is it just this yoga studio, or is Bikram not for me?
November 11, 2011 12:05 PM   Subscribe

Is Bikram yoga taught exactly the same everywhere, word for word? Is everything about Bikram super strict? Was my experience at the yoga studio typical?

I have two examples and questions about whether these examples are typical:

1) I took several Bikram classes at this one studio, and I found that both instructors say exactly the same things, word for word, in each class. For example, the words that got stuck in my head were "last chance, lock your knees, lock your knees, lock your knees." Does that sound familiar? Do Bikram yoga classes have a sort of script they have to follow? Or is it just this studio that trained their instructors to say the same things? I didn't like that it seemed like they were reading off a script and not really feeling what they were saying, so I am wondering if it's worth trying another studio, or if everywhere I go will be the same.

2) The classes I took seemed too strict. I tried to modify a pose because my wrists are bad, and the instructors kept telling me to do it the other way. I tried to explain to her that my wrists are bad, but she just kept telling me to do it the painful way, that it's supposed to hurt. I understand that it's supposed to hurt, but I also know what's best for my wrists. You'd think that if an adult is doing a minor variation on a pose (and is aware of the right way to do it but just can't), they wouldn't stand over them telling them the whole time to turn their wrists around. Every other yoga classes I've taken, the instructors would give suggestions for how to modify a pose, if someone couldn't do it. Also, I had to pee during one of the classes (I drank too much water in preparation for this!), and when I got up, the instructor told me to wait until the class is over. I had to actually explain to her "no, I'm gonna pee my pants if you don't open the door" (which is so awkward in the middle of class!). I just felt like I was a 3rd grader in the class, with the instructor watching over every thing I did. One woman tried to wipe her face before the warm-up poses were done, and the instructor said to wait until she said that we can take our first drink of water. That's so weird!! I understand that ideally maybe you shouldn't interrupt the warm-up poses even for a split second to wipe your face, but come on, she's an adult and she's not really disrupting class by reaching for her towel in between poses, isn't it up to her to decide when to wipe her face during her yoga practice?

Are my experiences typical? Is Bikram super strict and are the lessons read off a script?
posted by to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Without getting into it too much... Bikram is a pretty rigid system. (So rigid that Bikram likes to bring copyright lawsuits for his system.) There are 26 official Bikram "postures" and an official Bikram training practice and the like. It's... how can I say this in the most yoga way possible? I guess: It's a wonderful experience for some people! (Oh, okay: for some people that I will never understand or relate to.)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 12:11 PM on November 11, 2011

The lessons are indeed scripted, as Bikram yoga is a yoga franchising operation. (The "creator" Bikram Choudhury has it all copyrighted and actually charges fees to yoga studios that practice Bikram yoga.)

Yoga instructors should always offer modified poses for those that can't complete the asana with good form.

And no, Bikram itself is not (should not be?) super strict; your instructor's asinine behavior is not par for the course. I would not return to a class where I was told to wait to pee or wipe my face.
posted by Specklet at 12:16 PM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yes, your experience is very typical.

There is a script. If it is a certified Bikram studio, it will be the same script every time, no matter where you go.

Bikram studios discourage a lot of wiping, readjusting, unscrewing water bottles, sipping water during poses, etc. and leaving during class. Basically, you are to remain as calm and centered as possible and not be preoccupied with wiping your face. I wipe my face during the floor series on my towel that is over my yoga mat. I don't wipe during the standing series and if I do, it is very subtle and I do it with my hand, not a hand towel or washcloth.

Not all instructors are the same. Some are more strict. Some point out wiping, moaning, and fidgeting. Some don't.

I had a friend that had recent surgery to repair torn ligaments. My friend had a brace on. The surgeon instructed my friend to leave the brace on no matter what. My friend could not place her hands in a certain way during certain poses. One of the instructors encouraged my friend to remove the brace and do the poses as intended. I thought that was nuts. Some instructors think Bikram yoga is a cure all. Please. My friend left her brace on.

I have a love-hate relationship with Bikram. I love the way it makes me feel after class and I like what it does for my body but there are other options. You can find hot yoga classes that aren't Bikram.
posted by Fairchild at 12:21 PM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Bikram is fairly rigid, but your experiences are a bit out there.

I've been to a few studios and they all seem to have their own house rules, but generally, you are not allowed to leave the room during a posture (you need to wait until the posture is complete and the class is in a resting position.) I also sprained my ankle a few years ago while I was doing bikram 5+ times a week, and the instructor was very considerate of allowing modifications for that, but it was a *specific* modification that was allowed, not just something I decided.

I'm sorry you had bad experiences! I hope it gets better for you (and that you have other studio options), because it can be really great.
posted by Flamingo at 12:22 PM on November 11, 2011

It really depends on the studio and the instructor. In my one studio I've had instructors ranging from super strict, who make you hold the pose far longer than other instructors, to those who walk around massaging people's feet with their feet. It does sound a bit harsh about your modifications, but instructors aren't trying to break you--they want you to push that little extra on each iteration. If you have some issues you know will come up during the class (like with your wrist), it is absolutely ok to pull the teacher aside before class and bring that up to avoid embarrassment.

As far as not leaving the room goes: the general sentiment is that students, especially new ones or those who haven't been in a while, can become overwhelmed by the environment and want to get a breather outside. However, the Bikram school teaches that the rapid fluctuation of temperature does more harm than good when going back and forth between outside and inside, and normally instructors will advise those feeling lightheaded or nauseated to just sit down until the feeling subsides. It's possible your instructor assumed you were leaving because you didn't feel good and not because you had drunk too much water.

The sentiment that everyone is going through the same thing together can be broken when one person stops for water during a pose. It can cause a little resentment ("I want to stop for water too!") when someone decides to drink. I've been told not to wipe my face unless I have sweat actually obscuring my vision, because the sweat is helping cool me off. If you have the same negative experience after switching instructors a bit, I'd just go to another studio, but yes there is some level of adherence to "the rules" implicit in a Bikram yoga class. There are also other "hot yoga" type classes that aren't Bikram. It's definitely not for everyone.
posted by therewolf at 12:24 PM on November 11, 2011

There is a "script" but at my studio there is a lot of variation among instructors, and slight differences between each class, even taught by the same instructor. It's not a literal word for word script that is identical every time.

I think an instuctor who pressures you to do a pose a certain way if you have an injury is not cool and not typical. That wouldn't happen where I go. The instructors go out of their way to encourage people to challenge themselves, but not to push too far if you don't have the foundation perfect. I think I know which pose you're talking about, and it is VERY uncomfortable for everyone. If you're injured, don't do it, but if it's just uncomfortable to do, they'll probably encourage you to do it.

I can't speak for other studios, but yes, at mine it is strongly encouraged that you don't drink water before the warm-up poses are done, and that no water drinking or wiping, or other distracting things are done DURING poses, but this is mostly out of respect for other attendees. Some instructors really push you to try not to wipe any sweat; to clear your mind and ignore it. Some don't.

As for peeing during class, I've honestly never seen anyone leave to pee. When anyone gets up to leave for any reason, the instructors do encourage you to stay in the room. It lets in cold air, it's distracting, and the bottom line is that's just the way they do it.

If any of this bothered me, I wouldn't do Bikram. It really just isn't for everyone. I can't stress enough that I don't mean this in a backhanded or snarky way - some people really don't like all the rules, and that's OK! I really like it so I put up with them and I do appreciate the total silence and lack of other movement during difficult postures.
posted by peep at 12:28 PM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Many folks here are helpfully suggesting that hot yoga that is not Bikram yoga is also an option for you, and I'd like to nth that. I do hot non-Bikram yoga and absolutely adore it. The instructors are always very open to modifications, always ask if anyone has injuries to deal with and encourage everyone to work at their own abilities. I come out of it feeling nearly high, which is I think one of the things that many Bikramites also enjoy. Every studio is different, which is the case with all yoga, but if you're looking for something that is hot but a bit less rigid than Bikram, i highly recommend exploring other options.
posted by Polyhymnia at 12:29 PM on November 11, 2011

Thanks for all the answers - they confirmed my suspicions that Bikram was scripted, that it's more rigid than other yoga classes I've taken, but that the instructors might have been a little too strict, although I can understand that they wanted to minimize distractions for everyone else. I'm glad I tried it, but I don't think it's really my thing. I really like the variety of poses from different instructors when doing vinyasa flow, and I have really enjoyed other hot yoga classes.
posted by at 12:48 PM on November 11, 2011

Why go to something if it's not for you? The script is called 'the dialogue' I think and everyone else explained it (and the 26 postures) above. Many people go because they love the rigidity and intensity and uniformity of it. Usually, like you did, you can tell right away whether it's for you or not. I cringe at the idea of people speaking back to their instructors during class. Thanks for your thoughtful consideration in asking about it after one class and deciding it's not for you- not going back and demanding to do what you like!!
posted by bquarters at 1:22 PM on November 11, 2011

In my experience of doing Bikram (specifically Funky Door in SF, YMMV), yes there is a script that instructors follow. As it was explained to me there are certain phrases that the instructors learn at the instructor training course -- the one that sticks in my head is imagining there is a suitcase handle on your chest and someone is lifting up on it, for one of the back-bending postures. (I appreciated these phrases as they seemed to do a good job of conveying a different way of thinking about a body movement which would help achieve the goal of the posture.) However, I found that it was usually the new instructors who were a bit nervous who would stick word for word to a single script. The more experienced instructors seemed to have a stronger familiarity and could convey the idea of what you were supposed to be doing without the need to repeat themselves as though they were reading a soliloquy.

As for the posture modifications, we were generally advised to let the instructors know of any health problems or injuries before the class, and they would adapt postures to compensate or tell us to sit out one posture or give some assistance if it was asked for, and were very accommodating in such instances. One instructor had previously been a personal trainer and was very helpful for this sort of thing. They would recommend that people not wipe their faces overmuch or drink too much water (apparently this upsets the electrolyte balance that is supposedly achieved during the course of the posture series), but wouldn't scold people for doing so. Students were encouraged to rest quietly if they felt dizzy or ill from the heat, and nobody was reprimanded for leaving if they felt it necessary.

I'm explaining all this in detail in part because I feel that this was a great example of how a "good" Bikram class can be run. If that's not what you feel you have, try to find another class that's more suitable. There *is* a regimen to Bikram, but it can be much more accommodating within that regimen than your class seems to be.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 2:01 PM on November 11, 2011

I used to do Bikram every day for a few years. It was awesome. I love it. I"d still be going if I could even pretend that I could afford the fee.

You'll notice in Bikram that teachers do not demonstrate the poses. Instead, if you cannot understand what the wording means (and I couldn't get it sometimes), you can glance around the room at other people and copy them. This is one reason for not encouraging the modifications. Achieving form before depth is very very important. So, according to Bikram, if you can get into the position, just into it, you are doing all the work that is necessary for your body at that time. If it is painful to go deeper, try, but be kind toward your body in the process. So, if you were placing your wrists the other way and going super deep into the pose...the anatomy training involved in Bikram suggests that the benefits are not as good if you are not "properly" in the pose. (I don't really believe that, but you know, whatever)

As for leaving the room to pee? That would annoy me a little as a fellow student. There's no way to do it quietly, it cools the room noticeably, and really, can't we all just pee before we get to Bikram? Your body does not need to heat, cool, reheat like that, and the break in focus for you is big. The method is very, very good for getting to know your body. For learning when to let go, and for finding out just how much power and stamina you have. In my Key West classes, the only reason to leave the room was to barf, and that only happened twice in all my time there. Even if you have to just stand still (or lie still, depending on which series you're in) for a posture, it'll be better than leaving.
posted by bilabial at 2:30 PM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I went to Funky Door in San Francisco years ago and got yelled at for drinking water. My friend and I skipped out about two-thirds of the way through. That was my one and only Bikram class. We both really hated it.

I started doing Iyengar, which is great at accommodating different skill/strength/flexibility levels

I have a couple of friends that really love Bikram, but for me it's Iyengar all the way.
posted by shoesietart at 3:11 PM on November 11, 2011

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