Esak Garcia, “Yoga Champion 2005” as he is recognized came back to BYSJ recently to teach class and host a posture clinic. Esak originally taught with us before becoming a yoga champion and now resides in Boulder, Colorado with his wife Chau Kei and son Osiris and teaches at his mom’s studio. Between the time he left the Bay Area and now, Esak traveled the world to demonstrate his yoga, promoting the benefits of having a yoga competition. In addition, he has organized retreats, and coaching clinics to future yoga champions and now with Bikram’s blessing, he is traveling worldwide to offer his knowledge and wisdom to Bikram Yoga studios with his posture clinics. I approached Esak at the Yoga Asana Championships in February about coming to BYSJ. In his presence, I was reminded of his love for the yoga– he trained for the championship with such determination and focus. To have become an ambassador of this practice as Esak has, comes from his special ability to be compassionate while invoking within all of us who aspire to attain the same heights he has, to work hard, to learn the postures correctly and to simply allow the body the time it needs to one day open up and do each pose fully. He was delighted at my suggestion of coming here. I consider him a part or our family so, it was a coming home for Esak and an opportunity to extend a welcome to his wife and son as a part of our family too.

Bikram Yoga is a physical yoga discipline or better defined as a Hatha Yoga practice. Hatha yoga is one of the six branches of yoga that uses physical poses or Asana; breathing techniques (pranayama); and meditation to achieve better health as well as spirituality. As Esak described it, “Ha” means the right side, male energy, the Sun and “tha” means the left side, female energy, the Moon. These are opposing energies relating to energy flow and blood flow in the body. Hatha Yoga involves doing the posture according to proper technique, holding stillness with normal breathing followed by savasana (rest). Esak let me know that his intention in teaching with us was to provide “themes” or “concepts” about the yoga and then to pick the postures that suit these concepts. This reinforced that our 26 postures and two breathing exercises fall under a far greater definition than just Bikram Yoga. Yes, it’s important to review specifics of each pose but as Esak shares, first we must comprehend the simple and overall constructs that make this yoga work. When understood in this fashion, greater value is received from each posture.

He took the time to talk about “normal breathing” and what that means in your Hatha yoga practice. In Bikram yoga we call it “80/20 breathing,” meaning having air in the lungs when doing postures – 80% of the lungs full with air when breathing in, and just the top 20% when breathing out. This keeps oxygen in the bloodstream, getting fuel or oxygen to the muscles. This helps to give strength to your pose. With proper breathing, you can access muscles you have when you need them. Try it next time you are in class.

Here are some other points that I found interesting:

Pranayama opens the respiratory system; Half Moon poses open up the nervous system; Awkward pose opens muscular system; and Eagle pose opens the joint system of the body. After these poses we are warmed up and ready for class. Stillness after each posture is essential as blood returns to areas constricted from the pose and breathing slows down again. It’s not time to pick up water or wipe the sweat because we move right into the cardiovascular system with three postures that boost the heart rate intentionally. Forehead to Knee and Bow Pulling set you up for Balancing Stick; holding these poses for one full minute will allow for blood to flow from one side to the other: right to left; left to right, ending this sequence of poses with Balancing Stick which is the climax of the heart rate poses, stretching lower chambers of the heart away from the higher chambers. Triangle pose is the pinnacle of the standing series where all systems are worked all at once. At this point, we are ready to work the spine even deeper when we get to the floor. This is often considered the beginning of the practice and many times you might recall hearing a teacher say “now the class begins.” The spinal strengthening series, those four on the floor are backbends that work against gravity. These four alone help to build lots of strength in the back. Next comes Fixed Firm which is a backbend working with gravity. Here, we start to relieve a lot of pressure from the last four poses. However, according to Esak, when you look at the whole series with a focused eye, you will notice that it isn’t until Rabbit Pose when we close the front spine. It has been labeled as the maximum extension of the spine. Conversely it is the fullest compression of the front spine. The series ends with Final Spinal Twisting and then closes with final breathing intended to remove those last bit of toxins sitting at the base of the lungs.

“All backbends heal the spine,” as my Bikram Yoga mentor would say at just about every class. Esak too had this same mentor, Mary Jarvis. I recall Esak’s training regime and the number of backbends he was required to do every day. It wasn’t 100 but it wasn’t 10 either. It was a lot. It is no surprise that Esak preaches enthusiastically about the due diligence we need to conquer these backbends. To watch him do one is inspiring enough to make one want to try. To quote Esak: “In order to do a good backbend, make sure that you stretch up first and then arms back immediately just like the dialog says. This gets you into the thoracic part of the spine which is the most difficult to change (and minimal at best). Then push your hips forward to use the more flexible part of the spine. The lower spine is more suited to back bend while the upper spine is more suited to forward bend. Heart pumping alone cannot move blood to the spine only through movement of the spine will blood flow, will circulation increase. For me, that very first backbend is when class begins”.

Esak added, “a good Half Moon gives you access to all postures. If you don’t have that good Half Moon, that good backbend, then for the whole class you are trying to find that something that gives you that satisfaction of feeling you’ve had your real class for the day. Otherwise, you leave feeling that something wasn’t quite right. It’s hard not to take to heart everything Esak says. After all he is a champion and he has been doing this yoga 17 years. He started yoga in high school. One member asked him about doing the yoga in the heat. He responded by stating that he spent seven years doing this series without the heat when he lived in Brazil. While doable, he stated that it takes 10 of those classes to get results from just one good hot class. The heat is a catalyst. The heat helps you improve faster. Then, what you develop in the heat, you should be able to keep without the heat.

A member sent me a great quote that sort of wraps up Esak’s visit. “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better.” This is a quote from Mother Teresa. I think we all felt that way not just from his profound words but just watching him and his beautiful family. It is my intent to have him back again before the year is up. Members, take advantage of what he has to share as he will explain more themes that will register into your practice and you if you haven’t yet, you must make it a point to see his baby boy – special!

Whenever I host these clinics, I reflect on all the different experiences we’ve had a BYSJ. Each one adds to the other because of the constant growth within us and our constant growth together as a community. Esak’s visit was on the heels of our 60 Day Challenge party. 69 of the 130 who started the challenge finished. We handed out all sizes of trophies as some had completed the challenge three, four and five times. Esak’s seminar was one piece in our tapestry of events over the seven years that we’ve been open. All helping us climb higher to our own personal attainment of what it means to be healthy – to be happy. The Lotus flower sits in the center of our logo. It captures perfectly the essence of what we’ve done each year with each event with each practice and never becomes outdated. The lotus always symbolizes what we do each day. Here is a great definition of the lotus flower found in a commercial magazine: “the lotus plant grows in water, however – only the roots are in the mud, the stem grows up through the water and holds the heavily scented flower above the water. Buddhists believe that the pattern of growth of the lotus signifies the progress of the soul from the mud of materialism, as it grows through the waters of experience and into the bright sunlight of enlightenment.”

From a higher point of view, there is a landscape far larger than what the eye can see. While Esak’s seminar was of immense value, so too are the countless other events, challenges, classes and conversations we’ve held over the years. What is significant is what you do with each new piece of information garnered from such activities and how you incorporate it into your own tapestry, your journey towards enlightenment.

Juni. “It was my first challenge. I started the yoga eight months ago and it has become a part of my life. It challenges me to work harder in other areas of my life.”

Sathya – “This is my fourth challenge. Each time it is difficult and different. I can tolerate more and my postures are improving.”

Presley – “This is my third time doing the challenge. The strength now that I have in my legs has helped me become a better skier.”

Marybeth – “This is my second time doing challenge. I had to do nine doubles to finish. My patience has improved and my energy has improved.”

Hsiu-ching – “This was my second challenge. I went to Taiwan to visit my family and came back to do the challenge. It was a struggle at the beginning but I got used to it. The teachers instruction was so helpful. I had knee issues but now I can easily take long walks with my husband.”

Craig – “In August, I was going to have shoulder surgery. Two weeks after doing yoga, there is no pain in my shoulder. I am literally pain free!”

Shakila – “Without the yoga, I would not have recovered quickly from the virus that I caught in India.”

Debra – “I set a goal for myself and the outcome was a lot more than I expected. I decided to come every day and not do doubles. I learned to deal with anything that gets tossed at me.”

Afsoon – “I had really bad back problems and after one month of yoga all the pain was gone.”

We have thousands of students with thousands of stories. Like Esak, we become more through our collection of the choices we make and in where we choose to put our energy. Yoga helps you make those right decisions contributing to that bigger picture of yourself, who you want yourself to be.