Category Archives: Tips and Tricks

Posture Clinic: Awkward Pose

Awkward Pose

Utkatasana

For most of us Awkward Pose is, well, awkward. But do not let the discomfort of this position turn you away, it is packed with huge benefits for your entire body, and just a little attention and applying yourself to the posture can go a long way.

Anatomical Focus

Awkward Pose. Photo: Bikram Yoga College of India

Strengthens

  • Triceps
  • Deltoids
  • Abdominal Muscles
  • Quadriceps
  • Tones muscles of the legs

Stretches and Opens

  • Ankles
  • Feet
  • Toes
  • Pelvis
  • Shins

Stimulates

  • Liver
  • Spleen
  • Intestines
  • Pancreas

Physical Benefits

Helps to realign the legs to prevent lower-back pain

Helps to align the meniscus in the knee

Reduces flat feet, bunions and bowed legs

Helps with lumbago

Relieves menstrual cramps

Relieves sciatica

Reduces fat under buttocks

Good for arthritic conditions in knees and hips

Relieves joint pain

Emotional Benefits

Helps to release anger and guilt in often stored in thighs.

Helps to relieve rage and frustration from calf muscles.

Second set activates the diaphragm, chest and upper abdomen, helping to alleviate depression, hypertension, anorexia and bulimia.

Posture Tips

“If you allow your stomach to be loose, you will overtax your back muscles possibly causing back pain.” Craig Villani

First Part

Always make sure the feet are properly aligned, not v-ing in or v-ing out. This creates the therapeutic alignment of the posture. Pay close attention that the feet do not change position as you move into the posture.

Keep your knees and toes always facing forward to the mirror.

To achieve greater depth in the first part, allow the chest and upper body to come down and sit as low as possible. When the hips reach their maximum depth, focus on bringing the upper body back.

Reach your fingers more forward to counter-balance your effort to sit down lower.

Always keep 100% of your body-weight in the heels.

Notice any tension in your shoulders and face and try to relax the muscles, or move the energy into you arms or abdomen.

Second Part

Start the pose by coming up as high as possible on the toes and try not to allow your heels to lower.

Watch the alignment of your ankles, they should be straight and not shooting out or in from the alignment of your legs.

“Concentrate mostly on your big and second toes of each foot pressing into the floor. The rest of the toes are mostly decoration.

As your toes press down and out into the floor, pull the abs in toward the spine and up towards the rib cage creating an abdominal “lock”.

Everything in class is oppositional, so if you are pushing something down, something else has to pull up.” Adam Roper, Bikram Yoga Harlem

As you bring your hips lower into the chair try to bring your heels higher and come more on to the toes.

Sit your hips all the way into the chair. This is important to achieve the therapeutic benefits of the posture. Shaking, burning and discomfort is a good thing, it means you are burning calories and building muscles.

If your upper body is leaning forward, this means you must come up higher on the toes. Don’t be scared to come as high as possible on the toes. Remember that Bikram often says this posture should one day be done just on the big toe.

Come up from the second part slowly to build more strength in the legs.

“Whenever there is shaking, there is always a threatened nerve. It’s NEVER an impulse saying, “If you keep going there could be trouble.” Shaking is not bad, it is your body creating new neural passageways and learning to strengthen and hold.” Emmy Cleaves

Third Part

Only come up on the toes as much as is necessary to bring the knees together, but not as far as the second set.

Never allow the knees to part, as you do the pose think of pressing not just the knees but the thighs together as if you are zipping your two legs together up to the groin.

Try to come out of the posture with a straight spine as much as possible.

“Hardest of all three parts is coming out of the third part with a straight spine, so keep trying.” Bikram



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Teaching Clinic: Bikram Burn-Out

For all the eager trainees coming into the last weeks of teacher training, it is nearly impossible to imagine feeling stagnant and uninspired by Bikram Yoga. But for even the most devout teachers, after teaching for a few years (or months) burn-out is hard reality.

Joseph Encinia teaching photo: Bennie Shapiro

In a community that embraces, promotes, and rewards daily practice, doubles and a full immersion into all that is yoga, not feeling love for the practice becomes a burden that many carry in silence.

Vesna Jarcevic, owner of Bikram Yoga Red Tree thinks it is important to consider how burn-out effects us as teachers. “How are we going to explain to our students how to stay in the yoga room, or with Bikram Yoga for years, if we as teachers are having the same problem?” she asks.

For many, the answer is not always simple. In the Fall 2005 Teacher Training, Craig Villani said that most Bikram Yoga teachers burn-out after two years. Many leave teaching for other pursuits, scale back their classes or begin teaching other forms of yoga.  Still, there are those push to persevere through their doubts and seek ways to regain their inspiration.

Senior Bikram Yoga Teacher Diane Ducharme, recently identified three causes of burn-out on her “Bikram Yoga For You” Facebook forum :

  1. Teaching too many classes per week, sometimes out of necessity. Everyone has a number of classes they can COMFORTABLY and JOYFULLY teach. Stick to that if possible. You can always do more on a TEMPORARY basis, but take care of yourself first.
  2. Not maintaining a personal practice OR practicing too much like these 100 day challenges. First, take care of yourself.
  3. The most important one I’ve found is not teaching with the dialogue. This by far is the biggest reason teachers burn out. They go in there every day and “make it up.” That requires a tremendous amount of energy. Saying the dialogue is not only a meditation for the student, but also for the teacher. When you are not feeling your best physically, you can, with little effort, get in there for 90 minutes and say the dialogue and teach a very safe and good class.

A fourth reason why many teachers get burnt out is professional conflict. Spending a lot of time at the studio surrounded by co-workers often blurs lines of professionalism, making it difficult not to take things personally. This, coupled with low job security can make it personally challenging to deal with certain situations. If at all possible, it is important to communicate clearly with co-workers and owners and teach in studios with a positive work environment (often easier said than done).

For different reasons, falling back in love with the yoga can take time, patience and perseverance. Here are some tips from Toronto’s senior teachers about overcoming burn-out.


“Practice, practice, practice. The more I practice the more I love it. It helps the teacher/student connection while teaching, making it more meaningful for everyone involved.”Jocelyn Doyle, Bikram Yoga Toronto

When you get bored looking at the canvas,  it is often from focusing on the canvas as a whole.

In that moment step in, examine at a micro level, and find the one brush stroke that really grabs you. One that seems brand new- though you know you’ve seen it a million times. With this new-found clarity and understanding something seemingly small but exciting, you can start from scratch. And once again, you can behold something grand unfold on canvas before you.

What may seem daunting is the search of finding that first stroke.

But it is there; perhaps to be found in a word, sentence, or idea in the dialogue, a change within your own practice, or inspiration justly drawn from a student’s growth or accomplishments.

When you do find this new bud, growth begins again, and behind it may lie a whole new field of flowers …or as my pal Sting always tries to ram down my throat, perhaps even “Fields of GOLD.”Damien Smith, Co-Owner Bikram Yoga Toronto


Read Books.
Attend Seminars.
There is never enough time to say it all in 90 minutes!!
If you get “burnt out” or Bored..
Then YOU are BORING!!!!
Namaste’

Janice Guertin, Owner Bikram Yoga Forest Hill


I’m gonna sound like a Bikram broken record but….GO BAAAACK. Seriously, hitting up TT, a seminar or anytime with Boss has been the #1 revitalization in my teaching career. – Dana Moore, Co-Owner Bikram Yoga Toronto


Add a little GIN to your water bottle lie down at the front of the room in savasana and start teaching… Just kidding!

Some times we feel burnt out, but you have to remember why you are there: to help all the cranky, burnt out, lazy students that walk in that room. No matter how bunt out we are, our students are normally more burnt out than us!

As a teacher it’s always a good idea to tell your self you’re awesome because some one will always have something bitchy to say about your class. No matter what, love yourself and do the best you can that day! David Mook, Teacher: Bikram Yoga Toronto, Bikram Yoga Forest Hill, Bikram Yoga Centre

Visit Bikram studios other than the one(s) you’re usually at and take a variety of other teachers’ classes not only in the city where you live, but especially whenever you travel.
You’ll keep in good shape on vacations and gain many valuable insights from the variety of teachers’ experiences and knowledge you encounter all over the world! You’ll also be able to steal many many great jokes and pawn them off as your own.
Andrea Blakey, Teacher: Bikram Yoga Toronto, Bikram Yoga Forest Hill, Bikram Yoga Centre


My advice:

Accept that we are bored and have nothing anything against it.

To stay teaching (like to stay in the room when it is hot) and still be useful to those who need us

To get entertained by how bored we are and not to judge ourselves for it until the boredom disappears, and it will!

It will go the same way as it came.

-Vesna Jarcevic, Co-Owner Bikram Yoga Red Tree


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Posture Clinic: Bow Pose

Bow Pose

Dhanurasana

Teshia Maher in bow pose

Anatomical Focus

Strengthening of…

Erector Spinea muscle

Deep spinal muscles

Deltiods

Rhomboids

Trapezius

Lattismus Dorsi

Compression of…

Kidneys

Stetching, extension of…

Entire front side of the body

Shoulder joints

Spinal column

Stimulation of…

Digestive system

Liver

Thymus

Lymph glands in neck and endocrine glands.

Benefits…

Increases circulation to the heart and lungs.

Improves breathing by extending and opening the diaphram and chest.

Increases circulation to the spine, helping to revitalize the spinal nerves.

Tones the abdomen, improves digestion and relieves constipation.

Helps to regulate the ovaries and prostate gland.

Helps to relieve rheumatism, arthritis, lumbago and cervical spondylosis.

Relieves menstrual problems.

Stimulation of the thymus gland helps to regulate the cycle of eating, making bow good for eating disorders.

Helps to correct bad posture.

Alleviates fatigue.

Improves the function of the kidneys, liver and spleen.

Good for bronchitis,

Mental Benefits…

Strengthens concentration and determination

Emotional Benefits…

Works through issues of sexual insecurity.

Helps to relieve the need for external validation.

Develops freedom of expression.

Relieves stress associated with taking too much responsibility for others.

Tips

Always grab right below the toes, no grip on the ankle or shin.

Remember, this posture is about kicking

Often students will kick first and look up second. Try to synchronize bringing your head back and the kick at the same time.

Always look up in the pose, this helps to complete the benefit for the cervical spine (neck) and helps to tone the muscles surrounding the eyes while stretching the ocular nerve.

Tips from the Pros

If one foot is higher than the other, instead of thinking to kick harder with that foot, think kick toward the corner of the ceiling. – Bikram

Manifest tension in the grip, but not the arm – Craig.

80/20 breathing is essential because it directly effects the compression of the spine. – Craig

Grab the feet not the ankle. – Craig

Tips for Teachers

Recently, Bikram began advising teacher trainees (from the Spring 2008 training onward) that he wanted bow pose to be taught to start with the knees together in the set up (instead of six inches apart) and then to allow the legs to separate once in the pose. This helps to keep the knees closer together once in the full expression of the posture.

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Teaching Clinic: correct your corrections

By Barbora Simek

Each teacher has a handful experiences in their teacher training that set the course for the type of Bikram Yoga instructor they will be. One of the moments that has stuck with through the course of my teaching career was a posture clinic lead by Darius LeGal, co-owner of Funky Door Mid-Town in San Fransisco.

Four years later, stumbling across the notes I took that day in the smelly La Cienega yoga room, I find that his tips could make any teacher’s class stronger. Below, are Darius’ tips from 2005, with my reflections after four years of teaching.

Photo: Bikram Yoga Huston

About corrections…


Get your students fully into the posture first, and then correct.

Getting your students fully into the poses means that individual attention will take less away from the group but also that you will be forced to make your corrections more concise to adhere to even timing.

Address your corrections mostly to the whole class. Make general corrections and save individual ones for special cases.

I recall Craig guiding us to first use the dialogue to correct, and to direct instructions to a specific student that needs to make an adjustment and to only rely on correcting individuals if necessary. While giving students some individual attention in each class is great, it is important to make sure that it doesn’t take away from the group dynamic.

Don’t use too many corrections and keep them short and sweet.

My home studio-owner, Brad Colwell, used to say to his students, “If you can learn one thing, or improve one thing in class, I am happy.” When we spoke about teaching he always would point out that with everything that is happening in the Bikram series, it is hard for the average student to retain to everything you say. Keeping this in mind, and cutting back on superfluous corrections and focusing on meaningful ones can tidy up your class and make your teaching more effective.

Use compliments sparingly so that your students maintain the motivation to improve.

I confess, I have a bad habit of saying ‘great’, ‘beautiful’ or ‘gorgeous’ after saying ‘change’. It is unnecessary and sounds insincere when it is done too often. But a sincere, well placed compliment can keep a student going in class.

I know a student who once said she chose not to sit out second set of a posture because the teacher had told her she had ‘perfect form’ in the first set. So, compliments can be a great way to motivate your students, but only if used effectively.

Say corrections loud enough for the whole class.

Our classes are made up of individuals, but they are still a group and the group follows the teachers energy. If a correction is specifically for one person, you can say, “Only for you ______ ….” Making sure that everyone can hear your corrections serves the group dynamic of your class.

Some teachers feel that corrections should be private, but there is no need to make a student feel as if getting or needing a correction is not something that can be discussed openly. Saying corrections out loud shows there is no shame in being corrected and gives other students the chance to benefit from someone else’s corrections.

Ultimately, if we are to ask our students to listen ‘word by word’ it is only fair that they should hear every word.



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Posture Clinic: Balancing Stick

by Barbora Simek

Balancing Stick

Tuladandasana

One of the most invigorating and challenging postures in the Bikram Yoga series, balancing stick is a hugely beneficial to the internal organs and as a large calorie burner, helps to tone the entire body. Like standing head-to-knee and standing bow-pulling pose, bringing the chest parallel to the floor helps to stimulate and strengthen heart giving huge cardiovascular benefit. Finally, it requires extreme concentration and helps to release emotion and open the heart.

Leslie Christiansen in Balancing Stick Pose photo: Bikram Yoga College of India


Anatomical Focus

Strengthens

  • Upper Thighs
  • Buttocks
  • Shoulders
  • Abdomen
  • Trapezius Muscles
  • Deltoids
  • Ankles

Stretches

  • Hip Joints
  • Shoulders
  • Full Stretch of the spine

Stimulates

  • Pancreas
  • Liver
  • Spleen
  • Kidneys
  • Nervous System

Physical Benefits

Improves balance

Increases endurance

Increases lung capacity

Stimulates the heart and arteries, strengthening the heart

Helps to clear blockages from arteries helping to prevent future cardiovascular problems

Helps varicose veins

Burns fat (up to 300 calories during the posture according to Rajishree Choudhury)

Slims waistline and eliminates deposits fat on the body

Relieves tension from the spine

Energetic Benefits

Activates and opens the heart chackra

Mental Benefits

Improves memory and concentration

Emotional Benefits

Releases doubt and fear of giving and receiving love (by activating the heart chackra)

Allows you to open yourself to love and soul expression

Posture Tips

BREATHE This is especially important because you are working the cardiovascular system which is aided by the respiratory system

SUCK YOUR STOMACH IN, using the abdominal muscles in this posture will stabilize your core and will ultimately help you to balance in the posture.

Point your toes from beginning. After you step forward and before you bring your body down, lift your back leg one inch off the floor, and point your toes.

Improvement in balancing stick will help your locust pose and vice versa.

Tips from the Pros

The set up determines how well you will do the posture, lock everything before (knees, elbows, etc) so that you will have more stability in the posture – Craig

Lean back slightly in the set up to stretch the chest as you step into the posture – Craig

Come down absolutely straight, and use your strength immediately – Bikram

Use your eyes to continue the stretch of the spine, the spine stays straight but the eyes look forward – Craig

At the end of the posture stretch forward a little more than you stretch back – Craig

Check out more posture tips from Bikram Yoga NYC here

Tips for Teachers

Keep the set up in a regularly paced tone, once the student is in the posture make the dialogue more energetic – Craig

“Sound is almost the same as solid matter. Voice and volume is tangible.” Craig Villani

Because of the intensity of the posture, you must increase your vocal energy and intensity to help the students complete and endure through the pose.

Put emphasis on stretching forward. Before coming to the repetition of ‘stretch, stretch, stretch’ at the end of the pose, make sure the final instruction is to stretch forward. – Craig

Correcting the alignment of the hips is a correction for intermediate and advanced students only, not for beginners – Craig

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Posture Clinic: Why back-bending is good for your spine.

“If you have a good spine, the gods will chase you. Nobody has psychological or emotional problems, everyone has a bad spine.” Bikram Choudhury

Ashley Hooper and Elisa Matthews back-bending photo: Bikram Yoga College of India

by Barbora Simek

Understanding why and how back-bending is beneficial for the spine is a challenge for many yoga students. For many, back-bending is an emotionally charged, challenging and often uncomfortable part of practice. However despite its discomforts back-bending can be one of the most therapeutic parts of a yoga practice.

Think of all the time you spend bending forward in a day, from enjoying a coffee with a newspaper, to driving, to typing at a computer, cleaning or lounging with a friend. The reality is, we spend most of our day in an unsupported forward bend.

Internally, forward bending causes the front of vertebrae move closer together, forcing the inter-vertebral disks and spinal nerves back. Prolonged poor posture can:

  • cause or aggravate back and neck pain
  • constrict blood-flow and put pressure on vital organs and glands preventing them from functioning properly
  • has been shown to have negative effects on self-esteem and mood in studies

Ironically, when most people experience back pain or discomfort their first reaction is to bend forward, not knowing it is the cause of their discomfort. In reality back-bending is what is needed to counter-act the impact of continuous forward bending. This impulse is not easy to unlearn.

First it is important to recognize that back-bending is a natural range of motion for the spine. “Think of monkeys or children climbing in a tree who reach backward for a branch, the spine bends backward,” says Jeff Weisman a Toronto based Bikram Yoga teacher and Hellerworker.

As you bend backwards you compress the posterior part of your spinal column, pushing your disks away from the spinal nerves and decompress the front of the vertebrae. This effectively counteracts the damage of hours spent forward bending.

Those concerned and intimidated by back-bending should rest assured that the controlled environment and proper progression of the Bikram Yoga series allows for back-bends to be preformed safely. For those with limitations and injuries, remember to speak to your instructor, move slowly and listen to your body.

Physical Benefits

  • Stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and prepares the body for action.
  • Helps counteract damage of bad posture.
  • Relieves back pain, bronchial distress, scoliotic deformities, tennis elbow, frozen shoulder.
  • Realigns the spine.
  • Promotes proper kidney function.
  • Helps with digestive function, eliminating constipation and flatulence.

Energetic Benefits

  • Stimulates all the chackras, primarily creating opening in the fourth (heart) chackra.

Emotional Benefits

  • Helps to break through insecurity and fear.
  • Relieves stress and tedium.
  • Opening the lower back helps to free you from insecurity and taking yourself too seriously.
  • Helps to build confidence and self-esteem in children.

Tips from the Pros

Allow your exhale to lower you into your maximum depth, allow your inhale to lift you up and forward. Reverse this pattern on purpose by pulling backward more vigorously into the posture during the inhalation (taking you more fulling into the posture) and then relaxing and easing off the posture during the exhale (thereby reducing tension).- Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, Dr. H. David Coulter

“Lift your breastbone up as you go down into it, instead of jamming only the lower waistband spine.
You HAVE to have your elbows pressing IN, not bowing out before you go down.

Also, LIFT the front of the neck and shoulders and armpits before you drop down.

Then you lift UP, OUT and OVER your waistband spine so you do not get that crimping feeling.” – Mary Jarvis for All Back-bending Heals the Spine

Do not contract the gluteal muscles until you reach your maximum expression then tighten – Rajishree Choudhury (for more read this article)

The standing back-bend is regulated by locked knees – Craig Villani

Drop the head back as far as it goes. The head and arms do not need to stay together. – Bikram Choudhury

Tips for teachers

Beginners are always afraid of back-bending. Make sure to stress that the hips, stomach, legs everything must come forward. – Bikram Choudhury

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How to survive teacher training when youre dying.

by Marj Wong

There is nothing like 355 people doing yoga in the desert to turn Bikram’s “torture chamber” joke into reality. Luckily, OMB contributor Marj Wong has come up with her own list of teacher training cheats survival tactics to help you get through. Some of them are PURE survival, but others are clean and simple – get it done.

Enjoy!

Bikram Yoga Teacher Training image: Bikram Yoga Summerlin


Save water in your mouth, drink it later.

Steal the teachers energy, it’s there for the taking.
Like Nike says: “Just Do It”

BEND your knee: your forehead MUST touch your knee. This also works very well in combination with shake like you’re struggling.

Do like Teshia Maher says: go to the beach.

Teacher training is an opportunity for growth, take some time to practice your ESP. Communicate telepathically with the teacher, try the following mantra: “Open the door.”
Get out of your mind and into the posture.

If you’ve set ablaze: blow on yourself. Remember, this should be done discreetly, and is especially helpful if you make it look like you are just focusing on your breathing.

Fake it until you make it.

That previously stored energy from yesterday’s class that you’ve collected so diligently after class and kept between your toes, in your arm pits, the crooks of your elbows, backs of the knees, now is the time to “USE IT”!

Start a movement. Swing your arms ever so slightly to create a breeze.
Move your body: BREATHE.

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