One of the things that gets me the most fired up about my love and appreciation for Bikram Yoga, is............Backbending!
There are so many aspects to it.
For starters....I want to point out that many times when a person hurts their back and they tell me about it.....I ask how they did it, and the majority of the time, they say they did it from bending forward, not bending backwards.
I have taken anatomy, worked in a chiropractic office and I have been a massage therapist for 18 years. Here is what I have come to know about backbending, in my own words.
Here is an image of the structure of a spine, notice the bodies are on the front, with discs in between. When you forward bend, you can see how you would put pressure on the discs, and backward bending will take pressure off the discs.
When you forward bend, with the pressure on the discs, if there is weakness or less space, between the vertebae, for various reasons, this is when the discs can bulge out and put pressure on a nerve. This is why it is so important when you forward bend, to contract your abdominal muscles and why we say stomach in. It is to create a stronger core and lifts the spine to create more space between the discs, to support the forward bend better.
When you do a backward bend, you contract all the muscles along the spine. Contracting the muscles makes them stronger. The muscles in this image are important to keep strong because they hold us up. These amazing groups of muscles run from our head to our pelvis and all in between. This is why we have several different backbending postures, that targets different groups. Our cervical spinal muscles, thoracic, and lumbar. Then we also have other postures that strengthen them all at the same time!
Forward bending lengthens these muscles, think about how much forward bending we do in just our daily lives, driving, eating, sitting, etc. Forward bending makes them flexible, but if they are not strengthened as well, then it is more difficult to hold our bodies up. We need both flexibility and strength!!
These are the muscles that are the most fascinating to me. They are so small and in between each and every vertebra! These are so important to keep strong because they help to keep the space in between the discs and help to keep the pressure off the discs, which will help reduce bulging discs. If these muscles get weak, they will not hold the same structure as intended in between each disc.
One of the best ways to strengthen and contract these muscles, in my opinion, is to do backward bending!!!!
When someone hurts their back, yes, it could have something to do with one of these pulled muscles. But more often, it has to do with the discs pressing on a nerve. This is caused from less space between the vertebrae, which is caused by weak spinal muscles.
Notice this image of all different nerves. All our nerves pass threw our spine, from top to bottom. If a nerve gets pressed anywhere along the spine, not only is it extremely painful, but it also decreases the function of that nerve. These functions are everything from muscle contraction, to hormone production, to organ function.
This is why we always say, healthy spine, healthy life!!!
The main focus of our series, is on a healthy spine. We do 9 backward bending postures twice, from top to bottom and all together at the same time. We not only contract, but we bend forward to stretch these muscles as well. We twist from side to side to get that contraction and stretch as well.
I am sure you have heard us say "Now that we are on the floor, this is where the real yoga begins". The entire floor series is all about the spine. The standing series, warms up our bodies, oxygenates our cells for energy, and requires us to strengthen our focus and concentration. We start with pranayama to bring in tons of oxygen, we warm up our spine in all 4 directions, then warm up our knees and ankles, then our joints. Balance series helps us focus and get out of our heads from our day, then we warm up our hips with the next 4 postures. Now ready for the floor. Without the standing series to warm us up mentally and physically, we will not be able to go as deep in the floor postures, which is the more important part of the series, in my personal opinion!!
The great part about our postures is they are all beginner level postures, you can do as much as your flexibility allows and still get ALL the benefit! And if you have been practicing for a long time, you still get the benefit from this level of postures.
I hope this gives you some insight as to how powerfully healing our series is. Backbending is only one aspect of the healing possibilities!
If you are working through back injuries, I offer a FREE phone or zoom one hour consultation. We can get into your injury and break down how the postures can benefit you, specifically for what your injury is. Sometimes, in class or a few minutes while we are checking in the class, is not enough time to really fully understand how to approach class with an injury. I am happy to schedule the time, anytime!! This is an offering I give to all students!
Please email me email@example.com
Have you seen the latest article regarding a study, published in The Harvard Gazette?
"In the eight-week trial, 80 participants were randomized into two groups: one that received 90-minute sessions of Bikram yoga practiced in a 105°F room and a second group that was placed on a waitlist"-
Here is the link, I highly recommend giving it a read! Afterwards, continue on here to read some of my thoughts on it!
I am def no stranger to depression. I began my yoga journey at a time in my life when I was lost. Recently, I wrote about my yoga journey and it was published in a compilation with other yogis in a book called "Within" (it's available for sale at the studio). I didn't mention I was depressed in the book, but there were def some indications, at the time, that there was some underlying hints of depression, especially looking back.
Postpartum depression hit me hard, and going through menopause, with the decreased levels of estrogen I have felt hints once again, going up and down, in and out of it. A couple of hard life changes brought about other bouts of depression as well.
The thing that was consistent through all this for me was my yoga practice. My yoga allowed me to be aware of it, but not BE it. I was able to not identify with it, I got to notice it, but detach from it. I could look at it from a distance and know that it is only passing. I knew that that is not WHO I am. The reason, is because of my yoga practice. Yoga is the study of the self. Self Realization. I know myself so well from my yoga practice, so much so, that I knew that the depression was not who I am. Eventually, with consistent practice, the effects of depression would gently subside and even disappear.
One of the things I love about this article is that it indicates you can practice only once a week and still receive the benefits! WOW! Imagine 2 or 3 times a week. I feel my best with 4 or 5 times a week.
I also love that it mentioned Bikram Yoga as the yoga the participants practiced. I feel this is an important distinction to make.
And last of course, I have to mention what you see in a Bikram Yoga Community...... smiling happy faces!!! Even when I am having a rough day, or feeling down, as soon as I walk through the door and up the stairs, it completely shifts my attitude. The greetings from the students, all the smiles, practicing together.......there is nothing better for me!!! So grateful! Bikram Yoga is def my anti depressant!!!
You should be SO proud of yourself!!! Whether you have never practiced Bikram Yoga or you know what you are getting yourself into...LOL....the fact that you show up is something to be celebrated. I talk with many many people inquiring about starting something new with Bikram Yoga. They have many valid concerns and fears, as did I when I first started practicing. As I do my best to ease their worries and answer all their questions, I often find myself teaching and being so impressed with all my students in front me, and I think about how much courage it took for them to show up today! I am so grateful!
We don't always see what someone went through before they stepped into the yoga studio. (Be kind to one another). Especially, if it is someone for their first time. The heat can be intimidating, the level of fitness may not be where you want it to be, and honestly, it is not the easiest thing to look at yourself straight ahead, for 90 minutes, in the mirror! I know!
But somehow, each and everyone of you, muster up the courage to take your first step into the studio, or dig deep into your self discipline to get back into the room time and time again! Amazing!
You come together with the people around you, breathe together, move together, and realize you are all capable of so much more than you think. You see yourself doing the postures, you can look around and see others with similar struggles doing the postures, and you realize you are a part of something. Something that has tremendous healing benefits on the quality of your life! And you realize it is not as scary as you may have thought it was ;)
This is the first step to having enough respect for yourself to take care of yourself! Showing up!
It takes courage!!!
One of the many things I love about Bikram Yoga is that every single person can do this. We aren't doing headstands or advanced postures, which not everyone can do, we aren't using blocks or other tools, just you, yourself, your body, and where you are on that day.
It is truly the best when I get to see you all realize how much more capable you are of doing things that you didn't think you could!
See you in the hot room!!
I love how our yoga practice can provide us with a platform to work on our well being in ways we sometimes don't even realize. It is the very structure of our class that can bring about opportunities to cultivate the deep aspects of yoga. These deeper aspects of yoga I am talking about are the 8 limbs of yoga. The 8 limbs of yoga are guidelines for living a life in a purposeful way. In this blog I am going to talk about the 5th limb - "Pratyahara".
What is the def of a complaint?
It is a statement about something that is unsatisfactory. A complaint can have profound negative affects on our body, not only for the person saying the complaint but also for the person that hears the complaint. Studies have shown that complaints can create stress hormones in our bodies for both giver and receiver, they decrease our brain function, as well as over time it can re-wire our brain negatively.
What is the definition of Pratyahara?
Pratyahara in sanskrit means to withdraw with the senses. Think of what a turtle does when it draws back in towards itself, it pulls it limbs and head in. This is what we do with our senses in Pratyahara. It is the energy behind a statement that can take something from an observation to a complaint. When we learn to withdraw our senses, we can then learn how to detach from the things outside us that bother us. It also allows us to take a step back and take a look at ourselves.
Practice the art of Pratyahara. When you detach from your senses, instead of losing your senses...... what you actually do is change your state of mind! You gain more focus on yourself. You are able to let go of the things around you that bother you. Then, only you can meditate deeper!
Next time you feel like you want to complain about the heat, or how the teacher is teaching or how the weather is outside, about this or that, or about the smells around you, whatever it is......instead with all your awareness, pull your senses inwards. Become completely immersed with your hearing, sensing and smelling within yourself and withdraw your attachment to what you want it to be and see how much better you feel!!!
Self discipline can show up in so many ways in the yoga room! It is one of the qualities of the mind that gets strengthened just by having a regular yoga practice. You don't have to force yourself to be self disciplined, it just gets cultivated by your continuous, conscious action and devotion.
Just showing up is the first major step. From there, you build on the fact that you show up each day. It might be that you decide to practice less fidgeting, or more one point focus, or just breathing in by the nose-mouth closed!!! Each goal you set for yourself and you accomplish, strengthens your self discipline!!! No matter how small the goal.
You will see how you begin to discipline yourself in the ways you respond to the external stimulation as well as the internal stimulation.
It is not just about following or not following rules, it is so much deeper than that. It is about pursuing an ancient sacred practice, that allows you to study yourself and know yourself. Through the practice, we begin to abandon our temptations and/or our weaknesses when it gets uncomfortable. To keep going when our minds are telling us to leave because we don't like the teacher or the heat is not right, or the person next to us is doing something we don't like, or we want the class to go a different way. Having the willpower to overcome the desire to give up when it gets hard. To stay and continue even when we feel negatively towards it. And show up the same no matter what!
Over time, the more and more we practice. The better we get at mind over the matter, we start to see that we become detached from all the things around us. That nothing steals our peace. That hot or cold, loud or soft, fast or slow, no matter what YOU are the same! Focused, still, content, present.
Our yoga teaches us this.....next time you take class, notice where you can cultivate more self discipline in your practice and watch how it will show up in all the spaces outside the yoga room too!!!