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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Tip of the Week: The Lift in Locust Pose Isn't All About the Legs

Although you might think Locust Pose (Salabhasana) is all about focusing on the strength of your legs to raise them up high, the key to this posture is to focus on maintaining a strong upper body, a "pushing grip" with the pads of your fingers and palms of your hands, and learning to shift your body weight to the front.

Make sure you have a good set up. Lying on your stomach, roll your arms under your body with your hands and palms facing the floor. Try to get your elbows completely under your stomach so that they are invisible, and have your baby fingers touching side by side. This is the only posture where you are told to separate your fingers, so really stretch them out wide and grab the floor with your fingertips.

Use the strength in your hands and arms to maintain your weight towards the front of your body, so you can hold your legs up for as long as you can.

Bring your focus to activating the muscles of your back and truly feeling the strengthening sensation of the posture. This will help you to activate the muscles more and often will help you achieve more height.

Keep your arms and legs active, engaging your muscles and keeping them straight. The tighter they are the lighter they will feel. From Bikram educator Craig Villani, "Do not bend your knees in the posture because you are breaking the static arc of the posture."

Another important key to this posture is focusing on reaching your leg back away from your body, more than trying to lift it as high as possible. According to Bikram, "In all three phases of Locust, reaching and stretching your legs out, away from your body, is the important thing, not how high you lift them. (And, as always, your knees must be locked.) Imagine that someone has hooked your big toe to one of my Bentleys and I'm driving it through the wall behind you.

In the last, most hated part of Locust--lifting both legs at once-- understand that you're not really doing this with the legs on their own. When you can accomplish this lift, it will be because the muscles of the lower back and abdomen are doing the work; they're picking up the legs and moving them. So if you're struggling here, send mental message to those areas, and to your lower spine, telling them to send more power right away!"

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Tip of the Week: The Holy Grail of Bikram Yoga is "Opening"

We all know Indiana Jones and his quest for the Holy Grail. Methodical and tenacious in his search. As one adventure ends, he doesn't reach for his pipe and slippers; he's back on his hunt for the next elusive artifact.

In Bikram yoga, the Holy Grail is "Opening."

Hatha Yoga is all about the mindful application of strength, engaging the musculoskeletal system in such a way that the joints are gently prised open, to improve joint articulation and promote the intake of fluids, oxygen, and nutrients.

When practicing Bikram yoga, your primary focus should be on seeking out and hunting down where you can create more space in the joints.  Once you've found it, use strength to maximize it. How far you can visibly go into a posture is not that important. What is important is how much you feel the sensation of the body being pulled open as you perform the various postures.    

If you're thinking about depth, your are no longer keeping your mind's eye on opening up the body.  If you're not opening, you are collapsing. Maybe only by a small amount but that small amount, over time, hinders your development.

The benefits

1) Better alignment
2) Improved muscular control
3) Greater muscle stretching
4) Increased flexibility
5) Stops nasty twinges in the joints due to over compression
6) Greater internal massaging of the internal organs  
7) Greater clarity and stillness of the mind

As an example take Half Moon Backbend.  If you concentrate on going back as much as you can in this posture, you will most likely over compress the intervertebral discs in your lower spine. By focusing on expanding & opening the whole of your front side, you'll never get that nasty twinge in your lower spine. See Backbends as a front side opening posture, so don't place your mind behind you, keep your mind in front. Focus on opening up the whole front side, lifting up, opening the chest like a flower blooming in the sun. Pushing hips forward to increase the opening of the hips & lower torso. When you get the hang of it, you'll end up going back further without pinching into the lower spine.

Just like Indi once you've found what you've been searching for, you keep looking for more. So in Half Moon Backbend once you have found the opening in the chest and hips, keep searching for more space in other joints. Try creating space in the neck by gently lifting the neck up to feel the throat pulled open. Then contract the thighs to create space in the knee joints. Be tenacious in your quest for creating space.

The opposite of backbends are postures where you're opening up the back of your body, such as Standing Separate Leg Forehead to Knee Pose.  Here focus your mind behind you; Chin in, throat choked, to feel the back of your neck pulled open.  As you round down to get the forehead on the knee, suck in the stomach in such a way to internally push the spine back & up, helping to arch open the back of the spine. Stretch the hip of the front leg back & up, to feel the leg /hip socket pulled open; this helps keep the hips square and enables the leg to straighten without that nasty compression when pushed straight.

So next time you're in the hot room, imagine you're Indiana Jones searching for the Holy Grail - "OPENING".  In all postures, your goal is to seek, locate and mindfully pull open the joints, creating space within them.  Which means, you don't care how far you have gone into a posture.  You care only about how much you are pulling the body open. Once you get the hang of it, you end up going into postures deeper than you have before but with less strain and a significantly enhanced mind to body connection.

Bill Thwaites
From  Sohot Bikram Yoga

“Yoga is 99 percent practice and one percent theory.” - Yoga Guru Pattabhi Jois