Early on in my blogging endeavor I wrote a piece called Ten “secret” tips for Bikram yogis, and much to my surprise, people ate it up. I realized that there was a strong desire for people to read and learn more about Bikram yoga. Since then, I’ve compiled dozens more “secret” tips that I’ve learned from my 8+ years of practicing this powerful yoga. I hope to run an ongoing series where I share these tips and hopefully learn a few more from you all in the comments below!
1 – Look at yourself in the mirror before camel.
It’s common to dread camel and as result I used to do my sit up, slump over, and pathetically crawl to the top of my mat. A great way to change your camel pose is to look yourself in the mirror the moment you turn around after your sit up. If you maintain eye contact with yourself as you walk to the top of your mat, you will have increased energy and confidence to do the posture with strength and grace. Look yourself in the eyes and say, you can do this.
2 – Take a break from your practice to redefine what’s possible.
Much of the advice I give about improving your practice is to get in the yoga room as much as possible. A consistent and precise practice will pay dividends. This tip, about taking a short break, however is for people that have been practicing for years or decades. Sometimes your practice can get stale and it’s usually a result of a stale mind. We get used to the stories we tell ourselves about how postures look, feel and where we can go. My left side is tight, this posture isn’t as good as that posture etc. Give yourself a mental savasana and take a week or two off from practicing. Letting go of “our story” can be one of the most powerful things we can do for our practice, and therefore life.
3 – Lift your foot off the ground before pivoting in Balancing Stick.
This is one of two keys to Balancing Stick. When you slightly lift your foot off the floor in the set up of the posture, you’re forced to engage your lower abs and it creates a smooth transition between standing on two feet and balancing like a T. Lift your foot off the ground, engage your lower abs, engage your standing leg with all your might, inhale deeply and pivot (not fold) into the posture.
4 – Center your spine in Triangle (even you think you are doing this, read on).
This is a common mistake, even for Bikram yoga veterans. It’s likely a common mistake because to do this properly feels weird, really weird. I didn’t know I was doing this wrong until I had a teacher pull my arm to straighten out my torso. When you bend your knee and go into Triangle pose, it’s easy to let your torso tilt right (if you’re bending your right leg). When you’re in the set up of the posture, look in the mirror and picture someone pulling your left arm, creating a 90 degree angle with your right thigh and your torso. It takes core strength to maintain proper alignment. Then, when you tilt your body for the final expression of the pose, try to keep the same alignment (in other words, don’t let your torso shift or lean right towards your bent leg again). This will allow you to use your core, maintain a “lift” in your posture and get the proper stretch in your hips. If you do this properly your oblique and abs will thank you.
5 – Turn your arm out in spine twist to open shoulders.
My shoulders naturally roll forward from years of swimming. If you turn your arm out in spine twist, you can open your shoulders with a nice, passive stretch. You can also use some weight training techniques to strengthen the center of your back, reducing forward rolling shoulders.
6 – Skip the backbend after Standing Head to Knee.
I raised this as one of my top tips to survive Standing Head to Knee. This posture creates a big spike in my heart rate and I need my breath more than I need a small backbend. When you do the backbend you get a little shot of adrenaline and it will make the second posture of Standing Head to Knee even harder, creating a downward spiral through out Standing Bow and Balancing Stick. If you need a passive stretch simply roll your shoulders back (avoid back bending) between sets and focus on your breath. Read more about breathing tips for the Standing series here.
7 – Measure space between thigh and heel in Fixed Firm.
After practicing for eight years I recently noticed I had more space between my hip and heel on the right side in Fixed Firm pose. This was likely a natural adjustment I was making in the transition from the set up to leaning back in the posture. When you’re in the posture, notice if you are favoring one hip over the other. I need to push my right hip towards my heel once I’m in the posture to get the stretch I need on my right ankle and knee.
8 – Keep knees together in Half-Tortoise.
When you go in and out of this posture (especially when you’re IN the posture) keep your knees pressing towards each other. This is hard to do since you’ll have to engage your core and inner thighs like crazy. Doing the resting postures the right way will help build the foundation needed for other postures that require core or inner thigh strength like Traingle, Standing Head to Knee and Balancing Stick.
9 – Switch sides.
I spent the first year practicing turning the same direction after each savasana during the floor series and using the same grip in all postures. When I tried to switch the grip, it was a nightmare. When I tried to turn the opposite direction after the sit ups in the floor series, I bumbled around like a fool. Creating balance is a theme of my writing, I try to apply balance in all areas of my life, knowing we live in a topsy-turvy world. By switching your grip in the second set of postures and turning a different direction after the sit ups, you’ll create balance in your practice. Before you know it you won’t remember which grip was dominant. What happens on the mat, happens outside of class.
10 – Want to trim your waistline? Ditch the tank top.
When I started Bikram yoga I was overweight and carried a lot of it in my stomach. I used to think that I just was one of those people that has a thick waist. And then I started to naturally and slowly loose weight in with my Bikram yoga practice. But I couldn’t seem to ditch the tire around my belly… Until I decided to wear a sports bra – just a sports bra- to class. GASP! I was letting my rolls hang out for the whole class to see!!!! (No one was looking but OMG it was embarrassing). The best part is that by letting everything hang out, it helped me focus on engaging my abs throughout class. The more I worked my core in class, the more it naturally shed the unhealthy weight around my waist. I now have a healthy amount of fat around my abs – yes ladies we should have fat on our stomachs – and hella strong core muscles!
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