Monday, 3 December 2012
Max Strom used to be the business partner of Mark Whitwell.  I find this incredible.  Although there are similarities in the core message of their teaching, they are polar opposites in so many ways.  Mark delivers the message.  Max gives you the tools to deliver the message. 

When Max refers to ‘near-life experience’, he means the point at your end of your life when you regret not the things you did, but the things you didn’t do.  He talked to us about the ‘inner terrorist’ and how we as a society in the West are so good at sabotaging ourselves.  You should see his great TED talk about life in the modern age;

Max talked about the fact that the most important steps towards living a long, happy and healthy life are breathing and balance; after all, poor breathing can be associated with depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and poor digestion, while balance is essential to our personal safety as we age. 

The first part of the workshop was focused on breath work and incorporating pranayama into a basic yoga practice.  Max argues that pranayama has the ability to change your life; he gave a great analogy about yoga teachers, the most sane being those with a good pranayama practice, and the neurotic being those who don’t breathe properly.  That would explain the majority of Bikram teachers I’ve met then…

I had mixed feelings about this part of the workshop because I really enjoyed listening to Max talk about the importance of breath work; he’s right, because when you breathe properly, the function of your body and your mind increases.  Where I struggled was the intensity of some of the breathing exercises.  I have a tendancy to panic when I’m asked to alter my breathing pattern drastically or hold my breath for long periods of time (it’s why I’ve never learnt to surf), so taking on some of his exercise whilst practicing yoga was really challenging for me and not really enjoyable.  But that’s because I’m a big sook and need to dedicate myself to improving my pranayama practice. 

The second part of the workshop continued to emphasise the importance of breath, and also began to incorporate a focus on balance.  Max argues that balance is not static and be improved (with the exception of suffering extreme brain or inner-ear damage).  Did you know that the number one cause of death by injury for people over the age of 60 in North America is falling over?  Learning to improve you balance and continuing to work on it could be a great way to extend your life-span! 

Max talked about leading a workshop in Japan with students in their 80’s who could balance with the majority of their weight on one foot for more than a few seconds.  He used a couple of the older women in our class to demonstrate what he did with his Japanese students by placing a post-it on the wall, just below eye level, and getting them to stand a hand’s length away from it.  Both women claimed they had terrible balance but when he put them in this position and asked them to lift one foot to rest against their standing ankle, they looked at the post-it on the wall and were able to stay balanced.  This, of course, is the basic concept of drishti but lots of people struggle with it. For a long time I struggled because I was looking for a focal point too high as I was avoiding looking anywhere where I could be distracted by other students wobbling madly.  When I looked back straight in front of me, or down towards the floor, my balance improved again.  So ideally, anyone of any age who still has the ability to stand on their own two foot, can learn to improve their balance, just by putting a mark on the wall, standing in front of it, and staring at it while raising one foot.  I wonder if I can convince my parents to take up the practice...

Max also demonstrated the technique with handstands, getting one of the students to do a handstand against a wall.  He placed a post-it just in front of her hands and asked her to look at it.  For the first time, she was able to take her feet away from the wall and stay balanced for an extended period.  Balance is important.  And I should probably practice handstand more often – with this technique!  

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