Bikram Yoga is a series of 26 postures repeated twice during the 90 minute class…in a room set at 40 degrees Celsius (105 degrees Fahrenheit) basically a sauna! You’ll need to bring a yoga mat, large towel to cover the mat, large bottle of water and as little clothing as possible! Be prepared to sweat so bring another towel and a chance of clothes as you’ll need a shower once you’re done.
Everyone is required to be in the class before the instructor enters so you need to arrive at least 15 minutes before to get changed, put your mat down, your towel on top of it and fill up your water bottle. Because the room is so hot, the trick to surviving the heat is to drink plenty of water the night before and up to an hour before the class. Don’t drink water within an hour of class as you don’t want to do yoga with a full bladder, or even worse, have to hold it for the hour and a half! Also, try not to eat breakfast if you’re going to yoga in the morning and don’t eat 3 hours before the start of the class if you’re going later in the day. A full stomach will not only make the postures harder to do, but it’ll also make you nauseous…a feeling that you’ll soon learn to accept during hot yoga.
If you’re going to your first class, do what you can, follow those around you and be patient with your body. If you’re feeling nauseous, it’s best to kneel on your mat until you feel better. If it’s too much for you, lie down on your back in Savasana (position your head close to the front mirror) and get back into the postures only when you feel up for it. Remember that your body needs to get accustomed to the heat and that might take a few classes…so be patient and do what you can, yoga is not a competitive sport!
I’ve been doing Bikram Yoga for a long time and I still struggle with the postures. For your enjoyment, here’s an overview of how I feel about each posture:
- Breathing Series – I have a hard time with this one, I try to focus on pulling my abs in but I always forget, I can’t pace my breath and always run out of air before the end of the count. I end up having to yawn on the exhale…which I’m sure is all sorts of disrespectful to the yoga Gods!
- Back Bending (side, back, forward) – I’m extremely flexible in my lower back so I have a beautiful bend to the side…but of course, the competitor in me wants to go further and I end up shaking as I can’t maintain it for the full 60 seconds of the first set. It serves me right for bending so far over at once, but I never seem to learn! I no longer fear the back bend, I now trust my body, so I lean back and let go…it’s very satisfying when you feel your body being able to go past what you thought it could. The forward bend is heavenly, especially in the morning. The stretch goes from the heels to the top of your head!
- Awkward Pose – this is such an appropriate name for this pose! Your quads scream as you sit back ‘in a chair’. The first time I started yoga I’d go back about 60 degrees until I felt my quads and I stopped. I then had an instructor tell me to let go and bend to 90 degrees…and who knew, my quads could handle it and hold my body there for the whole time. The second part of this is lifting up as high as possible on your toes and then bending down…another one that’s a killer, but the trick is to keep your heels as high as possible. I don’t know how, but it puts less pressure on your knees and lets you go further.
- Eagle Pose – aka, the pretzel. This is the first posture where I realize that my body is not equal. My left side is much tighter than my right (possibly because I’m left handed & footed). I can wrap my right toes around my calf in this pose but my left is no where close. I’ve learned to be patient and keep trying and I’m sure that one day my toes will do it…for now, I keep trying.
- Head to knee Pose – for the record, my head has never gone to my knee! I fight extremely hard to straighten my stationary leg and to keep my quad tight the whole posture. You’re supposed to straighten the leg you’re holding onto as well but I can’t do that yet. I’m in agony trying to pull my toes in and to push my heel out, my poor achilles scream every time.
- Standing Bow Pose – is my favourite. It’s such a beautiful and graceful posture. Once again, I can lift my toes higher on my right side than my left. Since I can do this posture, I try to concentrate on getting the posture right instead of lifting my toes as high as I can. There’s a lot to think about here, stationary leg straight and tight, shoulder by the chin, back leg in line with the body…oh, and don’t fall!
- Balancing Stick – this one’s fast and should be easy, but trying to keep everything straight, in line and still takes a lot of out you. It’s also very quick, only 10 seconds on each side, so you just have to go for it – put your body into the posture, trying to stay in it.
- Standing Leg Stretch – aka…glorious! By this point my legs are done and this stretch is amazing. Sadly yoga is not just about stretching so you have to think about pulling your body to your legs, lengthening your upper body towards the floor and not bending your knees. The hardest thing for me is to keep my knees straight. My legs are so tight that my hamstrings and calves pull and I’m always having to concentrate on keeping the knees straight to get the most out of the posture.
- Triangle Pose – kills me all the time. My hips do not want to go down and my quads are tired and don’t want to work. Then I need to have my elbow at my knee with my fingers on the ground; I swear my forearm isn’t long enough to do this! Except when the instructor assists me I can always do it, and when she leaves my arm shrinks back again – funny how your mind dictates what you can and cannot do. If that’s not enough, your upper arm needs to stretch up as well…this is officially my nemesis!
- Standing Head to Knee Pose – this looks easy; except good luck touching your forehead to your knee. If you’re not touching the forehead to the knee you won’t get the benefits out of it so this has to be priority. If my right leg is in front, I can do this no problem, but if my left leg is in front you may as well be trying to fit me into a 1 inch box! It feels more like cruel torture than a relaxing stretch.
- Tree Pose – A nice relaxing pose to get your balance. With my tight hip flexors, my bent knee doesn’t stay in line with my other knee, it’s in front, to the side, trying to fit somewhere. I fight to keep my standing leg completely straight and my quad contracted and don’t think I’ve even kept my hips and shoulders in line…I put one in line and the other goes crooked!
- Toe Stand – If you have weak ankles, this is an amazing posture to strengthen them. It’s taken me years but I can finally balance on both my feet and hold it. My right struggles more than my left but I can do it! It’s so satisfying finally being able to do a posture that I’ve struggled with for so long.
- Savasana – AKA heaven! While this posture is a breath of fresh air, it does not mean you can lie down and fall asleep. I struggle staying completely still here…I get an itch, my clothes are uncomfortable, I want to cough, sneeze, yawn…you name it. My body has such a hard time staying still for 2 minutes which seems ridiculous – but then think about how often in your daily life you sit there and do nothing…yup, not often.
- Wind Removing Pose – this should be another great one for relaxing but I can’t bring both my knees into my chest and wrap my arms around them grabbing my elbows. It sounds like it should be easy, but my arms always slip and I end up struggling, frustrated that instead of enjoying the relaxing posture, my body is tensing up trying to hold on. And then I realize, yoga’s not about being comfortable, it’s about learning to accept your limitations and working to improve!
- Sit up – the first time I did Bikram yoga I was very annoyed at the number of times you sit up, turn, lie back down…I couldn’t understand the reason for it, especially in all that heat, it was intolerable to get up and sit back down so many times. BUT…lying back down in savasana between each posture allows your body to get the benefits of the posture that you just did. Each posture blocks the blood from traveling through a part of your body. Lying back down in savasana allows the blood to rush back through those joints/body parts, revitalizing them. So now, I suck it up and do savasana…and the sit ups that always come after it!
- Cobra Pose – A lovely back pose, helping to stretch the abdomen and strengthen the back. I always forget to keep my legs straight, together, tight…there’s just too much to think about for every posture!
- Locust Pose – I’m ok with putting my arms under my body, I’m ok with lifting each leg up and keeping them straight but I struggle to lift both legs up and bringing my weight into my upper body. My legs always want to bend so I can lift them higher because straightening them and lifting them up is so much harder and everything starts to burn.
- Full-Locust Pose – I find looking up helps me get my upper body higher. Once again I struggle to keep my legs together and straight. And my legs are so long (NOT) that they really don’t feel that they’re going very high, yet my poor body is shaking to keep up.
- Bow Pose – This posture always looks lovely and it’s easy to shirk here and just hold my feet and pretend I’m doing something. It’s killer to keep pushing my feet away from my body and fighting to lift the toes up so I’m sending them inline with the middle of my back….plus my knees keep wanting to splay out, which they shouldn’t be!
- Fixed Firm Pose – should be called ‘Your Knees Are Going To Fall Off’ pose. It’s taken me years to be able to bring my shoulders down to the floor and still I’m in complete agony in this posture. I lie there trying not to focus on how my lower back is bent weird or how my shoulders are on fire and that my lower body is no longer attached to my body…I focus on my breath…and try not to cry…seriously!
- Half-Tortoise Pose – I look forward to the day when I can bring my head down to the ground in front of me before my hands. I’m pretty sure it’s not humanly possible but that doesn’t stop me from trying every class. And then I try to get my hands up before my head on the way up…another no go…but maybe in 20 years I’ll be able to do it!
- Camel Pose – if you haven’t felt queasy up to now, you’re a machine! If you don’t feel queasy after doing this back bent, you’re a robot. No matter how cool (a very relative term in the Bikram studio) the room is or how great of a class you’re having, something about this back bend this late in the class always makes my head spin and I have to take a second to lie down again and try to breathe through it (and not upchuck)
- Rabbit Pose – the goal here is to touch your forehead to your knees, hold on to your heels and lift your hips to the ceiling…I struggle to do all 3! My forehead is about 3 inches from my knees, my hands slip from my heels even with the towel and my arms refuse to straighten. Don’t even get me started on lifting my hips up, they maybe come up half a foot off my heels…I’m just thankful that everyone else has their eyes down and can’t see how I’m butchering this posture.
- Head to Knee Stretching Pose – I used to love this posture…I could get my head to my knee, I could even keep my leg straight, I was feeling great! Then the instructor came by, told me to pull my toes towards my head (which had my achilles screaming) and then asked me to try to lift my heel off the ground (to which I actually laughed). So now, I sit there in pain as I try to stretch my achilles and my calves…who knew they were so tight…
- Spin Twisting Pose – I can tell if I’m stressed out by the way this posture goes. If I can keep both my hips on the ground and grab my knees as I twist, I’m having a great day. More often than not, my left hand can’t grab my right leg…and I’m reminded that my left side is much tighter than my right and I need to relax more!
- Blowing in Firm Pose – to detoxify your body, you concentrate on breathing out forcefully to a rhythm. I always think this takes too long, I over think it, lose my concentration and forget how to exhale. This is the story of my life…I have such a hard time not controlling everything and just letting my body do what it can naturally do. Hopefully one day I’ll learn…
I’ve been doing yoga for a long time and after I’m done, I always feel great and I’m glad that to went. Give it a try and let me know how it goes. I promise you’ll feel great when you’re done, your skin will be glowing and you won’t feel guilty about laying on the couch all day drinking water afterwards!