“Flowers are the sweetest things God ever made, and forgot to put a soul into.” ~Henry Beecher

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Your Eyes Lead the Way

I’ve been practicing Bikram yoga for just over three years and would say that I am a true follower. Bikram Choudhury devised a series of 26 Hatha yoga postures that is performed in a very hot, humid room. As is the case with yoga, in general, the benefits are many and include: increased strength and flexibility, stress reduction, improved sleep patterns, weight loss, a boost to the immune system, and an overall feeling of well-being. In fact, yoga is believed to help alleviate a number of health-related issues, including, autoimmune and cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, thyroid and metabolic conditions, diabetes, asthma, colds and congestion, digestive disorders, psychiatric, psychological, and emotional problems, and the list goes on. And yoga is even being used to help people cope with the effects of, and treatments for cancer and HIV/AIDS. And how great is this? It is taught to active, healthy children to help them gain confidence, strength and focus.

I know that since I’ve begun to practice yoga, my basal level of “anxiety” has been sharply reduced, I’ve become more committed to eating a healthy diet and as a result, I’ve been healthier, stronger, and more energetic. In fact, I’ve probably never felt so good in my life. That being said, a 90-minute Bikram class has often been compared to a “torture chamber”. And even after three years, every class is still a challenge for me. This is one of the things that I depend on, because I’ve realized that I wouldn’t feel the way I do today if it weren’t for all the hard work that I’ve put into my yoga practice. Truly, if it were easy, I probably wouldn’t be getting any benefits from it.

The idea behind the Bikram series is that it is designed to work every cell, organ, gland, and muscle in the body, and if you simply try to do the postures correctly, you will gain the benefits. Halfway through the class, the back strengthening postures are performed, which are a series of backbends designed to work the lower, middle, and upper back. There are several backbend postures in the class, designed to open up our front sides and to keep the spine healthy, since many of us probably sit hunched over a desk or a computer for many hours a day (I’m sitting up more erect as I’m writing this : )) or frequently bend over, to lift or carry things. Seriously, how often are we required to bend over backwards, literally? Unless you’re a gymnast, my guess is never. Since I’ve had chronic back issues for many years, I’ve come to rely on and even enjoy these postures (some would think I’m crazy) because they’ve made all the difference in the world for my back. They have greatly reduced the frequency of back injuries I’ve suffered since I began yoga, and now I can usually recover from them more quickly. In fact, Bikram says, “If you have a strong, healthy back, the gods will chase you.” That one always makes me smile when I hear it, and if nothing else, it encourages me to work as hard as I can while in those postures.

Besides the actual, physical benefits of the back series, there are some subtle lessons to be learned that can be taken outside of the class (this is actually true for many postures). For example, in “full-locust pose” (demonstrated in the above picture), the arms, chest, head, and legs are off the floor, with only the belly (ideally, the belly-button) on the floor. An effective way to lift the chest and arms, further up and back, is to look up. The dialogue goes, “where your eyes go, your body follows.” This is an important point for me. In the posture, if you look forward, it’s much more difficult to lift your head. By looking up towards the ceiling, (and actually, trying to look towards the back wall) your head, neck, chest, and arms naturally follow, and you’re able to rise higher. Is it not the same in life? In order for us to rise to our potentials, we have to look up. Looking back (too much) prevents us from moving forward, because it keeps us in the past, and looking down prevents us from seeing new possibilities and rising to new challenges. Although the saying goes, “the sky’s the limit,” I believe if we’re looking up, then our Universe has no limits and as has been said, our only limits are those imposed by our imaginations. Whatever we can see, we can manifest, if we truly want to.

I can honestly say that since I’ve begun yoga, my life has changed dramatically, and I’ve certainly tried many new things and taken more risks in the last few years than in the rest of my years, put together. That’s not to say that they’ve all been successful, but some have resulted in tremendous rewards, particularly within my soul, which is ultimately where they matter the most. So as long as I am physically able to practice yoga, I will continue to do so. It can only lead to good things…

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