On Sunday, June 19th, in New York City, Bikram Yoga NYC sponsored a “summer solstice” event in the heart of Times Square – outside. Streets were blocked off in the morning hours with a center stage as a podium to deliver three Bikram Yoga classes. There were hundreds of “Lucy” orange mats covering the asphalt as far as the eye could see, mixed in with the skyscrapers, Broadway lights, and electronic billboards that make up Times Square. I’ve posted pictures at the studio and I bet if you Google “Bikram Yoga NYC, summer solstice” you’ll find some photos there as well. Watching a sea of practitioners do half-moon is crazy fun. Some of the photos capture close-ups of individuals struggling and sweating in eagle pose, triangle pose, toe stand -just like you and me.
At the same time, on Sunday June 19th, more than 2000 miles away in Southern California, the International Yoga Championships took place. It was quite the contrary to the scene in Times Square as hundreds of people both live and on the internet watched one person on stage perform 7 postures in three minutes. Five of those poses are from the beginning series that we do every day in class and the other two are optional and more advanced postures coming from the advanced series. This year, however, I’ve had the privilege of going down to LA to watch. I’ve had the honor of judging as well. This year I watched it live streaming on the internet. I absolutely loved seeing it this way as the camera zoomed right in on each competitor, enabling a close-up view of the execution and expression of each posture. All of us watching had a chance to read and participate in the comments flowing from Facebook and Twitter. I was glued to my computer watching each competitor move from pose to pose. Members, what is so great about this competition unlike most sports, is that you can relate so well to what they are trying to achieve on stage. It’s exactly what you are trying to achieve every day in class. I found myself critiquing and encouraging out loud by myself in the kitchen, “keep your leg up,” “body has got to come down more,” “bring hips higher,” “oh my gosh, beautiful, perfect, just hold it.”
From one side of the country to the other, we are all trying to lock the knee. No difference. The more yoga we do, whether with hundreds or in front of hundreds, it’s a mind over matter game. The degree of difficulty in this tall task of mind control is where the difference lies. Doing “standing head to knee” with several other yogis in a class is hard enough. Try doing it on stage with thousands of eyes quietly laying on you. There is pressure; an adrenaline rush; fear.
Allow me to transition a bit. The NBA Finals were pretty special this year. It wasn’t the Lakers against anybody this time (which would have been fine too) but instead the Dallas Mavericks versus the Miami Heat. With Kobe Bryant and the Lakers out of the way, it was anyone’s title to have this year. There were several star players on each team deserving of that title. Each team had a really good story that earned them a creditable right to claim that coveted “number one” title. LeBron James nicknamed “King James,” who has been mentioned on several occasions as being one of the best NBA players of all time, had an especially interesting story. Just last season, after 7 successful seasons, he abruptly left his team/city that counted on him as their leader and joined with two other star players on the Miami Heat to boost his chances to win the NBA title. While no longer a fan favorite, he did what he said he wanted to do – make it to the big dance. Now, he had just one piece left: to win it. It’s an understatement to say that all eyes were on LeBron.
The Dallas Mavericks won the NBA Title this year. LeBron James, 6 ft. 8 in., 250 lbs., named Most Valuable Player two years in a row, came up short several times in the final quarter of not just one game but many. Now, it takes more than one player to win a championship. However, bringing it back to our context, the pressure was on LeBron to perform his version of “7 poses in three minutes”, and while he was amazing to watch and he IS one of the best players to ever play the game, he “wobbled.” Most professional commentaries suggested that he try to forget about it over the off season and try again next year, except one very smart sport psychologist. Having studied and coached Olympic and professional athletes for decades, (in particular the Canadian Olympic Swim Team) this sports doctor recommended that LeBron watch those games over and over again until he feels NO emotion in the viewing, and thus any attachment he may have to the “fourth quarter” is diffused. This will allow a new routine to set in. In LeBron’s mind, until that happens, he will replay those same emotions over and over again despite the different event, different game.
Brilliant! This year’s Bishnu Ghosh Cup Champion Joseph Encinia is by no means new to the stage. He has competed for several years and just last year was so close to taking the title. He had won the US Men’s but at the International level, he slightly wobbled. He came in 2nd. What does he need to do in the off season? Forget about it and try again next year, or play it over and over again and detach from whatever emotional control it might have over him?
LeBron and Joseph illustrate two “mind over matter” examples played out at the highest level in their respective fields. Learn carefully from these examples and become that real yogi who can see similar scenarios in our own everyday lives when we are letting our emotions take over. Tackle those emotions and you’ll eliminate unhealthy confrontations and simply communicate better; you’ll know when to create a boundary and avoid behavior that builds walls; you’ll seek joy because it’s your birthright and not because you’ve done something to deserve it.
It is also noteworthy to mention that our new yoga champion, Joseph Encinia, overcame great odds to be who he is today. I pulled this up from Joseph’s website as he was interviewed in Advocate Magazine, Dallas, September 2008. “It’s been an incredible journey. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when I was 8 years old. I was in and out of the children’s hospitals all the time. I couldn’t exercise. Then, when I was 13, I had a heart attack. The doctors weren’t sure if it was the medicine I was taking for arthritis or if it was a congenital condition I was born with. A cardiologist told me that I had the heart of a 40-year old man who had been smoking and drinking all his life. I thought I would spend my life like that. I got into yoga right after high school, and I started noticing changes in my body, some intense. I gradually changed my way of thinking and committed to healthy eating and healthy living, in general. In just three years, I lost 40 pounds, my bones and joints are healthier. I used to barely be able to bend my knee. I haven’t taken a single pill – no aspirin, no nothing.” Wow. There are deeper truths in every human situation.
Most of us live somewhere in between participating with the masses and those that are singled out as champions on the big stage. What’s important to realize is how yoga can impact that voice that says “yes, I can” and not the one that says “it’s not me, I’ll never get there.” Acquiring skills that create awareness to the attachment of emotion is a big step in building confidence in ourselves. Every day when we try to lock the knee, we earn points in the direction of controlling our emotions, making our minds an alley in the pursuit of our own unique dreams. We become brave enough to see and try things with a different perspective and most likely ending with a different, better result. Like the advice given to LeBron to watch the films over and over again, our study is to lock the knee over and over again. Yoga is a universal language deciphering truth from garbage, guiding us in that direction of “yes, I can.” “It’s so simple,” says Bikram. Unlock the mind – just lock the knee.