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.