|Inspiration from guest illustrator Jeremy Lander|
I teach yoga with a lot of:
'so, now relax back into Child's pose. You can have the knees together or apart. You can have the hands forward or back, or under your head or resting on your back. Or you could switch round altogether, lie on your back and cuddle your knees. Just find whatever suits you best at this moment.'
JUST FIND WHATEVER SUITS YOU BEST. Actually quite a lot to ask. It's like this constantly in my classes. I'm always asking my students to make judgements about what is best for them, in their opinion and in their body's feelings and at this particular moment.
You have to make a lot of decisions before you're allowed to relax. And it's the same with strengthening:
'Just go into a full elbow plank, with your hands resting palm to palm, or you could have them in soft fists. If you don't feel up to doing the full plank, you can have your knees down, and if your elbows or shoulders bother you it's worth trying a blanket under your elbows. If that doesn't help try going up to a full arm plank or switch round and do this Navasana variation - you can work on strength there without bothering the shoulders...'
I've been to three Bikram yoga classes. Bikram Choudury's classes are taught all over the world, by teachers certified by Bikram, who stand on a podium reciting a standardised script to take you through 26 postures in 90 minutes. The room is heated to 40.6°C with a humidity of 40%, the floor is covered with carpet, the mats are placed very close one to the next and the wall in front of you is covered with mirrors. In two of the classes, the teachers attacked individual students, for example: "You look Chinese. You are used to not having space, you have no space to live, there are so many of you, don't complain this class is too crowded."
I didn't mind the heat, but didn't like the unkindness of the two teachers, I didn't like the smell, and I felt there was a lack of alternatives and opportunities for students to learn about themselves.
I recently met Richard Miller, a long-term Bikram user, who made me do a bit of re-thinking; consistency and clarity might be fabulously useful, especially if you're going to a class when away from home or after a long complicated decision-making working day. I asked him to email me his ideas, to avoid paraphrasing and re-interpreting them to fit in with mine.
Happy to offer some thoughts, but they are personal and apply to me - they may not apply to anyone else.
- I don't want to think when I'm doing yoga, I don't want to have to work out the meaning of what someone said - this may be a real personal thing. (I've always had problems with complicated sequences. When I ask for directions, I can hear the first two instructions but then blank out because I know I'll never recall.) I want to feel and be gently reminded; and ideally each instructor has a slightly different way of saying things, so you do learn and you build up your knowledge. (I have noticed recently that new Bikram instructors seem to use the IDENTICALLY SAME language. I don't like this. I suspect it's a result of Bikram's efforts to copyright his postures. It's easier for him to copyright the instructors' blurb than the centuries-old positions themselves.)
- Each time you do the posture, it's different. You can't expect linear improvement. Your body is in a different state every day. And accepting that is a learning itself.
- Over time, you get to know the postures better and better - and sometimes an instructor will stop and go into more detail on one. So you understand them more and you can push yourself more safely.
- The way Bikram's postures work, there are levels to them. So when I go back to yoga, I'm only able to do the very first stages of most postures, then over weeks I go deeper and can go further. So, to use the cliché, you're always working on your edge. They actually aren't the same postures, because you're doing them at different levels. But they are familiar.
With regard to Bikram, I wouldn't describe him as charismatic. Two things stood out:
- he's pretty rude in the class (though pleasant enough outside) [Richard is the only person I know who has been to a class led by Bikram himself; he even met Bikram after the class] - not just to me when I didn't have my toes on the line, but to others also.
- he has no sense of time discipline. Other instructors keep carefully to the 90 minutes. I think Bikram went 20 minutes over when I took his class.
Studios differ. I've been to 8 or so, over time. Bikram Yoga Chiswick is the friendliest studio I know.
So, to paraphrase: you can't step into the same river twice.
All Bikram yoga is hot, but not all hot yoga is Bikram. There are other types of hot yoga, designed either because the studios are genuinely passionate about their variations, or because they are understandably unprepared to pay for the Bikram name.
Is my approach the best? Well, of course; I think that it respects the student and encourages them to take responsibility for themselves and that teachers should also take responsibility for their learning and understanding rather than take a system on trust.