Bikram Yoga: Character Building

Talking to one of the ladies who also does Bikram Yoga at our studio quite regularly, the discussion of never sitting out a posture came up.

At the beginning you always allow yourself to sit out some postures without any feelings of guilt but after you’ve been coming regularly (at least 3 times a week) for more than a year, you’d have to be pretty much about to collapse before you’ll sit out a posture.

Maybe it’s because you set yourself a new standard but even so, ego, pride, wanting to meet the teacher’s expectations or just that knowledge of what your best posture looks like and always wanting to get there or improve and do your best means, you will push regardless of what pain, cramps, dizziness, indigestion or nausea you might feel during class.

So when do you sit out?  NEVER!  Even in complete dizziness, I would still remain standing and attempt a posture.  And so, this was, until I witnessed someone who I thought was quite a strong practitioner faint during a class.  It was just before Standing Separate Leg Head To Knee Pose.  One second she was standing, the next, she was on the floor, her eyes remained open even though she’d blacked out.

Yes, it freaked me out but it also was a huge lesson that it can happen to any of us if we don’t listen to our bodies.  Yes we need to push and to strive to do better but we also need to look after our own well being and stop when we need to, even if it means sitting out a posture after years of not sitting out anything!

So how hard do you push?  When do you back off?  Are you backing off or are you giving up?

When you get dizzy or hurt or feel faint, do you give yourself permission to stop or do you keep going?

Do you know the difference between strain and pain?

Do you test your limits?  Do you push beyond them or do you give up just before you get to them?  Do you test your edge?

How do you deal with falling?  Are you afraid to fall?  How quickly do you recover if you do fall?  Do you get straight back in or do you just hang back and wait for the next posture?

Do you take yourself seriously?  Are you too serious?  Are you able to laugh at yourself?  Is your practice one big joke?

What does your self talk sound like?  Are you encouraging yourself or are you defeated before you even start?

Do you do or do you watch?  Are you looking effortless while making effort?  Or, are you just hanging back?  Are you doing the posture to the best of your ability or are you just sitting/standing watching everyone else?

Do you listen? Are you open to being taught or do you just do what you know to do / think you should do / what you’re used to?

When the teacher adjusts you or makes a comment about something you’re doing, do you take it as an insult or a lesson in improvement?

Do you focus?  Where is your focus? Is it internal or external?  Do you look into your own eyes or are you allowing the heat, the sweat, the fidgety people distract you?

It is very interesting to witness your different characters come out in the room during a yoga session.  The practice itself, how one approaches it, is definitely character building!



2 thoughts on “Bikram Yoga: Character Building”

    I am really surprised that you think you can normally complete a class without sitting out any poses! I have been doing Bikram for almost 4 years and I probably only manage about 1 in 4 classes without a rest. My studio always emphasize: “if you feel dizzy take a break, don’t judge yourself”
    I haven’t seen anyone faint, but I have often got so breathless that I can’t even hear properly, never mind see, keep my balance and stay standing up!
    After a year or so, I just began to think “if I’m not taking any rests, am I trying my best on every pose?” I also used to be surprised to see some of my instructors sitting out poses, but of course even they are pushing their own limits. (When I’m aiming to see my toes over my head and hold the pose, my instructors are probably aiming for the full splits with both legs straight.)
    It’s the standing series that gets me, especially standing bow where I think I am probably holding my breath when I try and hold the pose. I used to suffer most on Hand to Feet, but I have learnt to breathe first, breathe most and only pull a bit.

    I probably back off too soon – my teachers tell me “that pinching feeling is a good sign”. But that pinching feeling is quite painful and I don’t think I’ve recognised it as “good” pain… yet. The other reason I’ll back off early is cramp: some days I have cramp in the most obscure places I didn’t even know had muscles; other days i’m fine. Still haven’t quite figured out why.
    As for falling out, that’s how I spend a most of the balancing series. I get to my limit and try to follow whatever instruction I’ve haven’t been obeying and then fall out. Today was the first time I have ever held standing bow as one continuous pose for the whole duration. But it does actually get better and better over time. My foot is almost always above my head in standing bow (but not sure I have my body far enough down); I have a really low sit in eagle (but not really arching my back much.)

    Absolutely. What’s the point in going to a studio, if you aren’t going to follow instructions. I used to hate being told a specific correction – “why is she picking on me? I’ trying my best!” but now I can really see a difference in my practice – partly from being specifically told, part from listening. “Stomach in? What? Now? How can I pull my stomach in at that time?” but I just try and try and try and it gets better and the impossible becomes possible.

    I used to always try to find someone I can see who I was “better than” – yes, good old male ego to the fore. However, I have now realised that I just fall out if I’m looking at anyone else. And everyone has some poses they just “get”, so no matter how good I think I am, there’s always something the other people can “beat me” at. Even beginners – most of them attempt all the poses ! Without sitting out or taking rests ! That’s the most amazing thing… (I admit I don’t remember taking rests in my early practice, I was too busy trying to figure out what the poses were and thinking “that’s actually impossible!”.) So now my focus is listening, following instruction, looking myself straight in the eye and trying to remember to breathe.

  2. Hey drvon2,
    Thanks for your comment! So wonderful to hear you’re enjoying your practice and improving!

    We’re only 2 years 4 months into our BY journey but we eat well (as possible), drink water, have superfood smoothies, juice, sleep (need to work on this one too) and we often get through our classes without sitting down at all and have been doing this for at least a year (I’m about 90% of the time like this. Tony is 99% of the time… I haven’t seen him sit out anything once since our first 6 months but I’m giving him a 1% buffer in case I missed it).

    So, for us, getting through a class without sitting IS normal!! I still remember the chats we used to have after class which sounded like “OMG, I pretty much only did 1 set of everything today and I completely just stayed lying down during camel and rabbit!!” which then turned into “Today, I only sat out 3 things!!” and then “OMG! I did EVERYTHING today!! I didn’t sit out anything at all!!” followed by a hi-five. We went through at least 2 weeks of giving each other hi-fives for completing class without sitting out!! Now we don’t have those conversations anymore…

    Now our conversations are “Did you see my bow?”
    “No, I was too busy looking at mine.”
    “Well you missed it, ’cause it was AWESOME! The best one I’ve ever done!” LOL

    You’re right though. Breathing is so important. I think it’s the key to doing the whole class without sitting out at all. So yes, keep remembering to breathe in between postures as well as during them and you pretty much get through the whole thing in one piece 😉

    The “rest” happens in savasanas in between postures (the standing between postures is still savasana). We’ve learned that if you breathe deeply and completely relax and stay still during savasana, you CAN catch your breath in between postures, you are able to recover quickly and therefore do your best on the next posture.

    One teacher we have always says, “It’s not important how good you look doing a posture, it’s how good you try.”

    If you’re completely sitting out, “how good (did) you try?” Not only is it NOT your best…. you didn’t even attempt it!

    Yes there are days where my shoulders are cramping, my leg’s in pain, I don’t catch my breath and like you, I can barely hear and I’ve had days where the room turns black, there is no sound and all I can see is the Om symbol on my towel and I’ve had to focus on it with all I’ve got in order to stop the black from closing in completely but I’d stay standing then catch my breath, wait for the brightness of the room to appear again and then do the posture, even if I’m late into it, I’ll still do it.

    However, since seeing the lady faint (and also seeing a guy faint while doing balancing stick and another look like they went into a fit as they were trying to run out of the room… both had crazy muscle spasms and gave me a scare) and these incidents were some time last year, I’ve learned NOT to force myself to “stay standing” and have given myself permission in those moments to kneel before the black creeps in. When I feel a cramp coming, instead of keeping on, I back off, breathe and push again. If my arms get pins and needles I let go and shake them out rather than trying to hold the posture. However, each time, I aim to catch my breath ASAP and attempt the posture again so I still don’t sit out any postures completely.

    In our studio the teachers often say “If you’re new, take it easy. Regulars, you have permission to kill yourselves.”

    Funnily, this makes me smile and masochistically, every time, I hear myself say “Permission to kill myself? Granted! OK! You’ve GOT IT!”. It’s probably why we go full throttle and end up having a discussion about never wanting to sit out a posture and feeling weak / bad / guilty if we do! Let’s just say, if we see a regular sitting out a posture, the only thought that goes through our minds is… OMG, I hope they’re OK!! Except of course if it’s a regular who we see ALWAYS sits out postures then it’s like.. GEEZ why do they bother coming to class? Why don’t they just sit in a sauna? Judgmental much? I’m working on it!! 😉

    An important thing to note is that the studio we started at had us practicing next to the 2012 UK Yoga Asana Champion (Women’s). Humbling and inspiring!! The point though is everyone in that studio pushed like crazy, the standards were high, about 10 of the regulars went to do teacher training that year.

    This studio we go to now, is a very young studio, only 1 year old but we have 2012 World Yoga Asana Champion (Men’s) teaching there. If you kneel he says “Are you OK?” If you nod, smile or say “Yes” he will say “Then why aren’t you standing?” If he sees me kneel, he’ll say, “Joy, you OK?” and as soon as I nod, I stand up. No point letting him waste his breath!

    This is a beginner’s practice. This is their warm up, hell it’s 10% of their warm up. We’ve been in a room where people were doing 6 classes in a row fully clothed (to raise money for charity). So, sitting out a posture if you can do it or have the energy to attempt it, especially during a warm up, is a total cop out and in our books (Tony’s and mine, can’t speak for anyone else), unacceptable.

    “If you can, you MUST.” ~ Tony Robbins
    “How you do anything, is how you do EVERYTHING” ~ T. Harv Eker

    I did a class yesterday on 2.5 hours sleep only. I was so tired I started to breathe heavily during the cardio part, hyperventilate even, and before I knew it, I couldn’t catch my breath to get rid of the dizziness. Ironically had to remember my own blog and reluctantly knelt down. Horror of horrors, I actually sat out one set of triangle completely!!!! I haven’t done that since about a year ago! Totally wasn’t impressed with myself but knew I’d had no sleep so I’m happy that I’ve learned to listen to my body and take it easy when necessary.

    Finding that balance (push, not push, follow, not follow), that’s what I’m working on and it’s all internal… Only you know when you’re going too far or not far enough.

    If you know you’re backing off too early then, don’t. Try holding it at the pinch for 2 counts, breathe into it, then back off and next time, try hold it for 3 counts.

    With me, I usually push until I want to swear “mother”. If I only want to say “shit” or “f’ck it hurts” then, I keep at it… as soon as I want to say the words “Sweet Mother of God” or “Mother f’cker” or I start thinking “I want my mommy” I back off. Whatever works right?

    Re: cramps…. salt. You need salt. We have a teacher who recommends putting a little bit of Himalayan Salt on your palm and licking it just before you go into class… I haven’t tried it yet. Another teacher says we get cramps ’cause we don’t eat enough vegetables. We experiment with our diet to see what works in yoga and can definitely say more fruit and vegetables = more flexibility and less pain. We often have celery and cucumber in our juice now. The celery is good for salt and the cucumber is alkalising. It works and does what both suggest, more salt, more alkaline! Definitely get less cramps this way. So give it a go… celery, cucumber, salt, vegetables.. and see if your cramps minimise 🙂

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