Private Bikram Coaching Sessions

Private Bikram Lessons

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Have you ever asked yourself these questions during a Bikram class?

  • What did the teacher mean with that instruction?
  • How on earth do you manage more than one class per week?
  • What adaptations should I do for an old injury?
  • Why does it feel like I am sometimes making an old injury flare up?
  • How will I ever do the camel pose without feeling like my last meal is coming up?
  • Why are my ankles weaker than everyone else’s?
  • How on God’s green earth do these people get so flexible? Do I have a shot in hell in getting that way?
  • Why can’t we talk or fidget during class?
  • Why do I have to keep my elbows locked & triceps flexed so much?
  • How can I possibly relax my shoulders & steady my breathing during a pose?
  • What should it feel like when you are doing a certain pose correctly?
  • Why does Bikram teach some of the poses differently than other types of yoga?

 

Check Your Brain at the Door

I think the first thing I learned was to check my brain at the door. After one class, I had so many insights and ideas that I was bursting to share several with the owner of the studio. I just could not get the ideas out of my mind so I emailed her about them. That is what led to my taking four private coaching sessions.

At our first meeting, she laughed and said her brother had a similar experience of getting lots of inspiration during Bikram classes. But that was not the goal of class. Bikram yoga is an active meditation. The goal of class is to not use your mind during class. Leave your mind at the door. Like a puppet, use the words of the teacher to guide your body. Nothing else. No internal dialogue.

When your body or your mind is revolting, use the teacher’s voice to block out all the internal noise. Her voice is this thread I grab onto to pull me through. In a world where we are constantly looking at a screen or listening to something through ear buds, it is a very foreign concept. Think of it as SatNav yoga.

 

How it Worked

 

Intake – Mama’s Back

We started by my explaining my current and past injuries or relevant health issues. I have had a weak back that began in university after years of high impact sports. Yoga is the only thing that really worked to take away the pain in my lower back, hip and leg pain. And then, after two child births, my core was just shot. I of course wanted to lose some weight, but mostly I wanted to be able to keep up with my kids. I hated telling them that I couldn’t lift them or run with them because “Mama’s back hurt today”.

But Bikram seemed to trigger a shoulder injury I had from softball. So my back felt better than ever, but my right shoulder pain was worse than ever. Everything is connected. So it turns out that I was overusing my shoulder to compensate for my back. It wasn’t Bikram. She watched me do a few poses, suggested some changes, and the pain started to subside as the weeks went by. This was an issue I had even been to a physical therapist for months to help with. Five minutes of instruction and in a matter of weeks, the pain was gone.

I also had the goal of attending Bikram yoga three times per week. For more on that, read this.

 

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Slinky Lessons

Once a month, I would meet with the studio owner after class. I had emailed her about five poses with my questions or difficulties. And, gradually, I got answers to all the questions above and many more.

In the coaching session, we would first talk through a pose and my questions. She would say,

“If your spine were a Slinky, what should it be doing during this pose? Why?”

Umm. What? I had never thought of yoga like this. You usually hear yoga teachers say, “Breathe into the pose. Feel the energy of your life force. Observe how your body is feeling.” And other some such vaguery.

“When you hear this instruction, show me what you do.”

She’d watch me do the pose and take a picture of me in the pose. That was quite intimidating for me. But she seemed to consciously and effortlessly give feedback in a non-judgmental way.

She’d usually tell me a funny anecdote about her learning the pose or what she sees as a teacher. This was key for me for remembering what to do in class. She’d also do the pose herself, talk me through the mental prompts she gives herself, and show me the right and wrong ways to do a pose.

 

Practice in a Plastic Bag

She would draw stick people to demonstrate the mechanics of what my body should do in a pose and write key words. I kept these notes in a plastic envelope in my yoga bag and looked at them before each class.

Example

“If your lower back hurts or you feel yourself collapsing into your lower back, lift everything above your lower back.”

Prior to each class, in the yoga studio I would try to stand on my mat with my body in perfect alignment, pelvis tucked in, shoulders relaxed and arms straight over my head with elbows locked next to my ears. I would look in the side mirror at how that looked and focus on how my body felt in this position. Then I would take deep breaths and try to raise my ribs higher as if I were a Slinky trying to stretch myself vertically. It is essentially a spine stretching and strengthening exercise. During class, I then try to do this before each pose. It feels like it makes more space or lightens up the load on my lower back. In turn, that gives me more comfort in each pose and I can go deeper into a pose or hold it longer.

Instead of thinking during a pose, “Oh shit! I am stuck! This hurts my lower back.” Or, “Oh, my hamstrings!”

I began thinking, “Suck in my gut. Flex my quads. Flex my triceps.”

Results

  1. I was able to do more of the instructions the teacher was giving.
  2. I enjoyed class more.
  3. It felt like that 90 minutes without my thoughts had been like a hard reset on the mother board of my brain.
  4. I saw real results in muscle tone in my stomach, arms, and thighs.
  5. I became more conscious of my posture throughout the day.
  6.  I feel more balanced physically.

For more about Bikram yoga in The Netherlands, click here.

2016 Resolution in Review: Bikram 3 Days per Week

So it has been a year since my 2016 resolution to go to Bikram yoga three times per week.

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Image credit: Pixabay

Last January, I had the clarity and relief that comes with complete failure – rung out like a wet dish rag after failing at something I poured every last drop of myself into.

Instead of rushing into the next thing, though, I carved out a few months to recover and think. For the first time in my life, I really tried to answer the question,

“What do I want to do?”

I was 36 years old.

I had been asked the question countless times, but had answered, instead, the question,

“What do you think I should do?”

Or

“What are people telling me to do?”

And I take complete responsibility for that mistake. It took me some time to have any answer at all. Frankly, I still don’t have a big, magical quest-like answer. The first thought that rose to mind was,

“I want to do Bikram yoga 3 days per week.”

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Image credit: Pixabay

Once I stopped questioning it and got my butt to class, I started to realize why. Now, nearly a year after hearing my Self answer, I know the reasons why.

  1. Power Posing
  2. You are who you surround yourself with.
  3. It is physical, spiritual, hormonal, mental and weight loss therapy all in one.
  4. I am a mother.
  5. No more hiding.
  6. It is a lifestyle.

 

Power Posing

“What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 

 

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Image credit: Harvard Business School

 

Amy Cuddy

Have you seen Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk? Click here to watch it. What struck me most about this talk was (3:30):

“There is another audience that is influenced by our nonverbals. And that is ourselves. Our thoughts and our feelings and our physiology [are influenced by our nonverbal communication].”

Whoa. What?!

Later (7:24), Cuddy says,

“Do our nonverbals govern how we think and act about ourselves?”

“We know that our minds change our bodies, but is it also true that our bodies change our minds?”

Cuddy then goes onto describe a study she did that tested how people perceive themselves when asked to pose in dominant or submissive positions. In a nutshell, her study found that power posing in private for two minutes significantly increased testosterone (dominance) levels and decreased cortisol (stress) levels. Just posing one’s body for a matter of minutes changes their biochemistry.

 

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Image credit: Morethananexpat.com adapted from Pixabay.com

 

The concept of power poses made me think of yoga poses – specifically poses known for opening up the chest and shoulders. Could it counteract the passive body language of folding in on oneself with slumped shoulders and wrapped arms? And I wondered how this related to the ancient idea of chakras – in particular, the third, fourth and fifth –  the throat, heart, and solar plexus, respectively. You can learn more about them here. Maybe Cuddy’s study was (indirectly) proving the science behind chakras and yoga poses.

 

Cuddy does indeed dig into the yoga connection in her book, “Presence”, and it is from the eyes of a long time skeptic of yoga so it makes for an interesting read.

But, getting back to Bikram yoga. I realized that the Bikram sequence of 26 poses includes many that open the heart, chest and shoulders – the Bow, Standing Bow, Camel, Cobra, Half Moon, Awkward, Full Locust, Fixed Firm. Could Bikram improve my posture – not just my chest and shoulders, but overall? Could that make me appear more dominant and confident? And, finally, could that make me internalize a belief of dominance and more self-confidence?

Simply put, yes. It is not a 100%, overnight change, but I would say at least a 10% increase. This based purely on the science of my gut feeling. So it is the most successful thing to date for me.

 

You are who you surround yourself with.

Business tycoon Jim Rohe said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Who you surround yourself with matters. Literally.

Have you been to a Bikram yoga class? If not, check out the video here from the studio I attend. This is what a typical class looks like. Don’t you want to look like these people; be these people? Yes, it is intimidating as hell at first to be surrounded by so many svelte people, but, stick with it. It is very motivating.

You will notice people of all ages in the class. And they all looked so balanced physically. There are no men with huge pecs and bird legs. The women do not look like body builders.

 

It is physical, spiritual, hormonal, mental and weight loss therapy all in one.

Maria McBride did a great job of explaining this on her blog RatherbeSweating.com.

Excuse #1 for not going to Bikram: 90 minutes + shower = too much time. I am too busy. It was a major mind shift when I realized that Bikram yoga could be my workout, physical therapy, weight loss coach, psychiatrist, hormone balancer, and meditation all in one.

No, I am not kidding. Bikram is just as mental as it is physical. It exercises your organs & glands as much as your muscles. Over the years, I have experienced it working its way through my body’s history of injuries – from my high school sprained ankles from basketball to my two pregnancies to yesterday’s work day spent hunched over a computer.

From this perspective, two hours total and 15 euros per class is a bargain.

 

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Image credit: Pexels.com

 

I am a mother.

Motherhood is life’s greatest reward and greatest responsibility. It is partly my personality and partly the ages of my children – 2 and 5. As primary caregiver, I am thinking about their needs more than they are. I am the first person they reach for when they are delighted, injured, scared or tired. It is my lap they want to crawl into. I get to smell the crowns of their heads as they rest their ear against my chest and calm to the sound of my heartbeat. That much attention is a wonderful, exhausting gift.

All humans have a finite amount of daily energy. Sleep, diet, exercise, and stress add or subtract from that holy abacus. For me, touch is also a factor. As a mother, there is this ethereal balance of physical contact with my girls. Some evenings, I just cannot stand to have one of them crawl into my lap during dinner time. Other mornings, I crave pulling my daughter into my lap for a wake up cuddle.

For me, exercise is also tactile.

Bikram yoga gives me the quiet and lack of stimulus I crave. No one needing my help or my attention. My needs are first.

No loud dance music fueled Zumba or equipment dense skiing for me. No treadmill, no shoes even. I used to do that. Nowadays, I need to get out of my brain and into my body. I need to feel my bare feet touching the ground. I need one point of focus. And Bikram yoga gives me one external voice to focus on while the heat burns my ego away. By ego I mean my monkey brain that can run wild chasing after the latest stimulus or repeating a single thought over and over much like my five-year old.

I am a mother. Which means that I housed and birthed two baby humans. One’s body does not go back to whence it came without some hard work. When I realized that most of the women in my class had multiple children and could easily rock a bikini, I knew I had come to the right place.

 

No more hiding.

The Bikram studio has floor to ceiling mirrors on two sides. I put my mat in the back corner so that I couldn’t see myself in the mirror. I liked crowded classes for this reason. I looked at the heating pipes running along the ceiling so I would not have to see myself in the mirror. I hated it when the teacher said my name. I just wanted to be ignored and ignore my reflection until I got good enough, skinny enough….until I was enough. One day, I caught my own reflection in the mirror and thought, “There you are.” No cringe. No smile. No judgement.

I later asked the teacher how many classes I had taken. More than 100.

I only now realize that I could not begin to answer the question, “What do I want to do?” until I started from a place of feeling “Enough”.

It began to take shape tangibly on my yoga mat. It began when I could greet my own gaze in the mirror. It continued when I saw myself in a tank top and yoga capris and thought, “Not bad!” And then later thinking, “Is that muscular arm mine?”

Just that one thing- holding my own gaze in the mirror- was the real beginning. There is something very powerful about sharing your own eye gaze without any other distractions. It is an active meditation. If you suffer from perfectionism as I do, it is a break from the critic. A break from the criticism I yield on myself and others. And then that mental pattern starts to change. The criticism is 10% less. I can see him as an amusing little toddler having a tantrum or a yapping frightened little dog. And, outside of class, he shuts up sometimes. Not often, 10% less. But I notice it.

My mat is still in the back of the class, but I position myself so I can see myself in the mirror.

 

It is a lifestyle.

I am no yogi. I burn no incense.

But getting to a 90-minute class three days per week takes some planning. Feeling well during that 90-minute class also takes some planning. No big breakfasts. No overdoing it on drinks or dinner the night before. Getting my sweaty towel and clothes cleaned changed my laundry routine. It changed what I bought at the grocery store. It changed when I planned meetings and social events.

I don’t say this as a deterrent. People center their lives around all sorts of things.

I say this because people will naturally wonder if they will get in great shape by going to Bikram yoga classes. Yes…And. I think the changes I made to my life outside of class that enable me to get to class are a huge factor in my weight loss and health improvements. It is a package deal. It is a lifestyle.

I mention 10% a lot in this blog. If that does not seem like much. Read this book.

In full disclosure, in 2016, I did not manage to get to class 3 days per week. I averaged closer to 2 or 2.5 times. That is still more than twice the amount I attended class in 2015. The physical, spiritual and mental results were still great. 2017 – same goal. So far, so good.