Postcards From The Heat

Biophysics

1 Comment 26 March 2012

The Bikram class , teachers often say, is “scientifically designed”. Not being a teacher, I don’t know the full story. But from what I’ve gathered so far, it mostly means: capitalizing on the way how blood flows and what cells do. It’s using biophysics.

So, the injuction against drinking water during camel and rabbit is not about upsetting a stomachful of water. Rather, the intensely curved back of these two postures compresses the cells along the spine like a hand squeezing a full sponge. The focus is on flushing out the cells. And if you drink, you interrupting the draining, convert the cells to absorbing mode.

Sounds reasonable, right? It certainly matches that utterly drained, utterly released feeling of those two poses.

Allowing a natural process is also why we must remain still in the long savasana. If you lift a limb, blood will move to those muscles instead of cycling freely from heart and lungs to toes and brain and back again.

The same process is why the short savasana recurs and why it lasts 20 seconds. That’s how long it takes for the blood to make the complete circuit. That’s so every cell is refreshed with a touch of new air.

“The tourniquet effect” and “high-speed blood” are two phrases that recur. The whole damming up of the coursing fluid thing—I believe that’s what healed my knee during a 30 day challenge a few years ago. When I started it, my knee was so swollen, my torn meniscus so aggravated, I could manage only a 90 degree angle between my thigh and my calf.

But day by day that month, millimeter by millimeter, an average of three degrees a day, I pressed thigh toward calf –all my weight borne by my hands–and conscientiousd lay down quickly afterward. I regained full range of motion. The knee still gets a little cranky now and then, but it’s never been as bad.

Western medicine does not believe much in biophysics. But scientists do. And so does yoga.

Namaste,
Yoga Lily

Postcards From The Heat

Be Still

2 Comments 19 March 2012

Teachers practice alongside students in the studio. Some have amazing, inspiring postures. More amazing is that some don’t, and their dedication to details is inspiring. Sometimes you can see a teacher’s heart, perfectionism, submission, transcendence, whatever. The other day, I learned from a teacher who was not teaching.

She is one of those kind teachers, who closes class with, “Thank you for allowing me to guide you through your practice.” I stood behind her. She held herself motionless between postures, not a fidget. And that stillness was there during the very first minutes of class. She was calm even before she began.

I somehow fell into synch with her. I mimicked her stillness. And I had one of my strongest classes. I did every posture. I discovered the secret of stillness.

Teachers always hector us to stay still between postures. It’s hard, grumble, grumble. There’s sweat to wipe, water to drink, towels to neaten, cramps to flex against, hair to tuck back, grumble, grumble. Ignoring it all was an exercise in itself, requiring a concentration that primed me to concentrate.

And stillness conserves energy. Exerting the will to hold still has the net result of using no physical energy. Exerting the will to hold still paradoxically creates a moment of rest, of recuperation. Stillness made me physically organized and prepared for the next posture.

On a deeper level, stillness requires discipline. Ignoring distractions, exerting the will, these are huge efforts, controlling the monkey mind that leaps around, chattering meaninglessly, irrelevantly. There’s discipline to be had in keeping the toes together, the fingers quiet, the back straight, the mind cleared and ready for lift-off into balancing and arcing and defying gravity. Really, in a way, the body is the least of the practice.

I repeated this stillness business in my next class. It worked again to give me a strong class. So there you have it: the trick to the postures is being still. Another paradox arises.

Namaste,
Yoga Lily

Postcards From The Heat

Yoga Wears the Crown

No Comments 12 March 2012

And the winner of the 9th annual Yoga Asana Championship is: YOGA!

Second place: THE HUMAN BODY!

Not being a competitive type myself, I don’t much care about winners.

But I did love the spectacle of people trying their absolute best. And I was in awe of what asana practice can give to the body.

After a while, sitting and watching dozens of yogis and yoginis, the strangest contortions become strangely commonplace. After a few people extend their upper legs straight in standing bow, it seems normal to be able to do a split vertical to the ground while balancing on one foot. After enough people rest their arches on their foreheads in scorpion pose, those feet look like they belong there. And even when people tuck their chins between their ankles in the pose I think of as extreme wheel, head and feet fit together like lock and key. Arms are meant to support the entire body weight in handstands.

Yoga brings out the magical ability of human tissue to be strong and flexible. It’s breathtaking. At the championship, there’s a new normal.

But even those people who wobbled and fell, even those whose joints did not have breathtaking range of motion—yoga had worked its magic on them.

Each and every one was muscled and sleek. Each and every one had luminous flesh. Standing on the stage all together in their bathing suits, they looked like a different species entirely, radiant with some inner something—poise? passion? clean cells? Even if they had not polished their yoga poses, yoga had polished them.

The entire event was one long advertisement for the benefits to the body of yoga practice. It’s a classic case of trying is its own reward. That was obvious too when the competitors finished their poses and bowed to the judges. Their faces burst into smiles. It was a reflex. It was joy. The joy of trying. The joy of asana.

Namaste,
Yoga Lily

Postcards From The Heat

The Dedicated

6 Comments 05 March 2012

Once again, fate has carried me away from the studio. So as usual, when we are separated from what or who we love–we pine, dwell on virtues not present, rehash greatest hits, to keep the love thriving. To keep the warmth without practicing, here on the sidelines, what am I pining for?

Classes full of dedicated practitioners. People who convene for yoga at hefty cultural moments, such as late Saturday night, or early Monday morning. One weekend night, a teacher spoke of the class as a date with your better self. I loved that.

The camaraderie is so much deeper than just enduring the heat together. We are all even more alike in choosing to be there at off moments.. It’s a community of shared values. After class, we are on the same page in locker room conversations.

Groupings of the like-minded also happen during major social phenomena—a religious holiday, sporting event, political debate. These sift the city’s populace such that only a few yogis of a similar stripe—don’t celebrate that holiday? hate football? disgusted by politicians?—end up in the studio.

For example, Christmas Eve day a few months ago, when people were shopping and traveling and engaged in the season’s social swirl. The teacher of the afternoon class that day said, “The people here today have a different relationship to their yoga, a different level of commitment to their practice.”

Coming to class at unusual times, squeezing it in to your schedule, reflects more than a compulsion to exercise. It’ a way of defining ourselves, choosing this practice as what to do constructively with a few spare hours. Believing this system of yoga improves us, and enjoying it. The people in the room share that.

The world is really kind of a crazy place, and sharing values, especially for something that works to create inner peace, is very soothing. I love imagining the denizens of the hot room carrying on, and knowing they will still be there when I get back.

Namaste,
Yoga Lily


Bikram Yoga NYC opened its doors in August 1999 and became Manhattan's first Bikram Yoga Studio! Owners Donna Rubin and Jennifer Lobo had both been avid practitioners of Bikram Yoga in other cities and knew that no city needed Bikram Yoga more than New York!

Our blogger, Yoga Lily has been practicing intensively in our studios for more than two years. She was inspired to begin this blog by the myriad benefits the yoga brings her. Yoga Lily lives in Manhattan with her two daughters, an oversized German Shepherd, and a Russian Blue cat.

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