Tuesday, July 21, 2009

146/200 - Learning Efficiency

Sunday Off.

The day off was very welcome. But I have to say, if there had been an evening class, I would have gone. By six o'clock it was starting to feel weird not to be going to yoga for the day. But I got over it pretty quickly and gracefully.

The day 199 meditation explores why new students tire so much more easily than experienced students. The answer is pretty simple: experienced students know what they are doing, so they don't waste as much energy on things that don't help the poses. In Bikram practice, this manifests itself in all sorts of ways. New students tend to fidget, to wipe sweat, to moan, to move around, to take a defensive posture between poses. They think sweat is the enemy and cold water is their friend, when its really quite the opposite. And that's just what happens between poses.

They also are more likely not to have any clue about how to breathe. When things get hard, they hold their breath, then come out of the pose gasping. And in the poses themselves they spend alot of time tensing up things that need to relax.

A big part of becoming more experienced is learning simply how to stay still between poses, to overcome the fear of sweat, and to learn how to breathe. And that's very much an ongoing process, at least for me. An even bigger, and more subtle part is learning what muscles to use in a pose, and which ones to let go. In some ways, that's why Fixed Firm is such a relatively easy pose: you can pretty much let go of everything and let gravity do the work. Conversely, that's also why I find Awkward and Triangle to be fairly easy. In those poses, if you can't go far wrong by simply tensing everything up. Everything else seems to involve a delicate balance between working some things really hard, while completely letting go of some other body parts. And finding that balance is very much a matter of experience.

This meditation reminded me of an incident a while back in class. Gates says that he sometimes puts athletic beginners behind people 20 years senior to them (I guess as a lesson in humility). A while back we had a professional football player in class, behind me in the back row. In the long savasana after floor series, Amy bent over and whispered to me how it felt to be kicking the football player's butt. I hadn't really noticed, but I wasn't surprised. Whenever there's a new student in one of Rohit's class, he says "This is the one you are going to remember." I don't know anyone who has come to their first Bikram class really prepared. It takes more than a handful of classes to even start hitting your stride. Even after 16 months, I'm still learning a bunch about being more efficient, and I imagine I'll be saying the same in another 16 months, or even 10 times that.

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