Tuesday, June 17, 2008

How I modify Bikrams

As I said in my last post about Bikrams I don't listen to the instructors cues on how to progress the poses. I know enough about my body, it's structural limitations, it's actual needs as well as real exercise science to know what I can and cannot do. And how to do it.

For instance, I start the series off ( half moon to sides and back bend) pretty much as written. I need the abdominal/front panel stretch as well as the obliquel/lateral line stretch so I do the poses as prescribed. What I DON'T do is try to advance the stretches by PUSHING into them, or forcing the position.AS everyone should know a stretch taken to it's end range of motion will elicit a STRETCH REFLEX creating a contraction, NOT a elongation of the muscle.

So I do as Pavel has taught and I know from years of stretching for gymnastics and RELAX INTO THE STRETCH.Not to say I don't try to advance the position but I do not create antagonist contractions in the muscles I am trying to get to release!

So why go to the class if I am not going to follow "instructions"?

First,my wife digs it and I get major points for going. 'Nuff said.

Second , its tough to find a heated room to stretch in and people get weird if you try to stretch in the sauna. The intense heat makes stretching out way easier. And thats my goal, getting stretched out WHERE I need to. Not where I don't. I LOVE to sweat big like that too.Your skin is your largest elimination organ and I believe intense sweating is very healing and healthful.

Third, as with most things that are difficult or uncomfortable to do it's great to have a set time and place, as well as environmental support to force you to: get 'er dun.Going to 'class' accomlishes that. Same as having a set appointment with a trainer or coach makes it easier.

Back to the modifications.

In the 'awkward pose' squat series I do the first one SOP , but totally change the toe squat as I need my ankles more open,not my calf stronger. So, I do it flat footed and focus on the moveing the knee forward to create ankle stretch. Nothing else is changed. I don't for a second buy "the pose doesnt start until the head touches the knee or some such nonsense line like that they are trying to sell.Posture is the begining and end of all movement and the pose starts when you try to get into it.

The teacher says get on my toes. I say ' no'and work my ankle flexibilty AS I do the rest of the movment 99% SOP.She gets upset but too bad so sad.I do think though I have to speak with them prior to class so they leave me alone. They get the message pretty quickly and they dont have a lot of time for personal interaction anyway. They have a script to recite.

For eagle poses I can barely get my shoulders open enough to wrap ONE arm around the elbow so this is a disaster from the start.But it is still working towards opening up my shoulders so it's all good in my book. Plus, it really challenges my entire leg strength and balance for the one legged stand part.But, I have to get into the position my own way. Won't work at all otherwise.

Now ,on the standing head to knee pose I really have some issues. They say if I can't grab the undersides of my foot with both hands I should work on that and just hold the leg at 90 degrees until I can just reach the foot.For me the importance of this pose is how it stretches my very tight left hammy and calf and I CAN get the leg prefectly straight out IF I can get into the pose my own way.THEY say I should hold up the knee which totally forks up my left rectus femoris ALREADY WAY TOO TIGHT! I don't need more strength there I need to extend the leg and open up my hammy. They always admonish me for doing so. I do it anyway. It's my Yoga, as my wife says. Not Bikrams. I'm paying them anyway.I'm still doing the basic pose.

On the standing bow pulling pose I also could get into it if I could get some help, or use a prop, to get my pretty much unbendable left leg into the position.Otherwise I just standin there with the leg up to the rear creating a pretty decent left glute work when what I really need is to get hold of that leg by any means necessary and work on bending the knee more. I'm working on this one.

The other things that drives me totally nuts is their idea that when doing flexion poses,where the goal is to get head or chest totally on the thighs or knees that pushing into it focusing on the BACK is 180 degree opposite of what they should be focusing on; namely getting the abs to fire so the back muscles can release! This is craziness! trying to force a facilitated back to go deeper into an already too tight position just makes it tighter!

Bretts demo on how to increase the standing toe touch by activating the adductors and glutes demonstrates this perfectly. BUt NEVER a cue about the abs when doing forward flexion moves! OR never a word about the feet when doing one foot poses. Nutso.
Plus, excuse me, but you CAN'T inhale when you have your navel pulled to your spine.It has to be pushed out first so the diaphragm can work. Oh you can but you have to breathe through the upper chest,not a good idea especially if you have tight traps. But noone says a word about he diaphragm or letting the waist out before you pull it in DURING EXHALATION not inhalation. This isn't my opinion but the way the body really works.There has been very little emphasis on really breathing through the poses as well. Perhaps they do more in other classes but I haven't heard it yet.
I could go on but you get the general idea. Some of the poses I can follow their lead exactly. Those where my orthopedic restriction and requirements don't preclude me from doing so. I am not being obstinate for no reason. Nor do I not have a beginners mind hat on. I do. It's just that I am open to learning these poses and am willing to be very bad at them for as long as it takes to make some progress.Thats my beginners mind. I have spent my life learning how to do physical things that I didn't know how to do.Mostly by trial and error and the use of my mind and visualization.I know how to go slowly and progress.One of the most important things I have finally learned is to make sure to listen to my instinct. Follow your gut. It is rarely wrong. But things do tend to go wrong when I ignore it.

So I don't anymore.Especially when it comes to exercise and training.

So I will continue to go to class and progress my poses to the desired shapes and positions the best way I know how. by listening very closely to the feedback my body tells me as I attempt new things. Or things I haven't done in many years.


ericc said...

Thanks Rif,
I appreciate the explanation and I hope your training and healing keeps progressing!


Mark Reifkind said...


good to see you stopped by.I hope this helps clarify things.I am definitely getting benefit out of my Bikrams practice and plan to continue for quite awhile.

Jordan Vezina said...

It's interesting to see your progression through the wild world of Bikram. I may have to go back... again. If only to improve my lackluster flexibility.
By the way, I've been thinking long and hard about this and I think we should buy a big mess of 4 pound kettlebells switch over to Kettlenetics. I want a long and lean dancer's body. That way I can be a long legged Mac Daddy. :)

fawn said...

Alright, I am probably going to burn on my yoga mat... but this is yet another reason I don't care for Bikram's Yoga. The "teachers" have been practicing yoga for about 10 minutes longer than you have. The training they have is minimal. All you do is 26 poses... there are hundreds you are missing out on.

My teacher, William is an anatomy driven instructor. He has been practicing since the '70s and has studied under some really great teachers. Including BKS Iyengar.

When he explains the asana, he uses anatomical words. If I don't understand, I can say so and he will show me by either; by demonstrating himself or contact cues.

The way I learned yoga is more than making a shape with your body. It is a complicated way of movement that requires all of your focus. There is an assigned movement for every muscle in the body, if your brain is not on the asana... you are doing something wrong.

Sorry to go on and on again. I just want people to know Yoga is more than Bikram's watered down method.

Mark Reifkind said...


your comments are never hogging up my blog and are ALWAYS appreciated. I just need to
spend time with Tracy

Ihave no more expectations from Bikrams than that and don'thave the RAM anyway to really 'study' yoga at this point. my hard drive is full.this just lets me sweat out the poisons and the demons.

fawn said...

Of course the bottom line is you are doing something you enjoy! Lots of people swear by Bikram's... which is great!

I just had to let out a rant after reading your message. Yoga is my first love... when inexperienced yoga teachers lord around a know it all attitude, it makes me have to spaz-out.

Mark Reifkind said...

fawn! rant away I love it!

Jordan it certainly makes you tougher, no doubt about it. doing ANYTHING in that heat for 90 min would make you tougher

Howard said...

Thank for these posts Rif. And thank you Fawn for your replies and expertise.

I use Bikram for recovery and to walking out feeling fantastic. I understand his "speil" is annoying to many experienced yoga people and that, relatively speaking, his series is fairly simple. I suspect he addresses the most common problems of most people...but there is very little as far as individual people (given that there is a script, how could there be).

If I had the time and were to give up other forms of training, I would give serious consideration of pursuing Ashtanga. Just watching the first series is inspiring. I've even had a couple of daydreams of going to Mysore and what a blast that would be (of course reading many people's blogs of the experience made me wonder how I would be treated with my near-constant meat consumption :-) ).

But currently I have other pursuits taking my time and attention. Maybe one day.


Kru Matt's Blog said...


Any chance we'll get to see some video of what you're describing...or, possibly even better, ever thought of videotaping your warm-up so we can see what some of your mobility work looks like?


Mark Reifkind said...

kru matt

not really. I suck at it anyway. I'm sure you can download some bikram video on youtube though.

mc said...

i did the fact that you go with Tracy. I love the fact that you know your body well enough to know what works how for you. and ya, a warm room must be a good thing.

i haven't done this style. i'm more an iyengar/ashtanga gal m'self. That perhaps has more to do with the teacher than particular preferences with style. had a great great iyengar teacher who'd worked with BKS, was about 67 herself, and frickin' awesome. as fawn writes a good teach makes a difference - especially when they speak your language.

great detail in the post, Rif.


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Anonymous said...


Jacques said...


You should contact directly the founder of bikram yoga to tell him your information, feeling as a feedback. He might understand you better!

Best regards


Jacques said...


You should contact directly the founder of bikram yoga to tell him your information, feeling as a feedback. He might understand you better!

Best regards


Jacques said...


You should contact directly the founder of bikram yoga to tell him your information, feeling as a feedback. He might understand you better!

Best regards