Bikram Yogis: Take Your Practice to the Next Level

If you’ve been practising for years (or, in the case of some super-quick studies, months) and have the 26 postures in the beginner’s Bikram Yoga series down pat, you may be looking for ways to step up your practice. Because going to Teacher Training isn’t possible for every yogi, use these suggestions (at your discretion!) to “stretch” yourself a bit further in the hot room. (Before trying some of these moves, please take a moment to ask yourself and a teacher if you’re really ready!)

Make good postures great:

  • Touch your arms together behind your calves and/or your forehead to your feet in the third part of Half Moon Posture.
  • If your knees are healthy, try doing the “bounce, bounce, bounce” in the third part of Awkward Pose.
  • Let go of the grip and hold your hands in prayer in front of your chest, palms and fingers pressed together, during Eagle Pose. The goal is to keep your wrists nice and straight and your fingers below your nose throughout the posture.
  • Try letting go of your kicked-out foot in Standing Head to Knee Pose. At first, simply release the grip on your foot and straighten out your fingers, so that only the palm of each hand is touching either side of the foot.
  • Try to straighten your kicked-up leg so you’re doing the standing splits in Standing Bow. An excellent way to physically prepare for this is to do the splits on the floor before and after class.
  • Move your feet closer and closer together in Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose; the easier it is for you to touch your forehead to the floor between your legs, the smaller your step should be.
  • In Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose, pull your abdominal muscles in and up to get your forehead higher on your knee. When you’re ready, bring your hands together in prayer and aim to touch your fingers directly in-between your first and second toe on the floor.
  • When you’re ready, let go of your foot and bring both hands up into prayer in front of your chest during Tree Pose.
  • Once you’re balancing with both hands in prayer and looking into your eyes in the mirror, lift your hips up into the air so that you’re not resting any weight on your heel during Toe Stand (think levitation)!
  • Once you’re able to bring both legs up perpendicular to the floor in the third part of Locust Pose, try bending your knees and resting both feet on top of your head!
  • Try to see your feet coming up over your head in Bow Pose (hint: the harder you kick with your legs, the closer they’ll come to meeting your eyes).
  • Once you’ve reached the full expression of Fixed Firm Pose, “walk” your shoulders up closer toward your feet in order to maximize the “human bridge” you’ve made with your spine.
  • In Rabbit Pose, focus on the exhalation of your breath and pull your abdominal muscles in. Let the inhale happen passively.
  • In Stretching Pose (follows Head to Knee Pose), walk your hips back behind you and simultaneously walk your elbows and spine toward the front mirror. Then, touch your forehead to your feet. Bikram is rumoured to keep a running tally of yogis around the world that can accomplish this rare feat during training!
  • Stretch up out of your waist as much as you can before you twist back in Spine Twisting Pose. Then, wrap your arm around your waist and grab your inner thigh during the posture. This will help you get a much deeper stretch across your shoulders and back!

Break your bad habits:

  • Do an entire class without breathing through your mouth (except when told to do so, during the first and final breathing exercises, sit-ups, etc.). No sighing, no talking, no drama!
  • If you find yourself favouring certain teachers’ classes, make it a point to do yoga with new instructors. The dialogue will be the same, but you’ll likely learn a thing or two.
  • Better yet, stop checking the schedule entirely to see who’s teaching class. Just go, without expectations and with the intention to do your best and try your hardest no matter what.
  • Vow not to complain about the heat. If the room seems too cold, work harder (and remember that there will be days when you’ll wish the studio wasn’t so hot!).
  • Give up your “regular” spot in the room. It’s amazing the new perspective you’ll gain through such a simple change.
  • If you’re an “evening yogi,” try a morning class; your flexibility increases as you go about your day, and a 6 a.m. class may challenge you in new ways (plus, it’s a great boost of energy first thing in the morning!).
  • Do a “waterless” class – just be sure to hydrate thoroughly before and after. Though the debate rages on about this practice, certain advanced practitioners may benefit from detaching themselves from their routine water-bottle habits.

Challenge yourself:

  • Do seven, 30, 60 or any other number of yoga classes on consecutive days; the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel at the end will be unreal. Just be sure to listen to your body and let yourself take a break if you need to.
  • Keep a yoga diary, recording your thoughts, feelings, challenges and successes after each class.
  • Come to class early so that you have time to stretch, de-stress and prepare – physically and mentally – for practice. Also, give yourself at least two minutes (the longer the better) to lie in Savasana after class.
  • Don’t let anyone steal your peace. No matter what’s going on around you, think of yourself as the “eye of the storm” – calm, cool and collected despite the “heavy breather” next to you or the fact that the person in front of you is blocking your view of the mirror.

Remember: as long as you show up for class and try each posture to the best of your ability (for that day), focusing on form and alignment rather than depth, you’ll reap the maximum benefits of the series – no matter how fast or how far you advance!

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