April 2, 2015

Making The Switch From Bikram.

Side stretch yoga

“There aren’t any mirrors!”

I was shocked.

How was I supposed to check my alignment in eagle pose as I tangled my right leg over my left thigh and around my left ankle while crossing my right arm under my left elbow in order to interlace my hands above my eyebrows?

I had been practicing yoga irregularly over the past six years. This may sound like a long time, but in actual fact I practiced intensely for two weeks, decided I needed a five-year break and have only returned to it for the past year or so.

Up until that point, all of my yoga experience was through Bikram. I was 27 and worshipped Bikram yoga. I read his biography. I memorized each of his 26 poses and two breathing exercises. I purchased an enormous mirror and a powerful heater so I could simulate the studio environment in my bedroom. I even bought a pair of leopard print speedos to wear while I practiced. (Okay, that part may not be true.) In fact, I was so ignorant, I thought yoga that wasn’t Bikram Yoga was yoga not worth doing.

Therefore, when I first stepped into a new studio and discovered the heaters were turned off and that instead of gazing into my own reflection at the front of the room, I was simply staring at a large white wall, I felt completely lost.

But it wasn’t just the cold air and white walls that I found difficult to contend with—the surprises kept coming.

First, the teacher demonstrated poses that were completely new to me. That’s an unfamiliar concept to a devoted Bikram student. Second, in all my years of practicing at various Bikram studios throughout Melbourne and London, I’d never come across a downward facing dog. My wrists were throbbing with pain.

Then the teacher started moving from one pose to another. My gosh, my head was about to explode! How was I supposed to remember more than one pose in a row? I’m sorry but in all of my time practicing yoga, my brain had become accustomed to this routine: Standing pose. Rest. Another standing pose. Rest again. Until it was time for the floor sequence, which meant: Floor pose. Rest. Another floor pose. Rest again.

Was this teacher crazy? I can’t do six poses in a row! And why did we move from the floor to our feet, back to the floor and then to our feet again? Had the world gone completely mad?

This went on for 90 minutes.

I didn’t realize my right foot was hanging off the side of my mat in warrior one. I didn’t know where my left shoulder was supposed to be in triangle and I certainly couldn’t tell if my hips were aligned in half pigeon!

Then it suddenly hit me—I have no awareness of my body!

I mean absolutely zero. Every time I adjusted my pose in the Bikram studio, it was because I could see I was out of alignment in the IMAX-sized mirrors. I wasn’t used to relying on my own muscle memory.

I couldn’t believe I’d been so naïve for so long. I’d simply assumed that Bikram was to yoga as Apple was to portable music devices, or Vegemite was to yeast extract breakfast spreads (I hope I haven’t offended any Marmite lovers out there).

Don’t get me wrong, I still think there’s a place for Bikram’s style of yoga in the yoga community—I mean I’ve met people who drive all around the French countryside in pursuit of a McDonald’s Big Mac and others who’ve been offered a Moroccan tea in Marrakech only to turn it down in preference for a cup of Nescafe instant coffee.

Some people need familiarity in their lives in order to function correctly.

Fortunately for me, I can’t stand McDonald’s and love the taste of Moroccan tea, so when I discovered there was more to yoga than 26 postures, I knew I had to say goodbye to Bikram and hello to yoga.


Author: Stuart Bracecamp

Editor: Evan Yerburgh

Photo: Flickr


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Stuart Bracecamp