Bikram Update

I’ve been attending relatively regular Bikram yoga classes since late May, and it occurred to me yesterday that the time might have come to take stock of my practice and reflect on how it’s going.

I took extremely well to Bikram right off the bat; the intensity of the heat and humidity took some getting used to, but the poses were largely familiar from past yoga experiences, and, with a few exceptions, my body likes them. I had a fair bit of soreness for the first couple of weeks, mostly in small connective tissues that hadn’t really been worked to that extent before. Like the muscles that hold your rib cage together; most of my back was fine, but those tiny little muscles between my ribs ached like mad.

That soreness has since faded, as has the tendency to feel completely dopey and out of gas after class. I’m still going to late-afternoon classes, mostly because that’s best for my summer work schedule, but I’m optimistic about my ability to attend morning classes in the fall and still manage to be functional during the day.

I realized yesterday that I’m learning something new — something small, but clear — at almost every class of late, that there’s some moment at which I make a tiny adjustment and the lightbulb goes off over my head: “oh, that’s what he’s talking about!” Yesterday it was, in a couple of the back-bending postures, that I wasn’t really letting my head fall back as far as I could. I thought I was; I thought that’s all the backward bend my neck had. But, in fact, I was protecting something, keeping myself from letting go. Yesterday, for the first time, I really relaxed, and really let my head fall back, and it completely changed the feeling of the poses.

There’s a lot of physical stuff left for me to work on yet — my hips, for instance, have always been a problem; they simply will not open. But there’s also a lot of non-physical stuff that it would be good for me to focus on — how much of my ego, for starters, is bound up in the idea of being good at this; how much of my mind is focused on invidious comparisons with the other students in the room. Physically, the bikram is doing very good things for me (honestly, between the yoga and the weightlifting I’ve been doing, I think I’m in the best shape of my life), but I could stand to let it do a bit more psychic work for me, I think, letting go of some of the thought patterns that protect me, too.


  1. My core concern with Bikram (other than the fact that Bikram himself is trying to claim copyright in the sequence of poses in order to keep others from teaching that sequence) is that you do a set sequence of poses (right?). In Iyengar styles of asana practice, you switch things up quite a bit… and, in fact, you’re encouraged to do poses that you don’t like (which helps you get deeper into all sorts of poses).

  2. Yeah, actually, if I have any complaints about Bikram, that’s it: it is a set sequence of 26 postures, and there are so many other poses that I remember from my Iyengar classes that I’d like to spend some time with. Like inversions! I miss inversions! What I’m imagining is that at some point I’ll start interspersing some other classes in amongst the Bikram, to get a bit more variety.

    There are other issues with Bikram, as you note, most of which have to do with his… well, I’ll just say his pronounced desire to control the distribution of “his” style of yoga. What irks me more than his attempts to claim copyright over the particular sequence — annoying enough — is his reported attempts to prevent Bikram studios from teaching other methods as well. I want to keep doing Bikram, but I’d like to get some Iyengar (or even Ashtanga!) in there, too, and it bugs me that I’d have to go to multiple studios to do so.

  3. I’m glad you’re still doing Bikram! In time the mental effects will become more obvious to your awareness — though I’m sure the yoga is having effects at that level already. For myself, the discipline of the set sequence has had tremendous mental value because it lets me detach from the grasping attitude that would sometimes come up for me in other yoga classes (“let me see if I can do this new weird/difficult posture”). Like the t’ai chi sequence of forms, the sequence is part of the meditation.

  4. The Mehta’s have a great (cheap) book on Iyengar style that is worth the purchase if only for the sequences listed in the back (that you’re supposed to go through over a three-year time period). Their sequences are based on doing four sessions per week: Standing poses, Sitting poses, Miscellaneous poses and Relaxation poses. The last two are a mixture of backbends and restoritive poses. Anyway, yoga is a journey that never ends…

  5. The Bikram sounds challenging! I’ve been enjoying reading your accounts of it. Like Joe, I practice Iyengar yoga, which emphasizes precision, varied and creative sequencing, and duration (poses are held for relatively extended periods of time). The attention to detail sparks lots of those eureka moments you mention, KF: tucking the tailbone under, for example, gives you greater control in coming out of a headstand; transfering weight from the palms to the fingers gives the forearms a lift in downward facing dog; pressing the inner feet down firmly lets the thighs take on more of the work in bridge pose–that sort of thing. I absolutely love it. I’d be really interested in trying out other styles for comparative purposes. Bikram sounds exhilirating.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.