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About the Yoga

Why is it important to learn from a Bikram certified instructor?

It takes more than a hot room and a list of yoga positions to make a Bikram Yoga practice a safe and rewarding experience. Bikram Yoga is a specialized form of yoga, requiring appropriate training and knowledge to teach it effectively.

Bikram Choudhury, the creator of the Bikram Yoga Method, personally trains and certifies his instructors to ensure that his methods and philosophy are preserved and properly taught. To be certified as an instructor in the Bikram Method of Yoga, an instructor must complete an intensive nine-week training requiring over 500 hours of study. A yoga studio guided by a Certified Instructor provides the best possible instruction in the Bikram Yoga teaching. Certified Instructors have a continuing connection to Bikram Choudhury and his training staff, allowing the Certified Studio to draw from all of the resources Bikram's training center has to offer. This includes special seminars, a yoga positions clinic, guest instructors, and answers to questions which may arise in a particular student's practice.

Anyone can claim they teach "Bikram Yoga," but unless there is a Certified Instructor supervising how and what is taught at that yoga studio, you are not getting true Bikram Yoga Method.

How does Bikram yoga work?

By the tourniquet effect: stretching, balancing (using gravity), and creating pressure all at the same time. The blood supply in arteries and veins is being cut off, creating pressure. When released, a lock gate effect is created, causing blood to rush through veins and arteries, flushing them out. Also, pressure is applied to the heart by its relative position to the rest of the body.

What is happening in my body during a Bikram Yoga class?

Muscles are contracted and stretched at a cellular, biochemical level. Lipids and proteins reorganize optimally in such stretching, allowing for better circulation. Joint mobility and range of motion is increased, and strength is built by the use of gravity. Muscles and joints are balanced.

Blood and calcium are brought to the bones. Working against gravity strengthens the bones. The organs of the immune system within the bones (red marrow) are boosted.

The lymph nodes are massaged, lymph is pumped throughout the body, and white blood cells are distributed throughout the body as the lymphatic system works more efficiently.

There is compression and extension to the thymus, spleen, appendix and intestines; lungs are stretched and flushed out by increased blood circulation. The endocrine glands are encouraged to secrete appropriate hormones, and the communication between hormones and various glands and systems of the body is perfected. Toxins and waste are eliminated through the organs of elimination.

The nerves are stimulated by compression and extension, improving communication within the systems of the body and supplying fresh blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout. The brain is stimulated by improved circulation and by varying blood pressure.

I feel nauseous, dizzy during class and very tired after my first class. Is this normal? What should I do about it?

It is not unusual to feel nauseous or dizzy during your first class. Practicing yoga in a heated room reveals to us our present condition, and inspires us take much better care of ourselves.

Usually the problem is that we do not drink enough water for daily living, let alone for exercising in a heated room. Nutritionists tell us that we need 64-80 ounces of water a day to help the body function properly.

In the heated yoga room, your body needs adequate fund of water to allow perspiration to release heat from the body as you practice. So we estimate you need another 64-80 ounces (sometime during the day) to allow for your 90 minutes in the room. Once you are drinking enough water your body will tolerate the heat better and you will actually enjoy the heat.

If you feel disoriented or like you need a good nap after your first few classes, this is likely because your body has begun to cleanse itself as a result of the yoga practice. Don't be scared. After the first few classes this sensation will pass. The more you can relax as you give your 110% honest effort during class, the more energized you will feel throughout the class and throughout the rest of your day.

How many times a week is it recommended to practice?

In the beginning, do the Full Class religiously each day for two months until you are performing all but the very difficult poses such as the Standing Bow Pulling and Stretching Pose eighty percent correctly. If you are restricted by any medical condition or have any chronic disease, you should continue daily until your condition is resolved. Even when your progress is measured in fractions of inches that add excellence to what is already good, rather than in bold strokes, like being able to balance on one leg for ten seconds, you should continue your Yoga practice daily.

When you are performing ninety percent of the yoga positions ninety percent correctly, you should still not feel complacent about doing your Yoga. Doing this Hatha Yoga class every day is like everything else you do in your life that is good for maintaining life. You don't plan to give up doing those things because of the daily benefit you receive.

How good is this Yoga habit? Look at someone who has been doing this yoga for over twenty or thirty years. Don't ask their ages. They have become timeless.

What is the recommended room temperature for Bikram Yoga?

The recommended temperature is 105 degrees and about 60% humidity.

The room is kept at this temperature to keep the body from overheating (contrary to popular belief), protect muscles to allow for deeper stretching, detoxify the body (open pores to let toxins out), thin the blood to clear the circulatory system, increase heart rate for better cardiovascular workout, improve strength by putting muscle tissue in optimal state for reorganization, and reorganize lipids (fat) in the muscular structure.

If I can't get to a yoga studio to practice in class, will I get any benefit from practicing at home in a normally heated room?

You must heat the area where you do your yoga. If you can, you should try to heat it to at least 100 degrees F. You should sweat a lot when you do your hatha yoga. If your bathroom is large enough, you can preheat the room with a space heater, and by running the shower with hot water, leave the water in the tub as this will keep the room hot. If you have difficulty heating an area to 100 degrees, then you must wear warm up clothing while you do your yoga. This will keep the heat from escaping the body.

I cannot overstate the importance of doing your hatha yoga in heat. Doing your yoga in a cold environment can bring harm to your body. Remember you are changing the construction of your body as you perform these yoga positions. Suppose you are going to make a sword. You start with a piece of fine steel and the first thing you do is put the steel in the fire and heat it up. When the steel is hot it becomes soft. Then you can hammer it and slowly you make it change shape to the sword you want. This is the natural way. Now if you don't heat it up and start hammering the cold steel nothing is going to happen to the steel but you'll break your hand, the hammer, your arm and all the connecting joints. The same thing happens when you do any exercise, even hatha yoga, in a cold environment. When you do your hatha yoga in the heat, your body is malleable.

If this is completely impossible to arrange, then move more slowly and carefully, and breathe more deeply into the yoga positions.

Can you please explain 80-20 breathing and exhalation breathing?

80-20: In this method of breathing, you take in a full breath. Go to the yoga position and continuously let out 20 percent of the air through your nose with your mouth closed. In yoga positions that require 80-20 breathing, you need oxygen in the lungs to do the posture, so you will be able to maintain proper strength while performing the posture.

Exhalation: In exhalation breathing, you take in a full breath and exhale the breath completely when you achieve the posture. While you are doing the posture you should continue exhaling.

With either breathing technique, you should not strain. In the beginning, your lung capacity will not be large enough for you to sustain yourself with the above breathing methods. To prevent straining your lungs, take another breath as needed and continue with the breathing method. As your lung capacity improves and you improve doing your yoga positions, you will find that following these breathing methods becomes as natural as doing the yoga positions themselves.

Why are inversions not included in Bikram's series?

Bikram feels it is more important to do the yoga positions outlined in his method first because it safely builds all the strength the body needs to be totally healthy throughout all the systems. Most beginners do not have the strength to do traditional inverted yoga positions safely. Some of the benefits of inversions (blood flow to the brain, reduction of blood pressure, compression of the thyroid gland) are provided by separate leg stretching, separate leg forehead to knee, rabbit pose, and the whole series in general.

After several years of steady dedicated practice, your Bikram instructor may invite you to an advanced class in which inverted yoga positions and more are practiced.

Is Bikram Yoga aerobic?

The word aerobic literally means "with oxygen" or "in the presence of oxygen." Aerobic activity trains the heart, lungs and cardiovascular system to process and deliver oxygen more quickly and efficiently to every part of the body by elevating the heart rate during exercise to its target level. As the heart muscle becomes stronger and more efficient, a larger amount of blood can be pumped with each stroke. Fewer strokes are then required to rapidly transport oxygen to all parts of the body.

You can derive these benefits from practicing Bikram yoga. Use this formula to find your target heart rate:

220 – your age X 60% and X 90%

For example, a 30-year old would calculate his target zone using the above formula: 220-30=190. 190x.60=114 and 190x.90=171.

This individual would try to keep his heart rate between 114 (low end) and 171 (high end) beats per minute.

You can take your pulse during class and see that due to the nature of the asanas, your heart rate and respiration become elevated to your target level. This can help you determine how intensely to work during class.

Does Bikram Yoga help with balancing the emotions?

Bikram Yoga helps balance the emotions in several ways:

Physiologically, regular practice harmonizes the nervous and endocrine systems, two systems which figure heavily in emotional well-being.

In addition, practicing Bikram Yoga cultivates the mental faculties of faith, self-control, concentration, determination, and patience. As we become more aware of our inner life, we notice how events, interactions, and even the atmospheric pressure effect us. When we are aware, we can exercise choice in our response. This helps us balance our emotional life.

Is it safe to practice Bikram Yoga when menstruating?

It is perfectly safe to do Bikram Yoga when menstruating. Inverted yoga positions are normally the postures contraindicated for menstruation. But there are no inverted yoga positions in Bikram Yoga.

So in fact, Bikram Yoga is very good for toning the reproductive system as it directly affects the reproductive organs and the endocrine glands—pituitary, pineal and thyroid gland in particular. The women's cycle becomes regular; complaints of irregularity and PMS decrease.

Is it safe to practice Bikram Yoga when pregnant?

"If you have been doing yoga regularly just prior to your pregnancy, then you may continue with the yoga exercises in this book until your third month, or up until the time you are no longer able to lie on your abdomen. Then you should use Rajashree's Yoga for Pregnancy video.

If you are new to yoga or have not been doing Yoga just prior to your pregnancy, you should wait three months until you start. At that time you should use the Rajashree's pregnancy yoga video.

If your delivery was healthy and normal start your yoga the moment you are out of bed. Do all the exercises from the first day, no problem." —Bikram Choudhury, Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class, ©2000

No yoga positions should be done which cause compression on the diaphragm or heart. In backbends, don't push hips forward of knees in backbends, stretch upward and back with the upper spine; when coming up bend the knees to relieve back pressure. Moderate heat is okay from the beginning. Separate feet slightly in standing poses. In forward bends keep knees open No head to knee pose, separate leg forehead to knee, or rabbit. Also no cobra, locust, full locust, or bow postures. Rest on side in between yoga positions rather than on the back. Long, deep, slow breathing in easy sitting position is relaxing for mom and baby.

Be sure to talk to your yoga instructor about this.

Is it safe to practice Bikram Yoga with high blood pressure?

Unstable high blood pressure responds so quickly to diligent yoga practice that doctors sometimes doubt their instruments. (This quick response of the blood pressure is one of the most telling demonstrations of yoga's ability to regulate and synchronize body systems.) If you are tested about a week after starting yoga, you may see a slight rise in pressure. Don't be alarmed. By the second week, that pressure will be normal or close to normal and will stay there as long as you maintain your yoga regimen.

Consult your doctor, use common sense, and don't push hard in any of the poses the first three days. The poses in which high blood pressure patients must continue to exercise caution until their blood pressure checks out normally are these: the backward bending portion of Half Moon, the Standing Bow Pulling, Balancing Stick, Cobra, and the third part of Locust, Full Locust and the Camel.

Depending on the severity of your condition, the above should be done for a count of no more than five at first, building to ten counts only after two weeks. If you are supple enough to do the Fixed Firm fully the first few days, limit that to five counts as well. Be absolutely sure to rest between each set. It is also essential for heart patients to breathe normally during the yoga positions. As for the Bow Pose, (on the floor) a beginner with high blood pressure must never perform the pose without a qualified yoga instructor present.

It is because these backward bending positions create pressure in the chest, and so on the heart, that high blood pressure patients must use caution. Do not eliminate them though—with the exception of Bow Pose. They are the very friends you need to control your ailment.

Is it safe to practice Bikram Yoga with Asthma, Emphysema or Chronic Bronchitis?

Without knowing the cause of your asthma, we can tell you that Bikram Yoga will be good for you in several ways. It is done in a warm room which promotes relaxation of the muscles and nerves, and is the type of exercise that you can do with as little or as much intensity as appropriate for your needs. In other words, you can do each posture with less effort if you're concerned about overexertion triggering an attack or you can sit down and rest whenever you need to during the class.

It will relax your mind and help let go of tensions, toxins and negativity. It also strengthens your heart and lungs, improving your lung function. You will breathe easier and deeper than you ever have before.

Is it safe to practice Bikram Yoga with Arthritis?

Hopeless-type maladies? Diseases of laziness are all they are. Yoga can "cure" arthritis. That is, it can relieve symptoms. This is not a miracle; it is common sense.

Many people think arthritis occurs because of an overabundance of calcium in the body. But there is really no overabundance. The problem is that the calcium is deposited as a form of calcium phosphate in the joint-tissue, including the spine. At that point, the calcium phosphate deposit begins to build layers in the joint—spiky crystal formations like a cactus—until no room is left for the joint to pivot smoothly in its socket. And these spiny needles irritate the surrounding muscles and nerves, and the agony of arthritis begins.

Rheumatism? It is closely related to arthritis. You have only to do your yoga and you may be free of rheumatism.

Gout is also a problem that attacks the joints. And again and again in my series of exercises, you find me addressing myself specifically to exercising the joints. If I seem to be reducing some of the oldest, most painful, and perplexing diseases to lack of exercise, you're right. But that is what they often seem to boil down to.

Sadly, the theory seems to be that with advancing "age" one should "slow down," "take it easy," don't exert oneself or do too much exercise. And if you get something like arthritis, take it even easier; don't move, except to open your mouth to swallow the latest pill being offered as a cure. This advice is simply more nails for an earlier coffin. Exercise, meaning daily yoga—is the cure.

Is it safe to practice Bikram Yoga with back problems?

Picture your spine as a series of ball bearings (vertebrae) one on top of the other, each separated from the next by a cushion (a cartilage disc). When the spine in shiny and new, all the ball bearings are smooth and round, moving freely in all directions and the cushions are strong and thick. Now picture your daily activities. In one position after another, probably ninety-five percent of the time, that spine is leaning forward.

What is happening, then, is that each vertebra of your back is compressing its cushion in a front wise direction. This goes on year after year until there is no resiliency left in the front of the cushions, while the two sides and back have grown weak and slack from disuse. In addition, lack of movement has made the bearings rusty and barnacles have developed. The result: backache, stiff neck, headache, and countless other complaints.

The cure: exercise! Make the spine work so that resiliency and strength are restored to each cushion, so that the rust and barnacles are worn off the ball bearings, so that an x-ray would show them smooth and round, sitting snugly on their fat, renewed cushions.

Beginning with Half Moon, my series of exercises is designed to make your shocked and shriveled spine work to both sides, to the back, and then to the front. Only by exercising in all directions can your spine be healthy; and only with a healthy spine can you have a healthy nervous system.

If your chronic problem is something such as sciatic pain, lumbago, sore back muscles, whiplash, vertebrae out of line, shoulder trouble, radiating pains down the arms, tension headaches, swayback, spinal curvature, pinched nerves, or "something not quite right that the doctor said I ought to watch," stop watching. Act! Get to work on these exercises. Even those who have had spinal surgery should get to working with their doctor's okay and a qualified yoga instructor who can lead them in my particular series of exercises.

People with slipped disc are often in such pain that Yoga seems further torture. However, in numerous slipped disc cases, determined Yoga can save the day. So endure the pain. But please note that those with slipped disc should also work under the supervision of a qualified instructor using my exact series of exercises and the safety rules laid down in the body of this book.

As you can see, the best thing is to adopt a yoga regimen before any of these troubles developing, for if you do, they probably won't develop at all.

Other Questions...

Can I still lift weights (run, bike, do aerobics) once I start Bikram Yoga practice?

Bikram yoga indeed does promote stretching and elasticity of muscles. It does so much more, though. It also promotes strength and balance, balanced strength, and balanced flexibility.

If you find in your practice for example, that your abdominals need strengthening or your hips or shoulders need stabilizing, you could do weight training that accomplishes those goals. The more your hips and shoulders are stabilized by balanced strength around the joints, the more in alignment your yoga positions and your body will be.

It is also possible to only do Bikram yoga and accomplish these goals, as the practice itself deepens your awareness of your body's needs.

I've been experiencing tremendous pain in my hamstrings since I've started Bikram yoga. What should I do?

Bikram says, "It's not what you do, but how you do it." So don't let the mind wander during practice. Don't be too aggressive or impatient, either. The only time you will hurt yourself (create a sprain or pull) is if you overuse your strength or do postures mindlessly. Think of alignment. Biomechanically you are very safe if you do yoga positions in alignment.

Muscle imbalance creates a lot of problems. Check to make sure there is good alignment with the left and right side of the quads. Balance with the foot in alignment and the weight in alignment. Remember, the body follows the eyes. Be careful to do the yoga positions correctly, because you are creating an imprint that is hard to undo.

Breath is the only way to affect the involuntary systems. Oxygen deprivation is a major cause of spasms, other muscle pains, and sciatica. Use breath to break through fear of pain—sigh a relaxed sigh. Deep diaphragmatic breathing is best when dealing with lots of resistance. Send the breath there—breathe through the nose.

And finally, honor your boundaries, but expect them to expand. Have faith!

With a proper diet, is Bikram yoga good for weight loss?

A minimum of 10 classes per month is recommended to get the benefits of Bikram Yoga, among which is weight normalization. As a beginner, It takes three classes for your body to understand the proper approach to the posture, and ten classes for your body to begin to work with yoga positions. You will realize optimization of all your body systems. Digestion and respiration, as well as endocrine, lymphatic and elimination systems will begin to work harmoniously. Your appetite will normalize, and your unhealthy cravings will diminish. All of these results will help to normalize your weight if you devote yourself to regular practice, at least, but preferably more than 3 times per week.

My back hurts after I practice Bikram yoga. Do you have any suggestions?

Please follow the instructions carefully when you are doing forward bends. For example, in the half moon—padahastasana series, the instructions are to bring your torso on your thighs, chest to the knees, no light space anywhere between the torso and the thighs. If you try to straighten your legs without having this first part accomplished, you can create pain in your lower back. Also keep in mind the instruction "360 degrees stretching." What that means is to make the stretch even throughout the whole back side of the body. (See previous question for more details).

You also want to follow these guidelines in separate leg stretching. Bikram says, "Suck in your stomach and bend your upper body down from your lower spine towards the floor." It is difficult to suck in your stomach unless you exhale, so make sure to exhale as you fold forward. When you suck in your stomach, it supports the whole pelvis to roll forwards with the rest of your spine—this eliminates strain in the lower back.

Working carefully, mindfully, allowing your breath to flow with your movement will help you to gradually deepen your experience of the yoga positions.

I have degenerative disc disease (or bulging or herniated discs). Can I still do forward bends?

Generally, doctors recommend not doing forward bends with such conditions. With degenerative disc disease, improper forward bends can cause slippage of the vertebrae. With herniated or bulging discs, in forward bends, the bulge can press onto the spinal nerves creating pain. Backward bends are recommended for building strength in the spine and spinal muscles, and they have the added advantage of taking the bulge away from the spinal nerves, relieving pain as well as toning the digestive system and strengthening the breathing.

However, it is important to learn to bend forward properly. At the beginning, learn to fold forward safely. Experiment gradually increasing the strength of your pulling on your heels in forward bends. Do not cause pain with this pulling. You must back away from pain. Also, don't do sit-ups while in the acute stage of your condition and roll over onto your side to sit up.

Your practice of what you can do will gradually enable you to do more and more of the series as your back strengthens. You will get relief from pain and it is not impossible to regenerate the herniated or bulging discs. Expect to practice regularly for the best results.

I have bad knees. I experience knee pain. Can Bikram Yoga help me?

Whether the knees are arthritic or injured, Bikram Yoga will definitely help. Bikram actually healed his knee, which was crushed by a 300 pound weight, with his guru's help doing yoga. You must move the knees to get circulation to them, and Bikram's yoga helps you do both.

So how should you proceed? Make sure to listen carefully to the alignment instructions in each posture. When you are told to keep your feet parallel in standing yoga positions, please do so. A half inch in either direction away from parallel has its effects all the way up the knees and into the hips.

In standing balancing yoga positions, it is also important to keep the standing foot straight and the standing knee pointing straight ahead. If your knee bows back (hyperextension) you should bring the weight forwards towards the toes so as to engage the quadriceps muscle ("lock the knee") and lift the kneecap upwards. This action brings the leg into one line and brings true strength to the knees.

When you are bending your knees in any of the standing yoga positions, keep the knees pointed over the toes. This will ensure that the knees and hips are strengthened evenly inside and out.

In triangle, when you are told to push your hips forward as you bend your front knee, this will keep your hip in line with your knee in line with your foot. This is also good for even strengthening of hip and knee joints.

In some of the standing yoga positions, it might be very difficult to bend your knee to a 90 degree angle. So do the best you can without creating pain. Better to keep proper alignment bending 1% than to go 100% in poor alignment.

In the floor poses, notably fixed firm, half tortoise and perhaps rabbit, it might be difficult for you to bend your knees enough that the hips sit on the heels. To test your knee flexibility, keep lots of weight in your hands and bend the knees gradually to the point (but not past) of pain. You must be able to relax and breathe in the posture, holding it steady, for anything to happen. As the pain decreases and you start feeling more comfortable, you can gradually take the weight out of your hands and allow more pressure on the knees. Eventually you'll be able to go all the way into the posture, and you won't even remember the time when you couldn't even sit down!

You'll find that little by little your knee pain goes away and soon you'll realize that you can walk, climb up and go down stairs, even run a little without pain!

© 2017 Bikram Yoga AZ