Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bikram Yoga Workshop & Pregnancy Series

Fish Pose -- alternative for the Spine Strengthening Series,
in the Bikram Pregnancy Series. Photo by: Deborah Bluestein

I was Massachusetts attending a yoga class/seminar designed for teachers of Bikram yoga.  A wide range of topics, including: common dialogue mistakes, handling "difficult" students, and teaching students with special concerns: including joint problems, obesity, and practicing while pregnant. I learned the pregnancy series as well.  I didn't take a separate class, because in Bikram Yoga, pregnant students take class along side the students taking the regular class -- there isn't a separate "Prenatal Yoga" class.  The instruction for the "pregnant" (only one of us was really with child!) students  is weaved in with the regular instruction (what, we Bikram practitioners call "The Dialogue"). It was a brilliant way to teach. I was able to experience the pregnancy series in my body, and feel how the adjustments make sense. The basic design and difference of the pregnancy series from the Bikram regular series is that it is an hour long, instead of an hour and a half, however you stay in the room for the full hour and a half, so you get built-in rests. The second basic difference is that you do not do any postures that compress the belly -- for example: you modify in Half-moon, by separating the feet six inches apart and you completely avoid other poses like standing separate leg head to knee.

Half moon posture with the feet six inches apart noticeably changes the way the posture feels. Even without a baby-belly -- the entire center of the posture is changed -- the idea in this (and all the modified postures) is to get the best affect of the asana, and still keep space for the baby. With my feet 6 inches apart I found it almost impossible to squeeze my hips or push them very hard:I found I had to focus more on what I COULD do-- which was:open up my upper body and keep my balance.

But that's not all that we got to. Plenty of topics. Very importantly was: "First, do no harm". Borrowing from the doctor's creed, Diane reminded us to be mindful not to teach from our own modifications--meaning the dialogue is a big tent and a catch all -- it is designed for the beginner. So she asked us to correct students individually -- with a name! And of course reminded us, not to touch students -- only in a light easy way, as in adjusting hands in Eagle pose. Diane does not like to use hand towels to help with grips, she likes to say, "If you give them a hand towel, that is their yoga career." The hand towel use was only suggested for Eagle pose where the student can't get their hands anywhere near each other. For those students who can't yet grab both legs in floor bow, she recommends doing one leg at a time (first set grab right leg, second set grab left) and this is a pose where the teacher can do a light touch and help the student grab the foot.

On of the most poignant moments of the seminar was when the teacher said,  "The difference between Bikram Yoga and all other yogas is that Bikram Yoga doesn't "modify" any postures to accommodate the body (or it's limitations). By trying exactly the "right way as prescribed" we make the body fit into the posture instead of the posture fit the body - creating a healing of, or change and balance in, the body back to normal."

It is important to note, however, that a student who needs to lean on something do so.  Many studio owners  put a ballet bar at the back of the room -- (it's not there for drying mats!) I have been surprised that many teachers do not know that the ballet bar is there for more fragile students who are just struggling, sometimes simply to grab their foot in postures like standing bow.

Another hot topic was: Dealing With the Resistant Student.
"It's not what you do, but how you do it!" The bottom line was to be gentle and ask them to do it the right way in an even "unattached" (in quotes, because that's the word Diane used to describe the manner in which to make a suggestion to a resistant student. For the most part if a first-time student is struggling, allow them that -- do not pick apart their practice on the first day -- of course help them out if they look as if they are doing something harmful (again: First DO NO HARM).

A big stress was made in first part of Locust pose for "straight arms first": in other words encourage the student to first get their arms straight before getting them under the belly...and lifting the hips one at a time in order to do so -- No bent arms under the body in locust. I was able to apply this technique the following day with, Fred, a new student -- he was in great shape, and was born in 1940something, so he may have had a bit of apprehension of putting his weight on his arms -- and tried to slide his arms in the bent position. But I went over to him and asked him to left his right hip, then slide his straight arm under, then do the same with the left arm. This technique works, and it honors the dialogue.
The Hips Don't Have It!
Please, don't talk about the hips in Standing Bow, Balancing Stick, or Locust, was another one of our senior instructor's cornerstone comments. I often will make the (personal adjustment) to drop a hip in balancing stick -- as usual it's a more advanced student -- this is a finesse of the posture and true, it is not in the dialogue. This is the challenge to the Bikram teacher: You are given a basic dialogue, good as a catch all for the very beginner, and you see many different bodies in the room -- you still have to teach the dialogue for the beginners and also help the advanced students progress. I have many students who are championship material and I will ask them to take their Tulandansana (Balancing Stick)to the next level (two hips in one-line!) and yes, it's not in the dialogue, but we all know that's the ideal.
Another teacher commented that directions are different in the Blue book -- which gave rise to an idea for a future post -- a much bigger project:going over discrepancies in the Bikram Dialogue and the Blue Book. The teacher acknowledged that Bikram's instructions have changed over the years. That the original dialogue was very different then the current one. The current dialogue is the one most in line with the philosophical statement: First do no harm. So when we are teaching a class of 25 - 30 people of different levels we can feel confident that we are delivering a class that does just that, and of course gives maximum benefit as well. I had to leave the seminar an hour early. I would love to hear from any of you who attended, what called out to you --- what else was covered that you found valuable and that you could take into your Bikram Yoga Studio the next time you teach.
If you weren't there, I highly recommend taking a seminars -- whether you are a Bikram certified teacher or a curious student-- it'll take your understanding of Bikram Yoga to a new place.


  1. Thank you so much for such a detailed review of Diane's teacher seminar. I am curious to know what comments were made for obese/bigger students? I have a big belly and I do bikram yoga (average) 6 classes a week since Dec 2008. I usually do not have a problem with bell compression poses and have good natural flexibility, but still curious about what comments Diane had for larger practitioners.

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you. This is an AWESOME summary. I've heard all of this stuff many times before, but MAN, you can never hear it too many times, and it is so nice to see these key points laid out like this.

  3. I like this post very much. I have a question that I've had several times in Bikram class. Here, its about Balancing Stick instruction. You say that two hips in one line is the ideal? Do you realize that, taken literally, what you are saying conveys no information at all? If you think of each hip as a point, then the two hips will define one line no matter where the hips are. There are other points in the dialogue where we get the "one line" nonsense. And, for me, it is nonsense because it makes me guess at what Bikram actually wants.
    In Balancing Stick, and in Tree pose, my guess is that the line defined by the hips should be parallel to the floor.

    There's another "one line" instruction that involves only two points in Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee. I think that one means something different. And of course, in Triangle, our two feet are supposed to be in "one line", and again, I defy anyone to put their feet down on the floor so that they could not draw "one line" through them. Here I think this one means that the line you would draw between the two feet should be parallel with the front wall.

    Anyway, I liked the post very much, and am looking forward to reading more.

  4. Hi Duffy Pratt,

    Yes, you make a good point: If we are to take the Dialogue to task -- you are correct -- when can draw a straight line whereever the hips are -- but I agree with your further assesment -- in both Tree pose and Toe Stand "hips in one line = hips parallel to the floor: but interesting to note that there is no mention of the hips AT ALL, about two hips in one line in Tuladanasana (balancing stick) --of course it says --" Come down until your while body, arms, head, leg, EVERYTHING is parallel to the floor (if hips are included in Everything, then I guess -- we both agree that the hips should be parallel to the floor). To underscore what Diane was stated is that when you are teaching absolute beginners (which is who the Dialogue is aimed at), that we stick to it, because getting those hips in one line (as has been proven to me by standing infront of literally hundred of people who have tried to do this as I instruct them, I can tell you getting those hips in one line (is an adjustment I make to practitioners who rather advanced. Thank you for your comments -they are thoughtful and provided me with a way to re-think the pose and dialogue, and why I follow it. My goal it not to be a wide-eyed follower of Bikram's Yoga, but a true investigating practitioner.

  5. Secretmuffin,

    Thank you for reading my post. One of the key points that Diane stressed was that all that compression is great for weight loss. She said to encourage the compressions. And I take that to mean use your strength even more -- to get even deeper into compressions. In your post you say, " I have good natural flexibility." -- so I can tell you are what we like to fondly call a "flexy" -- those folks that come into the room and have that natural flexibilty. A lot of times these folks (of which I am one) depend too much on that natural ability and we don't go to that next place:where we really have to pull harder -- work harder -- we rely too much on our flexibility. I was in Andover, MA visiting a new school, and the Studio Director, Teri Almquist called me out on this. Unfortunately for us flexies -- many times teachers see how far we are getting into a pose and do not call on us to take it further. I would ask you (as I ask myself) to take up the challenge -- and work on your strength -- make it a goal to get yourself as strong as you are flexible. And I understand your challenge all too well -- teacher's will be impressed by your flexibility and not ask you to take it deeper. I have found that if you specifically ask (before class -- if the instructor can give you specific adjustments::tell him or her your goal, and have them, have that in mind). Diane spoke about people who can not possibly grab there foot in front on them because they are too top heavy...if that is the case (she still said "No towels" -- have them struggle to get the foot...and I would say the same, I am however a believer in the ballet bar -- because it is a crutch, but a useful one, and I have noticed that people want to wean themselves off of the ballet bar as quickly as possible, whereas the handtowel thing can go on for a whole yoga "career." I would love to hear your thoughts if any of this was helpful and perhaps what I can think about to open my understanding.

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