I’ve now been doing Bikram’s Yoga for about a year and a half, pretty much every other day or at least 3 times a week, with a 3-month break that I had after I had an ACL-replacement knee surgery. I wanted to share some insights I gained through the process.
I really like the practice, especially now that I get a grip of it with help of a few wonderful teachers that I was lucky to practice with, which unfortunately are hard to come by. Bikram Yoga helps me stay very fit, energized, my body is now very supple, but the most important of all it opens my heart, which allows the love to flow in.
So here are the lessons I wanted to share with you:
Ignore Your Teacher and Listen to Your Body
This is probably the most important lesson.
It’s important to realize that Bikram’s system has no beginner, intermediary and advanced levels – everybody does the same class together. Bikram’s classes are known to somewhat resemble military training. Go, go, go. Push, push, push. Die, die, die. And it’s true. The only difference is that you’re not in the military, you have a choice here.
I find that many Bikram Yoga teachers, especially new ones, have one big problem in common. They don’t explain to beginners that they need to listen to their body, rather the teacher. It’s so easy to get injured if you push yourself beyond what your body can handle. And most beginners simply don’t know what their body can handle. I injured my lower back several times at the beginning of Bikram’s practice because I pushed too much and my posture wasn’t correct. The latter is another problem. You don’t learn the asanas (postures) before you jump in to do those. You’re supposed to figure those out as you go. Which is find, but only if you really take it easy. First you need to figure out how to do the posture right, which depending on your luck with the teachers you get might take you 6 months, a year or even longer. Even 18 months into the practice every so often I find a good teacher who tells me that my posture isn’t right. Only when your posture is correct you can start slowly pushing the edge, while listening to your body. Notice that you might not feel the problem right away, but when you go home or the next day. So please take it really really easy at the beginning.
And if you hear the teacher screaming at you “go, go, go”, simply tune them out and smile to your own experience. It’s perfectly OK to do so.
Moreover, remember that this is your practice. If you need to come out of posture earlier, do so. If you need a delay before you get into the posture — take your time. Yes your teacher is likely to be unhappy about you not doing the posture with the same timing as everybody else, it’s their problem. You do what’s the best for you. Once you get more advanced you will also want to stay in postures longer than the group does, and again it’s perfectly OK to do so (you will just get a shorter break before the next posture).
Finally, if you need to take a break and skip a posture or a few, do so. If you really need to leave the room, do so. You do yoga to improve your life, not to please other people. Eventually you will learn how to stay in the room through exhaustion and dizziness, and still there will be some days that you will have to get out. It’s all good.
Listen to Your Teacher and Listen to Your Body
Now once you mastered a posture and you are unlikely to injure yourself, it’s only now the time when an eager teacher becomes useful for you. This is the time when pushing comes in handy, because you’re now ready to challenge yourself. Again, you only want to take as much pushing as you need to. You still need to listen to your body. You will never stop doing that.
Also remember that each posture is different, so you might want to push yourself in one posture, but to continue working on the correct execution in other postures.
It might take you a long time to get there. Or a short one – every person is different. If you find a good teacher, ask lots of questions after the practice and ask them to pay extra attention to you during your practice – most teachers I met love helping on an individual basis. Of course it’s crucial that you identify experienced teachers. You probably don’t want to receive advice from new teachers, they are trying to figure it all out themselves. If you aren’t sure — ask around.
Another things to remember is that your body is different every day. One day you will feel particularly strong. Yet the next day, you will feel totally out of it and will have a very difficult practice and feel like you’re a total beginner. It happens to everybody, and it’s all good.
Keep the Sweat On
Don’t use your towel to wipe the sweat off. I frantically did that at the very beginning, especially on my face, because I couldn’t stand all that sweat, and I perspire copiously. At some point I surrendered and stopped wiping the sweat off, because I wasn’t getting enough of a break between the postures because of that. But to my surprise after some time I realized that I feel less hot, which makes total sense, since our body perspires exactly to cool itself off. So keeping the sweat on, made me feel cooler and less energy was exerted on extra perspiration.
I’m still trying to figure out the issue with sweat pouring into my eyes though. While I no longer mind it happening, I have a hard time the rest of the day, following the practice, since my eyes have all that sweat in them. I couldn’t figure out how to wash it out – I’m still quite uncomfortable about it.
Drink Less Water
It’s difficult not to drink water in the Bikram’s Yoga class, especially when the temperature is too hot. But I’ve noticed that I get a better practice and I have a better body-mind connection when I drink little or not water. Drinking a lot of water before the class seems to help quite a lot.
Don’t Leave Right Away
I’m not sure why people blast out of the classroom, immediately after the practice. I find that this is the best part of the practice. I feel fully connected to my body. I feel present and the stretching feels so good. I sometimes stay in the classroom for 20 minutes after the class
Wait with Taking a Shower
Most people don’t know but apparently you lose essential energy (ojas) that’s non-replenishable if you run to take a shower immediately after the practice. The suggested approach is to dry off naturally, and then rub the body with a dry towell. Only then a shower should be taken.
Have a great practice!