Thursday, February 18, 2010

If At First You Don't Succeed... (Competition Report Part 2)

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.  :)

More later!


aHappyYogi said...

Hmmm, Size of feet, doesn't that matter?

I have very small feet and not so small hands. 3 inches from the big-toe-tip then I have the little fingers already on my heals. That seems a little to far back on the foot to be able to pull the toes towards the face.

waylon said...

thanks for the posts. fun out there.

my dad used to say 'if you can't figure it out, read the instructions. if that doesn't work, follow the instructions.' :)

Big G said...

This is some good inside info for someone like me who plans to compete this year:) I'm glad so much emphasis is placed on the set ups. It's the most important thing after all.

bikramyogachick said...

Yes, the setups, the dialog! I have been really loving these conversations lately!
J I think I am a yoga dork after all. Can't wait to talk shop with you when you get here for training!!!

catherine said...

Gahhhh!!! I am dying to read this then reread this, and dig in and really think about it, but have to write a table of contents STAT. Why does work have to get in the way of blog-reading?

I am loving your competition roundups, though!

thedancingj said...

Cristina - Yes. If you have tiny feet, you probably need to adjust just a little. (I have small feet too, and to be PERFECTLY honest, I'm going more like 2 1/2 inches below.) Experiment!!

waylon - HAH. That's perfect.

G - Yep! They were giving out lots of good info, and it all agreed very well with the stuff we already know!

BYC - "After all"?! Like this is news??

Catherine - Damn work!! No worries, I'm not going anywhere for a while. ;-)

Yolk E said...

Great post! Thanks for all the tips.

So, I wonder if there's a hard-and-fast rule for standing head-t-k about where on the foot the hands can go. I tend to grab with my thumbs in the middle of the ball of the foot. Admittedly, I want to grab in that nice little groove of the toes, but I know that's too high. I've also got small feet.
What about just below the ball of the foot? Or does it really have to be inches?

Anny said...

Thanks for the added coverage! I'm a newby and always tempted to take shortcuts - thanks for the reminder to just try to follow the dialogue and let the rest follow :)

thedancingj said...

Anny - Wait til you're a pro- you'll be even MORE tempted to take the shortcuts. Hehehe. Just stay on course and you'll do great!!

E - That sounds like the right spot to me - right around the ball of the foot. If you go lower, near the middle of your foot, you won't be able to really FLEX the foot back beyond perpendicular and stretch the achilles tendon when you're kicking out. When your hands are in the right place, you'll (eventually) have a nice strong grip and your hands will help you to flex your foot back farther.

Of course, Bikram just says, "3 INCHES! DON'T YOU KNOW 3 INCHES?!" So, you know... take that for what it is. Don't think too much. ;-)

Duffy Pratt said...

OK, three inches, or two inches. It sounds like it's very clear and precise. But...

What is three inches from the toes? is it the top of your grip or the middle of your hand or something else? There's probably an answer to this one.

And, what does he mean by "your toes" The toes start further down the foot than most people think. On my foot there is somewhere between 1/2 and 3/4 of an inch between where my toe joint really is, and where the webbing between the toes starts. And is it the tops of your toes, or the bottoms of your toes, or somewhere else?

This doesn't even start to get into the different foot sizes for different people. When I'm in a typical class, there's probably a 6 inch difference between the smallest feet and the largest. And that's just people with pretty average feet.

And then add to all of this that most people are probably off by anywhere from 1/2 to a full inch in their estimate of what three inches is.

And despite all this, the dialogue still works remarkably well.

thedancingj said...

Amazing how it works, isn't it??

I'm 95% sure that we're measuring from the tips of the toes. Every time the dialogue says "toes on the line," it means that the tips of the toes - "toe nail polish" - should be on the line. So that would be consistent.