This past Sunday, Bikram Yoga Chadds Ford had the privilege of spending the day with Mary Jarvis, senior Bikram teacher and founder of Global Yoga in San Francisco.
About thirty years ago, Mary walked by Bikram’s San Francisco studio and was compelled to go in the door. As a long distance runner and weightlifter, Mary had confidence that she was “hot stuff” and could certainly handle a yoga class … but as it turned out, Bikram yoga was not what she was expecting at all. By the first standing head to knee pose she knew she would be coming back the next day. Once in locust pose, Mary thought “I will be doing this for the rest of my life.” What followed was an intense period of study with Bikram Choudhury himself, not in the way teachers are trained today, but one on one, student and guru. As a result, Mary’s knowledge of Bikram yoga is nuanced and infinite.
Mary has been teaching for 25 years. Her students are known and deeply respected for their discipline and grace. She has coached many of our top yogis to national and international championships. Yet, more and more these days, she is trying to spend time with larger groups sharing the knowledge she gained during her early years with Bikram. It is Mary’s quest to show that Bikram yoga is vital in the plan for being a good, balanced and happy person.
Class with Mary is not exactly your normal Beginner’s class. The information she has to share about each pose is so detailed that you wish you had a notebook in the hot room. (The constant dripping from my finger tips made note-taking impossible and I could only hope that I would keep it all in my head!) Two and a half hours later, an immeasurable amount of sweat and a room of happy, smiling faces was only the beginning of our in-depth tour. We spent almost 9 hours talking about Bikram yoga postures in depth and the time just flew by! Mary’s whimsical use of descriptors like “Jizzam” (translation: beautiful curvature of the spine) and her great ability to mix technical detail with immersive story telling made for a fantastic day. Traveling with an arsenal of posture photographs and 8 students studying for the national Asana championships, Mary seemed to break down the Bikram poses into slow motion, revealing the hidden keys to unlock a world of potential.
After the beginners class, we sat on the floor of the yoga room (heat off, fortunately!) and listened to Mary explain the details of how to properly enter into a pose and once successfully there, continue further. She could not stress enough how important it is to first have proper form, even if it means backing off some. There were a number of common themes from pose to pose, which highlighted the intentional progression of the postures and how specifically one posture is done in preparation for the next. She often talked about “feeding the poses” through the breath, with oxygen as the fuel. Often we are caught up in achieving height and depth in our poses that we forget to breathe properly, which will ultimately allow us to progress. Mary talked about keeping your ankle at 90 degrees (no more, no less) and transferring your weight into the correct part of your foot prior to starting the pose. She also introduced the idea of lifting before you move. This intentional focus on preparation, coupled with fueling the pose and proper form are what put Mary Jarvis in a class of her own.
We tried postures without the use of our arms and holding a piece of paper between our legs. We combined postures and practiced them in reverse order. We studied pictures of the wrong ways to do postures, we watched national champions demonstrate with nuanced detail. We listened, talked, laughed and, well, sweated our butts off! It was an emotionally fulfilling, physically strenuous, highly educational, fantastic day. Thank you Mary Jarvis!