Ashtanga vs. Bikram yoga: Which is Elitist?
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.
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!
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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