Okay, let me talk about some of the things that I noticed and learned at the championships last weekend.
But first, let me refer you to this article which I wrote for "Oh My Bikram," an awesome new Bikram yoga blog based out of Toronto. There's some excellent content posted there. (I loved the last discussion about standing bow pulling pose!) I've had a couple of guest posts on there and have now been dubbed the blogarazzi. Hehe. So the article on OMB is my big competition overview, and I'm going to keep posting bits and pieces here until I run out of things to say. Or until I get distracted by something else. (Ooh, shiny!)
Now let's have some shop talk!
Over the course of three days, there were 117 routines performed by 93 yogis, plus 21 routines performed by the boys and girls in the youth division. (The U.S. and international finalists performed more than once.) That's 117 standing head to knee poses. I got to watch almost all of them - I missed some of the U.S. men when I was guarding the door from the outside - and I don't remember seeing a single person fail to execute the pose. As far as I saw, all 93 people were able to balance with their forehead on their knee.
Think all standing head to knee poses look the same?
Think rabbit pose is kinda boring to look at?
Try watching 117 of them in a row.
It is the most interesting thing ever. No really, you guys, I am dead serious! Because at that level, after you watch for a while, your eye starts to recognize all the nuances and subtleties of the posture. The tiniest technical details - a slightly higher leg, a slightly bent wrist - start to jump out at you. And since every body is unique - short torsos, long legs, long spines, short arms, muscular and compact, slim and flexible - you get to see what correct execution looks like on all these different bodies. You get to understand the postures better just by seeing how the champions' muscles move...
It's great. And strangely exhausting! I was sooooo tired after a full day of just watching other people doing yoga. I did not envy the judges. They really had a tough job! By the way, Bikram and Raj didn't judge, but the panels were all made up of very senior/experienced teachers - Emmy, a bunch of Indian folks, Jim Kallet, Diane (yay!), and tons of previous world champions.
(Incidentally, I am watching the Ice Dancing from the Winter Olympics right now, and I'm pretty impressed by watched these guys do a position resembling standing head to knee, on ice skates, while they spin around in a circle at about 500 rotations per minute...)
Another highlight of the weekend was hearing all about the judging from Emmy and Bikram at the Monday advanced class after the championships.
They both talked a lot about basics and the dialogue. I really appreciated hearing this stuff! They both said that, even if you get "advanced," that doesn't mean you can stop listening to the dialogue. The dialogue is your foundation. Back to basics, yay!!
Emmy spoke quite a lot about the placement of the grips. Standing head to knee is THREE INCHES below the toes. I took a look at mine. Uh oh, busted. I was SO not holding 3 inches below the toes - more like an inch two inches at best. Now my balance is a little wonky, but I can already see that the posture is getting better. The grip for standing bow pulling pose is at the ankle, with straight wrists. The grip for bow is 2 inches below the toes, STRAIGHT WRISTS. If the wrists are bending to let your hand wrap around the foot more, it's cause your fingers need to get stronger.
Emmy and Bikram both talked about locking the knees. (News flash! Hehe.) Apparently tons of people got deductions for not fully contracting their thigh muscles and getting rid of the gap under the knees in the stretching pose (paschimo). Emmy said that from where the judges sit, any gap at all is very visible. They also talked about really contracting the top thigh muscle of the kicking leg in standing head to knee. (Oh! Oh! I totally called that one.) Emmy reminded us that you should already be practicing this action with your legs during pranayama and half moon pose.
Bikram also gave us a great description of how to place the kicking leg in standing head to knee. Lots of people's legs "floated up" a little bit on stage. Bikram asked us, "You remember the dialogue? What did I say in the dialogue?" Leg exactly parallel to the floor, no higher, no lower. But then he pointed out that the leg is maybe 3 inches wide at the ankle but 10 inches wide at the thigh. So... which part of the leg do you look at when you're trying to find parallel? He said to forget about the flesh and look at the skeleton. Look at the bones. (Oh man, I called this one too! This was the first time I've heard Boss describe this concept explicitly, and it made me so happy.) Bikram says that parallel means the heel should be in line with the hip bone. He also said that you can't tell on your own whether it's in the right place - like balancing stick, you have to ask someone else to take a look and tell you whether you're straight.
I really appreciated that Bikram and Emmy brought everything back to the fundamentals. They pointed out that no matter what level you're at, even during competition, the goal isn't to do the "prettiest" posture. The goal is always to do the posture the right way, for the greatest medical benefits, just the way it's described in the dialogue. For the most part, competitors didn't lose points because they forgot to point their toes while they wrapped their ankles around their necks and stuck their feet in their faces. They lost points because they didn't follow the set-ups given in the dialogue.
As they say: If at first you don't succeed, try reading the instructions. Love it. :)