Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Bikram Yoga Tips, Pointers, and Confessions

When I wrote my earlier post on Bikram Yoga, I didn't think many people would be interested.  But, it's become one the most read posts on my blog, which leads me to think that there are a lot of people in the world with questions about Bikram Yoga.  My guess is you're either a potential new student, just completed your first class, or wondering what all the hype is about.  I remember before I went to my first class I tried to read everything I could find on the yoga, but I really couldn't find any decent information.  So this is my guide to surviving your first Bikram Yoga class and to starting a Bikram Yoga practice.

Note: I am not in any way affiliated with Bikram Yoga.  I do not teach, an not employed by, nor have any affiliations with Bikram Yoga other than a monthly unlimited membership.  These opinions are mine alone.


The only thing I could find on preparing for a Bikram class was "drink lots of water."  Ok...that's not very helpful.  When?  How much?  

Typically, I try to drink about 3/4 of my daily water consumption before class.  (Daily water amount = your weight / 2, in ounces.)  You'll want to finish drinking your water no later than 1 hour before class. If you're chugging water until the time class starts, you will inevitably need to go to the bathroom.  Cutting off water intake significantly before class will ensure that you're hydrated, but not distracted during class.

Practicing Bikram yoga on a full stomach is a bad idea.  Practicing Bikram yoga on an empty stomach is a bad idea.  I try not to eat at least 2 hours before class, but you must eat the day of class.  The only time I ever left class early and literally almost passed out was the day that I missed lunch before class.  You are burning significant number of calories (approximately 1,000) during class and your body must have some calories to burn.

The room will be hot.  You will be sweaty.  There is nothing you can do to prevent this, but you can try to dress as comfortably as possible.  Most people wear little clothing.  I practice in spandex shorts and a sports bra.  Whatever you wear is up to you, but try to avoid cotton and drapey clothes because they will weigh you down when they're covered in sweat.

Bring a large towel or yoga towel to place on top of your mat.  This will help keep you from sliding on a slippery mat and will soak up some of the sweat.  I also bring a hand towel to wipe my face during class.

During Class

Your first class will be the hardest.  Everyone in the room knows that, because everyone had a first class at one point.  Try your best, and don't get discouraged.  You likely will not be able to do all the poses and you may need to sit a couple out.  I sat out about a 1/4 of the poses my first class.  Your main goal is simply to stay in the room and breathe.  The first class can be a little overwhelming.  Just keep calm and focus on steadying your breath.

You will sweat...buckets.  Bring plenty of water for class.  It's better to have too much water than not enough.  Know that you're not supposed to drink any water until after eagle pose.  Your instructor will say something along the lines of "party time" when you're allowed to drink.  They limit your water intake until this point to enable your body to become fully warmed up.

Bikram yoga teachers do not demonstrate the poses.  They stand on a platform and offer posture advice to the class.  Watch other students to figure out how to do the postures, but listen to the instructors because they will tell you specific instructions for things like hand grips.

Crutches and Distractions

Bikram yoga is both a physical and a mental practice.  You will develop immense mental determination by doing this yoga.  And part of that is simply by convincing yourself to try the postures and stay in the room.  From time to time, you'll hear a nagging voice in your head.
     It's too hot.  I need some fresh air.
     I really have to go to the bathroom.
     I can't do this.
Ignore it.  Sometimes the one thing to defeat us is our own minds.  It's amazing how much better or worse your own thoughts can make you feel.  Try to concentrate on the benefits of yoga instead of on how hard it is.

The sweat.  When I first started Bikram, the sweat drove me crazy.  I couldn't stand the way if felt on my arms, legs, face, stomach.  I was constantly wiping it off.  Unfortunately wiping off sweat makes you hotter and you're wasting energy with extra movements, which will make you more tired.  It's been a year and a half since I've started and I don't really notice the sweat on my body anymore.  So even if it annoys you, try to ignore it.

I can't do that.  Often people have ideas about their own limitations and we allow these ideas to actually cause limitations.  I can't do that because I had knee surgery.  I can't do that because I'm just not that flexible.  I can't do that because I hate that posture...yada yada yada.  And while any of those things may be true, the only thing truly stopping you from trying is you.  So even if you think there is no way you can do a particular posture, try.  Try every time and little by little, your body will start to change.

Recovery and Returning

You may never want to come back after your first class.  Do.  Regardless of how hard or difficult your class was, you did it.  You made it through an entire 90 minute yoga class in a 105 degree room.  And the next one will be easier.  Much easier.  Bikram yoga will never be easy, even the people with perfect postures still struggle.  But it will become manageable.  You will acclimate to the postures and the room, but only after practice.  So go back the next day.  I promise you'll be glad you did.

Chances are you will be very very sore the day after your first class.  I hurt in places I didn't even know existed.  The best way to relieve those sore muscles?  More a hot room.  I can't tell you how many times I've walked into the yoga room with achy sore muscles and left with them completely stretched out and relaxed.

You will need to rehydrate after class, but water alone will not be enough.  You need an electrolyte of some kind to replenish all of the trace minerals you'll have sweat out.  I'm currently using Nuun Hydration Tablet.  They're very portable and do not have any sugar.

Well that's everything I can think of you help get you to and through your first class.  Best of luck and congratulations for starting the journey.  I'm hooked on Bikram yoga and I hope you will be too!  Please let me know if you have any questions!

*Please check out my other posts on Bikram Yoga*

30 Day Challenge


Abby said...

Great post! I'll admit I had to leave halfway through my first Bikram class and I've never gone back! But this has inspired me to give it another try.

SummerBreeze said...

Thanks! And good luck trying again! Just take the class at your own pace and remember to breathe! It's surprising how often we forget that! :)

Catherine G said...

This is great!

I've been doing Bikram willy nilly for about 18 months. I started the 30-day challenge, all by my lonesome, because you inspired me. I'm trying to get fit for my wedding in August, and I figure a 30-day challenge will only improve me, even if I don't get the same physical results as you. I'm on day 5, and I feel great.

Your suggestions are all the same as mine. I suggest soaking your face towel before entering the hot room. I bring 2 frozen water bottles (I let one melt a little before class) and I drape my cloth over them to 1) keep them a little insulated and 2) keep my cloth COOL, for when I wipe my face.

Also- NEVER close your eyes. When you close your eyes, you heighten all your other senses (You start hearing the person's sweat hitting their mat next to you, you smell someone's deodorant, you feel how wet your clothes are, you taste the salt on your lips) NO! Stay awake, stay alert, and focus. Meditate.

The mind thing is spot on. My stupid brain comes up with the funniest reasons to make me quit and I find myself thinking "WHO IS THIS?! SHUT UP! I've done this MANY times before, and I'm going to keep doing it!"

For those of you who have struggled with the class, under no circumstances should you leave the room (unless you're actually going to puke, but if that happens, you're doing it wrong). If you are too hot, sit Japanese style and focus on breathing/slowing your heart rate, OR lay in Shavasana (Dead man's pose). It's totally ok.

Everyone in the room is focusing on themselves, on their posture. No one is judging you.

You are there for your benefit, so make the most of it.

Some days I do all the poses, most days I sit 1-2 out, and I usually skip the second set of a pose (not the whole thing). I find my best classes are when I hydrate (duh) and really focus on each word the instructor says. Your body has a funny way of adjusting whenever they point out a step (lean forward more, stretch up to the sky, lock your knee).

OHHHH Also- this took me a while to figure out. Locking your knee isn't just pushing it back. It's also about tightening your thigh until you visibly see your kneecap lift. It is tightening your thigh and glutes. You'll find postures much easier when you do this properly.

I look forward to more Bikram posts!

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