Thursday, February 12, 2004

Brush Up Your Bikram
(ten points to the person who gets that reference)

How did working out become synonymous with tension and lounging around with relaxation? Why is it that we can only seem to have either/or, but not both? Over the past year, friends have touted the many benefits of a certain yoga class. So for the past month or so, I've started going a couple times a week to Bikram (or Hot) Yoga classes. Room temperature rises to a sweltering 105 degrees, only falling to a cool 97 if something's broken. The heat warms your muscles, providing a deeper stretch and greater protection from injury. It also can cause fainting, sickness or heat stroke if you're not smart, careful and paying attention to your body's needs.

I enjoy the class. It kicks my butt and will in time hopefully help regulate my sleeping, breathing, eating/digesting and other health concerns. The thing that gets me about this class is how much it centers on relaxation. I'm telling you, when I'm holding some sort of contorted position for a minute that seems like thirty, dripping wet and gasping for air, relaxation is not the first thing that comes to mind. The different teachers have different assets to lend to each class. Saturday, the owner taught and focused on getting back to basics of endurance and form perfection. Last night, our instructor zeroed in on relaxation and breathing, reminding us when it gets hard to concentrate less on the strenuous pose and more on our deep air circulation.

Then she would say the strangest thing, "Relax your face," only to have myself refresh my look into the mirror and see not my foot extended here or there, but my brow scrunched and furrowed, the corners of my mouth taut or pursed. So, I relaxed my face and my lungs loosed, freeing my breath, freeing all my muscles really. Balance came easier, the pose more relaxed and yet deeper, more effective. See, that's just it: you have to relax to get the full benefits from yoga. Contracted muscles won't stretch, they'll tear. Moving concentration from the acting muscles to the breath frees the muscles to ease into a deeper stretch. The pose may be the desired end, but sometimes working directly on the desired end only makes it worse-- you need to find the core.

I've been hearing this a lot lately: that I have to seek the root of the problem in order to solve it. Superficial wounds may heal, but if the deeper lacerations aren't attended to properly they won't mend correctly, causing future difficulties. Those wounds might be physical, more often they're not. Sometimes we don't even know they're there until they've mended improperly-- like finishing a jigsaw puzzle by trimming a piece with a pocket knife. So I wonder- what have I passed over? What's under the surface? What am I trying to whittle down to make the big picture work my way? What about you?