Saturday, September 18, 2010

Thoughts on Bikram yoga

Yesterday I had my first and last Bikram yoga class. I'd had my doubts about the style, since I don't really do well with heat, but I allowed myself to be seduced by a very good deal. For me it turned out to be not such a good deal after all.

Bikram is otherwise known as hot yoga. The classes are held in a room that's heated to 40C (100-105F). If it's not hot, it's not Bikram. The theory is that the heat allows students to stretch more deeply, that it helps prevent injury, and that it helps with stress and tension release. Hum. Right. The very best yoga teacher I ever had said a couple of things that I find I now agree with completely. What the heat is more likely to do is allow a person to overextend themselves. If you force your body to do something before it is really ready, you achieve nothing. Also, in a good yoga practice, your body generates its own internal heat. External heat is unnecessary.

A Bikram yoga session consists of two breathing exercises and twenty-six asanas. It's the same two and twenty-six in the same order every time. No allowance is made for varying things based on your needs at the moment. There are days when I feel like all I want to do is spinal twists. Other days I need some extra energy and a set of sun salutations is just right. If I had to do the exact same asanas day in and day out, I would not be doing yoga.

Other aspects of the class turned me off, but I don't know if they're Bikram specific or just bad luck with that studio. The instructor talked constantly. It was like listening to an auctioneer turned drill sergeant. She talked about meditation, but there was definitely no meditative feel to the class. It was more like a yoga-robics class. She also spoke of how anyone who came in and did a Bikram class six days a week for a month would change their lives for the better. Maybe so. But I would be willing to bet that you could say that of pretty nearly any sort of exercise. Commit and DO it every day for a month and, unless you've chosen competitive shuffleboard or something, you'll see changes for the better. This would be particularly the case if you choose some sort of mind-body exercise--yoga, martial arts, qi gong....

At the end of a good yoga session, your body should feel USED. It should feel as though every single muscle in your body has been stretched and worked. Your joints should feel loose and warm. You should sleep well. After yesterday's session, I had a bad headache, lots of lovely nausea (to the extent that I could neither eat nor drink for quite some while) and I haven't slept so poorly in a very long time.

I guess I'll get back to my search for a good yoga teacher here in the 'Couv. I want someone who teaches Vinyasa yoga, who is calm and centered in themselves and in their teaching, who doesn't over-instruct or put me to sleep. There must be one somewhere in town.

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