Mirror6Final

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.

Candice

Student Story: Candice

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

I have been practicing on and off for 4 years, starting at the South Slope studio with a friend at her recommendation. Coming from a dance background, I was looking for exercise that would work my whole body; what I got was a mind/body practice.

How has your practice affected your life?

This practice has increased my quality of life tremendously! Being present, staying grounded, continuing to grow and develop my yoga.

What keeps you coming back for more?

My physical and mental reaction to this yoga are what keep me here.  I feel, look, and operate better as a human when growing my practice.

Do you have any advice/insight for new yogis?

We were all there once! Be inspired by your fellow yogis!

photo: Monica Felix

Rebecca Causey Talks About Intermediate Class

How did you come to teach the intermediate class?

I first attended two Advanced Series seminars with Bikram and led the advanced class in Atlanta for several years.  Bikram does not offer a certification to teach the advanced series, but the longer I practiced it, the more I wanted to learn about the postures and how to teach them well; With this in mind I attended Tony Sanchez’s teacher training in Spring of 2014.  Tony was one of Bikram’s first students back in the 70’s and he has dedicated his life to the practice and teaching of yoga.  His knowledge of the postures runs deep and his trainings are small which allows the time and space to get into the specifics of each posture. Tony saw the need for a bridge between the Beginner 26 postures and the 84 posture Advanced Series and created what he calls the Core40 class, or what we call the intermediate class.  I learned this series from Tony.  He includes abdominal work in his series, but the specific abdominal work I teach in the intermediate class comes from my Pilates teacher training with Ellie Herman.

How does the intermediate class build on the beginner series?

The intermediate class moves at a bit of a faster pace than the beginner class, and often includes just one set of the posture instead of two.  The intermediate class assumes the the the students have enough familiarity of the 26 postures that much less verbal cuing/instruction is required.  This doesn’t mean you have to perform the postures perfectly– not even close– it just means you have both an awareness of the posture and of your body and how the two can come together to create strength and flexibility.  Many of the more intermediate postures that we do are the “full” (deeper) version of what we do in beginner class. I teach these step by step with verbal instruction. The postures may be different but the way we practice them is the same– we start by building a foundation and add to it, piece by piece.  In the same way that Standing Head to Knee takes time and effort to learn (and years later there is still progress to be had), these postures are no different.

What new areas of the body can students expect to be sore the next day?

Abdominals (rectus abdominis, obliques, transverse abdominis), inner thighs (adductors), arms (biceps/triceps), shoulder girdle (deltoids, rhomboids, traps, lats), butt (gluts), thighs (quadriceps and hamstrings) are all at risk of that, “I worked hard and my body is getting stronger and more flexible” feeling.

What would you say to somebody who still feels like a beginner, but wants to try the intermediate?

If you’ve practiced the Bikram series regularly and you don’t have any major injuries, come try it!   Labels are tricky.  Try not to get too tangled up in them.  I know  the word “intermediate” can be intimidating and confusing.  The simplest way I can put it is that “beginning” refers to the basics.  “Intermediate” just means we’re taking the basics and adding a little bit to it.  It means that when I say “Let’s do Balancing Stick,” you have a general idea of what that is going to look like, because you’ve done it several times in beginner class. It doesn’t mean you’re going to do it perfectly, it doesn’t mean your not going to fall out.  And it certainly doesn’t mean you’ll get scolded if either of those two things happen!  The desire your practice a step further is something to be celebrated.  A big part of this class is finding a sense of playfulness and ease– I hope you’ll join us!


 

‘Rebecca attended Bikram’s teacher training in Spring of 2008 and has been teaching ever since.  She has continued with many senior teachers and attended two of Bikram’s advanced seminars.  Rebecca has studied Pilates for several years and in 2013 she completed instructor training with renowned teacher Ellie Herman. In Spring of 2014, she attended Tony Sanchez’s Core26 and Core40 yoga teacher training.  Rebecca has experience training new teachers, leading posture clinics, and managing yoga studios. She is constantly seeking to learn more and is thrilled to attend weekly Anatomy and kineseology workshops this Fall with Irene Dowd. 

photo: Monica Felix

Utkatasana

Here we go! The next in the line up of our postures we are releasing once a week in the Bikram series. Use these videos to support your practice when you find yourself away from your home studio and remember to send us a shot of you in your favorite pose @bikramyogaparkslope #itsmyhotasana

 

 

Here are some benefits to Utkatasana:
  • Relieves sciatica, arthritis, rheumatism and gout in the legs
  • Firms all muscles of the thighs, calves and hips
  • Creates traction in the spine, increases strength in the weight-bearing joints
  • Improves blood circulation in the knee and ankle joints
Channing Burt

Teacher of the month: Channing Burt

BYPS teacher Channing Burt shares about her practice…

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

I took my first class in May 2005 looking for some grounding at a time of change in my life soon after moving to Brooklyn and finishing graduate school. That first class was at Troy and Aiko’s studio in Brooklyn Heights and I never looked back. Not long after I moved closer to the BYPS Flatbush studio and practised there 2-5 times a week for almost 10 years including the final New Year’s Eve class in December. I’ve had the chance to travel and practice at studios farther away including Berlin, Glasgow, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Shanghai and Melbourne.

How has your practice affected your life (this can include, health, work/career, relationships, etc.)

Bikram yoga has helped me develop and maintain discipline, focus and courage along with physical strength and flexibility. It is an investment in my health and those around me. It’s been so wonderful sharing this experience with fellow BYPS practitioners and instructors over the years.  

What keeps you coming back for more?

It is always and never the same. Bikram yoga is an essential part of my life. It is like breathing; it is breathing.

Do you have any advice for new yogis?

Don’t underestimate yourself.