8 Reasons Bikram is a F*ckin* Yoga Genius.

Via Peter Sklivas
on Oct 20, 2010
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Part 1 in Series: Pros & Cons of Bikram Yoga – In the early 70’s Bikram Choudhury launched a yoga revolution. Using a specific sequence of 26 postures & 2 breathing exercises, the flamboyant Beverly Hills yogi created a methodology that’s still growing in popularity worldwide. Below are 8 elements which set Bikram Yoga apart as a radical departure from styles of yoga that dominated before his arrival.

Bikram Tap Dancing Up the Spine

1. Everyman’s Yoga – Bikram designed a sequence of postures most every American can do. He made it physically challenging. But unlike more pretzel-ie styles of yoga, Bikram was determined to accommodate stiff dudes, round bodies, humpty dumpties (injuries from accidents, all kinds of chronic medical conditions & bodies falling apart from poor lifestyles), gym rats, athletes, arthritis sufferers & almost any other condition you can name.

2. One Playing Field – Bikram eliminated the hierarchy of class levels by declaring his beginning yoga class was for all levels from complete newcomers to the most experienced yogis. In other styles students were often required to sign up for a sequential series of classes within their designated level that happened once a week at a particular time. If a studio member skipped her class, she had to wait until next week and hope you had not missed too much to be able to practice with the rest of the class. Bikram said, “Practice as often you can. Since all Bikram classes have the same challenging routine, come to whichever times work in your schedule.” This democratization of yoga simplified the process of establishing a reliable brand so that studio members loved the flexibility of being able to attend any class. What’s more, people visiting other cities could feel confident about what to expect in taking classes in unfamiliar Bikram studios. The convenience of One Playing Field in class schedules has seeped into many studios in other yoga styles.

3. Heat, Steam & Mirrors – Pumping heat and steam into the yoga studio is like giving ordinary Americans a telephone booth into which to step & don their Superwoman/man cape. If you have not tired it (By trying it, I recommend taking a minimum of 4 classes within 10 days. This concentrated dose of yoga will give you a good sample. Looking into the mirror on the wall can reflect much more than physical alignment. Staring into your own eyes can be a wonderful gateway into your soul (atman) or an opportunity to confront self-image issues.

4. Teachers Teach. They don’t Practice when Teaching – Before Bikram barged onto the world yoga stage, most yoga teachers rolled out their mats at the front of the class so they could demonstrate postures while speaking instruction. Ardently opposed this conventional approach, Bikram demanded that his teachers focus 100% of their attention on studio members to provide superior service. Bikram’s approach makes it much easier to consistently correct the myriad nuances that go into developing a successful yoga practice.

5. Savasana Sandwich – Savasana is the bread on either side of Bikram’s floor postures. Bikram says most of the healing in a yoga class happens in Savasana. This is the great integration posture. The miracles attributed to yoga practice unfold in the deepest states of relaxation. What’s the best way to clean a dirty sponge? Soak it in hot water. Then you squeeze the sponge hard. And you repeat these 2 steps until the sponge is clean. Savasana is soaking in the pure energy of Shakti (i.e. hot water). Active asanas are like squeezing the sponge. Bikram calls it “the tourniquet effect.” See below. Even during Bikram’s Standing Series, there is a pause between asanas that can be like a standing Savasana for the yogi seeking the maximum Shakti soak.

6. High Rehab Value – Thousands of broken bodies hobble into Bikram studios and walk out feeling rejuvenated. I realize what I’m writing sounds farfetched. But I’ve seen it firsthand many times in my own yoga studio. Rheumatoid & osteo arthritis, knee injuries, spinal rods, vertigo issues, agonizing back pain & on & on. One woman with a double lung transplant had suffered terrible migraine headaches for years until she attended a month of Bikram Yoga. Then the pain was gone & didn’t return. This woman was a highly active athlete. So you can’t attribute this miracle to simply getting her body moving and her heart rate up.

6. Tourniquet Effect – In yoga asanas Bikram discovered that by temporarily cutting off blood flow to specific body parts, the body would suddenly receive tremendous benefit when the practitioner came out of the posture. Overall body circulation and endocrine function improved. Bikram attributes many of the miraculous healings associated with Bikram Yoga to this phenomenon which he dubbed ‘the tourniquet effect.’

7.  Practical Workout – In 90 minutes students challenge every part of their body. In their very first class newcomers routinely report feeling a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Bikram raised the bar regarding a simple regiment that could be practiced again and again with tremendous ongoing benefits.

8. Strutting to Mukti – Bikram shattered the goodie-2-shoes attitude so prevalent in yoga. In 1992 when Bikram arrived at Kripalu he shocked every disciple by strutting into the Main Chapel wearing a bright silk robe & hurling F-bombs seated next to our guru Yogi Amrit Desai. No one had ever done such a thing. And he laughed at our childlike innocence. Characterizing Bikram as insensative would be unfair. He just possessed his own brash nature. And, like water is wet & sugar is sweet, Bikram is a man who expresses himself without apologies. Personally I felt liberated from my own habitual constraints of excessive self judgments when I spent 9 weeks with Bikram in 2000 doing his Yoga Teacher Training. Just before completing his certification program Bikram told my fellow graduate trainees that we were now licensed to kill like James Bond 007. Okay, it’s corny. Maybe sophomoric. But the guy makes yoga fun. For anyone with an all-too-serious disposition, Bikram’s humor can be positively liberating. (BTW: Mukti translates as Liberation which is the goal of every yogi.)

My next installment is called 8 Pitfalls of Bikram Yoga. I hope these blogs inspire a healthy discussion of the pros & cons regarding various aspects of Hot Yoga as well as the bigger picture of yoga. Please chime in if you can add other unique elements to Bikram Yoga.



20 Responses to “8 Reasons Bikram is a F*ckin* Yoga Genius.”

  1. PeterSklivas says:

    Thanks, Bob! It's exciting to be on EJ Team!

  2. PeterSklivas says:

    Naheed, Your story inspires me to rediscover my practice anew. Wouldn't it be something if people everywhere could turn to healing instead of fighting? Look for my next blog in a week! Thank you, Naheed! Hope you keep returning to your yoga mat. Peter

  3. PeterSklivas says:

    Hi Yogini# At Yoga Passion I'm privileged to serve many elder studio members who could never do a headstand or a repetion of Sun Salutations. They love the heat. And they receive tremendous benefits from exploring their level of challenge. Not just physical benefits. So anyone out there who thinks Hot Yoga is just for elite athletes could not be more wrong. While I teach HotCore Yoga which is a Bikram spinoffI feel so grateful to Bikram for launching this hot yoga revolution. Grateful for my own practice & guiding a wide swath of folks seeking sanctuary in their life. Regarding hypocrisy, couldn't we all benefit from being upfront about the business side of operating a yoga studio or promoting teacher trainings?

  4. PeterSklivas says:

    In the Spring 2000 Bikram YTT things weren't so orthodox. Though he discouraged it, Bikram let trainees leave the room. And the attendance thing was definitely not so rigid. It sounds as though in expanding YTT enrollment, some humanity was lost. Bikram has a genuinely charming warm side. But he also can be hard, rude, crass. The definition of Oxymoron in a yogi. Unless his trainees understand the limitations of the man & his yoga teacher training, they are likely to underestimate how big a subject yoga is & how becoming a great teacher requires decades of ongoing dedicated practice/study including a deep inquiry into compassion.

  5. I knew I was starting to progress in my inner practice of Yoga when I became comfortable looking into the mirror with complete objectivity and non-judgement, neither feeling bad about it or buoyed by it, just looking, and not avoiding.

    Bob W.

  6. Yogini# says:

    Ironic thing is that in one of the studios I now practice at on occasion (if not in the throes of a short-expiry class pack, in which case I frequent it), I am two feet away from a mirror … the temperature is slightly warmer than room temperature, about the upper reaches of the 70° F – 80° F range, tops [they are friends with their air conditioner in the summertime] … so I would not expect the range of flexibility I could only imagine in a heated studio … to beyond 85° F, beyond 105° F. I come face to face with that. The reality is that average flexibility … which was slightly better when younger, of course. And me, straining. I don't avoid the mirror image anymore …

    Just a word from refrigerated studio-land …


  7. ojh says:

    I also attended teacher training in Hawaii, 2007. I wonder if we went to the same one because I had the same experience. I found that the staff was strict, rude and that Bikram himself was not in a good mood. I have also visited other trainings since and they are nothing like ours was. Maybe it was a rough patch? Students were allowed to leave during class, nap even during lectures. I was angry at first, seething, actually. But the training I got was what I got and there's not much I can do about it. I have yet to re-certify as I now own a studio and am teaching too many classes to leave. Those I know who have gone to re-certify, mind you, have all said that it is nothing more than a money grab…

  8. Julie says:

    I went to the Hawaii training too. Each training has it’s own challenges.
    I feel fortunate now after the fact to have had the staff we had. As
    certified teachers we all know it’s a process for us too. The experience
    you had was a process of growth for everyone involved. It took me a
    long time to release the anger. What I realized was much of the anger
    was my own. Your peace can only be stolen if you allow it. That
    staffs compassion came from never giving up on us as a group. Hawaii
    transition from head office in LA was I’m sure a very challenging one.
    Yes yoga is a business and we are also a family. We all shared in the
    frustrations and the beauty of that experience together. I was there too.
    It was not easy. No one said it would be easy to observe growth in you
    or the people around you. I have since reconnected with many of those staff
    members and they’re wonderful people when you see the after teaching
    for awhile with a new set of eyes.

    Remember this………..Bishnu Gosh TD Bikram to reach as many people
    as possible during your life. He is following his teachers request. You
    might not completely agree with his style………..easy to say when you’re
    not the one with the responsibilty. If you have chosen to teach and
    even open a studio with a style of yoga that gas allowed you prosperity,
    maybe go back and visit yourself with an open heart and avoid the
    judgement of others who gave alowed their peace to be stolen!
    Good luck on your journey! I was there with you! I hope yiu are well!
    Come and visit us in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. We arei
    insane with all kins if yoga here!

  9. Ashley A. says:

    This is a great point! I think that in many cases, the mirror can be a helpful tool for the reasons you suggest. And I'm definitely feeling your advice and think that I may need to take another look, as it were. I guess I just think that in some cases (though certainly not all), the mirror can hurt rather than help, i.e. in reinforcing the ego rather than helping to get over it. Perhaps this is where the teacher can come in to help in using the mirror in an effective rather than dependent way!

  10. ksk says:

    I was at Hawaii 07, and couldn't agree more about the rude and insensitive staff.
    But I loved the yoga, and that was why I was there.
    As soon as training was over, I got that love back. But training, itself, was only a means to an end. We really learned very little about the yoga, aside from Craig's daily but short explanations. I found that it was my practice that taught me most.

  11. Yogini# says:

    Again, with respect to #3, I have taken Heated Pilates, (dynamic style) at about 90° F. The teacher was a master and the class was all-level, and there had been plenty of sweat. But I am on a medication in which I can't be in extreme heat/hot sun. Active yoga is probably out … I had been far away from the mirror as I had been a beginner Pilates student …

  12. Deirdre says:

    yes you are Julie. Om Namaha to the light that shines, so bright, in you. You make me laugh, very hard, on the inside, as I smile at the love you sent our way! Let us be guided and reminded that atman, and that alone, is ALLLLLL/ that we seek. ( Focus,meditate, concentrate, one point ahead of you…) I too teach Bikram ( Spring , 2002), and indeed it takes a while to learn how to surrender love, feel compassion … for someone ELSE, first you have to find it for yourself! Everybody wont get to the same place at the same time. Moreover, most of us are very stingy with our love. What do we leave behind. Holla at me sometime ! I live in DC and I'm [email protected] I

  13. misty says:

    Ayuvedically speaking you would benefit from pranayama classes to maintain a steady controlled breathing pattern , keeping in mind the chemical breakdown of the medication your on. Supporting our immunes system at this time (warm mushy soups, lil dairy,cooked fruist, etc of the year, is a challenge, but you have an extra one to consider. Balance your time and activity so that you get proper rest,that's where the healing happens. Good luck friend

  14. democratic bikram says:

    yo, don't go to the Dark side of Bikkkrrraaamm! Do yourself a favor and flow chica/o! They were not their to entertain you. It is a brand, and it has potential to change many things,far to numerous to afford a welcoming committee. Sorry I just know Bikram , all of it! Welcome! Let the seething you feel be washed out, let go! Really! You got what you needed, go fly! When you need to recertify, you will and it will be a trip! Ive done it four times. Holla
    [email protected]

  15. Julie says:

    I have been attending Hot Yoga for close to two years now, I have found that it has stripped all my thoughts of negative body image. I also am a gym rat, but I find when I am at the gym lifting, my feelings about my body are much more negative, but in the yoga studio I loose all of those feelings. I find for me that attending a hot yoga class is like attending church, I leave cleansed and renewed. JC

  16. […] down, let it be known that when it comes to cleansing, I’m a believer. Green tea, Master Cleanse, Bikram, whatever—if it promises to make my insides a shinier example of what I’m aiming for on the […]

  17. Andy says:

    I agree with you. I fucking cannot stand Bikram and the method he has trained his teachers to act. They act like complete pricks. I mean, they are awful people. Maybe not outside of class, but in those 90 minutes—they are assholes. I never thought I'd leave a yoga class feeling pissed off. Unbelievable.

  18. Andy. Please continue to voice your strong opinions, but without the swear words and the generalized character judgments. Please just stick to the behavior you don't like. Thank you.

  19. 8===D says: