It feels like it’s 130F, sweat is stinging your eyes, you’re itching for a sliver of cool air… actually, jumping into an pool ice cube filled pool would be your idea of heaven right about now.
It’s inevitable that thoughts like these cross our minds if we’re struggling through a session of Bikram Yoga; the man himself, Bikram Choudury, describes his eponymous yoga series of 26 postures as a torture chamber. Fear not, however. Whilst it’s natural to have tough days interspersed with those of the less dramatic variety, it is through experience that yogis learn what not to do in the heated room.
As a Bikram yoga practitioner, I have collated a list of top ten don’ts that will help the first time yogi through to regular practitioner.
1. Do not… Wear baggy clothes
Unless you want to be annoyed by sweat drenched voluminous sweatpants all throughout class – as I had experienced 8 years ago – wear form fitting clothing. Think: cropped tights, shorts, tank tops, sports bras. Religious reasons may not allow for this, which is understandable. In such a situation, maintain a mindful meditative practice as best possible – this is key to eliminating excess energy spent on apparel distractions.
2. Do not… Drink too much water before and during class
Proper hydration is sometimes the difference between a hard and not-so-tough Bikram session. Ensure you’ve digested enough water before getting to class – this means consistently sipping on over the Mayo Clinic recommended 8-9 glasses per day. Chugging a bottle of water right before class will only give you an uncomfortably full stomach, and drinking too much during class will inevitably make most of the floor series harder, especially in poses that require you to engage or lay on the belly.
3. Do not… Eat before class
The general rule is not to eat within 3 hours before class, but if you’re famished, eat something light and bland like Saltine crackers; a couple should curb the hunger pangs. Personally, I don’t recommend nuts, chocolate, soy lattes, flavoured crisps, or sushi, to be eaten within the two hours before practice. I’ve tried it and regretted it.
4. Stop… The fidget
Bikram yoga aims to reign in your focus, and fidgeting is an easy way to break this meditation. Transitioning between the poses cultivates patience and calm; try and make a conscious effort not to fix your hair, drink water when you don’t need it, wipe the sweat, and adjust your mat and towel. Letting go of being ‘bothered’ by the details will do the mind wonders. I got into the habit of drinking water before a certain pose and am now working on breaking it. It was simply a fidget.
5. Do not… Wipe the sweat
Sweating in a hot room is unavoidable – it’s the body’s natural air conditioner. Wiping off sweat will only disrupt your practice and encourage more sweat production for the body to cool down. Allow the sweat to drip onto your towel, and over time you will become more aware of how perspiring is the body’s way of helping you maintain a temperature that will get you through the 90 minutes.
6. Do not… Breathe through the mouth
Breathe only through your nose. Breathing through your mouth will stimulate the fight-or-flight response which means unnecessary feelings of stress, fear, anxiety. If you need to take a knee or lie down – definitely do this if you feel dizzy – make sure to take deep breaths to a count of 4 – in, and a count of 4 - out. You’ll calm down quicker for the oxygen being inhaled, and the carbon dioxide and toxins being exhaled. An added benefit: you’ll notice poses like Triangle and Full Locust Pose becoming easier to maintain.
7. Do not… Sit in the front row if you’re new
Bikram yoga is a beginner’s series and the teacher leads the class through dialogue. This means that postures are learned by listening to the words and looking to other practitioners for guidance; the teacher doesn’t demonstrate. If you’re unfamiliar with the poses, sit towards the middle/back of the room (the side with no mirror) so that you can have a good view of the entire class. This way you’ll be able to look forward and learn by example.
8. Do not… Talk in class
Meditation is a vital part of the Bikram series; mind over matter helps you pay attention to poses and quiets the internal chatter. Apart from the teacher’s dialogue, it is etiquette to leave the talking to your neighbor and deep breathing for outside the room. Instead of the chit-chat or heavy sighing, focus on something that will get you through the practice like staring at a spot on the ceiling during the floor series, focusing on the point between your eyes in the front mirror, repeating a mantra when you’re distracted– these should assist in cultivating a mindful practice.
9. Do not… Push too hard
The room is heated in the vicinity of 105F (depending on where you practice), so it is easy to think that you’re more limber and flexi-bendy than you really are. In your first few classes of Bikram Yoga, pace yourself and don’t stretch like crazy – you’re still figuring out your limits. Otherwise, you could be setting yourself up for injury. Remember: there is no rush – you have your whole life to do yoga. Some yogis around you may have been practicing for years, which is why they’re able to easily get into a pose. Listen to the dialogue; work on Part A before you move forward to Part B and C.
10. Do not… Run out of class as soon as final breathing is over
Try and stay in the room, on your back, with eyes closed for a couple of minutes. Running out straight after the final breathing means you haven’t fully completed the series. Besides, you need time to cool down and compose yourself. A teacher a West Coast studio told us that Bikram has been known to say that if you don’t relax for 2 minutes after final breathing, it’s like taking a poop and not wiping your butt.