Bikram Yoga has been in the public conscious for many years. I was one of the first teachers certified in Bikram Yoga in the state of CT way back in 2000. The first studio I owned and operated was the first authorized Bikram Yoga College of India at 467 West Ave in Norwalk. We had folks driving from all parts of the state to get a dose of the Bikram brilliance.
Having taught the Bikram, classic hot yoga, method for nearly 20 years I am pleased to present some key elements that may make your Bikram practice more enjoyable. If you tried it only once and judged it based on that single class maybe this will motivate you to give it another shot. I recommend finding a studio that is willing to adjust postures to your specific needs. Much of Bikram is dialogue driven (they say dialogue but its really a monologue.. anyway..) meaning it’s a script and not a great one at that. Find teachers that actually will teach you, understand the body and alignment, and are able to address any injuries or issues.
The class opens with the not overly popular beginning breathing. This works with an inhale through the nose bring the elbows up towards the ceiling and is followed by pressing the head back and extending elbows forward. Students think they have to push their heads back until it hurts because – that’s what the dialogue says! Natural range of motion with neck extension will differ from person to person. And more is not necessarily better. So a good approach is to ease back the head and allow the elbows to extend downwards on the exhale as needed. A little pressure is fine but too much can be a true pain in the neck.
Half Moon, Standing Back Bend, Hands to Feet
So the good news about yoga in heat is that you warm up faster but the real truth is that movement is the best way to warm up the muscles. The Bikram sequence is so popular largely due to the heat as well as the fact the postures are manageable to most and there are no big athletic movements. So when we do the first set of warm up postures it is best to take it easy. Within the script there is constant “push, push, go harder” even at this early stage in the Bikram practice. The focus for Half Moon pose should be hands, shoulders, hips, and heels all in one line going from left to right (or vice versa), But you never hear that alignment cue. It’s also helpful not to headlock yourself with your arms. Draw your shoulders down and let the elbows have a slight break if needed.
For the standing backbend I recommend lifting through the chest and not hinging into your lower back. There is a line in ye old “dialogue” that goes “its supposed to hurt”. I imagine that line and that sort of approach has turned off tens of thousands of potential Hot 26/Bikram yoga practitioners. With backbends we want to think about stretching more of the upper thoracic spine where we live in a constant forward bend. Our lower back lordotic curve is already a backbend, so in that area we want to focus on careful forward bending. So its important not to concentrate your backbend on the area in your body that doesn’t need it. A good backbend can be very shallow, not forcing eye gaze back if that bothers your neck. We are opening the chest, releasing the shoulders down and back. Arms over head can also be substituted by hands to lower back if that works better for the practitioner.
Lastly, Hand to Feet Pose is a deep forward bend that is very intense for many yoga folk especially if you have tight lower back and hamstrings. The direction of stomach to thighs is fine unless of course it isn’t ( some people anatomically cannot do that). The best bet is to not worry about absolutes in hand to feet pose. If you can grab behind heels fine but not if it is a strain. Placing hands on back of legs, or on the floor, or dare I say , a block!, should all be allowed. The Bikram sequence is a fine beginner sequence with the added challenge of heat. If we offer more options and teach from a place of understanding and alignment more people will get the most out of the sequence.
Stay tuned for more keys – coming soon!
Thanks for reading