Jason Winn, southern California Bikram Yoga instructor and practitioner extraordinaire, joined us this past weekend. Jason taught both the beginning and the advanced series, and his insightful instructions will continue to enlighten us for many classes to come:
“Your half moon posture will become more enjoyable as your breath becomes more comfortable.” “Engage your throat muscles as you breathe in pranayama, not your nose muscles.” “Work through your physical fear in your backbends and watch how it helps soften some of the mental fear.”
While offering such observations, Jason was moving the class from posture to posture with few breaks in between. To keep up, students had to stay alert and focused. Any slip in concentration and we risked falling out of the pose or being left behind.
Given no choice but to keep up the pace, my mind started to focus on the specific value of each pose. In standing forehead to knee pose, I could feel how contracting my thigh muscle, was also opening up my tight hamstring. I began to see how concentrating on keeping my leg locked in this same pose was also removing a layer of resistance about it.
“We have this innate dialog of negativity and pessimism that our mind loves to be entertained by if we give it that time and space,” states Jason. He was right. I noticed how my mind initially was looking to produce energy towards an anxiety before it was tuned in to giving me the determination I needed to hold the pose.
As class went on, Jason continued to move us at a good clip and suggested we take our practice a step further. In the first set of standing forehead to knee pose, which lasts 60 seconds, one’s determination isn’t really required in the first 30-45 seconds, but in the last 10-15. This is the point at which we tend to give up. That part of the mind that is self-defeating starts to give you a thousand reasons to be done with the pose. Ironically, this is your best opportunity (or “sweet spot” as Jason called it) to conquer the very moment you become a victim.
With that, I started to see how holding my pose another 10 seconds was at the same time removing the mental anguish about it. As I zoned in and started to feel my body respond to this type of mental effort, I was left feeling more open up and available. “These poses call for strength but at the same time something inside you is opening up, and letting go,” states Jason.
For driven, Type A personalities, this is good news. A friend of mine in a high-level sales position for an investment firm was reluctant to take yoga: he thought it might make him “weak,” causing him to lose his competitive edge. It is not about giving up the strength you’ve built, but being strong enough to gain the flexibility behind the strength: learning to be productive but calm; aggressive but compassionate; decisive but free of judgement.
“This ability to bend and yield when need be is a central component of strength. It’s the capacity to be flexible that enables a fragile willow to outlast a mighty oak. It’s the capacity to yield that enables a skyscraper to withstand the massive power of an earthquake. And it’s the ability to be personally adaptable that enables you to handle situations gracefully by shifting or altering your position,” Maria Arapakis, author of Softpower!
Jason insisted that we do the poses the right way with a combination of determination and patience. His strong delivery of the dialogue was balanced by the kindness in his voice. He demonstrated that strength can prevail with flexibility wrapped around it. He encouraged the class to move full-speed ahead in the direction of our desires but make space for other possibilities. In this way, we will avoid the high blood pressure, lack of sleep, headaches, and anger that can arise when we hold on too tight, while reaping the rewards that come from a driven mind.