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.
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.
“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.”
- I was able to do more of the instructions the teacher was giving.
- I enjoyed class more.
- It felt like that 90 minutes without my thoughts had been like a hard reset on the mother board of my brain.
- I saw real results in muscle tone in my stomach, arms, and thighs.
- I became more conscious of my posture throughout the day.
- I feel more balanced physically.
For more about Bikram yoga in The Netherlands, click here.