How to Have a Better Bikram Yoga Experience

November 19, 2008 by stas | Filed under Health, Physical.

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!


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23 Responses to “How to Have a Better Bikram Yoga Experience”

  1. Hi Stas;
    Good to see a blog about Bikram. I am a Bikram addict myself, started about 4 years ago with a 1.5 year break. I love it and agree with your tips. I practice in Australia (Brookvale) and most of our teachers actually tell beginners to listen to their body and go there where the body takes them.

    Interesting about not showering right after class – haven’t heard this one before, but I guess it makes sense.

    Namasde

  2. Trina says:

    Hi,
    I am an avid Yogi and a Yoga teacher in training. Your advice about Bikram Yoga is very good. I am in Lilburn, Georgia and our instructors ALWAYS tell us to listen to our bodies. In fact, they show the level 1 poses first, so that we can do those if the level 2 or 3 are too hard.

    If this place doesn’t properly demonstrate the poses BEFORE you try them, then I’d find another studio. Doing the asanas wrong can be harmful. Plus there should be some emphasis from the teacher about the mental faculties of Yoga…focusing inward, listening to your body, being in the moment.

    Happy Yoga,
    Trina

  3. Tina says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. One thing that has helped me is also slowing down my breathing and really listening to how I breath in the posture. If my breath is even, relaxed and calm, I can really tap into the poses.
    :-)

  4. lucy says:

    Hi Stas, I am totally addicted to bikram and am so excited to have found it.
    Our teachers do push us from the very 1st class so your point was very interesting and I almost want to tell our instructors to take it on board- will work out a diplomatic way of telling them somehow.
    Interesting about the shower bit too..will definitely keep that in mind.
    I seriously agree with your comment on bikram opening your heart and it just really connects you with your body in general which is an amazing feeling – it has really grounded me and made me alot more present.
    next thing I am going to try now is dancing as I am way more flexible so would love to try some salsa to master some great moves!
    thanks for your post
    Lucy

  5. Hi Stas,

    thanks for your informative article- I came across it because last night someone mentioned to me that there was a lawsuit against Bikram yoga from an organisation called yoga for all and I wanted to find more about it & did a google search, which showed images of bikram yoga- one of which was yours.

    Anyhow…. the reason why I’m commenting is because I’m a bit shocked that the yoga instructors neglect to mention what, for me is the MOST important aspect of yoga- LISTENING to your own body & doing what’s right for it!!!

    I’ve been practicing yoga for almost a decade now & I learned from a book, it’s been one of the most effective ways I have of retuning myself to my natural inner balance of healthy & vitality- physically, mentally & emotionally.

    Over the last 4 weeks I’ve really embraced my morning yoga routine again- doing it every morning without fail & I’m really loving doing it & loving the benefits (I have a few pounds to loose still).
    I’m in Thailand at the moment- working from here over the European winter months & it’s like heaven- the tropical weather means that I get to do yoga (for free) in tropical heat- just like Bikram!!

    I’ve shown others the yoga routine I use & have become a yoga teacher of sorts since being here- I was a little concerned the 1st time I showed someone else the routine a few years ago- I mean I hadn’t been trained as a yoga teacher. Having read your article it seems that what I was most afraid of (students injuring themselves) doesn’t appear to be a high priority with even fully qualified yoga instructors, which in itself is quite alarming. Aside from the fact that yoga is a moving meditation- improving the connection between mind, body spirit- not to teach students to only do what is right for their own bodies goes against the very idea of yoga (in my experience). So on one hand I gain comfort & reassurance that how I introduce people to yoga is helpful, on the other hand I wonder if it’s possible to rectify the poor training of yoga teachers that appear to be commonplace.

    Anyhow.. thanks for your article, I think it will help a lot of people who read it get the most of out yoga.

  6. Julia says:

    Thanks for your blog. Just started, and today (3rd time) had to leave room for feel of falling down. Also feeling bad to sit because I was in the front row. Felt shower of shame when I went in after class to retrieve my mat, but why should anyone else care? Then I came home and read your blog. Made me feel more enthusiastic about time #4 and ongoing.

  7. Sara Gagnon says:

    Hello,
    I have a background in both anusara and iyengar yoga, and I started doing bikram recently. I absolutely love how bikram makes me feel! I feel so energized yet peacefully exhausted after a class, not to mention purified. But I’ve been grateful during my bikram classes that I have a background in yoga already because the teachers seem to give the message, “Go! Go! Go! Pain makes you stronger!” I think that if I didn’t have a solid idea of how to do go into these poses and not to injure myself, bikram yoga might be slightly dangerous. I’m glad to see that perhaps this is only the experience in the U.S.
    Sara

  8. Jenn says:

    Good post. I wanted to share my experience with showering after class for anyone interested. Sweating releases toxins in our body. Until we rinse off the sweat the toxins rest on our skin. So, I always take a cold shower to remove the toxins and increase blood circulation. It is something I’ve been doing as a regular sauna user, years before my first Bikram class. I love Bikram, and I want to try a 30 day challenge. Thank you!

  9. Catherine says:

    Hi! Thanks for your info! I have been doing Bikram yoga for the past 3 weeks almost daily. I LOVE it! My experience is of instructors who are watching every one of us very closely and correcting us on the spot if something is not correct with posture. Usually I wouldn’t want to be corrected in public like that (most people wouldn’t), but during a class it is happening to everyone and since I am a beginner it is at least once during every asana (or so it seems!!).

    My first couple of classes I kind of hid in the back, but my 3rd class the instructor moved me to the front during the middle of the class because she said she would be able to see me better, I would see myself in the mirror better, and since then I try to get in early to be in the front because she was 100% right. Also if they seem multiple people doing a pose wrong they will stop everything and demonstrate it.

    They encourage us to sit down if we feel unwell and leave the room if we have to.

    Also, and I think this is a really huge thing you brought up: TRY not to drink water during the class as much as possible. Obviously if you are going to pass out you should take a break and drink a bit, but for me if I drink too much I just get nauseated, especially during the camel pose. Something about that pose…and the next one is rabbit pose and suddenly my nausea leaves me. Yesterday I had to sit out the second set of the camel pose but was easily able to complete the rest of the class once I got into rabbit pose. I notice this is much worse if I drink too much. It’s hard to say no when you want water, but seriously, a little thirst is better than feeling like you are going to hurl.

    I also take my time with poses and try to get the posture correct. They tell us to do this and not even complete the entire pose if, for example, we are struggling to lock our knee(s) or get good balance. Get the first part of the posture right before moving into the next.

    Again, thanks for this post!! :-)

  10. To maximize the detox benefits, you should indeed sweat it out. Drinking a lot of water before the class is a tip. Stopping to take a drink of water while in class can serve to get them out of focus and distract the other students.

    It’s a good idea to dry of naturally before taking a shower. That will also serve the purpose of not leaving the class right away after. The feeling that I have after a yoga session makes me feel hesitant to leave right away. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Cristina says:

    I haven’t even finished and already I found myself nodding and agreeing with you. Thank you for sharing your insights. I might comment again after I finish.

  12. Cristina says:

    I want to print your entry and share it with my teachers because I sometimes feel discouraged because of the ‘go go go’ mantra and after the session I feel more stressed out than relaxed, which is sad because I really like the activity itself, the inexperience of teachers just sometimes sacrifices the quality of the experience for me. I will listen to what you said and just tune them out! Thank you again.

  13. Eliza says:

    I really enjoyed this post, and I totally agree with everything but especially the wiping off of sweat. My teacher in class once mentioned during a savasana that wiping off during class a good thing to avoid and ever since then I have had more enjoyable practice – first because the sweat actually does its job of cooling me off, but also because I don’t get distracted as much by “oh, as soon as this posture is over I can wipe it off!”. Its so much easier to just let it go and sweat it out :-).

    I did a 31 day challenge in August last year and it was the most rewarding thing I have done. My postures improved dramatically, I lost around 5kg – even though I was eating more to compensate for the energy Bikram takes out of me, I slept better than I have in a long time, and there’s nothing quite like meditating for 90 minutes a day to really boost your mood. I would absolutely recommend the 30 day challenge. And you don’t have to be an uber yogi to do it – I had only done about a dozen Bikram classes before I jumped in and I rarely do any other kind of exercise.

    Julia – your teacher shouldn’t have let you in the front row in your third class, and its best not to leave the room. A girl at my studio left the room during class and was found passed out in the bathroom. Not because of the postures or anything, but because walking from the hot room into a cold room mid-class is a brutal shock to the system. If you’re feeling dizzy, lay down. Even if you have to lay down for the whole 90 minutes its better than running out of the class. Anyway that was a year ago now so I hope you’ve worked it out :-)

    There is a new Bikram studio opening up near me in Sydney’s Inner West – bikramyogainnerwest.com.au/ it has been long awaited! Can’t wait to get back into my practice.

    Thanks again! Namaste

  14. Jane says:

    I started bikram yoga in Rotterdam a month ago and am now a totally addict. I have to say that my teachers are really fantastic and from day one they were encouraging and informative but for sure not pushy in anyway. We are told not to drink anything during the lesson in fact bottles of water are not brought into the studio and this is really the best way to go. You should also not leave the room incase you become unwell and in one lesson someone became faint so the teacher sat next to her for the duration of the lesson to check that she was OK. The best thing is to sit if you feel it’s getting too much and join in again when you can. I sat twice in the first lesson once in the second and from the third lesson I didn’t need to sit out again. I feel like it’s something life changing and I can’t wait to get more practice in, I really look forward to my next lesson and I can say that I never felt this way about any other sport or excercise I have ever participated in.

    I’ll be sure to take on board all the good advice above, Groetjes uit Nederland

  15. Daniil says:

    Loved the article. I did my second class only today, but I feel like the challenge I feel during the class and the satisfactory exhaustion and incredible boost of mood afterwards is making me feel so much better about myself. I feel less judging of myself on that day and truly proud of my body and mind to overcome the toughness. It’s amazing how a physical activity can also have such a great effect on your mind too. My studio is in Toronto and I heard great things about the teacher, so I have trust in what she is doing.

    Your advice are all great! I knew about lots of water before class (and perhaps should try having even more), but not drinking during a class was a good one. I had less water today and felt less puky than first class. Also staying longer after class and letting sweat dry off before showering sounds good, I feel pretty weak right after class as it is.

    Do you have any thought on after class drink? I heard that coconut water is supposed to be good. Are there any other good replenishing choices?

    Thanks again for amazing insight and I am looking forward to more and more classes to come in near future.

    Namaste everyone!

  16. Victoria says:

    Hey Stas,

    I couldn’t agree with your article more ! I discovered Bikram about a year ago but never got around to actually trying it out until the beginning of this January. I went once then went away on a trip upstate but when I came back I joined the 30 Day Challenge at my local Bikram studio and have been everyday since. I can’t tell whether I’m lucky to have my instructor’s or you got unlucky with your instructors. The studio that I go to has about 5 instructors and are always encouraging us to listen to our body and only work as hard as we can. The only thing they don’t really encourage is leaving the room. In the beginning I found it annoying when the teachers were constantly saying “Victoria hips forward more, tuck the head, concentrate in the mirror, don’t stress the neck, etc.” but then I realized how helpful it has been to my posture. At my studio they are always instructing you on how to do the posture correctly and I’m thankful of that after hearing that your teachers don’t push on showing you the correct posture. Oh and the sweat thing is completely right, I rarely use my hand towel and I’ve been much cooler!

    Thanks !
    Victoria

  17. Kathleen says:

    Thanks for talking about sweat. Learn to allow it to do it’s job in the studio. I do not shower right after class. I return form class then change and rather than shower I use a dry skin brush.. Not sure if this is good or bad. I’ve come back from a year off the practice, and you are so right, in the room do YOUR practice. Allow your breath to deepen your posture, don’t muscle through.

  18. Beatriz Padron says:

    I truly enjoyed what you wrote. It is very true and makes total sense. I have been practicing for over a 1.5 yrs and I have been doing exactly what you said. I couldn’t agree more with staying in the room for a while after class. I always relax and I even have dreams! It’s wonderful. Never understood why all the women in my class run to the showers as soon as the class is over.

    Namaste!

  19. Jordana says:

    Thank you for your article. I just got back from my 4th Bikram Yoga class and had wanted to find out a little more information about it. I am doing classes in Europe in the Netherlands and I find the teachers here encourage you to listen to your body and give many variations and encourage you to get the technique correct before progressing while still encouraging you to push yourself. The nice thing my teachers told me on my first class was that my goal was merely to stay in the room for the entire class and to take rests whenever I need to. They like you encourage you to drink plenty of water before and after the class but not during unless you really need it and then you should only sip.

    Luckily I love the heat and seem able to stay in the room so far but I do often have to take rests. A tip that my teacher told me which I would like to share is not to lie down during the standing postures but to sit down if you need to rest keeping your head high. However during the second postures you can rest lying down with palm facing up.

    I also like to remain in the class for some time after the class the teacher says that this part is just as important as the postures and it is currently my favourite part (I like that they open the windows and turn the lights off so I can slowly cool down) :)

    I hope that my postures will improve but am encouraged by your article that it is a continual process and one where you are continually learning.

    Namaste

  20. misty says:

    Now where did u learn about the juice (ojas) technically that’s rasa, lol ,but I’m the one (teacher)
    you haven’t run into, yet! Cheers Wonderful insights. Great fundamentals to share

  21. Laura Bailey says:

    Stas,

    I’m so glad I read your article tonight. I’ve been making stabs at Bikram here and there and have just recommitted and am on day 2 of a 30 day challenge. Today I had a less experienced teacher and I noticed the pushiness. Typically when I start back to Bikram, I can only do a few postures and then have to sit out the rest of the class. I am 250 pounds and the heat makes me nauseous and weak. But after a week of classes, I can usually at least attempt each posture and I see improvement. Experienced teachers appreciate the fact that you have simply shown up to class. Some people like me have to build up to all aspects of Bikram, including the heat and simply moving. If Bikram wants to remain friendly to beginners, they need to make sure their instructors let new students “listen to their bodies”- but if nothing else, your article will help beginners. I do take one exception to your suggestion that you should leave the class if you need to – a lot of studios do not have staff outside of the class and people can pass out when left on their own in a lobby. Although today the inexperienced teacher not only told us we couldn’t leave, she told us not to lie down but rather to sit if we had to stop doing poses. I thought that was wrong. Lay down if you have to for goodness sake.

  22. Jim says:

    Those are some really great tips, especially those referring to listening to your body. I have had teachers who get a bit of a buzz from pushing students to points that are not really serving them. If students were encouraged to listen to their bodies most of all, while still maintaining the Bikram principles of discipline, mindfulness and correct form, then that would make it just about perfect. Thanks for your valuable insights.

  23. Thanks so much for this article. I just started Bikram and challenged myself to a 40 day challenge right from the start — I know it sounds crazy, but I am ready for some serious healing and transformation and I figured this was extreme enough to do it on the deepest levels.

    My 1st day was not great, but considering not horrible. 2nd day was a lot better. 3rd day was horrible… felt like Day 1 but a tiny bit better… but just felt off and not handling it well… dizzy mostly and tired. I left so discouraged, but also felt I hit a deeper level of something healing within me.

    Went home, showered, ate 2 apples, drank some water and spent the rest of the day in bed just sleeping or relaxing doing nothing… I am worried about going back for day 4 after today so I was searching for experiences online and found your post… still not looking forward to going back, but will.

    thanks for your help.

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