Raising the bar with Esak Garcia

From the outside, a lot of people think we Bikram Yogis are a little bit crazy: 105 degrees, 40% humidity for an hour and a half four to seven times per week? I guess I can see how this might need a little explaining…

esaklotusSo when someone like Esak Garcia comes to town, to give a seven hour seminar and class, even some of our most devoted practitioners might think those of us who participate in such things have gone over the deep end. Allow me to explain…

For myself, I am always looking for more education, a greater understanding of the details perhaps. I have been teaching for less than three months but I have been practicing and researching yoga since the mid-90s. The breadth and depth of the world of Yoga is so intricate and iterative that my research has barely started to break the surface. So when the opportunity to train with someone who has dedicated every minute of their life to yoga for the last 20 years comes around, I jump at the chance. And now that I teach Bikram, my research has broadened to include a greater understanding of different teaching methods and what really gets students to respond.

Esak Garcia has been practicing Bikram yoga since he was 17 years old and has been continuously practicing since 1994. He is the first male winner of the Bishnu Charan Ghosh Cup in 2005. He is one of the founding members of USA yoga and serves on the board of directors. Esak travels the world giving seminars, teaching and coaching. And for those of you who read “Hell Bent” you know he is the founder of the “Jedi Fight Club”, which is a week-long clinic focused on training yogis for the USA yoga competitions.

This past weekend, Esak was in the area for two days. Megan Van Riet (co-studio owner of BYCF) attended the Saturday session and I attended the Sunday session. The two days were essentially the same: five hours focused on the details of a handful of postures followed by a 90 minute beginner’s series class.

For Megan, there are many reasons to spend the day with Esak. As a former competitor, a seminar of this type really allows Megan to see how her practice has progressed over the years and where she can still advance. As a seasoned teacher, this type of day can be really invigorating and inspiring and provides many new ideas to enliven and refresh her teaching.

I must say that going into this seminar, I was a little weary. Prior to being called the Jedi Fight Club, Esak’s week-long clinic was called “The Back-Benders Club”. His method of teaching focuses highly on very deep back bending, sometimes for up to six to eight hours a day. So the idea of practicing with Mr. Back Bend himself was a little intimidating from the onset. My concerns were immediately dissolved upon meeting him. Esak is very warm, with a bright smile and could not be more laid back. His seminar was very informal and like all good teachers, he was extremely observant and patient.

Esak stated that his goal for the clinic was to identify specific muscles that, once engaged, will help us to create greater alignment and depth in specific postures. His approach was quite focused. Although he talked about many ideas, there are two that seemed to stand out.

bandhasThe first concept that can be applied to the entire standing series of Bikram yoga is the concept of creating a strong base. This concept, also known as Mūla Bandha, is when you contract your perineum muscles to create stability for your spine and by doing so, allow yourself to be rooted strongly to the ground. This is a pretty advanced skill for many beginners. But when you stand with your toes and heels touching you can squeeze your ankles together, engage your quadriceps and your glutes and suck your stomach in. This set up creates an automatic contraction of your perineum muscles. This alignment and engagement of muscles supports your spine and allows you to go deeper into the postures.

sections of spineThe second concept was looking at how we can more effectively bend our thoracic spine. Our cervical and lumbar spines bend very easily, but the area of our back where the rib cage is connected, is very difficult to bend. In many different postures, Esak talked about engaging the rhomboid muscles in the thoracic back, in between your shoulder blades and spine. Pulling your shoulders blades together while lifting your sternum allows your shoulders and head to go back more which, in turn, increases thoracic bending.

After hours of listening to Esak tell us to squeeze our ankles, squeeze our butts, such our stomachs in, lift our chests, bring our arms back more… it began to sink in. This teaching method, heavily rooted in technique and repetition (with a bit of humor and finesse), keeps your mind focused on the potential that is available. Esak believes we all can do much more then we think we can do and his teaching method focuses on pushing you past your perceived limits. I believe Esak’s acute attention to detail and his eternal optimism that there is more potential to be reached make him a truly great teacher.

Although our backs our sore, our minds are full of great new ideas to help you deepen your practice.

By Jane Clark

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