How to Improve at Bikram Yoga Poses
Students of Bikram hot yoga perform the same 26-posture series in every 90-minute class. According to Bikram theory, the repetition enables practitioners to focus on each pose in ever-finer detail and learn to pace themselves in the 105-degree heat. Despite its intensity, the standard Bikram series is considered beginner yoga. There also is a little-publicized advanced Bikram series available to certified Bikram instructors and, by invitation only, to students who achieve a degree of mastery over the beginning poses. Small changes to your Bikram practice can help you take it to the next level.
Increase the frequency of your practice. Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram yoga, advises students to attend at least 10 classes per month to achieve its baseline benefits. Yogis who continue to deepen their practice, however, usually attend far more frequently, never missing more than a day or two between classes. Frequent practice enables your body's fascia -- the tense membrane that surrounds your musculature -- to stretch slowly over time, deepening your flexibility.
Strive for endurance and intensity in the standing series and focus more on depth in the floor series. The standing series, roughly the first half of class, is intended to generate the internal heat required for you to get deep into your body's organs and muscles in the second half. Don't be surprised if you hear your Bikram instructor say that the hard work you do up front will reward you later in class.
Listen closely to instructions and pay strict attention to form. Every Bikram pose contains elements that must be mastered in sequence. In Standing Bow Pulling Pose, for example, many yogis have a tendency to flare out the hip of the non-standing leg, dancer style, in order to pull that leg higher overhead. This may get you more depth in the short run but compromises the integrity of the pose and creates a literal imbalance in that you're more likely to fall over sideways. Keeping your hips level, as directed, enables you to develop a solid, balanced posture over time.
Hydrate yourself well before class, but don't eat or drink anything less than two hours before class. It's nearly impossible to deepen your Bikram practice if your only goal is to survive the class. Dehydration, hunger or a sloshing stomach inhibit your ability to maintain stillness, absorb verbal instructions and find your edge in a given pose.
Check your diet. Bikram studio owner and 2005 International Yoga Asana Championship winner Esak Garcia advises eliminating sugar and refined flour from your diet to reduce inflammation that can inhibit joint mobility. Although researchers haven't looked at sugar consumption and yoga specifically, the University of Maryland Medical Center does advise osteoarthritis patients -- who suffer painful joint inflammation -- to "avoid refined foods, such as white breads, pastas and sugars." Excessive consumption of alcohol, caffeine, junk foods and fat also may compromise the quality of your practice.
Consider signing up for a 30-, 60- or 90-day challenge. Bikram studio operators often conduct promotional challenges during which students commit to practicing every day for a set period of time. In addition to enhancing flexibility, daily practice challenges students mentally and emotionally, which can translate to deeper willingness to perform postures mindfully and with correct form.
Improving the depth or beauty of your yoga postures safely takes time and patience. A little discomfort is expected when stretching, but never push your body beyond the pain threshold; doing so can result in injury.
- Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class; Bikram Choudhury
Andrea Boldt has been in the fitness industry for more than 20 years. A personal trainer, run coach, group fitness instructor and master yoga teacher, she also holds certifications in holistic and fitness nutrition.