After 162,000 seconds…2,700 minutes…45 hours…30 classes… in 30 days… of Bikram Yoga… suffice to say, many lessons have been learned. Cheers to 30 lessons learned after completing the 30 day Bikram Yoga Challenge! 🙂
1. Make sure you eat before a Bikram Yoga class. Though it is recommended to eat 2 hours before going to class to avoid upsetting your stomach, it is better to eat something rather than nothing, even if it is 20 minutes before your practice. Maybe try a blueberry Nutrigrain bar with VitaCocco coconut water. This did the job for me!
2. Bikram Yoga practice helps you perform better in other sports. I played badminton and football a few times during the 30 day Bikram Yoga Challenge, and I feel I gained a reduced reaction time during each match. Also, the Standing Head to Knee pose is particularly good for short and middle-distance runners, as it makes your calf and hamstring muscles leaner – particularly good for female runners who become shy of wearing short skirts because of their bulky legs!
3. Exhale longer than when you inhale to reduce your heart rate. There’s nothing worse than your heart racing out of control whilst trying to cool down and re-energise during your savasana in between each posture. The inhale of your breath will increase your heart rate, whilst the exhale will reduce your heart rate. Inhaling too strongly can therefore make you feel more out of breath and panicky whilst practising yoga; and a long exhale can really help to calm you down and feel in greater control during your practice.
4. Make sure you use the toilet before your practise. If you need to go more than once, so be it. Even a trickle will make you feel better, and will prevent you from torturing yourself psychologically whilst practising as it is highly frowned upon to leave the room whilst the session has started. A useful tip: apply both hands on your lower abdomen whilst using the toilet to get rid of any remaining urine… This may sound like an odd tip, but it has really helped me!
5. Don’t fret about the Bikram Yoga instructors. Different teachers have different strengths, different teaching styles and different levels of knowledge. Some will push you more; others, less. Some will highlight the benefits of each posture in more detail, others will say nothing. Some will show you the correct alignment of different postures, others will leave you to figure it out yourself. All is fine. You will learn something different from everyone, and learning to focus purely on your own practise, rather than the input of the teacher, will make your session all the more enjoyable.
6. Match your body to the words of the Dialogue. Your Bikram Yoga practise is as much about the physical asanas and the breathing force, the pranayama, as it is about listening and achieving unity with your fellow practitioners. Don’t skip ahead – just listen to the instructions of the teacher, and match your body to their words.
7. Some people are just inconsiderate – try not to be one of them. The truth is: sweat is gross. Bikram Yoga is all about sweating, and though it’s good for us, the last thing we want is to drip our sweat on others or for our own sweat to reek of fish… What we eat and drink before our practise will significantly impact the smell of our own sweat. Vegetables, fruit, grains – a well-balanced diet – alongside plenty of hydration will go along way to start the detoxification period in favour of odourless sweat. This will impact your fellow practitioners less.
8. Hip alignment means to keep your hips parallel to the mirror. It took me forever to understand this. When an instructor says ‘lift your left hip’ or ‘bring two hips in one line’, take a look at your body in the mirror and make sure your hips are parallel to the mirror. Simple as that!
9. Form and breathing over depth. If you find yourself holding your breath during any of the postures, it means you’re pushing too hard. Even if your body is flexible enough to go deeper into the posture, it is more important to breath consistently in order for your body to achieve the maximum amount of benefit. This ensure you constantly have freshly oxygenated blood flowing through your body, particularly before and after each of the compression poses.
10. Take a cold shower after your practise. Cold showers are actually good for you! After your body warms up during your Bikram Yoga practise, the sharp contrast of cold on your skin shocks the body, and will naturally push blood closer to your flesh to warm your extremities. This explains the ‘goosepimple effect’, and is actually meant to be quite good at firming up the skin, reducing cellulite and alleviating the signs of ageing. Cold water exposure is also good when using soap products, as you close your pores. This prevents some of the toxins in our products from entering your body.
11. Don’t push too much if you’re doing ‘double classes’. I made the mistake of pushing more during my first double, as I found my body was more supple and flexible during the second class. Though this was motivating during the session, the following day, I felt particularly tight and sore and felt as though I had lost some of the flexibility I had gained over the course of my challenge.
12. Drink coconut water for extra hydration. If you need a ‘quick fix’, get a hold of coconut water. In all fairness, the first time I drank it, I didn’t particularly like the taste at all. Three attempts later, I loved it! Coconut water certainly helped me get through the three doubles I needed to do during the last week of my challenge.
13. Make sure you allow for at least a 15 minute Savasana before class. This really helps you to acclimatise to the heat before you begin your practise, and enables you to gain control over your breathe before you start the standing series. Rushing to get to class and to change into your kit in time for the first breathing exercise can certainly take away from the ‘peace’ that Bikram Yoga practise can offer and can overwhelm you.
14. If your schedule can allow you, try and avoid the ‘after-work classes’. Whilst working, I had no choice but to attend the 6pm and 8pm classes at SoHotBikramYoga on Great Portland Street. Though I got used to this, I realised daytime classes had no more than 20 practitioners at one time (as opposed to 62 during one 8pm session) which really helps you to focus on yourself and your practise without the distractions of what takes place around you. This is especially important for first-timers and beginners. First impressions count – the last thing you want to do is hate Bikram Yoga simply because the studio is so packed. Bikram’s amazing – begin your journey loving it.
15. Ladies, wear your hair loosely! Particularly for the Rabbit Pose, it’s impossible to get into the full posture when your hair is in the way. Starting your practise with your hair loosely prevents you from needing to readjust your hair in the middle of class, which can be really distracting, not only for you, but for those practising around you. I’ve written an entry about loose hair buns for Bikram, check it out if you fancy!
16. Ease your way into the postures slowly. Particularly when you become more familiar with each posture, and you know what you need to do before you’ve been instructed to do so, it’s easy to get into the full form of the posture without allowing your body to slowly flow into it. Not only is this counter-intuitive because it unnecessarily increases your heart rate and can make some postures feel overwhelming, but it can also cause bruising, particularly if you’re engaging in daily practice. I managed to get a bruise on my hip after getting into the floor bow pose too quickly. I then no longer had a choice but to ease into the posture, as my right hip hurt too much from the contact of my full body weight with the floor. Go slowly!
17. The front row isn’t that bad, if you have a strong practise – go for it! Personally, I avoid the front row like the plague. I find I’m too close to myself; my body looks bigger; and I can see far too many of my own imperfections to be able to focus on developing my practise. However, particularly when in classes that are busy and full of beginners, and particularly when you’ve practised Bikram Yoga for a while and feel strong in your postures, it’s positive karma yoga to share with those around you. As Bikram Yoga is dialogue led, and the instructors don’t perform the postures themselves, first-timers rely on strong practitioners to learn more about Bikram Yoga. If you’re strong, get up there in the front. Others may have a lot to learn from you. 🙂
18. Make sure you stay in the room. It’s not prison…and yes, if you have an emergency, by all means go…but temptation is a vice, and in the old days, it was a positive indicator of self-discipline and self-control to avoid temptation. Use Bikram Yoga to practise and develop your own willpower – stay in the room. If you feel overwhelmed, sit through a posture, and keep your head above your heart. Once you feel in control again, get back into the postures. Not only will you feel good about yourself for not quitting, but you will also be demonstrating good ‘yoga etiquette’ to those practising around you. You will probably find that most people in the room wish they could leave during their practise. It’s challenging… but the last thing you want is a domino-effect of leavers. Your practise is about peace, development, self-control and self-awareness… just stay in the room.
19. If you’re lucky enough to live in a big city with loads of options, choose the right studio. So what is ‘the right studio’? Reasonably located near your work or your home… convenient class times… For me, SoHotBikramYoga has been the best in London. It is situated en route from work to home, 20 minutes tube ride from Holloway Road tube station. Their facilities are lovely and clean; lockers are available; they have marked spots for your yoga mats so you’ll always have a place to practise in the studio, and you’ll always be able to catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirrors whilst you practise the postures. The heat is evenly distributed. The floor is hygienic with an even, solid mat covering the studio. The receptionists are friendly, and they consistently give the correct information to first-timers so that everyone follows the same rules upon arrival and your practise doesn’t go into chaos. I had an unfortunate experience in the Queens Park studio….it was packed; people placed their mats at funny angles; there was no guarantee that you could see yourself in the mirror; it was hotter in one end of the studio than the other; and the floor was carpeted and wet from the previous session. Choose the right studio, and you’ll enjoy your practise more!
20. Feeling stressed, anxious, nervous about something? Do a double. I noticed that my brain actually stopped working when I did my doubles. All I could focus on was completing the postures. For some reason, I have always found it difficult to completely ‘switch off’ during my practise… I always go into my own mental self-talk mode, even when I’m pushing my hips further and further to the right in the Half Moon pose… or whether I’m balancing on one leg during the standing series. When doing doubles, my self-talk stopped… my desire to stay in the room at the end of class for my savasana was even stronger… and I felt as though my body became one with the floor after my double. You sleep deeper… and most certainly, relax. Try it.
21. Bikram Yoga gives you energy rather than depletes it. If you’re tired, go to Bikram. Don’t skip a class. Especially after a long day at work, I found it quite difficult to motivate myself to go to the 8pm class rather than lounging around at home in preparation for the next day. After class, I always found I had more energy than before class. Being tired isn’t an excuse to skip class – it’s a reason to go.
22. Stretch your eyes back during the back-bending poses. This stretches your optic nerve and helps to improve your vision. Literally, what this means is to look behind you at the back wall. This is relevant to the first pranayama breathing exercise, the fixed firm pose,and the half moon pose when leaning back.
23. Wear as little as possible, but try to avoid shorts. Girls tend to be complexic over their bodies, but it really does cool you down to wear as little as possible. However, my personal point of view on shorts is a practical one. When practising the standing series, particularly the Eagle pose and the Tree pose, I find my foot slips off of my leg when it has contact with my skin alone. When wearing three quarter leggings, my foot is able to grip onto the fabric and remain with the posture. Otherwise, my sweat makes me slip. If anyone has experience to the contrary, you are welcome to share!
24. When you feel weak, faint or dizzy, look to the floor for a few seconds. Try it. Keep your chin up, but bring your gaze to the floor. This helps you to refocus, and gain your balance. After a few seconds, look at yourself in the mirror again and focus on the next posture. It helps!
25. Breathe through your nose. It is only during the first pranayama breathing exercise that you exhale through your mouth… the rest of the series must involve breathing through your nose. This stabilises your breath and your heart rate, and avoids dryness in the back of your throat.
26. Practise daily… the more, the merrier, the easier. Even a week away from my practise makes the heat suddenly feel unbearable. When you practise daily, and have at least a 15 minute Savasana before the commencement of class, you genuinely start to feel ‘the cool’ of 40 degrees Celsius during your practise. It does get easier.
27. Bikram Yoga is cardiovascular – don’t be fooled into believing it’s not. I overheard a girl at a cafe in conversation. She said something along the lines of ‘Yoga’s great, but I need to work out in a gym… I need to sweat… I need to feel my heart race’. I was very tempted to turn around and add a word or two to shed light on her ignorance, but I refrained. The standing series is quite cardiovascular, particularly during the Standing Head to Knee pose and the Standing Bow pose. These standing postures last a minute each during the first set, and at times, you feel as though your heart is making an escape from your rib cage. If you want to sweat, and if you want to get your heart rate going, try Bikram Yoga.
28. True or false? Bikram Yoga is for women only. False. For regular Bikram Yoga practitioners, the answer is obvious. However, when trying to lure a few of my male friends into the studio with me, a common perception is that yoga is a feminine thing to do. In my practise, I’ve found the male-female ratio to be quite even! Many men do Bikram, including the athletic, quite muscle-y ones!
29. The half tortoise pose helps alleviate sinus problems and headaches. On a few of my Bikram sessions, I almost dissuaded myself from practising because I had a headache or because I felt as though I couldn’t breath through my nose. The half tortoise pose has helped me to overcome both of these obstacles.
And last but not least…
30. Don’t talk in the room – Bikram Yoga is a silent practise. This may be difficult for some, particularly when you introduce friends to Bikram Yoga… however, Bikram Yoga is a silent meditation for many practitioners, and it’s highly distracting when people whisper and engage in conversation in the room. Avoid the temptation to talk until in the changing rooms after. This will aid your own meditation and the meditation of others.
Happy practising! Namaste. 🙂
- Started the 30 Day Bikram Yoga Challenge! (thirdkulturekidparis.wordpress.com)
- Completed Day 3 of the 30 Day Bikram Yoga Challenge!!! (thirdkulturekidparis.wordpress.com)
- When needing the toilet holds you back from top Bikram Yoga performance (thirdkulturekidparis.wordpress.com)
- The ‘Walls’ of Bikram Yoga (thirdkulturekidparis.wordpress.com)