“Concentrate and meditate on one spot on your standing knee in the front mirror to make sure your standing leg is absolutely locked out – no knee,” a phrase heard daily if you take Bikram Yoga – dialog for Standing Head to Knee Pose. It’s part of the instruction on how to do the posture correctly, and even more so, it’s a way to “keep the mind in the brain for at least 10 seconds,” as Bikram would say. Bikram Yoga is your 90 minute active or “moving” meditation. We use the body as a medium to control the fluctuations of the mind. Standing Head to Knee is THE posture that brings the mind and the body together.
Every yoga champion and every yoga competitor will tell you that Standing Head to Knee is by far the hardest pose to do. It doesn’t matter if they can put one leg over their head while standing up, or can bend over backwards while placing their head between their feet, Standing Head to Knee is the single most challenging posture in any series. Members, you and I do it every day. My bet is that you can agree that physically it is tough, and mentally it is a test. Bikram talks about the five elements of Raja yoga, one of the eight limbs of yoga. They are faith, self-control, willpower, concentration, patience. With standing head to knee we have a chance to exercise those skills and improve the imbalances that arise in any of these five. It’s mental therapy in 60 seconds and often a humbling observation to know that our efforts to stay “mind over the matter” are more like “matter over the mind.”
I’ve been doing this yoga for over 11 years now. I struggle in Standing Head to Knee every day. Yes, some days it comes easier than others but I don’t know what’s going to happen until I’m in that room. There I am. There I go. There I see. Mary Jarvis, 25 years plus into this yoga as instructor and coach, and to my fortune, my mentor, will say over and over again in these balancing postures, “falling out, learning how not to.” And another highly respected teacher who I’ve had the great pleasure to learn much from, Tony Sanchez, commented in a similar manner to a student who was getting frustrated with this posture. Tony politely, calmly and so slowly said, “Are you struggling? Isn’t life full of struggles?” and with a subtle smile on his face, left him alone to continue to fight with the pose.
I’ve done this posture thousands of times. I am physically capable. I am mentally capable. So are you, but allow me to take it a bit further.
Suppose, you are coming day after day, and you are trying to honestly keep the mind focused on those words “lock the knee.” So, if “you” are telling your mind to lock the knee and the body is following along and the leg is a lamp post, unbroken, no knee, then who is it that is telling the mind what to do? Might I suggest that it is “you?” For me, it was a satisfying piece of personal evidence that I am not my mind.
Michael Gerber, motivational speaker, renowned business advisor and author of E-Myth Mastery, (responsible for building successes to Whole Foods Market and Ritz-Carlton hotels), led a conference in Australia titled “Creating Your Primary Aim, Taking Charge of Your Business and Your Life.” At the very heart of the business conference, he had thousands in his audience participate in this meditation: “I have thoughts but I am not my thoughts; I will not be taken by my thoughts. I have feelings but I am not my feelings; I will not be taken by my feelings. I have a body but I am not my body; I will not be taken by my body. I have business but I am not my business; I will not be taken by my business. Then who am I?”
I recall Bikram making a statement about this very concept in my teacher training close to 10 years ago now. Bikram likened the mind to a delivery system. He called it “FedEx,” In his own beautiful Bikram way he was communicating to us in a fashion that we could understand: that the mind really is relative to who we really are. Perhaps this idea is tough to grasp at first but, yogis see if you can follow his analogy. The mind, like FedEx, is meant to give you information. That’s it. How we sort through and use the information is where the mess begins. That all comes from beliefs we’ve inherited through our upbringing, the environment we come from, traumas and joys we’ve experienced, emotions, and much more. But by quieting the mind enough through good practice, we can catch the information received (thank you mind) before it runs into our own personal filters. In that space, there is no mental disturbance, just peace, and we can decide where we want this information to go – you decide and the mind will put it there – whoa! You can choose to cry, you can choose to laugh, you can choose to ignore, you can choose to ponder, you can choose to sing and for us in class at about the half hour point into our 90 minutes, you can choose to lock the knee.
Ok – I’m not sure who has mastered this – Dalai Lama perhaps but we are not unlike his holiness (he will even tell you that). Bikram will deliberately put someone down right in front of hundreds of people if he feels that he is being placed on a pedestal where he doesn’t belong – “you are the God, not me” you can hear him scream. In our western world where we are too busy to be busy, Bikram has brilliantly created a way for us to practice shutting off the mind. Each instructor is trained to give you the same dialog in the same way each time you take his 90 minute class. Your focus is breath and figuring how to do the pose and it’s a good disguise as it also keeps the clever mind under your control and quiet.
On August 21 and 22, BYSJ will be hosting Brandy Lyn Winfield and Kasper van den Wijngaard, the 2010 Yoga Champions. They are making their way around the world and have one stop here in Northern California, BYSJ. It’s my honor to have them at our home and more so, it’s my honor to have you experience their teaching, their passion, their compassion, their insight, and mostly their example. Imagine loving golf so much and Tiger Woods made a visit to your favorite golf course. Just his presence will give you something and raise the level of your game. Same holds true with Brandy and Kasper. In my opinion, all champions possess that extra something, but in the end, they are just like you and me – they’ve just practiced a whole lot more. That’s good news because you can easily relate to Brandy and Kasper and you will appreciate what they had to master to make it to champion level.
This yoga has such a profound effect. Quelling the mind is just one element that can stir up a lifetime of conversation. But if we know that stilling the mind has huge benefits in our overall well-being and happiness, why wouldn’t we want to take steps in getting there? 60 Day Challengers, you are demonstrating how patience and perseverance can create long term successes although not without obstacles. Congratulations on your choice to come every day for your own personal reasons. At this point, you might be wavering on your commitment to the finish line. It’s normal and take some time to question if it’s just a function of the mind having a heavy grip on those conversations that continually rob you of making your moves towards mental peace. When that grasp no longer has a hold on you, you’ll live in a higher state of being, and as Bikram would say, “making your mind your best friend.” So, lock your knee.