Ashtanga vs. Bikram yoga: Which is Elitist?

Via on Aug 16, 2011

Why do Ashtangis depict Bikram/Hot Yoga as a practice limited to super-fit athletic bodies?

In Dan Pitko’s blog on “Excess Heat and Hot Air” he writes in a comment:

“Are you suggesting that yoga classes be limited to only well conditioned young athletes?”

Dan’s implication is that Bikram and other Hot Yoga styles are limited to elite athletes. Look, it’s Ashtanga that’s limited to naturally supple athletes! Not Bikram! Go to hundreds of Bikram & other Hot Yoga studios & you’ll find round plum-shaped bodies galore. Practically every morning in my HotCore Yoga classes I am privileged to guide men and women in his mid-50s or older who could easily lose 25 pounds.

Do this asana look something you can do every day? If yes, you possess an elite body. Especially if you’re older than 35. Goddess Bless you!

After class the other day a studio member and I talked about this very issue of Ashtanga vs. Hot Yoga.

After sampling many styles of yoga including Ashtanga, this man knew he could never make Ashtanga a regular practice without serious injury. All the Sun Salutations & Chaturangas would strain the shit out of his wrists, shoulders, neck, low back, etc.  And yet he gets tremendous benefits practicing Bikram and/or HotCore Yoga. With his humpty dumpty body! For instance this morning he arrived on his Manduka mat with a jammed-up low back after playing 27 holes of golf & hours of pulling weeds over the weekend. But he knew he needed the heat and the low-impact nature of the HotCore flow to get back his mojo. He left Yoga Passion feeling awesome!

Don’t fret if you didn’t drink coffee with your toes this morning. Hot Yoga will give you a place to get supple and strong today.

Are thousands of people leaving Ashtanga classes this morning also feeling awesome? Sure! I hope so! But I swear there’s way more genetic sorting going on with Ashtangis than Bikram yogis. Because the Bikram practice is designed for anyone who can manage to walk, limp or crawl into the studio. This is part of the legacy Bikram initiated he decided to pump heat into his yoga studio.

Now I’m not saying Bikram Yoga is for everyone. But almost everyone can do Bikram or other variations of Hot Yoga. With Bikram you can lean against the back wall if you’re unable to balance on one foot in the Standing Series. If you need more rest during the active asanas, take it. Yoga sadhana is not a competition. And in a good Bikram or Hot Yoga class, no one is looking at you but the teacher. Cuz everyone else is focusing on their practice. This morning the studio member who overextended himself on the golf course & in the garden took extra Savasana (corpse pose) during both the Standing & Floor portions of the class.

Ashtangis have some misinformed notions about Hot Yoga because extra heat in the room is outside their field of reference. But what they don’t know is that the heat is a great equalizer! For some of us! Which you can’t know unless you give it a fair chance by practicing at least 3 or 4 classes in 10-day period. A few years ago I practiced Ashtanga 2 or 3 times a week for 2 months. A girlfriend and one of my staff were both avid Ashtangis. They loved it!  And it worked well for their naturally limber bodies. But for my relatively stiff dude gym-rat body, Primary Series (which is their bread & butter practice) has way too many forward bends. To me, it’s NOT a balanced practice. When I actually tried to do all the pretzel-ie forward bending Marichyasanas, my low back always felt worse for it. Look, Primary Series asanas are beautiful. But Ashtanga did NOT work for my body.

So when it comes whose yoga is Elitist, Ashtanga has much higher hurtles to scale than Bikram or HotCore. Plain & simple. I don’t practice yoga to look pretty or impress anyone. I step on my mat to heal/strengthen/lengthen my body … release fear/stress …and awaken my consciousness. And in my universe HotCore Yoga does it! If Ashtanga does it for you, then either you possess an amazing body or you are modifying the Ashtanga form in ways beyond my experience.

PS: To Ashtangis who say, “Okay, primary series does tilt way more to forward bends. But in Second Series Pattabhi Jois put in lots of backbends.” I reply, “Look, I don’t have 3.5 hours to practice yoga. And my body can’t wait hours for those backbends. I need to juxtapose forward & back bends in close proximity. To me, this is common sense. For any Ashtangis working to contort their bodies into amazing pretzel shapes, I ask: “Is your practice strengthen/lengthening your spine? Or is it contributing to collapse along spine & overall bone structure?” And I don’t presume to know what the answer is for you. Please chime in with your vote. Which is Elitist?  Ashtanga or Bikram?


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104 Responses to “Ashtanga vs. Bikram yoga: Which is Elitist?”

  1. Jscc says:

    I disagree from sentence one and ran far away from this article and the elephant journal.

  2. Nugi says:

    Peter should have studied yoga the proper way before he decided to write this misleading article.

  3. Josehp says:

    Well, i find so interesting to see a tendency to attack (always in a subtle, would even say hipocrite way) ashtanga from the hot-yoga comunity… i wonder why….. You google ashtanga and the Bikram advertise show up: "ashtanga? Try Bikram yoga! You see the oppening of a Bikram Shalla and the teachers goes "I tried Ashtanga but didn´t work, didn´t heal me the way Bikram does….." I would recomend you to make sure your sistem is good enougth and work on your insecurities…. because is really so obvious what this is all about. And writing an article about "My yoga is better than yours" Is about everthing… except yoga

  4. Gretchen says:

    With your immature attempt to portray yoga as a battle for bragging rights, it sounds more like you have a chip on your shoulder about Ashtanga. It is not a competition.

    Let your tantrum run its course, then perhaps you could learn something about Ashtanga before you blog about it. Otherwise, put a sock in it and grow up.

    Have a great day.

  5. iissy says:

    I am sure if Peter is totally right from his knowledge on this article.

    I do both practices, Ashtanga and Bikram for over 5 years. I used to do a lot of hot yoga and Bikram before I started Ashtanga 2 years ago. One thing Peter is right about body types of yogis between these two. My body changed after I switched to Ashtanga after 2 years. It is more firm and strong.

    I am not totally ignore hot yoga or Bikram. I do sneak in to do hot yoga during the cold weather. I do Bikram a few times a month on moon days and Sat that Ashtangis need to take days off. OK, I got back from Bikram this weekend, my experience is the heat…heat…heat….. yes, I sweat from outside heat. Even, I did Ujai breathing to keep myself calm and try to combat with the temperature outside in Bikram room. After the class, If you asked, what do I feel inside my muscles? No, i don't feel anything that stretch too much or clean after like what I feel after doing Ashtanga. When I do Ashtanga correcty, all Banda engaged and breathing, my sweat pouring like crazy. I feel balance from inside out. Not pushing the heat to my body like in hot yoga.

    Backbending… Peter's knowleage is not correct at this point… it is ashamed that he wrote this article that give wrong information to the public. He did not count how many Ashtangi doing upward dog during Sun Salutation A and B, and between seated poses switching between left and right., then back bend 3 times. To be honest, I never count how many updog I do…plush chaturanga… I just keep going between seated poses but I knew it is a lots….

    It is your choice what you want. If you want deep connection to your body and your soul — Calming, cleaning from inside out Ashtanga is the choice. If you want heat push from outside in, go to hot yoga…..

    Compare these two…. I love benefit of Ashtanga after exploring between these two.

  6. Josh says:

    One word: Modifications

  7. shadow says:

    please don’t do Ashtanga! i could care less but you have no idea what your taking about i teach everyone Ashtanga…EVERYBODY!!!!

  8. yogibari says:

    What a title? Which yoga is elitist? Hmmm I believe none.. I have been practicing ashtanga and vinyasa for about 7 years and I am aware of the fact that the ashtanga primary series is not a balanced sequence, it didn't work for my perfectly either, but it was not really because the sequence is wrong, but because I was too competitive with myself and others, too. I have learnt to back off and listen to my body. Injuries are not necessarily bad! Some people like me need to learn how to respect the body and how to find real yoga. I have just done my first bikram class, this is how I began to read about it and came accross with this blog. I was shocked by the army style of the instructor and all the mirrors around… But I didn't judge, I was open for something new. I feel great after the class, I found the practice logically built and balanced. But which one is elitest??? Come on. Yoga is yoga. Not about the sequence, but about turning inward and get a stronger connection with our body, understand more how our mind works.. Not sure I managed to turn inward that much during bikram, however I notice every tiny change in my practice during ashtanga. I believe none is worse than the other. I believe everyone should try out different styles of yoga and then stick to the one that works best for them and this is what all yogis should recommend everyone rather saying my yoga is better than yours. That's not yogic to say.

  9. befunknote says:

    I don’t do either type of yoga (I mostly practice sivananda) but I think it’s funny that he says ashtanga is focused on how you look. And Bikram isn’t? I was under the impression that Bikram was all about looks.

  10. Peter Sklivas petersklivas says:

    Balance btwn: 1. listening to our bodies & 2. being skillfully challenged beyond comfort zones … has been key to discovering my way on the mat. Thanks for sharing yr story. I love reading yoga miracles.

  11. Peter Sklivas petersklivas says:

    1 STYLE does NOT Fit ALL. Our bodies are amazingly unique. Sacred space comes in many forms. While I lived in Las Cruces, NM, the bikram studio had great difficulty getting the humidity up making it much harder to generate a good sweat. And I confess to cherishing a good sweat when I practice. But I adapted. If I never stepped into a hot yoga studio again, I'm sure I'd rediscover yoga as a room-temp sadhana. Sounds like you regularly rediscover your center w/ ashtanga. Thanks 4 ur comment.

  12. Where does Tim teach? Is he out in Santa Monica? Love to take his class & broaden my exposure. I've heard great things about him. Thanx for ur comment

  13. My ignorance is/was in thinking of Ashtanga as a rigid form w/o variations. I'm learning here. Thanx for yr comment

  14. theconfluencecountdown says:

    He's down in Encinitas (well, now, Carlsbad). Or… better yet: Sign up for the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. That should do the trick. :)

  15. stephaniefrancesca says:

    Discussion was stimulated. But the question seems inherently divisive. Yoga is union, right?

  16. Peter Sklivas petersklivas says:

    The balance btwn form & freedom is a necessary conundrum of unfoldment in my sadhana. That's what I hear you elaborating on. Thanks 4 expanding my knowledge!

  17. Yogini5 says:

    Ashtanga as presented here, seems more sincere of a practice than power vinyasa is … sincere in the sense that all are welcome to an All Level class … there is that traditional, inclusive take on yoga–that seems to be missing from the modernized forms. To feel that you can be in a class and not be goaded or feel forced to keep up with the pace of the class. And, likewise, there don't seem to be "empty promises" of achieving an exact pose that may be beyond your reach for a very long time, perhaps even forever, like there is in vinyasa.

  18. As a teacher, it took me a few years to respect studio members who choose to move at their own pace. At 1st I was wondering: 1. if I was failing to articulate the instructions clearly enough, 2. whether other studio members would all start doing their own thing resulting in complete anarchy 3. how will help this person while maintaining the flow for the rest of the class. When everyone is practicing asanas together, there is a beauty & grace that can emerge. And that's a seductive expectation. It takes some maturity/self-confidence to recognize that reality might NOT be interested in my expectations. And then be poised as a teacher to serve people where they are. Of course it helps when teachers have a strong itch to become extraordinary in their service. Not settle the ho-hum in themselves. Thanks 4 ur comment.

  19. annieory says:

    So you base the entirety of your opinion on one class and one teacher? Try it again, or don't, but please don't act as if you know something about a practice based on this single experience. I have known some crappy Bikram teachers and some great Bikram teachers and I am certain the same is true in the Ashtanga world.

  20. Andy says:

    Yeah but there are commonalities found in every Bikram class, from the metaphors they use, to their insistance you don't leave the room. There really isn't that much of a difference. You can tell they were all trained the same way and tend to stick to that way.

  21. iloveginger says:

    michelle thanks for the book recommendation. where do you teach? i am feeling overwhelmed with primary series and i long for an empowering teacher- i like your style :) thanks for posting

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