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Lock the knee. Lock your eyes.

Posted Jan 10 2010 12:00am

This week, I picked up my Bikram yoga practice again. I practiced Friday night, did Saturday afternoon, and am leaving for the Sunday morning class in about an hour. I practiced Bikram last fall/winter for about six months, but then stopped when I went abroad to Australia. There was actually a Bikram studio a few miles from my apartment down there, but I didn’t really see having that much extra time or money to keep going, so I never kept it up.

Then, last semester, my life was crazy and my class schedule, the Eagle, and babysitting just didn’t allow for me to squeeze in yoga. It is a little bit frustrating to go back to Bikram after such a long break. I remember everything my body used to be able to do that it can’t do anymore, and I am sort of mad at myself I let that happen. But, I don’t want to say I regret not going, because you can’t really regret something you had basically no control over. I missed it a lot. This semester I have made room for it in my schedule to go three to four times per week, because with Bikram, (and most yoga), it is really important to go at least that many times, ideally five days. The more regularly you practice, the more you get out of it. Bikram yoga, also known as hot yoga by some, is basically a 26-posture, 90-minute routine developed by Bikram Choudhury. It is always performed in a room with a temperature of about 105 degrees and 40% humidity with the lights on bright. This allows your body to sweat out toxins but more importantly limbers up your muscles so you don’t strain something while you are working on the pretty demanding poses. It is amazing how much more flexible you become after spending a little time in the heat. I remember on my first couple days of Bikram yoga back in August 2008, I looked around the room at all the ripped bodies, some curvy, some with not a drop of fat on them, but mostly all in great shape. Let’s just say you could tell who had been coming for a while.

I started to compare myself to everyone around me. Then the class began and I started to compare myself to how well my body was working compared to other people in the room. Then I remember during Ardha Chandrasana with Pada-Hastasana, which is a pose where you extend your arms with your biceps at your ears and push your body as straight as can be to each side, holding for a minute, then repeat again. It’s the first real pose aside from the all-important breathing exercise, but it’s intense. This excruciating cramp hit my right bicep (which isn’t used to doing any work) and then all I can remember thinking was, “Ohh, this isn’t gonna be easy, is it?”

From then on I knew I had to forget everyone else in there and focus on me. I perform my best postures when I completely free my mind of distraction and focus on my own eyes in the mirror. Which is sort of why I titled this entry that. There are a lot of phrases the instructors tend to use a lot, specifically, “Lock the knee!” “Push more! Fall more! Back back back!” etc. But I really like repeating, “Lock your eyes” to myself because it actually does help. I usually stand in the front, because if I can’t see my eyes in the mirror, I often can’t focus. If I concentrate on my own gaze, I’m not thinking about anyone or anything else, and I can work through some of the balancing poses a lot easier. The balancing poses are my hardest. I’m naturally quite flexible all around, but I can’t balance for the life of me.

I think that is the beauty of most lasting exercise routines, specifically yoga, which is so individual. You do it for you, no one else. No one in there is going to pat you on the back and say, “You know, you had a really excellent triangle pose today, much better than last week!” because no one knows your practice except you. Sometimes instructors will encourage beginners with comments on how well they did, and they also will correct your postures so you get the most benefit and don’t hurt yourself. Instructors are always there to motivate and instruct, but they are not what keeps you going.

This is going to sound really cheesy, but it’s your internal dialogue and patting yourself on the metaphorical back that keeps you going. Sometimes it’s congratulating yourself for touching your head to the floor in standing separate leg stretching pose, sometimes it’s just for getting your butt to class. Or to paraphrase what Emerson once said, “Finish each pose and be done with it. You have done what you could.” I’m off to see what I can do today. Namaste, everyone.

(not Bikram, but me doing yoga in Brisbane, one of the only photos I have of me in any yoga pose.)

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