Posted by: kerryalina | 29 March 2012

Challenge Class 39: Milestones

When I first started practicing Bikram, my progress could be measured daily.  Correcting my hand placement so it was just slightly more forward; locking my knee properly; kicking out in Standing Head to Knee (sometimes)… these things gave me huge and instant improvements in my postures.  Conversely, learning in my second week that Cobra was not a pushup left me suddenly floundering on the floor, heartbroken to discover that I did not in fact have mysteriously better-than-everyone-else magic Cobra muscles.  Every week, every class, I learnt something new and my practice advanced in leaps and bounds.

For the past few months though, my headway has been measured in millimetres; in fractions of millimetres.  Having corrected most of my original mistakes and misalignments, my progress is now dictated by how fast my muscles grow and stretch – the days of rapid advancement seem to be over.  And so, of course, I decided that I wasn’t actually making headway at all and was accordingly discouraged.  After all, when improvements happen incrementally, it’s easy to miss them.

Until, that is, you reach a milestone.  Two months ago it was seeing my toes in Floor Bow (I was so surprised that I let go of my feet and faceplanted into the floor).  Once, I balanced for a whole set of Standing Bow without falling out (although I think this was less of a milestone and more of a freak of nature).  And today, I strained towards my toes in Paschimottanasana, desperately pointing my thumbs back towards my face… and just barely felt my fringe graze the tips of my thumbnails.  Instant headrush; instant gratification.

Except it wasn’t instant, not at all.  Ten months of practice – of walking the hips back and locking the knee and bending forward from the lower spine – were needed for these two seconds of contact between a strand of hair and an unmanicured fingernail.  And progress was being made all that time; it was just too gradual to be noted.  The milestone gets the glory, when I undoubtedly made just the same amount of headway yesterday, or the day before.

And so this is what I was telling myself during Savasana (I mean… *cough*… after Savasana.  Because I never let my mind wander in Savasana): Enjoy the milestone, but make sure you acknowledge the work you do daily as you move towards it.  Because you’re working your ass off in the hot room, so I can guarantee you’re improving – even when it doesn’t feel like it.



  1. tonight, my only goal was to repeat a really simple mantra over and over again during all of floor series, which is when my mind tends to go haywire and I decide that I’m “too tired” to do all of the spine strengthening postures. Baby steps.

  2. I’ve been taking bikram classes in Korea… and since Korean is not my mother language, I always feel a bit lost. You mention “lock the knee!” alot.. and I’ve never heard my instructor say that (at least in english)… i know it seems self-explanatory but could you explain more about that phrase “lock the knee”? Is it just about keeping your leg straight as possible?

    • It’s easier to show than explain, but I’ll try! Keeping the leg straight is the start of it, but definitely not the whole thing. Try this standing in front of a mirror at home or before class – and make sure you’re wearing something short enough that you can see your knees and most of your thighs.

      First make sure your legs are straight… then CONTRACT your thigh muscles really hard. If you’re doing it right, you’ll be able to see your kneecap physically lift up a bit on your leg as the muscles shorten. THAT’S locking your knee. Your thighs should feel super-tight and solid – no loose muscles anywhere. Experiment a bit – at first you might find it easier to try doing one leg at a time to see the difference.

      At first you might only be able to do it for a few seconds (or if you’re like me, half a second). But over time you’ll be able to hold it for full poses… and eventually your knee will be SO locked that your leg actually looks like it’s bowing back a bit like this:

      If this doesn’t make sense, let me know and I’ll try to find a different way of explaining it! It’s so interesting that this isn’t in the Korean dialogue – you hear it fifty times each class in English. At the start of Standing Head to Knee, for example, we hear that we have to have the knee locked before we kick out – that if the standing leg is bending, the posture hasn’t started yet. Do your teachers say something similar?

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