Bikram Yoga at home took more mental preparation than I thought...
Bikram yoga at home took more planning and mental preparation than any other yoga I've done. An important part of any yoga practice is preparation, and that seems even more important when we intend to practice at home. Aside from the physical considerations like space it was the mental preparation that made the biggest difference.
In addition to these basic considerations, doing Bikram Yoga at home takes a bit more mental preparation because of the intense heat and how it affects our body and mind.
How I came across Bikram Yoga
During the past two winters I had experienced some problems with sprained tendons, which set me back in my practice, and so I made a mental not to myself to make sure I was warmed up properly before doing any yoga. I'd heard of Bikram yoga but didn't know much about it, other than I had the idea you had to practically be a gymnast or athlete to begin with. (Unlike me: a very inflexible 55 year old, weighing in at about 260 pounds)!
Then a friend of mine was thinking about starting Bikram Yoga at a studio near her house and she asked me if I knew anything about it. "Isn't that the hot yoga?", I asked. She didn't know so we Googled it! And it is. (According to Bikram it's the original hot yoga). So I was a bit dubious. I didn't know much about it but it didn't seem right exercising in all that heat, right? But my friend went along to the Bikram studio in her home town and came home fully signed up, and with a book "Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class" by the founder of Bikram Yoga, Bikram Choudhury. "You should get this", she said, "you'd love it".
It started with a book...
Well of course I was curious now, so I ordered a copy. At this point I wasn't intending to do Bikram Yoga as such, I just wanted to know more about it for my own mental preparation to see if there were elements to incorporate into my regular daily practice, but of course my friend was right. I do love it. 15 years ago I started with Richard Hittleman's classic "Yoga For Health" and then read Vanda Scaravelli's "Awakening the Spine" (I also have books on Tibetan Yoga but that's for a later post).
Both are great books, but what I love about Bikram's book is the clarity of explanation and the pictures, especially the contrast between the 'ideal' pose and the 'real' pose. (Mostly I'm aspiring to progress from where I'm at to the 'real'... the 'ideal' is still a long shot for me)!
After reading the book I was inspired... and hooked. Not just because of the book, but something important in me had shifted.
As I read Bikram's book, I noticed something fundamentally different in me that when I was reading Hittleman's book all those years ago. Back then I was reading while thinking 'well I'll just have to do it to the degree I can'. I had accepted my physical limitations without question.
Now as I read I could actually see myself reaching those more challenging poses. I have enough experience to know, that my body can change, it just takes time, patience, and know-how. Already from Bikram's book I could see the 'goal' of the 'ideal pose', but I also had a map of how I could actually get there, and I am more mentally prepared in knowing that it will work if I just give it time.
Learning the right way
Bikram's emphasis for everyone is on learning the correct way. From my own experience I know that if you're doing a pose wrong you can be doing it wrong for years, if not for life! And if that is the case, not only will you not make progress, but also you will not gain the health benefits of yoga.
At this point I should mention that it would be ideal to go to a Bikram yoga class and learn with a qualified teacher in person. I'm not against teachers and have had some wonderful yoga teachers in the past. It's just that in my case there is no Bikram Center within traveling distance of where I'm living, and I already do yoga at home anyway. So for me this is a progression of my existing home yoga practice, but if you have the opportunity to get to a class I suggest you do so that you get started in the right way from the get go.
It is probably more important for people who are learning Bikram yoga at home to check, and keep checking, that you are learning and practising the right way. This means understanding what the pose is supposed to be about, and what you can do in the meantime to support your body in getting there.
Thankfully we have something now that we didn't have 15 years ago, and it's name is YouTube! Thank goodness for the kind and generous people who take the time and trouble to make videos and put them on YouTube.
In Bikram's yoga there is a carefully chosen sequence of 26 poses. It is important to know how to do each one correctly, and to do them in the correct sequence. I did a search and came across a YouTube playlist giving more help and explanation about the 26 pose sequence (thank you to the people who made the videos, and to the person who put this collection together).
Although you do have to be careful. Get informed (read the book - Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class - at least twice) and make sure you are always doing each pose correctly. In the above collection the instruction for the 'awkward pose' is a good tutorial, but it is incomplete as far as Bikram's version is concerned. To do Bikram yoga at home in the right way make sure you have read the book and have all the complete steps correct within each pose.
After reading the book (at least twice) and watching all the above videos (at least twice) I felt I had enough understanding to begin Bikram yoga at home. But how was I going to remember the sequence? Fortunately the kind people at YogaVida (Tucson) have made a document available online, showing The Twenty-Six Postures of Bikram Method Yoga which you can download here (thank you YogaVida).
It is a good idea to print this out and stick it on the wall so you can see it from where you are doing your yoga practice. Of course it's only as big as you can print it (most printers are US letter or A4 size) but it does the job - one glance and you can see what's next in the sequence.
Enter Bikram himself...
Almost ready to begin Bikram yoga at home, just a couple of more things... what about timing? How long to stay in each pose? And do you break in-between or keep going from one to the next? Enter Bikram himself... well not in person, but you can get him teaching the full sequence on mp3 audio (you'll need vol.1 and vol.2 for the full sequence). It is invaluable to hear Bikram himself, not only for the timing, but for the tips he gives you to ensure you are learning each posture in the right way.
So far I had prepared myself by
- being mentally prepared
- reading Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class book
- watching videos
- putting up a wall chart and
- getting the audio mp3 of a full class
So with my mental preparation all set I was almost ready.... but not quite. Remember Bikram Yoga is hot yoga? The next step in preparing for Bikram yoga at home is to find out what is needed and figure out how to prepare the physical environment - and I'll cover that in the next post. Stay tuned!