KatiaWeb

Teacher Story: Katia

What tips can you give students to support their practice off the mat?
Just basic stuff: drink plenty of water, eat a high-quality diet, and sleep 7 hours every night.

What lead you to teacher training?
I knew pretty early on–during my second class–that one day I would teach this method.

Dealing with personal injury
After I stopped dancing ballet, I discovered that my skeletal system was quite twisted, and that my hips were constantly inflamed, a situation that has never quite resolved completely. Bikram Yoga helps me to manage this condition by realigning and creating more space in my joints, increasing the blood flow there and making my body feel better.

Is there anything you’d like to tell us about your teaching style or philosophy?
I teach from a perspective of believing that it is an honor to be standing in front of people who are allowing me to guide them through their yoga for 90 minutes. It’s my responsibility to give a challenging class while at the same time keeping it light emotionally. In addition to inspiring the students, I have discovered that I must find something different to teach or emphasize each and every class. We have many practitioners who have challenges such as injuries, different conditions, or perhaps recovering from surgery; I use my medical experience to help them practice safely, and in turn, working with them helps me to understand their conditions better.

Anything else?
Bikram Yoga definitely makes me a better and more balanced person. I believe that yoga changes the world for the better. Everyone has to try it!

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The Mirror: A User’s Guide

From time to time I speak to folks who are reluctant to try a form of yoga that uses mirrors. Sometimes people assert that a class in which one is required to use a mirror sets up an environment that promotes aspects of vanity and encourages judgment, and that students should learn to feel whether their alignment is correct or not, without the alleged dangers one’s reflection may present. Yoga comes in many styles and forms these days, they all offer many benefits to the practitioner, and each and every one of these methods has its place.

As a lifelong dancer, teacher, and all-around movement person, I’ve had a great deal of experience and logged many hours in studios of various types, and I can’t help but feel that mirror usage and the reasons for it can be highly misunderstood. If you’ll allow me, I’m going to share my thoughts with you on this topic.  Although I am writing with the Bikram yoga enthusiast in mind, the same information could certainly be applied to any class situation in which mirrors are typically used. I’m going to focus on the actual process of learning to use the mirror as a tool, and less upon the ego, vanity, and judgement  angles of the issue, which while certainly related, is a huge topic that is well beyond the scope of this article.

Achieving the highly detailed level of structural body alignment that a Bikram class can give requires the visual feedback that a mirror provides, and that feedback needs to be ongoing. It’s just not realistic to feel like you are in perfect alignment (whatever you’re doing) and actually BE in correct alignment all the time without visual confirmation. Have you ever been on a bodywork table and have the practitioner straighten you out when you thought you were aligned? Ever had a coach or teacher tell you that a part of your body you can’t see is doing one thing while you feel  it doing something else? (You: “But my back leg was straight!” Teacher: “No it wasn’t!”) Yikes!

If you train as a yogi, dancer, athlete, or what-have-you, your body awareness and spatial sense gets much, much better, and it can become incredibly reliable over time. This skill, however, takes constant, ongoing practice to develop and maintain.  As a beginning student –in any discipline requiring precise placement–one internalizes the cognitive command chain that trains a person in visual/internal self-evaluation: You look in the mirror, assess what you see, make the corrections necessary, turn the focus inward and try to memorize the feeling of what spatial relationships in the body create the desired result, verify the result visually, and then start over. It’s a constant subconscious, split-second “look, assess, correct, verify, start over” cycle. If there is a teacher or demonstrator, there is an additional “compare-and-contrast” segment to the cycle. Of course you get better at it, but as your skill level advances, the fine tuning necessary gets progressively finer as well. After your class, off you go into the world where life happens, your body responds and adapts to it, and all sorts of crazy, misaligned things feel “straight.” Later, you return to yoga, dance, bodywork, (or whatever alignment-focused method you choose) and work on coaxing things back into a neutral, aligned state again. It seems as if it’s a “three steps forward, two steps back” process, and it is, but one does improve over time.

This is why dancers and other “body folks” who may have trained for decades still spend hours in the studio refining, feeling, adjusting, and refining some more.

If this repeating cognitive cycle sounds like a lot of focus, it is, and that is also why it can serve as a tool for your meditation. This is the reason why losing oneself in a task for a length of time with no distractions can be so relaxing and enjoyable … because it’s actually a meditative state.

It’s true that for some people the mirror can become a crutch, they are unable to function without it. It is certainly possible to become more alienated from your body or your practice, and so therefore it’s your responsibility to be conscious of how this feedback process works and fine-tune your personal version of it,  getting the most from this valuable asset. Periodically, you can deliberately not look in the mirror for a second or two, take a sensory snapshot from the inside, and then play the game of “let’s see if this looks the way it feels.” Another technique is to maintain your gaze enough for balance, but unfocus the eyes just a tad so that the awareness can be turned inward for short periods of time.

We frequently hear the teacher say at the beginning of class a phrase something to the effect of “look into the eyes of your own best teacher.” A tool this powerful should be approached with an attitude of great responsibility. In the end, it’s up to you, completely.

Viviana2Web

Student Story: Viviana

Why did you start practicing Bikram yoga and how long have you been practicing?

I started practicing Bikram yoga in January 2014 as part of the whole “new year, new me” idea as well as the plan to finally lose the weight I had gained with my third child (who at this point was 5 years old and no longer could I use the “I just had a baby” excuse!)

How has your practice affected your life?

Bikram yoga has made such a wonderful impact in my life. Everything has changed, and I do mean everything! I started practicing as just a way to lose weight from a vanity perspective and quickly did I realize how short-sighted I was. I’ve been fighting with my body image for years now; From being an obese child to an obese woman to losing weight in an unhealthy way … it was a constant struggle. This fight would not only affect my self esteem but my relationships with my husband and children. My stress level and anxiety was off the charts.

As I continued to practice Bikram I started to notice that I was sleeping better. My gastritis wasn’t acting up as badly as it had been, my anxiety was reduced, my level of stress was going down, and best of all: I was smiling more! By this point I wasn’t even focused on whether I had or had not lost any weight. My size didn’t seem to be the main agenda anymore: what became my priority was that I felt–and still feel–the healthiest I have ever been. I have learned how to manage stressful situations, I have learned how to be more patient with my family, and most of all, I have learned to love myself. That constant fight that I’d had for years, that fear of looking at a reflection in the mirror and hating what I saw had gone away. Because of this practice I am able to love more, feel more be more grateful for things I might have taken for granted before.

What keeps you coming back for more?

There are so many reasons I come back for more! Who doesn’t love seeing happy, sweaty glowing yogis! I’ve met so many wonderful people who are always smiling and with such positive vibes. Also, I want to continue to getting all the health benefits I can get with each class. I haven’t had a gastritis-related hospitalization in over a year! (Those events were common before I started practicing and I do not wish to go back to those days!) I also want to continue to feel good about myself so I can teach my children the importance of self-love and acceptance.

Do you have any advice/insight for new yogis?

KEEP COMING BACK! Remember that every day is different, and that it is normal to have those days were you can’t even hold one pose without falling out. Our bodies are different each day, and just as you can sometimes have those out-of-sync days, you will also have really awesome days where you might go past your norm and you might even surprise yourself, coming out of practice feeling so strong. So don’t give up, even on the bad days: Think  that at the end of practice: you came to practice and that is what matters. Tomorrow is another day.

Garudasana

Watch BYPS instructor Carrie Torres lead us through a demonstration and description of Garudasana, also known as Eagle Pose. 

 

BENEFITS

Like many yoga poses, Garudasana helps improve concentration and your sense of balance. In addition, it opens up the 14 major joins, stretching the thighs, hips, shoulders, and upper back, along with strengthening and stretching the ankles and calves.

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Running Yogis

Starting Thursday August 27th at 6 p.m. Bikram Yoga Park Slope will be hosting “Running Yogis,” a group of dedicated runners and yogis led by Bikram Yoga Park Slope instructor, Natalie Phelps. We will be meeting at the Lefferts Avenue studio at 6pm and running for about an hour around Prospect Park and the surrounding neighborhoods returning to the studio in time to take the 8pm class. Please come and join us regardless of your pace or running experience.

Why running and yoga?

Yoga is a wonderful activity to increase balance and flexibility for runners and help prevent injuries. While running is a great cardiovascular activity, it can lead to repetitive stress injuries (such as runners knee, IT band syndrome, tight hamstrings) if not properly balanced with strength and flexibility training. The repetitive movements of running contract the muscles over and over again which can result in shortened muscle fibers, imbalances in the musculoskeletal system, and reduced range of motion in related joints. A regular yoga practice can help runners create length in those shortened muscle fibers and increase strength in underused muscle groups that cause musculoskeletal imbalance.  Yoga can also reduce stiffness from post workout lactic acid buildup and improve breathing.

A little about Natalie

Natalie has been practicing at our studios since January 2012 and joined the Bikram Yoga Park Slope team this May after attending the Fall 2014 Teacher Training in Thailand and traveling as a visiting teacher for 6 months. She has taught in studios all over the world but is happy to be back at her home studio in Brooklyn.

Natalie has been an avid long distance runner since her teenage years on the track and cross-country teams. She has run 8 full marathons, at least 16 half marathons and countless shorter individual races and relays. Natalie tried Bikram Yoga for the first time after running her first marathon as a way to stretch and strengthen her muscles after pounding the pavement for 26.2 miles and was instantly hooked. She is currently training for the Detroit marathon and would love to share her running experiences with the yoga community.