Simon Says: The Effed-Up Arc of a Bikram Yoga Inner-Dialogue.

Via on Jan 26, 2012
Camel Ustrasana Hot Smoke Heat Bikram Power Yoga
Photo: Ashley Thalman

The Bikram yoga teacher walks into the yoga room, putting on his head mic, and happily—too happily?—says: Are we ready to get hot?
The student stands, brings her toes and ankles together, and thinks: Yes, I’m ready! Let’s do this.

Minutes into class the Bikram teacher says: Just keep breathing.
Already soaked with sweat, the student thinks: Easier said than done, dude.

The Bikram teacher says: Lock your knee!
The student watches her quivering quads in the mirror and thinks: I am!

When propelling the class into a standing backbend,the Bikram teacher says:

Your back will hurt like hell. Don’t be scared.

The student thinks: Uh, that’s counterintuitive.

The Bikram teacher says: Lock your knee!
The student again notes those quivering quads and thinks: I am, dammit!

After the “first official water break” (which, guys, is technically the “only official water break”) the Bikram teacher says: Normal breathing—in through the nose. Out through the nose.
Chest still heaving from Eagle, the student thinks: My nostrils aren’t wide enough. 

The Bikram teacher says: The harder you kick, you can balance here forever.
Falling out of Standing Bow, the student thinks: Bullshit. 

During Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee, The Bikram teacher says: If you’re doing the pose right you’ll be a little uncomfortable.
The student thinks: A little?

Standing near the door, the Bikram teacher says: Come up, keeping arms and head together.
The student thinks: I will give you fifty dollars cash right here, right now to open that effing door.

Talking the class through Tree, the Bikram teacher says: Lock your knee!
The student glares and thinks: Damn you! I am!

The Bikram teacher says: Don’t scratch, rub, wipe . . .
The student lays like a corpse, sweat coursing into her ears, and thinks: I didn’t need to until you mentioned it.

Sending the class into Camel, the Bikram teacher says:

Letting go of all that doesn’t serve you.

Reaching for her ankles, the student thinks: You mean my hatred of you? Seems to be serving me just fine.

The Bikram teacher flips off the overhead fluorescent lights says: The best way to improve is to return tomorrow.
The student thinks: Uh, hell no.

bow dhanurasana hot yoga Bikram teardrop shakti
Photo: Ashley Thalman

Opening the door to leave, the Bikram teacher says: Namaste.
The student thinks: I suppose . . .
She automatically replies: Namaste.

When the student’s in dry clothes and leaving the studio, the Bikram teacher says: See you tomorrow!
Bewildered that she can’t stop putting herself through this day after day, the student replies: Yeah, I’ll see you then!

It should be said that no yogi but the Bikram yogi can truly understand the above. Most everyone else will see the scene as un-yogic and outright effed-up. And of course they’re right. But until you become a Bikram yogi, you cannot comprehend the weird-ass mind-body thing that develops under those utterly wretched conditions. And not a one of us reluctant Bikramites can coherently articulate exactly why we keep going back.

While my power yoga classes are happy, my Bikram classes are horrid. But since the stuff’s like crack, I go back.

To each their own practice.

Author has been given permission to use photos from: Ashley Thalman Photography.

About Megan Romo

Megan Romo gave up a few weeks into yoga teacher training when she realized that she’s too selfish to focus on anyone else’s practice but her own. She’s not ashamed of that anymore. Instead she likes to call it a honed self awareness born of years on the mat. Follow Megan’s little he-cheated-and-left-our-10-year-marriage healing journey and other things that are sometimes interesting and dramatic but sometimes just normal person stuff on her blog remarksfromsparks.com.

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27 Responses to “Simon Says: The Effed-Up Arc of a Bikram Yoga Inner-Dialogue.”

  1. Jay says:

    I Love Bikram Yoga

  2. Wally says:

    I know that noise in your head that you describe. It goes away after a while, replaced by a confidence and determination to improve every little aspect of the Bikram yoga practice.

    • Megan Romo meganromo says:

      I'm not sure I see it going away, Wally, but rest assured that commingling with this inner-dialogue is that confidence and determination. It's what's great about Bikram. Where else can you predictably encounter such unpredictability?

  3. I'm still laughing at the first line in your bio :)) Good one.

    Maybe Bikram yoga practitioners can understand it better on face value alone, but the inner battle between the mind and the body and the intention and the goal, that's universal….I do Iyengar yoga, and I can guarantee you I hate my teacher just as much as a Bikram girl does, sometimes :)

    • Megan Romo meganromo says:

      Ha! That's the best–"I can guarantee you I hate my teacher use as much as a Bikram girl does . . . " Hilarious. It's that mind-body battle that we all can identify with. Sometimes it's just a little more on the, say, violent side in the hot room. (Ahimsa? What ahimsa?) It's nice to hear that we don't have a monopoly on the [quickly vanishing] enmity for our teachers.

      (Oh, and I'm glad you enjoyed the bio!)

  4. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  5. Kelly Larisey says:

    Although I am not a Bikram Yogi, I Can certainly relate to the thoughts that travel through your mind as teachers instruct you into a body contortion in a very heated room. You don’t know how many times I have thought the exact same thing – “Standing near the door, the Bikram teacher says: Come up, keeping arms and head together.

    The student thinks: I will give you fifty dollars cash right here, right now to open that effing door.” LOVE it! Thanks for being so honest and open!

    • Megan Romo meganromo says:

      I'm so glad! Not glad that you have a not-so-great experience from time to time, but instead glad that you can identify even though you're not a Bikram yogi. The styles throughout our yoga community can be so different, and too often practitioners of one style criticize the other styles. It's nice when certain sensations and feelings can cross styles. I think that reminds us that though our sojourns on the mat can be very different, we are still descended from the same concept of union.

  6. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    powerful and authentic expression of your experience – not sure i grasp your conclusion – could maybe warrant more exploration!

    "to each their own practice" here sounds a little like the forced "namaste."

  7. Megan Romo meganromo says:

    Truly, there's no conclusion to grasp, yogijulian. It's what's beautiful about yoga, that there's no "ending," so to speak. This is just a tongue-in-cheek portrait of a practice.

    And regarding the "to each their own practice"—I'm sorry you felt it was forced. I believe it's actually an integral approach in our modern, Western yoga community. With so many different styles and ideologies behind them, I believe we need to understand that my yoga isn't your yoga, your yoga isn't that of the dude next to you in class, etc.

    I hope that's somewhat coherent. It's been a long day—with a vigorous practice—and I'm just winding down! Happy weekend!

    • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

      yes totally coherent and now i understand more where you were coming from… :)

      honestly as a reader though it felt to me similar to getting to be inside the head of a woman in an abusive relationship, revealing very honestly the dysfunction and confusion about love and suffering.

      only then at the end as if she says "well to each their own choices about how to love and be loved."

      i am left wondering if your description of your experience bikram yoga and the inner struggle to keep going/ the feeling of being hooked into something masochistic was more honest and revealing than perhaps even you grasped at the time of writing?

      as a long time yoga practitioner and teacher for the last 18 years i want to suggest to you that one can get all the benefits of yoga without this level of internal conflict and ambivalence, just as one can get all the benefits of love without having to put up with abuse or drama…

      i could be way off – but in any event, interesting article. thanks!

      • Yogatchr says:

        "it felt to me similar to getting to be inside the head of a woman in an abusive relationship". Do what? I feel like this might be projection.

        • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

          yup may just be what i saw.

          however the tension between what is going on outside and what is going on inside is pretty intense here, as is the disconnect between the external relating and the internal feelings.

          i read a kind of psychologically sadomasochistic dynamic and a sense of being hooked on something you kinda hate – which is similar to how someone feels in an abusive relationship.

          read it again and see if you get what i mean. if not – fair enough!

          • meelo says:

            When I read this article, I related, which is strange. To me it did come off as conflicted and I almost wondered if it was someone parodying a person who had this aggressive and conflicted attitude about a yoga class. I kept reading it wondering if it was a joke.

            I practice Bikram yoga, and feel that for me I have a love/hate relationship with it. I have some kind of self- competitiveness and sensation addiction (seems like a harsh word, i can't think of another) that I indulge in when I go to Bikram class. It's hard, and I struggle. I don't know why I keep going sometimes. Other times, I have classes where my mind is clear, sharp and I am doing a meditation looking into my own eyes. I'm not even thinking, the class just flys by. My eyes feel like a tunnel through the mirror inside the postures. The teacher's dialog is a hypnotic cue. Anyway, this thread struck a chord with me. I've never talked to anyone about it though.

  8. Yogamamba says:

    Bikram yoga is like being sucked up the trunk of an elephant pulled through the stomach then shat out the back!

  9. shane says:

    just attended my first class last night, and I can completely relate! It was quite horrid, and at one point I was pretty sure I was gonna die, but made it through and I'm ready to go back. It is the crack of yoga…

    • Megan Romo meganromo says:

      Congrats on making it through, Shane. It's rough for sure. That "don't die don't die don't die don't die" chant is all too familiar. Go back soon—the teacher wasn't kidding when he/she told you the best thing is to get consecutive days under your belt. A while ago I wrote 10 tips for the Bikram yoga rookie—if they can be at all useful in your next class, I'm glad to have helped: http://www.remarksfromsparks.com/2011/08/beginnin

  10. Yogatchr says:

    The problem for me is if someone yells at me in yoga I tend to start cracking up and being rebellious. This makes me not a good Bikram candidate. Hopefully we can all find one, or more, of the many paths of yoga that suits us just right. It is a buffet after all. P.S. That dhanurasana picture is so very beautiful. Go you!

  11. Andrew Gurvey agurvey says:

    Hi Megan. I practiced Bikram for 6 months more at the beginning of my yoga journey. What I struggled with then and struggle to understand now is the way in which the teachers speak. The barking out of commands and the orders to push yourself essentially beyond your limits ("go back, push back, lean back…Push more, you can do it…Go back, etc….). Also, "lock your knee" is kind of a tough one for me to wrap my mind around. I understand the idea and the concept, but I also see potential risks for bodily injury in pushing yourself too hard or locking the knee out while applying compression at the same time (Standing Head-To-Knee comes to mind in this description.

    • Andrew Gurvey agurvey says:

      I am making the above comments more to get your feeling on that. Generally, while some of the other modalities have their own forms of "brutality", if you will (heavy adjustments in Ashtanga, and the strictness of alignment in Iyengar come to mind), Bikram seems to be less about the other aspects of yoga, more about the physical movements, and dismissive of concepts like "ahimsa" in relation to oneself (you actually alluded to that yourself in one of your comments). It is hard for me to reconcile these aspects and I am always looking for others' thoughts on the matter. Thanks for the article. Fun read.

  12. [...] Simon Says: The Effed-Up Arc of a Bikram Yoga Inner-Dialogue. [...]

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  15. Margot Schindler says:

    Okay, I'm going to speak up now… I'm Bikram's Buddha Bhaktin. Which means that I gave Bikram the power to become a guru. I have the power to understand him when no one cares what he thinks or says because he's autistic. So, many many people have taken advantage of his ability to teach yoga. They have taken what he created and made it into something of a travesty. He is severely disappointed that people were more interested in the sexual aspect of his yoga than the healing aspect. He is severely uncomfortable about the fact that the TT were not what he had wanted them to be. Journeys to a healing yoga teaching practice.

    The man I know as Bikram is different from the one that most people know. He's a sweet caring man who is totally perplexed at the fact that people never respected him enough to honestly help him to accomplish his dream, up to now. Instead, they blithely went along with the people who were controlling him without thinking about what he must be feeling under the circumstances. He was very unhappy.

    How can I tell without speaking to him? Look at any recent photo of the man. He doesn't smile, he grimaces. His smile used to be wonderful because, when an autistic person smiles they feel no guilt. No fear, no frustration. It's a beautifully honest smile that can't be read to be anything but what it is. An autistic person doesn't know how to tell everyone how they feel. They don't even know that it's really possible. When an autistic person loses the ability to smile, something is so wrong with their emotions that it's painful for me to experience. Since I've been in his life, on one level or another, I've seen a bit of the twinkle in his eyes return… They can smile around the edges, but the rest of his facial muscles are too tense for an honest smile.

    Why would people listen to a man tell us he wants to see our happy smiling face, yet not pay any attention to the fact that he, himself, is not smiling and happy? What were they really doing with him behind the scenes? I know, because I'm his Bhaktin and it's my business to know. I knew before I was born. I had to live it and experience how it felt to see a man on his knees after knowing how powerful he felt when I first walked away from that man 40 something years ago.

    Bikram is going to be okay. He's going to come through this and the people who took advantage of him are going to have to deal with their karma….. As the Dalai Lama says, "Sometimes, it's better that you don't get what you want."

    "Beware of maya….. It can get you. It can hurt you…."

    Namaste!

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