This section of the book addresses an educational dictum shared by all Bikram yoga instructors, as it is a technical requirement in the asana sequence – that we must stare into a mirror ahead of us.
Bikram may have had a particular intent in mind: expedient success in the particular pose. And by staring into the mirror, we tap into the trinity of balancing mechanisms in our body: + Proprioceptive: Proprioception involves the sense organs throughout our soft tissue, which instantly inform us of changes in movement, force/tension, and position. Proprioception is the fastest and the most efficient balancing mechanism because it is most directly plugged into our nervous system. However, as we know, it is our proprioception that suffers when we become injured, anxious, or traumatized, leading to a host of compensations (inappropriate tension chains and density) that in turn create the downward spiral of the degeneration of our physical vibrancy.
Our sight is the next fastest and the next most efficient mechanism in our balance, though we tend to rely upon it most heavily. In particular, Bikram in standing postures relies more heavily upon the visual than proprioception through the mirror staring requirement. This requirement relies upon a particular physiological reflex called the Ocular Gyro Cephalic (OGC) reflex, which creates tension chains that reflexively cause the body to orient toward whatever the eyes seek. Alexander Technique names this righting reflex “Primary Control:’
This dependence on vision for balance becomes an issue when we are injured and age. If we do not rewire proprioception, and as we age our sight begins to falter, we are in great danger. By relying upon the OGC reflex, Bikram does not rewire any proprioceptive errors in the system.
This is why in the prasara forest flow we begin by looking four feet in front of us on the ground, tethering ourselves to the ground. Then, as soon as we relax into the movement, we practice with our eyes closed. In this way we tap into correcting any aberrant issues in our proprioceptive clarity of balance.
+ Vestibular: There is fluid in the semicircular canals within each of the ears. As we move, this fluid sloshes around. If we’re not acclimated to a particular pattern of movement, then we may feel dizzy. Our brain strives to make sense of this novel information, and strikes to integrate it with the stimulus and processing from both our visual and proprioceptor systems. Although some less informed individuals will claim that this is not a factor in this type of balance because it is the slowest mechanism, it is indeed a contributing factor in grace (moving balance).
Here again there is a problem with the nonmoving pose holding in Bikram yoga compared with the Four Corner Balance Drill (FCBO). When a pose is held, there is very little movement to stimulate and challenge the vestibular system; whereas in FCBO, there is constant movement and repositioning of the head, causing continual shifts in the inner ear fluid. Without movement, balance is not developed to its full extent to include vestibular development.
Bikram yogis standing postures requiring mirror staring for balance overemphasize our already eye dominant balance. People will have quick success in achieving the poses. However, it is only an external achievement, and will remain only external.
To develop the entire organism, to restore true grace that was stolen by trauma, fear, anxiety, or even merely unanswered specialization, which comes from not changing our normal routine throughout the day, we must challenge all three mechanisms: proprioceptive, visual, and vestibular. To do that, we must remove the dominant, the visual, so that the others may catch up in their lagging development. This is why the FeBD is designed in the manner it is: constant movement, eyes close to the ground and eventually closed, head always repositioning.
“I am skeptical of science’s presumption of objectivity and definitiveness. I have a difficult time seeing scientific results, especially in neurobiology, as anything but provisional approximations, to be enjoyed for a while and discarded as soon as better accounts become available.” (Antonio Damasio, Descartes’ Error.)
This author defines body flow as the ability to be fully present during the act of physical existence – a state of unity in which psychological, emotional, and physical energies lack distinction. The author presents that body flow holds the key to better health and well-being through this integrated presence.
Many people discuss how to gain flow in life, but the very investigation taints the exploration. They ask, How do I gain flow? However, it is this very inquiry that arrests the development of those who seek improvement through the physical path.
Body flow is not something to be gained. This is the reason most people do not know how to flow. Body flow is not something we do but something we must get out of the way of. We must get out of the way of our own genius, talent, and abundance – which are our birthright. Body flow is not something to be acquired, but rather something that we will learn to avoid interrupting. A much more appropriate question to ask is, What prevents us from having body flow?
Many people perceive flow as the absence of errors, the condition of never experiencing surprise and shock, never fearing challenge. This is why most lack physical mastery, why they lack grace and poise. They associate” doing their best” with perfection. This creates fear of making mistakes by creating false expectations of performance.
However, it is precisely the experience of failure that opens the gateway to flow. The failures are just scenery along this path. Winston Churchill said, “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” Successful people systematically unhinge themselves from failed expectations. They move from one attachment to the next without being distracted by the appearance of failure. Flow isn’t something we can seek, but rather it is the process we unlock by letting go of attachments, by freeing ourselves from expectations.
Dance annotator Rudolf Laban (1879-1958), a pioneer in movement analysis, coined the term bound flow as “the stopping point in action.” Laban had invented a method that could be used for all observable motion. His book Labanotation is used extensively in dance and choreography. Body flow was one of Laban’s critical four elements of analysis, which defined movement as a singular impulse to move restricted to various degrees, or bound, depending upon its function. He felt that the more bound, the more laborious the motion. Less bound, or freer flowing, movement he associated with emotional expression and creative impulse. When movement is most bound, no visible movement can be seen; whereas when movement is least bound, grace erupts.
So we can define success as the enthusiastic movement from failure to failure without attachment or expectation – without binding flow. We must ask ourselves, What is my current degree of success? How long does it take us to recover from being surprised, shocked, disappointed, frustrated, angered, or dismayed or from any other emotional or mental distraction? How quickly can we regain our composure and enthusiasm and stop resisting the flow oflife?
We must challenge or change the training habits and personal beliefs that contribute to our stress and dysfunction – to the blockage of our flow. What is it that we put in our own way? What hurdles do we create for ourselves?
Masterful people perceive making mistakes as a positive influence on performance. They perceive the unexpected as opportunity meeting preparation.
The key to body flow, therefore, rests with deliberate exposure to making mistakes and to unexpected events combined with the proper training protocol, emotional control, and mental attitude. Body flow requires the removal of fear of making mistakes and fear of the unexpected. Our ability to take risks allows us to enter greatness and uncover our personal mastery.
Face challenge by risking mistakes and welcoming unexpected events. We must deliberately engage the areas that we fear. We increase our confidence not by refinement in areas where we are comfortable but by facing the areas where we fear mistakes and the unknown. Our fears inhibit our performance and block our flow.
Flow never attaches anywhere. It never abides. It constantly moves. We must focus on this state of detachment in order to address constantly changing variables. We must seek movement freedom to keep our movement from binding. In reality, stillness can be gained only through continual motion because attempting to stop motion requires force. We always move, even when we try to force ourselves to be still.
Refine the integration of breathing, movement, and structure to produce endless improvement in quality oflife. Most fitness programs focus on enhancing performance and decreasing injury by focusing upon general calisthenics: squats, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and so on. These exercises may enhance sport performance but execute essentially in a one-dimensional plane, which can be understood as “linear strength.” Linear strength transfers to athletes’ hitting harder, running faster, and jumping higher. However, during practice or competition, every sport, and, more important, life in general, demands fluid movement in three planes.