Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bikram Yoga Tips for Ashtangis

Today was Day 30 of my introductory Bikram's yoga package at Hot Central. I had a great month with the 'Mixed Nuts' and I'm full of gratitude for their passion, enthusiasm and professionalism. I literally never had a bad class in those 30 days and the studio was always clean, the staff welcoming and the experience consistent.

In 30 days, they won me over and this wasn't easy to do. My previous experience with Bikrams's was not too rosy. After these 30 days, I would recommend this studio, and hot yoga, to anyone. I do believe it's a therapeutic practice and it has (at least temporarily) cured my Ashtangi insomnia issues.

I don't know if my shoulder is really any better, but that's a story for another day.

I gleaned a few tips from my 30 day hot yoga experience that I wanted to share here, in case other Ashtangis are curious about the style and decide to take the 40C (105F) plunge.

Hydrate *before* you go to class. It's takes up to 40 minutes for the water you drink to benefit your body. Drink lots of water in the hours leading up to class, but stop a half-hour before you go in (or you'll need to pee halfway through).

You'll get used to the heat. After the first week, you'll only notice it if it's unusually hot or unusually cool. Otherwise, it feels just like doing yoga in a warm room after being drenched by a bucket of warm water. And the Bikram's people aren't making this part up: It feels GREAT afterwards.

Don't drink water during the standing poses, and drink as little as possible during the rest of class. As I was struggling through my first few classes, I found this great article by Mary Jarvis, talking about water and why you shouldn't drink it in a Bikram's class. We don't drink water during Astanga practice so I was open to the suggestion. I decided to experiment and see how water affected me. I was stunned by the difference it made, *not* drinking water, especially during the first half of the class. I felt less exhausted and dragged down. My balance and focus was better.

Every time you think you need to drink water, breathe deeply instead. I can't emphasize this enough: Breathe, early and often. I also found that visualizing sipping cool water as I stood in Tadasana breathing was helpful. Topping up your oxygen will benefit you more in the practice than water. Whenever you find yourself at a standstill between poses (or in Savasana), breathe, breathe, breathe!

Save your energy! Stillness is your friend! Don't fidget, or play with your towel, or moan (really, moaning won't help you feel better). It's hot enough in there as it is, any extra movement will just add to your body heat. Save your energy for the postures and transitions between them. Also, there are mirrors - if you're tugging at your clothing and pulling out your wedgy, or making sexy little hip circles while you admire yourself, *everyone* will see you doing it!

Many poses in Bikram's look the same but have different goals. Learn them! In Astanga, forward folds aim to lengthen the hamstrings. In Bikram's yoga, a great many forward bends are 'compression postures' that put pressure on the glands of the body, especially the Thyroid. For example, Parsvottanasana is called Dandayamana-Bibhaktapada-Janushirasana (Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose) in Bikram's. Entering this pose, you must tuck your chin to your chest and keep it there as you place your forehead on the knee. If your hamstrings aren't long enough to accommodate this, the front leg is bent. The important part is the compression, not the stretch.

Learn to love sweat and don't bother wiping it away - it will just come back. I found sweat to be most annoying during the first 20 minutes of the class, then it got better. The simple truth is, the sweatier you are, the less you notice it. Towels and 'wipe rags' are frowned upon in Bikram's. Also, don't use a towel to hold your slippery leg in Pavan Muktasana. The teacher will laugh at you!

Know your 'resting poses', they'll help you survive the class! To me, these classes often felt like a series of 'sprints' between islands of calm. My 'resting poses' might not feel that way to everyone (hello, Dandayamana-Bibhaktapada-Paschimotthanasana) but I knew that if I could just get to one of the easier poses, I would have the space to breath deeply and replenish myself for the next series of more difficult ones.

And one last nugget of wisdom: At some point you'll probably think you need to pee. You don't! This always, ALWAYS happened to me during the spine strengthening series and it always caught me by surprise. Yet, I never once wet myself during Shalabasana. Well, not that I know of, anyway... (I'm KIDDING!).

I also found myself getting weird food cravings in class, but I'm not sure if that's because there was a breakfast cafe upstairs. I do know that water tastes terrific after a hot class (so drink lots of it), Emergen-C is addictive and my morning porridge has never tasted so good!

Above all, have fun! You won't die (though there will be times when you wish you could) and you're going to learn at least one trick that will be very useful in your Astanga practice: expertly and *quickly* flipping yourself into Savasana. ;-)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


The Misanthropic Yogini said...

"At some point you'll probably think you need to pee. You don't!"

This bullet point intrigued me. I go through phases where I think I need to pee once or sometimes TWICE during my practice, and since I practice at home, I usually just go. But if I don't go, it's fine, even if the urge was strong. This seems to have little or nothing to do with the amount of water I've had to drink or the duration of my practice. You mention it happens to you during the "spine strengthening series." Is it the backbends that cause it? Stimulation of the renals and adrenals?

Claudia said...

Hi Kai, great list! I will share it with my Bikrameese friends... I did not know about the wanting to pee, had me laughing :-)

swedishyogi... said...

Just wondering if you have ever tried Moksha Yoga? I am not sure where exactly you live (intentional I guess!) but if it is close to a Moksha studio you should give it a shot! Its hot yoga, similar to Bikram, but with a slightly different and less rigid sequence. There are some vinyasas in the floor series (usually about 5 in a row, ie not transition postures or, for lack of a better word, "filler" postures as in the seated series in Ashtanga) so they are easily skipped if you have a shoulder injury.

I am really not a Bikram fan at all, despite numerous attempts to try and be one. When I tried Moksha for the first time, I realized it was exactly the practice for me, and having the heat, which is why I tried to like Bikram so much, was an added bonus. Now I have moved to Europe and sadly no Moksha studio around, so I have started a Mysore practice instead (not trying to rub salt in the wound)...

Arturo said...

Dear Kai
I wonder if the Tadasana sequence of Ramaswami's VK would help your shoulder. It's all yin and all shoulder practice.

Sarah said...

lovely sensible tips even for not-Ashtanga practitioners - considering this more than ever but must wait til my sprained ankle heals fully.

Kaivalya said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone!

@Misanthropic Yogini
Now that's something I hadn't considered - gland stimulation causing a phantom urge to urinate. I always thought it was just my brain, trying to get out of backbending!

Yes! Do send it to your hot yoga friends. Maybe they'll have the inside scoop on the 'pee problem'. lol

I live in Canada, so we have no shortage of Moksha studios around here. Haven't tried it yet, though this might be the year to give it a shot. I've always wondered what it would be like to do the Primary Series in a really hot room. Yikes! I enjoy the heat so I might like it... :-D

I was actually thinking about adding some of Grimmly's VK sequences to my weekly practice round. I'm going to get them printed and laminated this weekend. I'll let you know how it goes.

Yes, do wait for the ankle to heal. Bikram's is "hard on a the legs" (that's a direct quote from a long time hot yoga practitioner I met). You'll want healthy ankles for all of those standing balances!

Anonymous said...

Love the post! I moved to Dubai 8 months ago and my practice has gone through phases. Before I moved here, I was living in Montreal and was practicing daily at Mark Darby's sattva yoga shala. Needless to say, I fell in love with ashtanga. Sadly, there aren't any ashtanga classes in Dubai (except for one place that is ridiculously expensive). But there is one bikram studio that i've been to a couple of times. I still prefer the ashtanga sequence over bikram, but love sweating in ridiculous amounts, which always makes u feel better (mood wise and physically) after a bikram class.

Thanks for the tips, will put them to use when I go to my next class. One question: we've never done inverts in the bikram class. but do you think bikram could help with headstands? I seem to suffer with my headstands in ashtanga because I keep collapsing into my shoulders, which means i need to work on arm strength and shoulder/neck strength. then of course, there is balance.