The word Guru means “remover of darkness”, someone who lights you up with knowledge. The darkness in this case does not mean literal darkness but the lack of knowledge! This weekend some of us got an amazing treat: a chance to spend the entire day with Jim Kallett, a senior Bikram Yoga practitioner and teacher who actually does the Teacher Training.
This is like meeting your thesis advisor’s advisor’s advisor! It was an amazing experience as he shared his experiences of learning yoga from Bikram, his wisdom and “trusting the process”. He took apart every posture in the series with clinical precision and helped those in the room one by one! After doing yoga for almost two years, I finally learned what the dialogue “relax your shoulders” meant.
Jim pushed, pulled and stood on people to make folks realize one very important thing: your body is capable of doing things that you cannot realize are possible. “Everything is in your mind!” -Sundar, BYSJ student attending Jim Kallett’s seminar December 8th.
Jim Kallett is arguably Bikram’s most dedicated student. Jim owns a studio in San Diego and for decades has taught, coached, and helped students on their path of yoga in the same EXACT way that Bikram himself would do. Jim’s vigilant attention to detail over the years now benefits all of us as he can recite verbatim Bikram’s stories, Bikram’s teachings, and Bikram’s intentions to help us further our understanding of this yoga in our own practice. We had the privilege of hosting Jim here for two days. Jim’s Friday evening lecture dove into the history of yoga, how Bikram yoga works, as well as stories about Bikram himself that kept us enthralled for the better part of five hours. The next day, our posture clinic and class started at ten am and ended with a strong enthusiastic class at seven pm. Jim is a cheerful yet humble Bikram disciple.
Congratulations if you were able to attend and be a part of this memorable weekend. If you weren’t able to come, take a read here and absorb some important information that may stir your curiosity to learn more, and perhaps give you some tips to use in your ongoing practice.
Bikram started his yoga practice at age 3. To keep him occupied, he was given yoga poses to do from the family’s babysitter. Discovered by renowned physical culturist, Bishnu Charan Ghosh (younger brother to Paramahansa Yogananda) at age 5, he went on to be India’s Yoga Champion for 3 years straight. Bikram was later banned at competing in order to give others a chance at winning. So he turned to weight lifting and became a world class weight lifter at age 17. Unfortunately, an accident caused more than 300lbs to come down on his knee, crushing his leg and leaving him crippled and in a wheelchair for 8 months before going back to his Guru, Bishnu Ghosh to heal using the power of yoga. Within 6 months Bikram was walking again!
It was not long before Bikram himself was giving out yoga poses to individuals as treatment much like a western doctor delivers a medicinal prescription. What was challenging for Bikram – and what was not working – was the one-on-one method in which yoga therapy was practiced. The demand was too high for any one person to handle. From this seed, a yoga class ensued. As with all great ideas, necessity was the mother of invention. Twenty six of the safest and easiest poses derived from Patanjali’s original eighty four (which were created by observing nature) were set up to make a complete system suited to teach a class that benefited everyone.
Yoga means union, or as Jim Kallett prefers, “balance”. With yoga, we can put ourselves in a state of balance by using opposite forces with stillness and breath. “Asana”, which all the poses end with in the Sanskrit language, means “posture holding still always breathing normal.” And breathing normal simply means “don’t hold your breath.” Imbalances can cause havoc in the body. Excess stress can strain the immune system making the body unable to defend itself properly. Excess acid in the stomach can disrupt a good digestive system and so on. By stretching and compressing, and breathing in stillness, we can restore balance and more. This type of physical exercise does not impact the joints, helping you rebuild a skeletal system; the heat provides a safe environment to stretch as there is no tearing of muscle fibers; sweating helps to detox and prevent the body from overheating; and lastly, the heat also enables vasodilation: the expansion of blood vessels which allows more blood to be carried to those areas of the body being stretched. All this is going on while you do the one thing that Bikram expects: that you try the right way.
Members, if there was one thing that Jim emphasized over and over again from Friday night until he left Monday morning, it was “how you try”. Jim states, “it is how you try the right way in the poses that matter, it is not what you do or how far you go, as that is a matter of where you are today, a function of your body now; it just is. There is no judgment. What matters is you “try the right way”. Always quoting Bikram, Jim shared that the right way is the hard way. Given a choice (and I can hear Bikram saying this now), we will always take the easy way. We get nowhere. Come back to the beginning again. The hard way is more interesting and you will enjoy life more. In fact, even in our teacher gathering on Sunday, Jim’s strongest advice to us teachers was to “get your students to want to do it the right way.”
Years ago, I recall Dr. Andrew Weil being interviewed on the Larry King show. At the end of the show, Larry asked Dr. Weil what is the one thing that we can all do to support our health and Dr. Weil’s response was “learn how to breathe.” In the very first pose that we do, we are learning how to breathe! Pranayama deep breathing allows us to not only pull in 4-6 times more air to the lungs with our conscious deep breathing, but to also expand the lungs, enabling them to hold in and purify more oxygen (much like a sponge expands to hold more water). Just the mechanics of Pranayama breathing allow for more opening of a tight rib cage as the intercostal muscles between the ribs are stretched. The lungs now have more room to expand in all four directions. This enables the lungs to send more oxygen rich blood to the heart, which then pumps this thinner, richer, blood throughout the body, improving overall circulation.
Other information in Jim’s words that might influence your practice:
• Backbends are the most important things to do to prevent bulging or herniated disks. Front side of the spine is “traffic jam” and needs to open up. Jim emphasized when doing backbends contract the hips, knees locked. However, in forward bends be sure to suck in your stomach.
• In standing head to knee, we concentrate on “locking the knee” to begin the travel of information up and down the spine. Neurons fire in the brain establishing a new and stronger mind and body connection. So, recite “lock the knee” in your mind over and over again.
• In standing bow pulling pose, bring your “body down on the table top.” That means body comes down parallel to the floor.
• Cobra posture is the best medicine for lower spine problems. Be sure to squeeze hip muscles and legs nice and tight.
• The term used in the dialog “with your smiling happy face” has more meaning than just being a warm phrase to use. We have forty six muscles in the face. We use forty three when we frown but only three when we smile. A smiling happy face is a relaxed face!
• In both Camel and Rabbit, the grip is most important. Don’t lose the grip.
• A normal spine measures twenty four inches. Measuring the spine in Camel pose, it can compress to sixteen inches. And in Rabbit pose, extend to thirty two inches! Our spine has a range of motion in this case of sixteen inches! That is what we are capable of and what we want for good spinal health.
• Imagine that you are standing at the edge of a cliff with your toenails just hanging off the edge. Much the same, take yourself to the edge of the pose for you and stretch just a very little bit across that boundary line and hold it there for a few seconds. Do this every day with every practice and conquer death / maintain youth!
• Yoga will put the spotlight on the areas of your body hiding any viruses or other invaders. It’s time to be rid of them. Use the yoga to help you heal that part now surfacing.
• First you must love yourself, and then you must like yourself. Only then will you take care of yourself.
It is absolutely amazing how wonderfully popular yoga is becoming! More and more people are doing it and should be! Maybe it is just me, but at times I find the yoga to be too dramatized. Our culture has a way of doing that. But, again I can hear Bikram saying this over and over again, “it is so simple.” And you know what? It is. We are at the beginning of a new year and for many of us the beginning of a 60 day challenge. If you are reading this and you are new to learning about yoga, don’t ignore the advice your friends are giving you to come try it out. If you haven’t been in a long time, come back. If you are a regular member, come do the challenge. Keep it simple and try the right way.
The investment you make in yourself is the only investment that really matters. “Most important thing in your life IS your life,” says Bikram. If you don’t take care of it, you can’t take care of your job, your family, your health etc. “Don’t compromise your life for anything,” adds Bikram.