September 20, 2019

Archives for December 2010

Bikram What?

—"Very hot and sweaty" after my 1st Bikram (hot yoga) class)

During the first week of November I participated in my first Bikram yoga class and I could not have selected a better studio: Yoga on 6th (now iLiv Yoga).  Self-described as a “warm, inviting space,” Yoga on 6th (located in the Cherry Creek Shopping District at the corner of 6th and Detroit) offers a wide variety of yoga offerings, including the very popular “hot”/Bikram yoga.  Although I had practiced other styles of yoga over the course of the last several years (e.g. Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga/Power), this was my first shot at the Bikram series.  How did I get here?  Well, to make a long story short, my sister (who lives in an uber-trendy area of Northern CA) was planning a visit for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.  She had mentioned Bikram many times to me and had urged me to give it a go.  I am consistently encouraging my sister to experience new things and I wanted to reciprocate … I figured it would give us something to chat about over the holiday.  Not only did I find a great studio, but I had the good fortune to have Elizabeth Van Genderen as my instructor (a runner who uses yoga as a compliment to her running)—if you have an opportunity to catch one of Elizabeth’s classes you won’t be disappointed and will emerge as a better practitioner of the Bikram series.

Well, my first class certainly exceeded my expectations.  From the first moment I was challenged.  The room was heated to a balmy 105° and packed with yoga practitioners (alive with a great mix of students of all body types and levels of proficiency).  I have a confession to make, despite my attention to stretching and other forms of “self-care” I have the genetic flexibility of an icicle.  I followed E’s cues and went to my own space and attempted to cultivate “serenity without seriousness.”  The sweat came on quick and within the opening couple of series, the sweat was pouring off my body—by the end of the hour-and-half class I was drenched.  Repeatedly throughout the class I caught myself watching drops and rivulets of sweat pour of my appendages and running onto the floor … fascinating!

Following “Breath of Fire” and a final savasana (aka “rest pose”) I emerged from class with a bit of nausea that quickly passed and immediately lead to a sense of tremendous well-being—I felt energized and fully alive in an organic physical sense.

What follows is a review of the 26 Bikram poses and some of my personal reflections and challenges.  The Bikram series is split into an ordered succession of standing and sitting poses.  Note: I included the formal Sanskrit names as part of an intellectual exercise, as they simply passed by me during class … I simply wanted to add a bit of clarity.

No. 1: Standing Deep Breathing/Pranayama

An introductory pose, exposing the stiffness that I carry in my shoulders—almost all of my male clients (myself included) have significant restrictions in the shoulders, this pose serves to open that often restricted and, despite it’s large range of motion, unstable area. (Remember the thought, “What we gain in mobility in the shoulder joint comes at a cost of stability.”)  Although I don’t have any known restrictions in my neck, this pose also presents immediate challenges when attempting to keep the elbows level to the shoulders when exhaling.  A great pose to initiate focus and concentrate on 6-count breathing—serves to elevate body temperature.  This pose caught me a bit by surprise, as the veterans knew how to channel their breath and make a very vocal inhale and exhale sound … something for me to explore further.

No. 2: Half Moon with Hands to Feet/Arda Chandrasana with Pada-Hastasana

A great core move that exposes limits in flexibility while providing strengthening to the core.

No. 3: Awkward Pose/Utkatasana

An alignment pose that offers tremendous strengthening potential for both the lower body and core.

No. 4: Eagle/Garurasana

What’s not to like about a pose named “eagle pose”—one of my favorites.  Provides a great balance challenge as well as targeted flexibility work for the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbow, and wrists (each areas where the multisport athlete typically exhibits restrictions).  I am currently unable to “wrap” my non-working leg, instead it stays in place above the knee.

No. 5: Standing Head to Knee/Dandayamana Janushirasana

Another fantastic balance pose.  Here, once again, I am currently unable to make the hand to ankle connection to achieve the full expression of this pose.

No. 6: Standing Bow/Dandayamana-Dhanurasana

Ditto on this … unable to connect my hand to my ankle (I am exploring this pose further by using a strap—I use this one because I like the name).

No. 7: Balancing Stick/Tuladandasana

In addition to developing concentration on balance, this pose has the added benefit of rapidly increasing one’s heart rate.

No. 8: Standing Separate Leg Stretching/Dandayamana Bibhaktapada Pashimotthanasana

This complimentary pose addresses the elevated heart rate and provides a great opportunity to focus on spinal alignment (this pose is a great compliment to many of the vertical pushing exercises/Olympic lifts that are frequently part of my resistance training routines).

No. 9: Triangle/Trikanasana

This pose offers a shotgun effect … it works the entire body; however, it appears to offer tremendous benefits for hip flexibility (a potentially beneficial pose for us runners).

No. 10: Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee/Dandayamana Bibhaktapada Janushirasana

This pose particularly challenges the muscles of the spine and legs.

No. 11: Tree/Tadasana

Another of my favorite poses … who doesn’t like finding a strong “tree-like” balance?  Bikram practitioners suggest that this pose helps one to develop grace … I agree.

No. 12: Toe Stand/Padangustasana

A pose designed to develop patience … that is an understatement as, at this early level of my Bikram practice, this expression is way out of my reach!

No. 13: Dead Body-“Corpse”/Savasana

A resting pose used between the sitting series that facilitates a drop in heart rate.  I personally feel that the real power of this pose come from concentrating on feeling the floor supporting the entire body.  There is tremendous benefit to coming in and out of the poses, at E’s urging, I tried to consciously alternate the direction that I moved in and out of savasana.

No. 14: Wind-Removing Pose/Pavanamuktasana

Provides a self-massage of the internal organs, especially targeting the liver and intestines.

No. 15: Cobra/Bhujangasana

A focused strengthening exercise for the spine.  I personally feel this is a great pose for cyclists.

No 16: Locust/Salabhasana

Another terrific pose for spinal strengthening.

No. 17: Full Locust/Poorna-Salabhasana

This pose offers a variety of hand variations that I explored during my initial class (very similar to a training exercise called the “superman”).

No. 18: Bow/Dhanurasana

I simply can’t connect to my ankles here.  This is a capstone pose that combines the development of the “cobra” and “locust” series into a final, full spinal compression.

No. 19: Sit Up

The yoga sit up is only indicated for those without pre-existing back issues.  This is a dynamic move that is simultaneously combined with two strong exhales in order to facilitate the clearing out of the lungs.  Like savasana, the sit up allows a transition between poses and I attempted to alternate coming out of the sit up on both the right and left side of my body.

No. 20: Fixed Firm Pose/Supta-Vajrasana

I am unable to get my butt to the floor … I have to use a prop here (i.e., a yoga block).  This pose offers great potential for increasing flexibility in my knees.

No. 21: Half Tortoise Pose/Ardha-Kurmasana

A relaxation pose that offers a significant challenge to the core musculature.  The challenge is to allow the knife edges of your palms to connect with the mat first … slowly lower using only your core.

No. 22: Camel/Ustrasana

A spine “healing” pose that certainly compresses the lower spine and associate internal organs (e.g., the kidneys).

No. 23: Rabbit Pose/Sasangasana

This pose creates a healthy tension between the hips and the heels.  When correctly expressed, there is almost no weight in the head.

No. 24: Head to Knee with Stretching Pose/Janushirasana with Paschimotthanasana

Wow, I know that you are not supposed to judge during your yoga practice, but I can hardly get my head past my hips, much less in contact with my knee!

No. 25: Spine Twisting Pose/Ardha-Matsyendrasana

A luxurious twist and compression.

No. 26: Blowing in Firm Pose-“Breath of Fire”/Kapalbhati in Vajrasana

Like the initial breathing series, this one caught me a bit off guard.  This is a dynamic and vocal series that challenges the core and facilitates breath control.

I really enjoyed my introduction to Bikram, this was in no small part due to the great studio and excellent instruction.  One can certainly debate the pros and cons of pushing flexibility in a heated environment, but I personally liked the challenge and the opportunity to push my flexibility a bit.  The 26 poses each offer significant challenges and I am looking forward to learning more.  At its core, all yoga offers an opportunity to develop and progress one’s kinesthetic/proprioceptive senses (I understand both the distinction between these terms and the controversy surrounding using these terms interchangeably).  The ability to appreciate and precisely discern the relative position of one’s body parts in time and space (whether or not they are in motion or not) is an advantage for any athlete.  I believe that there are tremendous benefits to be achieved by learning to control our posture, whether on the yoga mat, in the weight room, participating in our favorite sport, or simply engaging fully in the activities of life.  Like other forms of yoga, Bikram practice offers countless opportunities to make and progress the mind-body connections and progress our overall level of fitness.

Elizabeth Van Genderen (Bikram instructor at iLiv Yoga)

Teacher Highlight: Elizabeth Van Genderen (an instructor that I admire as she is constantly progressing her own knowledge base and bringing her “best” to those that participate in her classes).

Elizabeth Van Genderen began practicing yoga in 2000, being especially drawn to Hot Yoga for the physical benefits that she felt complemented running. Two children and five marathons later, she received her Hot Yoga Certification from CorePower in the Spring of 2008.

She continues her education on her mat by attending numerous yoga workshops, training: in Mysore, India with Sharath and Saraswathi Jois; senior western teachers Tim Miller, Richard Freeman, and Annie Pace; and Bel and Emily Carpenter (Bikram).  The treasures from practicing the Hot Yoga series continue to reveal themselves throughout her practice.

Elizabeth underwent knee surgeries on both of her knees in 2007, so she knows first-hand and speaks to the healing value of Hot Yoga, and the need for patience in our postures to ultimately allow for deeper openings.

Elizabeth creates an environment where postures are appreciated on a breath-by-breath basis. She strives to bring more awareness to the breath and to specific alignment throughout the series which she finds serves us in and out of the asana room.

Elizabeth teaches at iLiv Yoga located at the corner of 6th and Detroit on Mondays at 10 a.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m.

iLiv Yoga (6th and Detroit) in Denver, CO

Hot Yoga Studio Update: Since my initial class I have participated in Bikram classes on a nearly weekly basis.  Although I would certainly benefit from a  more frequent/dedicated practice, I am realizing benefits from these initial steps.  I am now promoting Bikram to my clients as a way to progress their strength, flexibility, and general well being.  I am appreciating the benefits of Bikram practice, i.e. the release of toxins, improved flexibility and increased range of motion, stimulation of weight loss, and development of additional muscle tone.  I have personally devoted this year to broadening my yoga practice as a supporting activity for both my endurance and hypertrophy goals.

At the start of ’12 (the first week of January), I learned that iLiv Yoga had emerged from the start of Yoga on 6th.  iLiv has built on the success of the former studio and upgraded its facilities (e.g., new paint, new furniture, an even “cleaner” feel).  Fortunately, Elizabeth continues to teach at iLiv and is devoted to her teaching practice at the new studio.  If you are one of my clients, please ask me to attend a complimentary class at this great studio.