Written by Bill Thwaites : Senior Bikram Hot Yoga teacher and lifestyle coach.
Here is the transcript of my YouTube LIVE Bikram Hot Yoga Workshop called “To Unlock The Power of Bikram Hot Yoga”.
This is for all you hot yoga fans looking to start the next chapter of your journey.
Going into the hot room, attacking the postures with the same headspace cultivated as a beginner, will make your journey needlessly long and arduous.
I go through how to transform your physical approach to hot yoga, by losing your beginners headspace.
!And, how to master the mental side, so your Mind-Chatter doesn't pull you down and you can find that meditative side of yoga.
And when you truly find that meditative, zone like quality, your physical & mental abilities support and build each other.
That’s where the magic is.
You don’t need a yoga mat, you just need your mind for this.
Is about changing your mindset, away from a beginners mindset we unknowingly remain attached to.
My name is Bill Thwaites. I’m the co-author of the upcoming book, Perfect Freedom: How to gain a new high in mental & physical health, a Senior Bikram Hot Yoga Teacher and lifestyle coach, with clients spanning Lady Gaga, Benedict Cumberbatch, Gemma Arterton, Olivia Williams, Toby Jones, Maxine Peake, Robert Downey Jr and many, many more.
I am the Founder of Sohot Yoga & Sohot Lifestyle.
Last year, 2018, I sold my two central London Bikram style hot yoga studios, which over a 10 year period, attracted a staggering 80k plus members.
Now, I bring my expertise to helping hot yoga fans, all over the world, with my online training & individualized Health & Vitality coaching programs.
Before we dive into the deep end, let me, very quickly, outline the backstory to all this.
I took my first hot yoga class back in 2004 and for the first time in years, my arthritis seemed to give way, And I thought I had found my miracle cure,
AND me being me, I dived headfirst into the yoga world, and many, many moons later, there I was - highly qualified and highly sort after Senior Bikram Hot Yoga Teacher.
But, as the years rolled by my flexibility hadn't really improve, my battle with arthritis was on a downhill slope, my joint pain was progressively getting worse.
Also it became blindingly clear that I was not alone. So many people who practice yoga do not gain anything like the improvements in flexibility, strength or general health & vitality they had hoped for, yet they continue in the belief that their struggle would one day yield results or they end up on the yoga scrap heap - tried it, but it did work.
Also, as a studio owner, with a payroll that included over 40 of London’s top yoga teachers, I became increasingly alarmed by the number of yoga teachers severely injuring themselves in pursuit of mastering their yoga practice.
This problem spans to all the various styles of yoga.
Clearly something was wrong with this picture! So, I studied the latest science in how the body heals itself, in biomechanics, neuroscience and the cognitive processes required to master any physical activity.
The more I researched the more I blew my mind.
Armed with my greater insight I re-examined the way we practice & teach yoga. I went back to basics and totally changed my approach.
The results were astounding.
In 4-weeks I had gained more from my yoga practice, than I had, in the previous 10 years.
I no longer felt like I was simply going through the motions.
I started to conquer my battle with arthritis, surprisingly very quickly.
My flexibility, improved so much I was able to ride my bike again. Now that for me was amazing.
Since then, hundreds of people have attended my beginner's mind workshops, all experiencing the same radical shift in their flexibility, strength and awareness, in just 4-weeks.
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
At the heart of everything is the simple fact, that purely going through the motions, trying to stretch yourself INTO a posture isn’t going to give you any significant health benefits, and sometimes, that mindset makes matters worse.
The first step, as an absolute beginner, is to ask our body to get INTO a posture. It’s how we learn the basic structure of the posture.
But, once you’ve done that a few times nothing is gained by simply continuing with the same beginners mindset.
You have to move away from simply trying to stretch yourself INTO a posture.
The next step is to learn how to apply your strength to OPEN the body while maintaining structure of the posture.
That requires completely different muscle firing patterns, use a completely different group of muscles.
It’s a totally different mind body conversations.
Yoga is about the application of strength to open the body with an aware and calm mind.
It’s not about stretching yourself into a posture.
It’s about strength.
All too often students remain trapped in a beginners mindset and never move onto the next phase.
This partly down to the fact that too many yoga teachers are also trapped in that beginner's mindset simply relying on their natural flexibility.
What also, totally stops, students development is their inability to turn off their analytical mind.
This is because they don’t know how to effectively train their subconscious body & mind.
The cognitive processes required to train the subconscious body & mind to correctly apply strength, is the same as learning a musical instrument, dancing or boxing.
When learning a musical instrument, you must journey through 3 cognitive stages for it to become an automatic process and be able to switch off your analytical mind, placing your subconscious body & mind in the driving seat.
That’s a vital step.
But, if your analytical mind is continually getting in the way you’ll never be able to move forward. You’ll just be a beginner stuck over analyzing your every move.
Learning yoga is no different.
It’s all about asking your body the right questions.
By asking the wrong questions you incorrectly engage your body, setting up the wrong muscle firing patterns.
if you remain with a beginner's mindset, you will incorrectly engage your body, and your body will fight back.
Your subconscious body will complain, and your body and mind will then be locked into a constant battle.
If your body & mind are bickering between each other, your body is not able to tap into its innate capacity at optimize your use of strength.
YOU JUST NEED to understand the fundamental steps you must journey through and the questions you need to ask your body to solve.
Unfortunately too many students & teachers, get locked into their beginner's mindset for years.
STAGES OF DEVELOPMENT
Ok. before I go through the secret code that will unlock your physical abilities to correctly apply your strength, I’m going to, first, go deeper into the cognitive processes you have to journey through.
When you understand that, everything will fall into place a lot easier.
There are 3 cognitive stages we all must journey though.
Very briefly, these 3 stages are -
1 - The Analytical Stage
2 - The Embodying Stage
3 - The Letting Go Stage, better known as Flow State
This process, these 3 Step,. is a conversation, a journey, between your conscious mind and your subconscious primeval body, with the end goal of placing the body in the driving seat.
Where your actions become automatic, like walking or riding a bike.
The body is simply astounding at optimizing the required muscle control.
Things only go to pot when the analytical mind refuses to let go, treating the body like a child.
Let me break these 3 steps down.
The First Step, is the Analytical stage
Step 1 - Analytical Stage
This is the thinking Stage
Typically classified as learning the foundations
You’re NOT in the zone, and you’re not in a state of meditation
There is NO mystical or spiritual element or connection.
It’s purely about Thinking – Analyzing
It’s the same analytical steps required to learn the Guitar - Piano - Dancing – Boxing
In this thinking stage we setup the basic body movement patterns.
In Neuropsychology – these patterns are called Motor Engrams - muscle memory.
It’s all about establishing the brains basic neurological firing patterns to activate the required muscles.
If you cross your arms, you do it without thinking. It’s an automatic pattern. A set mind-body communication pathway – a Motor Engram. Dancers have to learn a library of these patterns.
Problems can occur, in this first step, if you give your body misguided instructions, imparting the wrong information to the body.
That’s all down to your focus.
Your focus is all down to the Questions your ask yourself.
Ask the wrong questions and you have the wrong Focus.
With a wrong focus, you set up poor muscle memory.
Fixing poor muscle memory can only be done by examining y our focus.
Which mean examining the questions your asking you body to solve.
This is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT to understand and I’ll come back to that later.
After the Analytical, Thinking stage, we move onto Stage 2, The Embodying stage.
Step 2 - The Embodying stage
Here we refine those basic movement patterns to the next level.
This step can only take place when you transfer the controls away from the thinking-mind over to your intelligent body.
This second stage is where that typical honeymoon period ends and the frustration starts – that lack of progress.
This is when we get stuck in a beginner’s frame of mind. Stuck over analyzing everything, in an analytical mindset, unable to detach the mind, continually trying to analyse how to move forward.
In this second stage, you need to let go of your analytical mind and start trusting your body’s innate abilities at refining those communication pathways, those motor engrams to the next Level
Professional dancers and musicians know this very well.
They intuitively know that once you’ve learnt the basic movement patterns you have to hand the controls over to the body.
When learning any mind-body activity, at some point you need to get out of your head – you need to trust your body.
And that’s all about knowing the right questions to ask your body to solve.
In the end, your mind should never be telling your body to achieve some theoretical ideal form or position.
I know some of you are thinking … !But that flies in the face of all the styles of yoga where alignment is king. Hold that thought, until later on, when I go through the science of how the body heals itself.
Step 3 - Flow-State
The final step in the journey is Step 3 – Is where everything is so automatic, you're in Flow-State or as athletes call it - The Zone
This is the Holy Grail
The Analytical Mind is no longer needed.
As far as the mind is concerned, you are engaged in an automatic process, like riding a bike or playing the guitar.
The body has full control.
This is when your hot yoga becomes a Mindful Meditation.
This is when your body switches into Peak Performance Mode - where your body is 100% in control.
The Mind is in a state of observing - watching the body do it’s thing - like a coach – a teacher – a trainer.
Because the mind is no longer wasting time dealing with the physical side of things, it’s able to see emotions - anxieties - fears – the real stumbling blocks that hold us back.
The mind is in a state of mindful meditation, an enhanced level of awareness.
The analytical mind is no longer getting in the way – that monkey mind is turned off – your Biochemistry is on fire – your Hormonal soup optimized – your Stress hormones no longer pulling you down.
But, this cannot be done with a Beginners Mind – asking the wrong questions. (Which I cover next)
If the mind has set up the wrong motor engrams – the wrong muscle control - by asking the body to do something it doesn’t like doing – the body and mind will be locked in a perpetual state of argument.
This means you will never experience how yoga can be a meditation, a state of complete awareness, without judgment.
So, let's recap this 3-steps journey.
Step one - The thinking stage - the conversation between your analytical mind & your subconscious primeval mind & body, establishing the basic muscle firing patterns
Step Two - The Embodying stage - This is when you stop micromanaging your every move and discover the amazing innate ability of your body at refining and perfecting those muscle firing patterns.
Step Three - is Flow-Stage - The Zone - where your body has switched into that peak performance mode and is in total control. The mind is sitting back, in a state of mindful meditation.
I found that knowing this 3 step journey helps me not only with yoga, but with all mind body activities, playing the guitar, strength training, everything.
Ok. Next, I'm going to go through the secret code that will unlock your physical ability to gain greater flexibility and strength in a rapidly short time.
YOUR PHYSICAL APPROACH
Ok let’s now, unlock your physical abilities, starting off with a few Golden Rules.
GOLDEN RULE No 1 - What you get out of your yoga practice is all down to your intention.
Your intention governs what you concentrate on, your focus.
What you concentrate on, your focus, is down to the questions you are asking yourself.
If you’re asking yourself the wrong questions, you won’t have the right focus and your yoga practice will take you down the wrong road.
You end up simply going through the motions wondering why you’re not improving.
The thing is, your body will do anything you ask of it.
If you truly ask it to bungee jump off a bridge, it will.
Your body is a bit like a genie in a bottle.
Your wish is my command. So be extremely careful what you ask for.
Be careful of the questions you’re asking yourself.
The typical type of bad question beginners often asks themselves is
"how can I increase the stretch?" or
"how can I go deeper?” or
“make my leg go higher? Or
“get my forehead on my knee?"
*So, what is the right question?
That’s GOLDEN RULE No 2.
It's pretty simple, if your intention is to heal & enhance your health & vitality there is only one question you should be asking yourself.
"How can I open the body up?" or to be more precise, "How can I open up EVERY joint in the body?".
So, why is this?
Why is it, that the only thing you should be concerned about, is how well are you opening every-joint in the body?
And, what's so wrong with trying to deepen the stretch or get my leg up higher? or get my forehead on my knee?
The best way to answer that, is with another question - ?What’s your starting point?
Let me re-frame that question, why practice yoga?
Why are you going down this road?
If I ask 100 people why they practice yoga I will get 100 different answers.
However in the end they will all knuckle it down to the fact that they see yoga is a means of enhancing their health physical and mental health, so they can enjoy an active, rich fullifing, happy life.
Now, as we all know, in order to enjoy an active life you need mobility. Mobility is a combination of flexibility and strength.
Flexibility in itself is totally pointless without strength.
Equally, Strength is pointless without flexibility.
So, for an active life you need mobility, and for that, you need flexibility and strength.
Let's look at flexibility in more detail.
How do we increase flexibility? Flexibility is the ability for a joint to move freely.
Take a ball and socket joint - to move it requires a set of muscles contracting and all other muscles must be relaxed.
If a muscle that should be relaxed is tight it will inhibit movement - A bit like a tug of war - one muscle contracting and an opposite muscle not letting go.
As a beginner in the first few classes it certainly feels like your stretching out tight muscles.
However, in most cases, that's not the reason why people have poor flexibility.
The main reason for a poor range of movement is because the joint itself is not performing well, typically due to inflammation inside the joint inhibiting joint movement.
If your joints are healthy you need less strength to move them - which in turn will result in less tight or sore muscles.
There is no point building up more strength - or stretching out tight muscles - if the joint itself is not performing well, due to inflammation.
Your joints are continually trying to heal the damage caused by the normal wear & tear of sitting, walking, cycling.
The Synovial Lubrication Fluid within the joints bring nutrients in and removes waste.
The best way to help the synovial fluid do its’ job is to open and move the joint, allowing the synovial fluid to flow freely.
But here’s the secret key. You have you understand that Synovial Fluid has another function. Synovial fluid is Non-Newtonian – which means it doesn’t flow when compressed. When compressed it instantly stiffens up to a very hard rubber type material.
When it’s compressed it cannot bring nutrients in and remove the waste.
So if you want to help the synovial fluid do its job at repairing and strengthening the joints it should never be compressed.
When Synovial fluid is compressed it acts more like a shock absorber – this happens when we’re running or walking.
Here’s a video it a Non-newtonian fluid in action. Notice when it’s not compressed it easily flows, but the moment its compressed it freezes hard.
If you’re ever going to enhance the flexibility of your joints, they must be relaxed open so that the synovial fluid can flow freely, enabling the joint to heal the damage caused by everyday normal wear & tear.
The process by which the body maintains a healthy spine, works a little differently - it works by diffusion.
The diffusion of fluids & nutrients into the intervertebral disk of the spine is best achieved when the disks are pulled apart, decompressed – creating a greater surface area for the fluid to flow in and out.
There are clinics all over the world that help people heal a damaged spine by manipulating each vertebra apart helping the fluid to get into the disc, thereby enabling the spine to heal itself.
Over time the joints repair themselves because now they have the oxygen and nutrients to do it.
And the benefits don't end there.
By focusing purely on opening, not only do you ensure the fluids can get in - you build far greater strength - the muscles are stretched in a more precise manner and your alignment simply falls into place.
An alignment that’s perfect for you.
The benefits of such a mindset are shockingly powerful.
Let's consider what happens when you don't focus on opening up the body and instead ask yourself a typical bad question "Such as how can I increase the stretch in my leg?" - when doing a classic low lunge pose.
Like that genie in a bottle, the body will obey - and will reposition itself so the stretch in the leg is enhanced.
Typically, this is done with the aid of gravity - dropping the hips forward and down.
But now you’re compressing into the hip joint stopping the synovial fluid from getting into the joint and you are no longer building strength in the supporting muscles.
All you are doing is stretching.
You may ask yourself another bad question – such as “how can I visually go deeper”.
Your observable depth is only your preconceived idea of how far you would like to see yourself in the posture.
But again, that genie will do what is asked - and your body will make subtle changes in order to achieve what you are asking for.
The fact that your alignment is no longer perfect and that you are compressing into the joints the genie doesn't care.
All the genie cares about is making your wish come true.
And again, because you're asking the wrong questions - very little is gained from your yoga practice.
Apart from saying to yourself, I did my yoga today.
An alternative way of examining – whether you have the right focus or not – is to ask yourself if you are truly being present?
To be truly 100% focused on anything means you are 100% present in the here and now.
That means your mind's eye must never be 3 seconds ahead of itself.
If you ask yourself the question “? How high can I get my leg” – you’re asking yourself to predict the future – you’re not in the here and now – you have zero awareness – you’re not listening - because you’re not present – your mind’s eye is 3 seconds ahead of itself.
The only way to be present is to switch off the concept of how far you can go, or any question that concerns the future.
All you need to do is focus o n opening up the body, as much as you can, in that exact moment of time – in that exact millisecond.
Just by wondering how far you will go that day, you’re placing your train of thought into the future.
A professional musician only focuses on the notes in that exact moment of time, they're never thinking about the notes they are about to play next ... that's what beginners do.
This Sohot Approach, installs a mindset that’s not inwardly focused but outwardly focused, thereby maximizing the full power hot yoga can bring to your life. All you need to do is to master your ability to answer just one question - " how can I open up the whole body, every single joint".
When your body tries to answer that question your alignment will just fall into place - an alignment that is perfect for you and not some predetermined view of perfect.
By answering the right question your body will build incredible strength. You will also discover that stretching is just the consequential reaction of opening the body up, it's never your primary intention.
To adopt this astounding approach, you have to go back to the beginning again to rewire your whole mind-body communication pathways – it requires completely different muscles – a more precise application of strength.
Yes, you have to go back to square one to reprogram those pathways.
But, don’t despair, ask any concert pianist or a 10th Dan Karate master ... they will have lost count of the number of times they've gone back to that starting square.
You will realize that a yoga posture is purely the process of opening the joints in the various orientations as defined by the posture.
A yoga posture is not something you have to get yourself INTO - it’s something you open out too. Those are diametrically opposite mindsets and produce completely opposite results.
In one posture you open say the shoulder this way and, in another posture, the shoulder is opened another way.
The purpose of a routine is to ensure all the joints have been opened in various orientations to ensure the fluid can come in from all angles, and as a consequence a full range of muscles are strengthened and stretched, - which in turn brings oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, due to the increased blood flow.
So, to recap - by asking your body to relax open all the joints in a posture, you stretch, heal and strengthen your whole biomechanical structure and if you ask the wrong question your hot yoga will, at best, just be a stretching exercise in which you'll compress the joints – and get nowhere.
HOW TO DO THIS
Next - I'm going to teach you how to ask you body to open.
This is where you join in.
Do this right now.
Bring your arm out and stretch it away from you as if your trying to touch the wall. Go for it. Touch that wall.
Now cast your mind’s eye over your arm and feel the muscles contracting, feel the muscles in your shoulders contracting. Tune into those muscles.
Ok arm down and shake it out.
Now I want you to totally relax your shoulder socket on the same arm. And now gently pull the arm out of the shoulder socket.
Try to create space in that socket as if that arm is floating in air within the shoulder socket.
You may have to wiggle the socket a bit to find that sweet spot.
Starting off you have to wigg & play the joint to find that sweat spot where the socket is nicely relaxed open with - with a feeling of space within the joint.
Maintaining that feeling of space within the socket, lift the arm up and lengthen it away.
Notice that you’re only using a very fine band of internal muscles and most of your muscles are totally relaxed.
It’s no longer a tug of war.
It’s a more precise use of strength.
You’re now building strength in your tendons and your shoulder is nicely relaxed open and the fluid can flow.
That’s how to correctly lengthen the arms out in, say ... Triangle pose.
I was looking at one of the top YouTube yoga channels the other day, doing a routine for senior people over 40.
She is a very nice and a genuine person, I like her a lot.
However, her slow gentle senior yoga routine achieves nothing.
For example, keeping on the shoulders, she said “now gently stretch the shoulder back”.
But all that's going to do, is create a front stretch.
So what? Stretching doesn't help the body heal the joint, or strengthen the supporting muscles.
You do it correctly, by relaxing open the shoulder socket first and then while maintaining that space within the socket you take the arm back. It requires completely different muscles and you get completely different results.
It allows the fluid to get in so the body can heal and strengthen itself.
What do you want to do, stretch or heal & strengthen?
Remember opening requires completely different muscle firing patterns - different groups of muscles.
It’s a totally different mind body conversation.
You either focus on stretching INTO a posture or you focus on OPENING OUT.
You cannot do both.
I want to show you triangle pose, but I want to keep everything to under 45 minutes and I do need to cover human variability.
Ok this is a clip from my online 4-week hot yoga course Unleash The body Within where I take a look at Human Variability and Awkward Pose.
Once you have the basic understanding of the 26 posture fused into your body, the next phase of your journey awaits you.
If your intention is to enhance your physical & mental vitality, simply going into the hot room attacking the postures with the same headspace you cultivated as a beginner, will make that journey needlessly long and arduous.
Long term, a beginners mindset of trying to stretch your body INTO a posture will not enhance your flexibility, strength or health.
I learned this the hard way, practising 4-5 times a week for over 10 years, becoming an expert at being a beginner.
I started hot yoga in my fourtes to get my stiff inflexible arthritic body into shape.
The thought of being sixty and unable to actively engage in life sent shivers down my spine. It took some time to figure out how, but now I am more active than I was in my 50’s, 40’s, and 30’s.
I’ve imparted all the secrets of the next chapter of your hot yoga journey. Best way to reprogramme you mind body conversation is to start small.
Focus on creating space in the primary joints first.
So locking the standing leg is not about contracting the tight, it about creating space in the standing leg hip socket and lifting up opening ankle joint. Once you’ve programmed your body to do that, the knee is perfectly positioned.
In Standing Forehead to Knee you don’t round down to grab the foot, you arch open your spine upward.
In triangle you have to use strength to maintain the structure of the posture while keeping all the joints relaxed open. ….. That’s hard.
By the way, if you're naturally flexible your flexibility isn’t going to help you at all. It time to build greater strength and let go of your beginners approach and experience the true power of hot yoga turbocharging your health and vitality.
I will be posting videos on how to apply this approach to all the 26 hot yoga postures in due-course on our Updated YouTube Channel and other hot yoga related material such as why fasting and hot yoga is a marriage made in heaven. I have so much planned for all you hot yoga nuts out there.
You just need to hit that subscribe button
And then, if you want to be updated as to when I’ve posted new content, hit that strange bell icone.
However. If, you just cannot wait for all that, checkout my online hot yoga immersion program called Unleash The Body Within where you will be guided, step by step, through the complete process.
All it takes is 4-weeks, to let go of your beginner's mindset, reprogramming your mind-body communication pathways to apply strength more intelligently, in order to open the body, while maintaining the structure of a posture, thereby building greater flexibility, strength and awareness.
Here a link to that: https://courses.sohotlifestyle.com/courses/unleash-the-body-within
Don’t forget to subscribe our Updated YouTube Channel.
Ok thanks for joining me.