Gonna... WAAAAAALK around...
(I'm not the only one who knows that song, right?? Actually, that's the only part of the song I remember...)
We are having such a fun chat over on the yoga.com Bikram forum this week, and it reminded me of something cool that I want to bring up over here, too. (Duffy, sorry for giving you deja vu...)
A new poster was asking the question, "why don't the instructors in Bikram yoga tell you to engage the core as part of their dialogue?" I have a few ideas on that topic (big surprise). But to me, the most interesting point is the difference between moving muscles and moving bones.
One of the most interesting things I ever read about physiology is that your mind commands your bones, not your muscles. (This was in Mabel Todd's The Thinking Body, by the way, which I think is an excellent book.) When you go to lift an arm, you don't picture which muscles are going to relax and contract to complete the action. You picture the way your skeleton, your bones, are going to move, and the body responds appropriately.
It seems to me that Bikram understood this intuitively, because so many of the commands in his dialogue just tell you, in very plain language, WHERE to place your body parts. Arms touching ears, leg parallel to the floor, arms back, chest up, hips forward. Those commands will go straight to your brain, your brain talks to your muscular unit (the proprioceptive system really) and your body responds appropriately. It's almost like hypnosis. There are a few very notable exceptions (like "lock the knee"!!!),** but I think that a lot of the series works this way. If someone tells you to push your hips forward, you automatically use your butt. If someone tells you to lift your chest off the floor, you automatically use your back. If someone tells you to interlock your fingers and grab your foot in front of you, the only way your body can make this happen is by "engaging your core," so to speak. The dialogue makes it all happen, and your mind stays out of the way. (This is in the ideal scenario - teacher has perfect dialogue and student is perfect listener. Never QUITE happens that way, but.... it's the idea.)
I've also noticed that this is how some really expert teachers (i.e. Diane...) correct students. They don't usually say "engage this muscle" or "squeeze that muscle." They say "bring your upper body back!" and BOOM - all that other stuff happens automatically once the placement is correct. It is brilliant to watch. That's that I want to learn to do!! If the alignment is not correct, then the muscular instructions won't even make SENSE on the student's body. Nothing will move. You can sit at your desk and flex different leg muscles all day, WITHOUT changing the position of your leg. But if someone says, "straighten your leg" - aha, all the muscles have to fire appropriately, and you don't even have to think "ok I'm gonna flex my quadriceps, and relax my hamstrings"... the motion just happens.
Interesting, right? I think this is one of the most brilliant things about the way the dialogue is written. (And it can get a bit lost when people start to paraphrase, but you do NOT want to get me started on that...)
** "Lock the knee" works the opposite way. You have to direct the muscles specifically. I wonder if that's why this is the HARDEST thing to learn in all of Bikram yoga...?
I can only think of a couple other examples... "triceps muscles tight, nothing loose, nothing hanging," is one, and "compression of the abdominal wall, contraction of the abdominal muscles," is another... but there are not many of these!