Q&A with Wendii Brooks: Postures are important, but nobody’s perfect

By Byron McCauley

When I heard that the fabulous Wendii Brooks was coming to the Bikram Cincinnati studio for an all-day workshop on yoga postures, I was psyched.

Wendii has more than 18 years of experience in the yoga field, having practiced in New York and now in her own Louisville studio. She will be here on Saturday, July 26 from 9  a.m. to 4 p.m. The day includes a lecture, posture workshop and a class that starts at 2:30 p.m.

For me, posture is a big deal. I’m 6′ 2″  and a big, er, fluffy guy, so some postures are easier than others. I’m good with some (head to knee); awful with others (standing leg). I recently spent some time interviewing Wendii about posture and the health benefits of yoga. She shares her wisdom below.

Byron: Wendii, why is important for yogis to get the postures correct?

Wendii: Eh, well, “correct” is kind of a sticky word for me.  Yoga practice is about exploring the body and mind.   Exploration and experimentation: finding out what works and what doesn’t.  “Correct” could apply to alignment though, that is something that shouldn’t be messed with.  Correct alignment puts you in the best position (don’t mind the pun) for maximum medical benefit.  It also creates the safest position for your body.

Byron: What are some of the most difficult posture challenges for yogis, especially those starting out.

Wendii: The most common difficulties have to do more with the mind than the body.  Bikram yoga seems to attract driven personalilties.  They always feel like they need to push.  They push themselves to continue to practice even when they are exhausted and should take a break.  They push themselves out of alignment because they want to go deeper.  They muscle their way into a pose instead of relaxing.

It’s a product of our times.  We were raised in a competitive world.  We want to master everything in half a second.  We need to be doing three things at once in order to feel productive so coming into a yoga room and being asked to do less, to relax,  and be patient is a hard thing to swallow. It’s important to let the body unfold — it cannot be forced.  OK, it can but the outcome is usually unfortunate.

Byron: For me, the Standing Head to Knee pose is most difficult. How much benefit can yogis get if they are not doing the posture perfectly?

Wendii: Ooh, perfectly is another one of those sticky words for me.  What is perfect?  Is it even attainable?  Is it universal?

If Standing Head to Knee is your most difficult pose then you are in good company.  It is probably the most challenging pose because it puts a spotlight on the most common imbalances of today’s body: tight hamstrings, tight lower back, weak core.  These things didn’t happen overnight.  It’s a culmination of poor posture, poor gait, sitting in front of the computer, driving.

The good news is that just by picking up your foot you start to reverse those imbalances.  And maybe picking up your foot is all that you are capable of doing with the body that you have that day.  That is your best posture, not perfect but best for you.  One month from now, one year from now you will have a different body and your best posture will be something different.

Byron: What advice do you have for yogis who feel they may never “nail” a posture that’s particularly challenging to them?

Wendii: It’s good to want to try to nail a posture that is challenging.  It may happen, but then again it may not.  Part of yoga is being OK with both outcomes.  Having the drive to improve leads to further investigation of the body, you have to discern what the impediment is in the body that is keeping you from “nailing” it.  Sometimes it’s obvious sometimes it is surprising.

At the end of the day the actual “nailing” of the posture isn’t important.  You will not be less of a person if you do not attain a standing split before you die.  You will not find enlightment when you see your toes in floor bow.

Byron: Some yogis have seen amazing health improvements through Bikram. Why is this so common?

Wendi: There have been many studies done that can attest to the improvements of health through yoga.   Yoga has been shown to increase bone density, lower cholesterol, and lower blood pressure.  Of course this is not groundbreaking.  There are quite a few forms of exercise that attain similar outcomes when put under a microscope.  What makes yoga different is an overall improved sense of well-being that develops when practicing yoga.  There has been some speculation over what causes this sense of well-being.  Some attribute it to increased production of hormones and neurotransmitters.  Another popular hypothesis that is gaining traction is that yoga taps into our parasympathetic nervous system which helps to calm the mind and the body.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Join Chelsea & Byron for a 14 day detox

Time for me to clean up my diet

By Byron McCauley

I grew up eating organic food. We largely raised our own vegetables on various patches of farmland using natural fertilizer from grass-fed cattle we raised. Our freezer was always stocked with good stuff. But the family also had a general store in our tiny town.  Hostess pastries, Snickers, soft drinks, candy – you name it — were my comfort.

Those schizophrenic habits – healthful eating and trashy eating –carried over into adulthood. It is an uneasy burden. So when Chelsea our yoga instructor told me she wanted a buddy to join her for a 14-day Whole Food Detox, I did not hesitate to say yes (not to mention I’m just a little bit afraid of her, anyway). This is going to be hard. For the next few weeks, I cannot have things I love:  wine, coffee, and a the occasional steak. And coffee. (Did I mention my open account at Starbucks?)

But I’m totally stoked to do this Detox!

I want more energy to keep up with my kids. I want to be more alert and less moody.  And, of course, I want to look better beside my smoking hot wife (I digress). I’ve been practicing Bikram Yoga since November, and I see great progress. That, coupled with changes I know will happen with this 14-day Whole Food Detox has me excited. Just as Chelsea challenged me to do this with her, I hope you guys will consider joining us. Nothing like collective success! The detox program is open for registration now until July 13th and the program runs from July 20th – August 3rd.  Secure your seat in the program atwww.wholedetox.co and use coupon code:  SUMMER15 to save 15%.

Time for me to eliminate caffeine and sugar

By Chelsea Young

After a long vacation and eating out and on the road it’s time to get back to real food and give my body a true break from the haze of caffeine… I gave birth at the end of November and still have not slept more than 4 hours at a time, so A LOT of coffee and Bikram yoga have been my energy staple…it’s time to cut the coffee and use natural, sustainable food for energy.

Ever since I started my Bikram yoga practice I have slowly tried new ideas for diet & nutrition, I love to learn different recipes to share with my friends & family and I am always interested in what foods work for MY BODY! I am a little scared about getting rid of sugar & caffeine 100%, I love my morning coffee and almost always look forward to something sweet after dinner. I cannot wait to see how these 14 days go, would love to do this with some buddies (I already snatched up Byron)!

I invite you to join me!  Secure your seat in the program at www.wholedetox.co and use coupon code:  SUMMER15 to save 15%.   – Chelsea

Student of the Month: Dianne

Dianne SOMJuly’s student of the month is Dianne!  Please make sure to give her a big congrats in the studio.  You are sure to see her there because she practices just about EVERY day!

Dianne describes her journey with Bikram yoga in her own words:

“I was first introduced to Bikram yoga in June 2013 while vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard.  I had never heard of it before but was willing to try it because I saw a change in my sister, both mentally and physically.  The experience was awesome.  I am not sure if it was the group energy from my sisters, but I knew I wanted more from that very first session.   Unfortunately for me, at the time I resided on St. Croix, US Virgin Islands, and did not have access to Bikram yoga because it is not offered there.

After relocating to Cincinnati, I got back into practicing Bikram yoga because my initial thought was that I wanted to lose weight.  I am big in counting my calories and losing it too, so when I read about how many calories you can burn at one session, I was hooked.  I knew about the Cincinnati Bikram Yoga location from my sister, Dawn, from her experience at the studio.

Bikram yoga has surpassed my expectations on what I want to achieve, for me.  I am now driven to attending the classes, and if my schedule allowed it, I would attend every day, because of the mental and physical transformation I have gained.  I am more conscious of what I eat, patient with my kids and my overall health and wellness has improved.  I find that one of the best things I have given myself is that 90-minutes of self-indulgence where it’s all about me.  Of the twenty-six postures my favorite postures are the standing series.  The ones that are most challenging are the ones I have not mastered or simply cannot do because I am not as flexible as your typical yoga person…..at least for now.  However, I am determined to get to a point where I am comfortable with all the postures.  I know the more sessions I attend that phase will pass and like everything else I will get to a point where I will enhance my postures and improve my strength.

I do have my days where I feel overwhelmed but the instructors are great.  Each instructor has their own individual way of teaching that pushes me beyond my capability.  I love how I am able to improve on my postures with the guidance from the instructors.  The overall results have been one of the best things I have experienced and achieved in my life.  For anyone wanting to try Bikram yoga, please know that you have to go at your own pace while pushing yourself a little extra every day, and eventually you will get to a point where you will only want to keep going.  At the end of the day I feel great and I am starting to love my body again all thanks to the staff at Cincinnati Bikram Yoga who make the classes worth my time.”

Thank you to Dianne for sharing your experience and being a great part of our studio community!

Student of the Month: Phil

photo (2)With the turn of the calendar page, or the scrolling down on the screen to the next month, we find ourselves in need of a new student of the month at the studio. It’s Phil! And Phil wrote a great piece all on his own, so this month the student speaks for himself.

In January of 2012, my daughter-in-law told Sue and I about a “kind of yoga” that is done in a hot room (98–100 degrees). “It’s yoga the way they do it in India” she said. In the middle of a Cincinnati winter, the thought of doing gentle stretching to sound of soft music, in a warm room sounded like the perfect workout. Sue and I agreed that we’d check out “hot” yoga and committed to “trying it” in May when our schedules would be freeing up. As I drove up Red Bank Expressway later that week I saw a new sign up on a familiar building. “Bikram Yoga” it said, with a little flame on it. Hey! I thought to myself, that must be one of them “hot yoga” places Elle was telling us about.

I turned around, pulled in, and as luck would have it I showed up right after a 9:30 class. Chelsea was kind enough to let me in and tell me about Bikram. “Ninety minutes” she said, “thirty of which is resting on your back or stomach”.  The temp would be 105 not 100; but, hey how much difference can 5 degrees make? I told her I’d never done yoga before and she said, “No worries! All of our postures are basic beginner’s postures.” I swear she said that with a straight face. I told her my wife and I would be back in 4 months to get started and I’m sure that’s the last she thought she’d ever see of me.

Well, it’s been two years now and well over 400 classes and I can say that this is a practice that works to fix the things that you didn’t even know were broken. I remember the first day I came in wearing basketball shorts and a cotton t-shirt and somehow made it through what felt like a form of water boarding. In the locker room I asked David how many days it would be before I would feel well enough to come back and try it again.  He said “the best thing you can do is come back tomorrow;” so I did. The next day I heard that the best thing you can do is come for 30 days straight. So we did that too. Along the way I discovered that I was in far far worse shape than I imagined and that slowly, if I came back every day, things would start to straighten themselves out. They have and they continue to do so.

My favorite posture is and always will be the one I just finished and the most challenging is the one I’m currently in.

Thank you so much Phil, for sharing your amazing practice with us. As Chelsea says, he takes “pride in his practice and does something many of us don’t do: he takes care of his body in the hot room, pushing himself to his limits and not beyond. He is a great part of our community and we are so thankful to have him and his wife in our Bikram family!”

Namaste!

Formatted only by Liz Alfano

Bikram Postures: Locust Pose – Salabhasana

http://www.bikramyoga.com/BikramYoga/TwentySixPosturesDetails.php?pos=17Oh your elbows! Locust Pose is here to solve all the problems of the desk job, the computer job, the job that makes you sit there typing all day no matter how ergonomically designed your work space is.

After the sit up, lie down on your stomach, and get your arms under your body, gripping the floor with open hands. Your elbows need to be as close to each other as possible and they are probably going to hurt. It’s one of those kinds of pain that feels really good when it’s over. But for now…it hurts.

First, chin on the floor,  one leg lifts up, 45 degrees, you know, half of ninety? Lift your leg up higher! Then the other. Just use your back strength, no help from other leg. And after that kiss the floor and zip up both legs, like a cobra tail. One leg and no knee. Lift up, gripping the floor, all the way up! And here’s why:

Slipped discs and sciatica? Be gone!
Tennis elbow? Outta here.
Varicose veins in the legs? I don’t think so.
Tight rump? Uh, hello!
And your core…oh your core. Try it and see…a plank is like a juice pouch compared to locust!

So get your arms under there, kiss the floor and get those legs up. Because you’re just getting ready to take flight! See you next posture.

 

Posted by Liz Alfano

Breath Before Posture

http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/07/yoga-taught-me-how-to-breathe-kris-lord/Full disclosure from the start: I struggle with this; most recently today at 5pm when I was about freak the flip out in class. For about 5 minutes I was positive I couldn’t breathe. Until I realized that I’d been thinking I wasn’t breathing for longer than I can actually go without breathing. And that’s when I had to tune in to the first instruction: breath before posture.

So what does that mean, and is it still yoga is we concentrate on the breath first? I mean, come on. Being in a hot room and breathing….that doesn’t sound like Bikram yoga to me. Well except that breathing is really the most fundamental thing we do all day and without it everything else becomes largely irrelevant. So when we focus on controlling our breath first, and being mindful of the way the breath is moving through our bodies, then we really are doing some of the most beneficial work possible.

In the beginning of class, we practice “pranayama” breathing, which comes from two words: “prana” meaning breath, and “ayama” meaning to extend or draw out. As class begins and we start by drawing out our breath, the goal is to maintain that level of pranayama through the rest of our 90-minute practice. If we have paid attention to our breathing, and to the depth and control of our breath, then the posture turns out to be a bonus.

So listen to the instructors when they say to “return to the breath” or “focus on your breathing.” Because breath comes before the posture. And that’s Bikram yoga.

 

Posted by Liz Alfano

Student of the Month: Tom

photo (1)Hooray for May! And hooray for Tom, this month’s featured student!

Tom has been practicing with us since February, and in that short time has lost an amazing 40 pounds and has been taken off all of his blood pressure medicines. And although he first tried Bikram yoga in Texas about five years ago, it was just this year that he decided to give the practice an honest shot. Like many of us, Tom had tried what felt like “a million weight loss programs with no success” and knew that moving forward he needed to make a “lifestyle change.”

With Bikram yoga, he’s found that his whole life has to include good choices in order to support his body through the 90 minutes that make up a class: especially for his favorite posture, Triangle, (WHAT?!?) because he loves how it opens up his entire body. Obviously, Tom is a warrior.  Besides Triangle, Tom says pretty much every other posture is the most challenging and often finds that a good gauge for the success of his class depends on how long he “can hold [his] leg up for the Standing Head to Knee.”

Tom is a Pharmaceutical Engineering Consultant; divorced and with two sons who attend college in North Carolina. When he’s not in a Bikram yoga class he feels regret for not being in a Bikram yoga class and can be found golfing, hiking, or making his way to visit his sons. Thank you so much, Tom, for sharing your energy and practice with us!

Namaste.

Posted by Liz Alfano

Bikram Postures – Cobra Pose – Bhujangasana

16The floor series! Ah, finally, we’ll get a break. After all, anything we do lying on the floor has to be a breeze. If this what you think then the heat has gone to your head, because the floor series gets the heart rate up just as much as the dreaded triangle, or balancing stick, or awkward pose or…well you get the idea.

If you’re new to Bikram, it’s important to listen to the instructions very carefully for cobra. Getting the hand placement right is key, as is keeping your legs glued together like…..wait for it….a cobra tail! The strength of your legs held tightly together from your hips down to your heels will ground you through this posture. And once you have your hands in alignment with your shoulders you can lift your head up, using only the muscles in your back to achieve maximum height.

If you have herniated or slipped disks in your lumbar spine, this posture is your new best friend and it even helps to alleviate the discomfort of scoliosis and arthritis. In addition, you can expect improved digestion and ladies may see relief from menstrual symptoms as well. Men, if YOU see menstrual improvement, please let us know. We’d love to feature you for a number of reasons!

Cobra pose begins the work on the low spine and we’ll be building up the spine from here, so settle into your mat and breathe!

 

Posted by Liz Alfano

Student of the Month: Mark

mark SOMHappy April yogis! The student chosen for this month is Mark, who began at the studio in January.

Mark says that he started Bikram yoga as an alternative to jogging…which makes a lot of sense considering the winter we’ve had in Cincinnati! Although he’s always been a weight lifter and runner, he found himself looking for a more long term fitness strategy and one that would be less jarring on his body. The yoga has been a great way to deal with stress, and according to Mark, his blood pressures have “dropped by 15-20 points!”

The first few times Mark came to class, he thought the environment was quite mentally challenging and felt even “claustrophobic” at times. As an “explosive athlete” he was used to needing high energy workouts to  break a sweat, so the high heart rates he could achieve in the meditative workout were surprising to him.

But it’s been a good fit. According to studio owner, Chelsea, Mark has “come in and worked and I mean he works…I almost started crying the other day in class when I saw him grab both feet in Bow. People like Mark, who work and gain so much in a Bikram practice, are the reason I became a studio owner and a Bikram yoga teacher. People like Mark make it all worth it.”

He finds that the most challenging posture is “Toe Stand” because he’s broken his leg three times in the past. Because this leg is taking its time working out the junk, it’s Mark’s goal to gain a better mastery of this position. And as for his favorite? Well, he likes the challenge that each posture presents, so there is no stand-out favorite.

Mark is new to Cincinnati having just lived here for about a year, so when you see him in class, be sure to say hello and, as always, thank you Mark for sharing your practice with us! Namaste -

 

 

Posted by Liz Alfano

Bikram Postures: The Sit-Up – Pada-Hasthasana

3And here we are. The sit-up. We do this exactly 14,000 times in class with good reason! A well done sit-up harnesses all kinds of positive energy and momentum for your next posture, so don’t cheat!

From Savasana, flex your toes up to the ceiling, feet together. Put your arms straight over your head and cross just your thumbs, palms facing the ceiling. WAIT FOR THE INSTRUCTOR TO SAY IT, but then inhale, “sit-up!” and exhale quickly in short bursts as you grab for your toes with a straight back.

Why do we have to wait for the instructor say it? Because those big bursts of exhale are energizing to the room. If we do it together, we’re working as a team. If someone is out there exhaling all willy-nilly…well. The team is straggling now.

What you love about this sit-up, whether you know it or not, is that it’s working ALL of your abdominal muscles, and works the muscles, ligaments and tendons of the legs. It’s a great stretch for your back as well. So wait for it. Wait for it. Sit-up! And go for the toes!

 

Posted by Liz Alfano