Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"Yogic Skills" and Bikram

Though Bikram is called a beginner's series, practitioners clearly get more and more out of the practice as they gain "yogic skills".  I believe that Bikram, as an advanced yoga practice, can serve practitioners in a deeper way.

What are these yogic skills?  Is it being more flexible?  Stronger?

The skills I'm referring to are awareness and proprioception.  These are different skills, to be sure.  Awareness is the ability to see, feel, or to notice if there are misalignments, spots of pain or discomfort, or general ability to feel and notice what's going on in the practice TODAY.

Proprioception, per Wikipedia
Proprioception (/ˌprpri.ɵˈsɛpʃən/ pro-pree-o-sep-shən), from Latin proprius, meaning "one's own", "individual" and perception, is the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement.[1] 
So once one notices, through awareness, that things are "off" or "not working" in a certain pose, does one have the ability to identify parts of the body, and move in a way that is inclusive of that part of the body?

I recently read a terrific blog post on hypermobility.  Check it out here.  As a hypermobile person, someone with relatively loose ligaments, I found the post to describe a lot of what has gone on in my yoga journey.

Bikram is a tremendous practice for the body IF the entire body is under the mind's control and actively participating in the practice.  I practiced Bikram for many years with dead spots - parts of the body I could not direct my awareness into, nor could I sense or move with proprioception.  So not only was I using my instrument (the body) in a lopsided way, I had no idea that there was anything missing!

I feel that the way Bikram is frequently taught (not by me!) can be very harmful to a Type A hypermobile student (oh THAT is me).  The urging to push "past" flexibility, or push past limits, only exacerbated my "dead spots."  My theory is that when you tell the hypermobile type A person to push past a flexibility limitation, something's gotta give.  Usually that thing is the alignment, especially if there are chronic use injuries that have already limited the student's ability to sense the outer edges of the body.

This happened to me.

Now, as I've been teaching Bikram for four years, and have expanded my practice to other forms of yoga like Viniyoga, I've started to unwind and uncover those dead spots.  There is nothing more exciting than realizing there is a part of your body you HAVE NOT BEEN USING in your practice, then being able to activate it.  First, comes the awareness of the dead zone area, then comes the proprioception to effort with it.  This can take tremendous focus and determination, because if the dead zone has been cut off from body sense for a while, the body's natural sensing state will be to exclude that area from the neuromuscular feedback loops.  That feedback loop needs to be strengthened through regular use.

As I unwind the Bells Palsy that accompanied my dear son on his journey into the world, I've been unraveling sensation in my right neck and shoulder, and today, my right hip.  What a true joy it was to do triangle with new muscles!

Throughout practice today I kept bringing my sensory awareness back to the outside front of my right hip connecting to the 3B chakra point right side - think of the solar plexus in the front of the body, below the ribcage, and then think of its parallel in the back of the body.  Just to the right of that is a major dead zone for me.

I can get in there by focusing, on inhale, on the sensation of the lung tissue pushing against the ribcage in the front and back side of my right side ribcage.

An old injury caused the dead zones in the first place, a longtime RSI injury that I didn't really treat properly in college, when it happened.  When I first picked up Bikram, I was doing the majority of the work with the left side of my body.  How could I, as a beginner, could have known that my practice was exacerbating my situation due to my lack of awareness and proprioception?  The misalignment was too subtle for a teacher to point out to me.

Now, coming back to Bikram with better yogic skills in place, through Viniyoga training, I'm finally using the Bikram practice for good.  I'm able now to carefully keep both the right and left sides of the body active and engaged.  It makes all the difference.

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