Wednesday, September 30, 2009

bikram yoga: good or bad?

bikram yoga: good or bad?
Anastasia has found my latest favorite topic. I've been thinking about Bikram a lot lately because there is a new studio in my neighborhood. Also, my girlfriend tried the 30-day challenge during her 40th birthday month. She called me three or four times during the month to complain about the cultic attidude teachers had regarding the "Master."

"Why wouldn't she let me modify the pose?" she asked. "Why did she have to embarrass me in front of the whole class?"

My friend was so upset that she almost stayed after class to talk with the teacher.

My response was, "Why bother? She won't get it."

This is my biggest beef with Bikram: it is done the same way all the time for every person with no props, excuses, or permission to leave the room. Therefore, the practice is not present. When they yell contradictory things like, "Look at yourself in the mirror and meditate," I think, "I'm PMSing, and I'm half naked. I don't want to look at myself in the mirror." Hardly a meditational way to honor the present.

Unfortunately, Bikram is a trademarked set of poses that are cued the same way all the time as in, "Let your hip open like a flower opening." No teacher sounds natural saying stupid stuff like that, particularly at their rapid fire cueing pase.

I love the heat, but I disagree with the order of moves and the severity of the angles. From the beginning, practitioners do this horrible breathing exercise that throws the head back in a whiplash position. It hurts, but instructors encourage you to keep going. Some even block the doors to keep you from leaving. In the standing side and back bends, you are encouraged to "look back, way back. Go beyond your flexibility." In baby cobra, the chin lifts to such an an angle that people's eyes bulge from their heads.

The last class I took was truly the last Bikram class I'll take. The teacher asked that I keep pulling my leg over my head in shiva. "See your foot in the mirror above your head." I did the first time, but during the repeat, I felt overstreched. I held back. The teacher wouldn't leave me alone because my listening to my body represented laziness instead of mindfulness. I tried to send her a message by staying in the lesser version; she kept yelling at me in the microphone. How dare she push someone she doesn't know and make it seem like she knows better. Yoga is meant to cultivate autonomy not slavish following to the Master.

Finally, if you want to kick my butt, add more warriors. In the Bikram series, there are only a few sets. In my mind, this is a missed opportunity for safely challening balance. Instead, teachers use toe stands and uttitha hasta padangusthasana for balance. These poses are among the opening moves.

Halfway into my last class, I thought, "This is stupid." I rolled up my drenched mat and left. I told the receptionist I had the runs because no one ever messes with that.


  1. again, you are hilarious. my exp with bikram teachers wasn't as intense. no 'master' nonsense. only the same words from 7 different teachers.

  2. I tried an intro to Bikram Yoga. I liked the idea of the heat because it seemed to me that that was the kind of weather that yoga was probably meant for.

    Unfortunately, the sign that said the studio was closed the next day in honor of Bikram's guru's birthday was a bit cultic for me. Also, being a middle-aged guy in a room full of female dancers meant that there was a bit of a flexibility gap :-) ...

  3. Oh, I had no idea they closed the studio on the guru's birthday. Hilarious. Thank you for that comment.