of our being, we also have to do more than just pull weeds if we want to grow beautiful and delicious plants! We also have to plant seeds and water them even as we keep diligently weeding.
During yoga class, when your teacher invites you to think of something you are grateful for, or encourages you to call to mind someone for whom you feel compassion, or offers you the opportunity to set an intention or a sankalpa, these are all opportunities to build and strengthen a new habit of looking for the good, for the beautiful or the shri. These positive things are always there, we just might have to shift what we are looking for. It’s not to say that we should deny or ignore the darkness or melancholy, the anger or fear, the jealousy or negativity, that we pretend everything is hunky dory. But when we reflect on how a challenging pose or a challenging experience offers us the opportunity to get stronger or to grow, how simply observing our thoughts with kindness can help us be more loving towards ourselves in a way that simply no one else can, we may be a little more inclined to remember that the sun is there somewhere behind the clouds even when we are in the eye of the storm or weathering the darkest of days.
Awareness, breath, movement, and meditation are all practices we can do on the mat and in the studio…. But really they’re all preparation for how to surf the stresses and storms of day to day life with less suffering and more steadiness and ease.
Written by Elizabeth Kanter, a DC yoga therapist teaching stress relieving classes at Yoga District yoga studios in Washington DC.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Tip of the Week: Engage Abdominals in Cobra Pose

A rock climber scaling the side of a mountain peak finds the courage to reach for the next handhold from knowing she’s safely tethered to her guide rope. It’s the same with yoga. You can dare to explore challenging poses if you know how to safely enter and come back out of a pose whenever you want.

Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) is an invigorating backbend that can feel like an exciting journey. But if you tend to create most of the bend in your lower back, it can cause compression and pain, and excitement is quickly replaced by fear. Since the lower spine is naturally more flexible than the upper spine, it’s easy to overdo the arch there. Ideally, you work toward an even bend along the whole spine, including your neck. It helps if you learn to work carefully, making conscious choices each step of the way.

To create an even, pain-free Cobra Pose, learn to engage your abdominals in the pose—they act as the guide rope that keeps you safe. The abdominals can support and protect your lower back while you reach for more opening in the upper back. Once your lower back is stable, you can focus on contracting your upper-back muscles and pressing your shoulder blades into your back to create space in the spine and open your chest. As long as you feel supported, you can keep going deeper, continuing to press your upper spine in toward the front of your chest and coiling—like a snake—into a big, healthy backbend.

When you’ve found your ideal alignment in Cobra, you can use it to strengthen the upper back and the backs of the legs and to stretch your chest and shoulders. The backbending action is powered by the muscles of the back of the body. But the pose is also a powerful way to tone the abdominal muscles: They get stretched as you move into the backbend and contracted as you control the movement and return to your starting point.

Cobra will invigorate you energetically as well. It stretches the intercostal muscles (the ones between the ribs), which allows your rib cage to expand and thus can increase your breathing capacity. It’s also thought to gently squeeze the adrenal glands, giving you a feeling of alertness and vigor.
Bhujanga, the Sanskrit word for “snake,” is derived from the root bhuj, which means “to bend or curve.” The king cobra, revered in Indian myths, can glide forward while lifting the upper third of its body upright. Try to emulate this animal’s powerful yet fluid motion when you practice. Imagine your legs as the snake’s tail, reaching long behind you as you curve your spine to lift your chest majestically.

Refine: Press your hands into the mat while pulling them back against the resistance of the surface. This can help you lengthen your waist. Drop your shoulders away from your ears and press your shoulder blades forward into your chest. Gently lift your navel, pulling it toward your lower back.

See if you can lift your chest farther off the mat. Think of creating space by lengthening your spine first, reaching your tailbone back. Once you’ve created space, use the strength of your upper-back muscles to move your spine forward as you broaden and lift the chest. Slowly arch forward and up, maintaining just enough lift in your belly to keep your lower back happy.
Adjust Yourself: Tips for a Pain-Free Cobra
  • Make Space First: Your upper back is harder to bend than your lower back. To open it, lengthen your spine, which makes more space between the vertebrae.
  • Release Tight Muscles: Instead of squeezing your buttocks, which can compress the lower back, relax them. Roll your inner thighs up to lengthen your tailbone back.
  • Exit With Care: Come out of the pose gradually to allow your spine to decompress.
Elements of Practice
Yoga, which means “union,” is always a marrying of opposites. As you practice Cobra, you exert a forceful effort to create a big, beautiful backbend. But the pose also calls you to balance this with a hint of the energy of forward bending. You’ll experience this when you round in your belly to support the spine, but it’s also in the feeling you bring to the pose. Forward bends are associated with softness and surrender. Try practicing Cobra with a quiet sense of introspection to temper your willpower and remind you that yoga is always about balance and contentment.


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Tip of the Week: Keep a Nice Tight Grip

"Get a good, tight grip" has got to be one of the most repeated phrases in class. These instructions are not arbitrary. The grip strengthens your hands, flexes the muscles and tendons, and builds power using your hands in every day life. Grip is essential both in order to allow you to correctly perform the postures, and because it directly benefits your fingers, hands, wrists and arms. Next time you're in class, focus on your hands. If necessary, go easy in the postures and concentrate on the placement and motion of your wrists, palms and fingers. Over 25% of our body’s bones are located in our hands. Yoga is a chance to fully engage the complex array of muscles, tendons and ligaments around them, and to reduce inflammation, remove built-up stress and increase range of motion.
The standard beginner’s Bikram grip is interlacing your fingers to the webbing, including the thumbs. By applying pressure to your grip through kicking or pulling, you build strength and flexibility in your hands, fingers and wrists. 

We use this first in Pranayama breathing at the start of class, which gives you a chance to get comfortable interlacing your fingers. You want to keep your wrists as straight as possible as you bring your elbows up. 

When doing postures where your arms are over you head with your fingers interlaced, pointer fingers together as in Half Moon and Balancing Stick, your palms should be pressed flat together with your pointer fingers pressed together. Tip: The more you press your palms and fingers together, not only will you be strengthening your hands, but you will also be toning your arms.

In Hands to Feet Pose, this is where you will hear "Get a nice tight grip. Don't lose your grip!" Pulling is the object of stretching in this pose. If you can keep a tight grip on your heels in this pose, along with Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose, the more you'll be able to stretch your hamstrings and pull your torso closer to your legs.

Our grip really gets put to the test in Standing Head to Knee Pose. First, you want to wipe your hands to make sure your grip is dry and not slippery. Again, you want to keep your wrists straight to prevent repetitive strain over time. Interlock all 10 fingers for a strong grip so your foot does not slip out of your hands. Tip: You should be using mostly core and leg strength to lift your foot. So much so that if you were to release your hands from under your foot it would remain in the air. Interlacing all your fingers, including thumbs, is recommended. However, if your thumbs will not cross and if/when you are going deeper (actual head to knee), the adjustment is to keep only your 8 fingers interlaced, with your thumbs pressed next to your index fingers. The most important thing is to keep your wrists straight. 

In Standing Bow and Floor Bow Poses, the strength of the posture is more in the kick than in the arm strength, so you actually want to have a lighter grip. Instead of holding on with a tight grip to the feet or ankles, think of yourself as "hanging" from your feet, using your fingers only, and keeping your wrists straight.

In Wind Removing Pose, with your fingers interlaced tightly together, try to not have any space between your palms and the area below your knee.

Placing your palms face-down beneath you in Locust Pose strengthens your wrists, arms and elbows to protect against repetitive strain injuries. 

In Savasana, relaxing your arms and turning your palms to the ceiling promotes the positive flow of energy and receptiveness.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Tip of the Week: Prevent Hamstring Injuries

In Bikram yoga we often say to "lock the knee". This does not mean to hyperextend the knee, but to lift the kneecap by engaging your quadriceps and hamstrings. Not only does this give your leg more support to make your standing postures more stable, it also helps to prevent injury to the hamstrings especially when doing forward bends. The following article by Doug Keller for Yoga International discusses ways in which we can prevent hamstring injuries from occurring. 
Healing (or Preventing) Hamstring Injuries

Yoga students are vulnerable to overstretching the hamstring muscle and tearing the connecting tendon. Follow these tips to avoid—or even heal—hamstring injuries.   


Ask any room of yoga students whether they suffer from pain at one or both of their sit bones, and you can count on a showing of hands. This kind of pain comes from injury to the hamstring attachment. Of course, hamstring injuries are not unique to yoga, though the cause and treatment of this particular problem often is. The more dramatic hamstring tears occur in sports and especially while running, when athletes are tightly wound and move in sudden bursts that wrench and tear at the hamstrings, usually in the “belly,” or middle part, of the muscle. In yoga, the injury occurs in a different way and at a different place.

For people who practice yoga, hamstring injuries develop over time, usually where the hamstring attaches to the sit bone. This is a tendon injury, and unlike a muscle tear, it doesn’t happen suddenly. Instead, it is “death by a thousand cuts”: each tiny rip in the tendon is relatively minor by itself, but because it does not fully heal, repeated injuries accumulate over time, until an ill-considered bit of overstretching or an overly aggressive adjustment from a teacher finally puts the injury over the edge.
Tendon injuries are in a class by themselves. They require a specific regime for healing that is very simple but requires time, patience, and persistence. The alternative, however, is even less attractive. Left alone, an injury to the hamstring attachment can take six months to a year to stop hurting—and even then it does not mean that it has fully healed. The attachment remains far more susceptible to re-injury than a tendon that has been properly treated.

Each little “cut” in the hamstring attachment occurs when the muscle is not engaged and thus cannot protect itself. Immediately after the injury—however tiny it is—adhesive scar tissue forms. While this scar tissue is meant to protect the tendon as it heals, quite often the scar tissue hampers the healing process, preventing a full recovery. Scar tissue limits circulation and stiffens the tendon, leaving it more vulnerable. We tend to dismiss each little injury after enduring some soreness, but the injury is really cumulative. Repeated re-injury and the formation of more scar tissue can extend over years, progressively weakening the tendon.

Learning how to engage the hamstrings is the first step toward preventing a hamstring injury (or healing an injury if it has already occurred).

In yoga, there is ample opportunity for this to happen, usually in the process of doing forward bends. As beginners, we are taught to fold forward at the hip joint (rather than at the waist) with a straight spine, maintaining a natural arch in the lower back through most of a forward bend. Students with tight muscles are rightly encouraged to bend their knees to release their hamstrings somewhat and maintain a flat back as they bend forward. This helps protect the lower back and gives a better stretch to the otherwise hypercontracted hamstrings.

As we get more flexible, we continue the same habit and even overdo it. This is especially true for students who were naturally limber to begin with. The natural arch we sought becomes an exaggerated lumbar curve, and the forward bend becomes more of a swan dive in which the sit bones flip upward as the pelvis tilts forward. Because the hamstrings have learned to release to allow this free fall, they start to act more like bungee cords—relatively slack on the way down through most of the dive, suddenly pulling taut at the far extreme of the bend. Each sharp tug causes a little rip that frays the hamstring where it attaches to the sit bone, because this is the place of the greatest leverage and thus the hardest pull.

We’re taught to engage the quadriceps to protect our knees; indeed, “Lift your kneecaps!” is repeated like a mantra by yoga teachers. But no one tells us to engage the hamstrings to protect them from this injurious yank. Learning how—and how much—to engage the hamstrings is the first step toward preventing this injury or healing the injury if it has already occurred.

The Mechanics of the Hamstring

The most effective strengtheners are simple backbends such as the locust and bridge poses, in which the hamstrings are used to extend the hips. 

We can start by looking at how the hamstrings function. One of their duties is to bend the knee and pull us through our stride as we walk or run, which is why runners typically have such tight hamstrings. The muscle is used in this way when the lower leg moves freely.

But the hamstrings also have a postural function—holding us upright—which works the other end of the muscle, at its origin at the sit bone. The hamstrings anchor the pelvis by drawing the sit bones toward the backs of the legs. If the hamstrings were to completely release their hold at the sit bones, we would flop forward at the hips like a rag doll. The hamstring performs this action when the lower leg is fixed (i.e., not free to move), and for this reason, the hamstrings can get tight simply from standing a lot or doing work that involves bending forward for long periods.

We feel this postural action of the hamstring as a contraction of the tendon where it attaches to the sit bone, at the lower crease of the buttock. At its extreme, this can cause a tucking of the pelvis when the hamstrings are hypercontracted. Good posture comes about through balanced tone between the quadriceps and the hamstrings. Bad posture throws off this balance, causing tightness and chronic hypercontraction either at the front or the back of the hip joint.

Preventing Hamstring Injuries

In a forward bend, this postural action of the hamstring needs to be engaged just enough to protect the muscle from overstretching. If this idea of engaging your hamstrings at your sit bones seems hopelessly abstract, try the following exercise. Stand with your feet separated and slightly bend your knees. Isometrically pull back with one of your feet. You’ll feel your hamstring engage, and your sit bone will want to tuck under somewhat from the contraction at the top of the hamstring. In this case, the hamstring draws or pulls from your sit bone down toward your knee. If you were bending your knee to lift your foot, the direction of energy would instead be from your lower leg toward your sit bone.

For the hamstring attachment to be protected, we want to draw the energy from the sit bone toward the knee, so that the hamstring will act as a brake in the forward bend. This action is of the essence in yoga; it is known as “eccentric” (pronounced “ee–centric”) stretching, meaning that the muscle remains engaged as it is lengthened. For example, if you were to curl a barbell up using your biceps and then very slowly lower it down, extending your arm until it is nearly straight, the lengthening that takes place in the biceps is known as an eccentric stretch—one in which the muscle is both contracted and lengthened at the same time, in measured coordination. This brings greater strength to the muscle in the very process of stretching it. In a forward bend, the hamstring stretches eccentrically, acting as a brake as it lengthens, thus balancing strength and suppleness while sparing the hamstring attachment from injury.

Healthy Hamstrings in Yoga

Let’s apply this technique in a yoga pose. We can take as an example the wide-legged forward bend (prasarita padottanasana). Step your feet apart wide and keep them parallel to each other. While maintaining a straight back, bend forward at your hips to touch the floor. You can bend your knees to protect your back as you fold forward; once in the pose, your legs should be straight unless tightness in your hamstrings makes your back round.

Once in the pose with your legs straight, make sure your knees are not locked or hyperextended. Engage your quadriceps, drawing energy up from your kneecaps toward your hips. You can connect that engagement of the quadriceps to a complementary engagement of your hamstrings: imagine that energy is traveling in a circle down through the backs of your legs. Engage the hamstrings by drawing your sit bones just slightly down toward the backs of your knees, so that the small spaces just beneath your sit bones firm. Your intention to draw your sit bones down will also engage your buttock muscles. You can isometrically drag your feet back to get the action going, though the action is actually initiated from the sit bones turning downward toward the knees. Once you learn the action, you can maintain the balanced engagement between the quadriceps and the hamstrings even as you bend forward in the pose, controlling how quickly and how deeply you move. This same approach can be used in seated forward bends, too: draw your sit bones just slightly toward your knees as you lengthen upward through your spine and fold forward. Applying these techniques will help protect your tendons as you move through the asanas.

How to Heal a Torn Tendon

But what if the damage is already done? How do we heal an injury that has been building up for months or even years? A simple and effective system for healing tendon injuries has been detailed by Dr. Ben Benjamin in a series of articles that appeared in Massage & Bodywork magazine in 2004. As a healing regimen, it addresses two aspects of the injury: the buildup of adhesive scar tissue and the healing of the tendon itself.
The scar tissue can be progressively cleared by a simple massage technique he calls “frictioning.” Its purpose is to break up the irregularly formed scar tissue in order to restore circulation and facilitate the healing process. To friction a tendon, rub or pluck your finger crosswise on the tendon—in one direction only, not back and forth—with a degree of pressure that is enough to be uncomfortable, but not so great as to be painful. Do this for 5 to 15 minutes, taking breaks when your finger gets tired.

Injury is a great teacher, most often arising from patterns and habits of movement developed over long periods of time. Injuries awaken us to these patterns--and to new ways of moving and being within our body.
How might you reach the injury to friction it? You can recline on the floor with your knee bent and foot on the floor (or with the calf supported on a chair, so that the leg is at 90 degrees), and thus reach the exposed tendon to friction it with your fingers. It is possible to use substitutes such as a tennis ball or massage ball, reclining with the leg nearly straight and the ball on the tendon. In that case, bend the opposite knee and place your foot on the floor to help you rock your hips from side to side to get the massaging action from the ball. The ball will be less accurate and thus less effective than the finger; the plucking action is preferred.
The second part of the process involves small strengthening exercises, often combined with gentle stretching. The most effective strengtheners are simple backbends such as the locust and bridge poses, in which the hamstrings are used to extend the hips.

For the locust pose (salabhasana), lie on your stomach (with a folded blanket for padding under your hips) and extend your legs behind you, with toes pointed. Work one leg at a time. Rather than simply attempting to lift your leg, which can strain your lower back, work in the following way to concentrate the action in your hamstrings. On the injured side, point your toes and reach back through your big toe as if you were trying to push a button with it. Keep lengthening through your leg and big toe as the way to begin to lift your leg. You’ll feel your hamstring working, particularly beneath your sit bone. You can actively engage the tops of your buttock muscles, lengthening from your waistline toward your tailbone to protect your lower back—but you’ll probably find this happens automatically in this exercise. Your foot needs to only lift four or five inches from the ground; work up to three sets of five or six lifts. You can increase the strengthening action by putting a small weight, such as a small bag of rice, across your ankle. Work both legs to maintain a balance of strength.

For the bridge pose (setu bandhasana), lie on your back with both knees bent, thighs parallel to each other and your feet on the floor. Bring your feet close to your hips so that your shins are perpendicular to the floor. Maintain a natural arch in your lower back, leaving enough room to slip the tips of your fingers into the space just above your waistline. To feel the action of the hamstrings, isometrically pull your feet toward your hips (your feet don’t move) and feel how your hamstrings engage, especially at your sit bones. This exercise alone can be enough if your lower back is tender.

Keeping your weight centered in your heels, lift your hips off the floor. Press your shoulders and upper arms into the floor as well to lift and open your chest, but be careful not to push your head into the floor or tighten your neck in any way. Isometrically pull your feet toward your shoulders just enough to engage your hamstrings; at the same time, engage the tops of your buttocks to draw your tailbone toward your knees. Hold for a few breaths and then release, maintaining a natural arch in your lower back on the way down. Work up to three sets of four or five lifts.

Keep your thighs parallel throughout and avoid pushing excessively through your feet to lift up.
A simple and safe way to stretch the hamstrings in between exercises is to bend one knee slowly toward your chest while reclining on your back, then switch legs.

The program is always completed by applying ice to the injured area for 5 to 10 minutes and then resting it.
In summary, the basic program is:

  1. A gentle warm-up of the hamstring muscle, which can be accomplished by standing (with support) and swinging the leg forward and back like a pendulum;
  2. Frictioning of the injured muscle attachment;
  3. Strengthening exercises, combined with gentle stretches;
  4. Ice and rest.
The key to healing the hamstring attachment is consistency in following this program over several weeks. Work fairly gently and consciously. Sharp or severe pain indicates a more serious tear, requiring rest and medical attention.

Injury is a great teacher, most often arising not from a single miscalculation or moment of abandon, but from patterns and habits of movement developed over long periods of time. Injuries awaken us to these patterns—and to new ways of moving and being within our body. For yoga practitioners, a hamstring injury is a wake-up call that hits us right where we live!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Tip of the Week: Don't Get Bored With Your Bikram Yoga Practice

This week's tip is to dive further into your Bikram practice instead of turning away from it due to boredom, thanks to a very insightful blog post by Josh Biro on Nomad Yoga Family. He says to try to find something new, something vulnerable and exciting, something deeper so you don't become complacent in your practice.

Why You're Bored With Your Bikram Practice

I’ve heard that 50% or more marriages in North America end in divorce these days. That seems super effed up to me. Also, I would theorize that more than 50% of yoga practices end in divorce! What I mean to say is – more than 50% of students who practice yoga regularly (3+ times per week) for a year or more eventually quit or significantly reduce their practice. I blame boredom for this. But let me be clear: yoga is not boring; you’re boring!

As Jenna wrote in another yoga blog post, I Fell in Love with Yoga Again in Vancouver, every yoga practice has a honeymoon phase but also runs the risk of falling into the dangerous phase of monotony and boredom. The blooming flower pedals wilt into collapsed muscles and the smiling happy faces turn into somber, slightly annoyed business faces. All too often the solution to these problems from a student is to quit their yoga. It’s like when your 10th grade girlfriend told you: “I love you but I’m just not in love with you.” Ugh!

In the yogaverse the conversation of boredom in yoga is all too common. Amusingly to me, this same conversation happens in every group of yogis from students to studio owners, teachers to desk staff. Student boredom is one of the largest fears of studio owners, yet many of them are guilty of a boring practice themselves. Teachers all too often tell their students to maintain consistency in their practice when they themselves are lazy about getting in the room. And students often cancel their membership, complain of feeling apathetic, or in the worst cases hurt themselves by not paying attention, all due to boredom in the yoga room.

Boredom is contrary to the natural state of growth. In terms of the mind and what makes us human, we’re talking about frontal lobe stimulation. There are multiple ways to stimulate the frontal lobe including repetition, problem solving and emotional response but often our default when searching for stimulation is novelty! In the romantic period of any relationship finding novelty is easy. But as time passes and routine sets in, the excitement of feeling something new dictated simply from the act itself, wears off. Yoga practice is a relationship – a relationship with yourself. In traditional yoga practices, we often do very close to, if not the exact same, routine of asanas every time, the result of which often leads to boredom with our practice. Once you can participate in the entirety of the class, the initial challenge, and therefore stimulation of the practice, is gone. But trust me, there’s more.   

In traditional yoga, beginners practice the same sequence of postures in the same order every time. It’s important to understand that repetition in yoga is pure brilliance. The consistency allows the body and mind to reinforce the aspects of change from the previous classes resulting in a potent accumulation of effects. It allows for the opportunity to discover and know oneself more fully by giving a reference point. Repetition also creates an environment where a student learns more easily and focus on the smallest details. Ultimately, it can become a moving meditation and lead to the practice of both pratyahara (control of the senses) and dharana (cultivation of inner perceptual awareness).

The problem which causes boredom in a yoga practice though, is not the repetitious nature of the practice itself; it’s that the student actually does the same thing every time they practice. The difference between these two things is huge!

The purpose of a Hatha yoga practice is to reveal to you your current human condition, to show you where you may be resisting your own natural state, and to aid in maintaining or returning your body to that natural state. What your yoga practice is not tasked to do is keep you happy, entertain you, or make you feel special or all warm and fuzzy.

The partner in your love relationship is similar. They may choose to do things that make you happy because they love you, but ultimately your happiness is not their responsibility, it’s yours.
Yoga is not boring, you’re boring! Or rather you’re being boring. If you’re bored in the yoga room you must not be paying attention! All students at one point or another fall into autopilot mode. You go in and simply go through the motions. You do the posture the same way you did yesterday and the day before, you do the posture “your way.” You use your injury from 5 years ago, your stiffness, age, weight, hydration level, whatever you can think of as an excuse why your practice is what it is and that’s good enough. Sometimes your body moves through the postures, but your mind wonders about what you’ll make for dinner, how the guy next to you is annoying you, it’s hotter than yesterday, or off in to la la land. You rationalize why you won’t push any further or try the posture in a different way and then come out of class complaining that you’re not getting “enough” from “this” practice or that you’re bored. “I feel like I should just add in some vinyasa right now” or “my chakras need a more yin energy based class” or “can I chew gum in class because I find it moves too slowly for me?”

Being bored in your yoga practice or your relationship is probably an indicator of complacency! This is the natural enemy of curiosity. Curiosity leads to novelty – remember that frontal lobe stimulation? When we get complacent we all too often look outward for a solution, for something new. We blame the things external from ourselves rather than doing the work to go inward and stoke the fire. The essence of real yoga practice is exploration. The difference is that instead of exploring outer space we are exploring inner space. Yoga helps us to go within. Instead of cheating on your spouse, why not turn into the relationship and find something new, something vulnerable and exciting, something deeper? In your yoga practice why not do something different? Hold the posture longer, focus on controlling your breath better, relax more, contract more, go deeper, back off. You could read books on the subject, talk to your teachers, take a seminar, increase your practice frequency, or go on a yoga retreat. Just do something! It’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it, and the intention behind it. You have to be curious about yourself, interested in yourself, be willing to learn about yourself. Here’s the thing though: this will require that you’re not lazy, that you pay attention, that you let go of your self-fear, that you’re honest with yourself, that you take responsibility for yourself, that you love yourself! You have to risk discomfort in order to find new brilliance. But I promise you this – you are way more interesting than you think.  

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Tip of the Week: Sculpt Your Inner Thighs

One of the lures of Bikram is its body sculpting power; the sustained postures force muscles to contract, developing shape and definition. To sculpt your inner thighs, exercise must engage your adductor muscles. The American Council on Exercise identifies hip adduction as the number one inner-thigh-toning move. You may have heard of hip abduction, which involves lifting the leg away from the body. Hip adduction is just the opposite and calls for squeezing the thighs inward so the inner thigh muscles contract. Several of the 26 postures of Bikram yoga cause the inner thigh muscles to contract, making it an excellent exercise option for obtaining tight inner thighs.

Standing Deep Breathing Exercise and Half Moon Series

  • Whenever you are standing with your feet and legs together, such as in the Standing Breathing Exercise and in the Half Moon series, engage your adductors by imagining you are spiraling your inner thigh muscles towards the front of the room. These postures can be done by just having your feet together without any conscious leg muscle engagement, but you will be gaining much more balance and strength in your adductors if you consciously engage your inner thigh muscles.

Awkward Series

  • The Awkward Series doesn't require much flexibility but you will find that in order to keep from falling over, every muscle in your body, including those inner thigh muscles, must contract. Don’t allow your bent legs to open; keep them hugging in towards the midline to engage your inner thighs.


  • This pose automatically engages hip adduction in the top leg crossing over. As you balance your body on one leg while the other leg wraps around the standing leg at the knee, keep squeezing your legs together as tightly as possible. Try to keep your knees centered with the midline of your body, as your inner left thigh squeezes into the inner right thigh.

Standing Bow

  • In Standing Bow you contract your adductors to keep your body pulled to the center, or midline. If you energetically spiral your inner thigh towards the back of the room, this will give you more stability on your standing foot. If you keep engaging the adductors of the kicking leg, this will help to keep your foot centered over the top of your head.


  • Triangle causes a stretch on the inner thighs that can be felt immediately. Keep the knee of your bent leg perfectly aligned over the center of your foot (not too far to the left or right). Use your inner thigh muscles to keep your knee from veering outwardly towards your pinky toes. Feel the inner thigh contraction on the straightened leg as well as you keep energetically pulling your inner thighs toward the midline.

Standing Separate Head to Knee

  • As your legs are separated, keep your inner thighs engaged as if your legs were a pair scissors. Keep your adductors engaged throughout the posture, and especially as you come out of the posture, as this will help to stabilize your legs and keep your balance as you lift out of it.

Toe Stand

  • To maintain the stance of the body being balanced on the toes of one foot while in a crossed legged position, all of the muscles of the body are engaged. Crossing the legs especially contracts and works the inner thigh muscles.

Bow Pose

  • Use your adductors to keep your inner thighs pulled towards the center of your body, and to keep your knees from splaying out to the sides.

Head to Knee with Stretching

  • This is the final posture that applies direct pressure to the inner thighs. As the foot of the bended knee is placed against the opposing thigh, push your foot into your thigh, and your thigh into your foot. As you reach your upper body towards the toes, the thigh muscle of the outstretched leg will get stretched and toned.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tip of the Week: Switch Up Your Grip

Do you switch up your grip in the second set? This means placing your other thumb on top in the second set of postures.  It provides a more balanced stretch to your arms, shoulders and back, and builds more equal grip strength in your hands.  It also gives a shot of discipline and focus in your practice, as you have to decide which thumb to put on top first and remember to switch it up for the next set. You get an extra mental workout as you settle your mind when your brain is telling you the grip feels uncomfortable or awkward with your non-dominant thumb on top. 

In half moon, the grip switch can be particularly helpful in getting a much stronger stretch in your  hip when the thumb on top is the same as the side to which you are bending.  It makes sense, as the thumb is the strongest digit and its iron grip on the stretching arm allows for greater reach.  In half tortoise it focuses the stretch on alternate sides of your back and hips in the two sets.  Switching which arm is on top in wind removing pose and fixed firm pose helps to get a more equal stretch in the shoulders.

By switching your grip in the second set of postures, you’ll create balance not only in your practice, but also in your daily life. At first switching your grip might feel super awkward, but before you know it you won’t even remember which grip was dominant. Life is all about balance, and if we can learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable in class, we can deal with it off the mat as well. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Tip of the Week: First Part of Standing Head to Knee

It’s best to think of Standing Head to Knee Pose in phases instead of focusing on the ultimate destination.  If you can commit to mastering each step one at a time, you will build a much stronger foundation and ultimately a better executed posture, even if you remain in the beginning phases for weeks, months, oftentimes even years.  If you can breathe, have a little faith, and truly take this posture at your own pace anyone can enjoy the benefits of this posture. For the first phase of this posture:

Step 1. Clear your mind and say to yourself "I am not going to fall out of this pose today." Keep your eyes fixed on one spot and do not move the eyeballs (this is a meditation technique that helps keep the body and mind very still and concentrated)

Step 2. Establish a very solid foundation. The most important aspect of this pose is the standing leg being STRAIGHT and ENGAGED. Contract all of the muscles above and below the knee. You know you are collapsing when the weight is sinking all the way back in your heel and you are feeling pressure in the back of the knee of the standing leg. 

Step 3. Suck your stomach in and breathe slow and steady throughout the pose, as this will help you with your balance considerably. Do this BEFORE you round down. Trying to suck your stomach in after you already have your foot in hand does not allow you to engage all the same muscles because now your weight is distributed differently in the body. Suck it in as hard as you can before you round down!

Step 4. Interlock 10 fingers and as you pick up your foot try to round down, so that your lifted thigh is parallel to the floor. If you are standing upright as you try to grab your foot, it is much more difficult to achieve a locked out leg as your hip joint on the standing leg isn't in the ideal position. With your lifted thigh parallel to the floor, the lower part of your leg should be directly under your knee at a 45 degree angle to the thigh.

*For those who are overweight, have arthritis or other conditions and challenges, round the spine and grab wherever you can below the knee.

Step 5. Notice how heavy your foot feels in your interlaced hands.  Your “core” or more accurately, the muscles in your belly, hip flexors, and in your lower back, are responsible for holding your leg lifted (NOT your hands). The more these muscles work to hold your leg up, the lighter your foot will feel in your hands. *To test your core strength, try releasing your foot for a second while in this position to see if you can still hold your leg up.

Step 6. Keep your body weight forward on your standing leg foot (as opposed to resting on the back of your heel or in the back of your knee). Push the knuckle of your big toe into the ground. This will cause the muscles on the front side of your standing leg to pull up almost automatically.  As a result, between shifting your weight forward and holding your leg lifted, you will be using almost all of the muscles in the front side of your body.

When the muscles on the front side of your body are being contracted, they send signals to the muscles on the back side of your body to stretch.  As you build range of motion in the back of your standing leg and low back you will eventually have the range of motion available to kick out part way, or fully.  If your standing leg buckles when you try to kick out, it means you’ve gone beyond the range of motion available to you, and are no longer using your contracted front-side muscles to hold you in place.

Remember that you are getting 100% of the benefit of the posture just by staying in the first part.  Focus on maintaining your balance here, looking forward in the mirror at your standing knee, and breathing in and out through your nose. Don't get frustrated if you aren't ready to kick your leg out. It can take months or even years to get to the next part. Again, 100% of the benefit from 100% effort in the first part!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Tip of the Week: Final Savasana

The final Savasana brings a deep, meditative state of rest, which may help in the repair of tissues and cells, and in releasing stress. It also gives time for the yoga workout to sink in at a deeper level. This posture leaves you in a state of rejuvenation, and allows the body and mind time to process what has happened during class. 
  • EMBRACE IT! This is where your body, mind and spirit can relax and fully assimilate the benefits of your practice. While teachers allow students to leave after a two minute Savasana, it is recommended to stay 10-15 minutes to calm the nervous system and promote equanimity in the entire body. Even though your brain might be telling you it's time to jump up and out of the heated room, taking a long Savasana will actually help you handle the heat in future classes. Read more on that by clicking "here".
  • Scan your body for tension. If you find it challenging to relax, try scanning your body from toe to head, saying the name of each body part and then releasing it. Often it's the mind that wants to stay active even when the body is relaxed. Try the basic meditation techniques of noticing your thoughts, labeling them as thinking, and then letting them go. Just like other types of yoga, this takes practice. Eventually you will notice that when your body goes into Savasana, your mind also assumes a relaxed position.
  • Breathe normally, find a comfortable position on your back (there’s no real form here, unlike the Savasana between standing and floor series) and close your eyes. While your body might be fatigued and ready for relaxation, your mind can get in the way. Focus on your inhalation and exhalation to calm your mind. The incoming breath energizes the body while the outgoing breath brings relaxation. Drop all sense of hurry or urgency or any need to attend to anything else. Just be with the body and the breath. Surrender the whole body to the floor and let go.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Tip of the Week: Protect Your Knees

When postures are performed mindfully, your Bikram practice can help prevent knee problems and disease, and help you regain strength and flexibility after an injury.

5 Ways to Protect Your Knees in Yoga
1. Avoid Hyperextending

When joints are overly mobile and flex too far back, they’re hyperextended. Your upper leg, knee, and lower leg should all be in line with one another when standing, and not making a concave shape. In the knees, hyperextension often occurs in poses in which the legs are straightened, such as Standing Head to Knee and Standing Bow Pose, putting an unhealthy tension on the ligaments. If you’re prone to hyperextension, keep a slight bend in the knees during standing poses (while keeping it "locked" by engaging your quads) and keep your weight evenly distributed among the four corners of your feet. 

2. Start With Your Feet

Proper alignment through the feet is the key to building strength evenly in the ligaments on both sides of the knee; when all the ligaments are equally strong, the kneecap glides effortlessly up and down and the cartilage doesn’t get worn down. Separate your toes and press actively through the four corners of your feet, especially in postures like Awkward Pose. If your feet are out of alignment, your knees are going to suffer.

3. Keep Your Knees in Line

When moving into deep knee bends such as Triangle Pose, first align your bent knee over your ankle, then draw your kneecap in line with your second toe. Maintain awareness in your back foot, pressing down evenly, while lifting up from the arch of your front foot. If you let the arch drop, the knee falls inside the big toe, and you’re set up to suffer a number of different kinds of overuse and acute knee injuries.

4. Tune in to Subtle Signals

Oftentimes, the knees don’t give immediate feedback. Only later do you realize you’ve gone too far. When it comes to the knees, the sensation that would normally proceed the red flag is the red flag. If you feel achiness when you come out of a bent-knee pose, you may have worked too hard. If you feel any pain going into a posture such as Fixed Firm Pose, back out of it.

5. Build Strength by Balancing

Balancing postures, especially those that require moving through a bent standing leg, such as Garudasana (Eagle Pose), are especially beneficial. Very dynamic balancing protects the knee against future injury by training the functional alignment, not just working the muscle.

For some more information on proper knee alignment and isometric exercises for your knees, go to Tip of the Week: Yoga Therapy for Your Knees.