When you practice at a studio, you benefit from the watchful eye of a trained instructor. But when you start doing yoga at home, it’s up to you to make your own corrections and look out for any less-than-helpful habits.
Here are several common mistakes to avoid when practicing on your own:
Mistake: Tweaking your neck to see the screen
Why you do it: If you take an online class with video, especially if you are a visual learner, you’ll be tempted to look up at your screen. That might be to check your alignment, check out that cute puppy crawling on your yoga buddy’s savasana, or see if your technology is working correctly.
Mistake: Pushing too hard
Why you do it: Overexerting yourself during a home Bikram Yoga routine is something to watch out for, especially if you’re an experienced student. If you’re used to being strong and flexible in the hot room, you may tend to push yourself at home. Remember that your intensity needs to account for the fact that you’re not as warm. Take it easy.
Mistake: Getting kinda lazy
Why it happens: It can be challenging to stay motivated when you practice on your own. There are so many more distractions at your house than at the studio! And you don’t have the heat to demand that you focus on the present moment. You may find yourself “going through the motions” or even skipping the poses you don’t really enjoy. The problem with that is, the poses you dread the most are likely the ones you need the most! Bikram Yoga is a balanced full-body physical practice, and skipping the same poses repeatedly may aggravate asymmetries, tightness or injury.
Mistake: Allowing Interruptions
Why you do it: If you don’t architect an environment that supports your yoga practice, distractions will abound: kids, phone calls, Facebook notifications, pets, the list is endless! Without a reserved time and space for yoga, there is always something vying for your attention.
Why you do it: When you’re not joining others in-person, it can be challenging to hold yourself accountable.
Ami has been working on regaining full range of motion for her knee, which she injured in a skiing accident last year.
How will Ami get her forehead on the floor in Half Tortoise? Watch and see!
Diane Ducharme Gardner recently visited BYSJ and graced us with her wisdom, expertise and insight. Among the top "a ha" moments that students have been sharing they experienced at the workshop is this one: how to get into Camel pose!
How do you know it's right?
For any body!
Check out the video for the full demonstration of correct technique:
The key you'll want to remember is: when you hear the instructor say "go back halfway and stop in the middle," that does not mean bend back.
It means lean back halfway, using your strong thigh muscles, thereby decreasing the distance between your hand and the heel. If you approach the pose this way, almost anyone can grab the heels!
Once you have the grip on the heels (and don't lose it) you can push everything forward toward the mirror, causing the back muscles to engage and bend your spine evenly, creating 360 degree angle backward bending.
It feels so good when you do it right.
Even better, Camel pose boasts numerous benefits for your life outside of the yoga room, including:
Depth in any posture is a result of correct technique and time.
So it never matters how much you do, as long as you practice with consistent correct technique.
The beautiful thing about the instructions you hear in class is that they work for any body- stiff, flexible, injured, whatevs. But don't take our word for it. Now that you have seen a stellar example in the video, try following word by word with the correct technique in your next class!
Have you been trying to get your "palms together like glue" but it just ain't happening?
Lots of people try to bring their arms back too far in Bikram yoga's "arms over the head" position. If this is you, you'll have trouble getting your palms together. Because of anatomy, everyone has a certain point where, when the shoulders are pushed back too far, the arms will not be able to fully extend at the elbow. Pushing or forcing the arms too far back and then trying to straighten them puts a lot of strain on the shoulders.
Bikram yoga is hard enough! Take it easy on your shoulders, please.
If your shoulders are feeling strained when you stretch your arms up in this position, try bringing the arms slightly forward, then bringing the elbows toward each other to straighten out the arms. This will help you keep your palms together, which will help you stretch your shoulders, create length in your spine and...
Feel better during and after your class.
If you're a heavy sweater (not the wool kind!) or practicing a lot (shout out to our 30 day challengers!) you may need a lil' sumpn' extra to replenish the electrolytes you lose from sweating. But first: what are electrolytes, anyway?
UPDATE: in addition to Elete (and coconut water of course!) BYSJ now proudly stocks Superieur electrolyte powders. We love their fresh flavors and their "farm, not pharm" ethos.
Can you believe how much your thighs burn in this one? Or how hard it is to keep the straight leg from slipping? And then, the teacher seems to keep holding this posture forever! Good news: while Triangle is definitely challenging, it really doesn't have to be unbearable. Often, making one simple adjustment (such as the size of your step- see video above!) can completely change how much you love (or love to hate) a posture.
Triangle pose firms the thighs and waist, opens hips, and helps alleviate rheumatism, lumbago in the lower spine and frozen shoulder. Practicing this posture regularly helps correct chemical imbalances, relieves constipation, normalizes blood pressure and improves cardiovascular function.
By exercising the circulatory, digestive, immune, reproductive, respiratory and muscular systems, Triangle pose targets and benefits every part of your body! (That's why it's often referred to as the "master posture" and... maybe that's why it feels like your teachers hold it forever.)
Tips to remember:
Once your total foundation is in place, the next step is to move your both arms, making sure that the elbow is directly in front of the knee and the fingers are stretching down to touch between the big and second toe. Then turn your head and look up while stretching your arms in opposite directions. Simple, right?
Ok, you got us: it's a tough one! Remember that all you have to do is try the right way. Do the best you can, breathe normally and hold absolutely still without moving. That's it. Enjoy..!!
Want to learn more about the postures? Ask any of our certified Bikram yoga instructors, before or after your next Triangle pose. Attend class at least 2 to 3 times weekly to put your learning into action and make your body smile!
Don't miss attending our Posture Clinic with Josh on Saturday, October 13! Free for BYSJ members, $20 everyone else.
As Bikram yoga teachers, so many students tell us this one is their "nemesis!" And we get it. SHTK not only requires you to use a ton of physical strength and stamina to develop your own flexibility, it also calls upon 110% of your will power, integrity and mental fortitude to stick with it, try the right way and not give up. The good news is, by using those aspects of your body and of your character you are building them up, and they (like this posture) will only get better with practice.
Health benefits include:
How to do:
Standing Head to Knee can be best understood by dividing it into a progression of stages or steps. Keep in mind that while we identify 4 main "steps" in the posture, there are a bazillion mini-steps along the way, and any one of the steps may take you weeks, months or years to master. For example, between grabbing your foot and locking both knees, you may find your maximum expression of the posture somewhere in-between for quite some time. No worries: as long as you try the right way and you don't give up, that's the ultimate destination!
*You want me to lock my knee??
Yes. But let's make sure you understand what we mean by that. In Bikram yoga, to "lock the knee" means 3 things: Straight leg (full extension of the knee joint) + thigh muscles (including quads) contracted + body weight even on the foot. Check out our post on the subject for more!
Eyes and abs!
Balancing on one foot is a big challenge for many beginners. Remember that your 2 best friends on your "balance team" are your abs and your eyes. So always keep your abdominal muscles pulled in firmly, and maintain your one point of focus on your standing knee throughout the posture.
Breathing properly is key. If you’re working on Step 1, simply breath normally with an engaged core. If you are kicking out into Step 2, inhale slowly by the nose while you kick your leg forward. Take another deep inhale when your both knees are locked and exhale as you bend your elbows down for Step 3. Take another deep breath and slowly exhale again as you tuck your chin to your chest for Step 4. This focused breathing keeps you calm and maintains oxygen moving through your body to feed your muscles. It also assists with the stretching and rounding of your spine and ribs.
Finally, the real secret to mastery of Standing Head to Knee is: attitude. Relish every step of the magical journey, because every step has something to offer your body, mind and soul. And more than anything, this posture demands that you activate and cultivate the connection between those! That's part of what makes it so tough, and that's also what makes it so... yoga.
“Didn’t you just eat too many cucumbers? You might get sick.” That’s what the voice in my head said as I was preparing to attend a recent class. The voice in my head is constantly trying to come up with reasons I should not attend Bikram Yoga class. It tells me I’m too busy, too tired, too stiff, or just plain not good enough to do yoga. Ironically, some of the reasons it gives me for not setting foot in the hot room are exactly the reasons I need to be in there as often as possible. Most days, pushing that voice away is the most important exercise I do, and it’s the one that requires the most strength. Yoga is slowly teaching me to ignore the voice in my head, and it is also teaching me how to listen.
Ideally, from the start of Pranayama Deep Breathing all the way through Kapalbhati in Vajrasana your body should be moving in perfect concert with the instructor’s voice. The instructions describe exactly how to perform each posture, down to the way you should breathe. I find that when I am able to connect perfectly with the teacher’s words my practice is very meditative. It doesn’t happen in every class, but those times are like magic. When I start confusing my right from my left hand in Eagle pose, or wishing I could stand on one leg as easily as some other student, I know that I am not aligned with the instructor. I know that I am not listening. In order to listen I have to tune out the voice in my head.
I have to tune out the voice in my head because it interprets events through a lens of emotion. In his book, How Yoga Works, Geshe Michael Roach describes the mind this way: “We lose control of ourselves, even if we have some understanding, and the last thing we can do at that moment of emotion is to recall that it is actually our own minds making us see things the way we do.” (p. 124) And so, the real yoga is not found in Standing Head to Knee Pose or Fixed Firm Pose, or any of the poses. The real yoga is turning off your mind and listening within. Now, I wonder if there are any cucumbers left...?
Ellen Cole is a Registered Nurse and has been practicing Bikram yoga at BYSJ since August of 2016. One of her favorite poses is Fixed Firm Pose and she loves doing "doubles" when she gets the chance. Read more of Ellen's yoga story here. Thanks for your contribution, Ellen!
Once all major joints of the body have been warmed up by practicing Pranayama breathing and the first few postures, you are ready for Eagle pose, garudasana! This pose opens up the joints of the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows and wrists.
By twisting your limbs "like ropes" Eagle pose creates compression of blood and lymph flow headed to spots like your legs, kidneys and the lymph nodes in your armpits. Hold the posture very still while breathing calmly, so that when you release it your elevated heart rate will send a boost of high-speed circulation to those areas. Notice a white mark on your thigh after you come out of Eagle? That's a good indicator that you’ve been maintaining a strong compression.
What's that you say? Your arms won't twist like ropes? Here's a quick video on what to do for this (very common) "issue"...
Now that we've cleared up what to do with those pesky arms, here are a couple key aspects of Eagle pose and more tips to help you get the most out of your efforts:
Using leverage to promote good alignment and open joints.
When you move your knees to the right and upper body to the left to get your feet, knees, elbows and hands in one line, you are using the leverage of one limb against to create the compression effect I mentioned above and open up your major joints. The key to not falling over while you make these adjustment is keeping your (especially lower) abdominal muscles tight and your upper body lifted away from your thighs.
It's a backbending pose!
Many beginners tend to lean or even hunch their bodies forward while they're setting up their Eagle, in an effort to pull their elbows down. Don't let this happen to you! Keep your upper body (when you hear the cue "upper body" in class, think mainly lower ribs upward) leaning back throughout the posture, which means (although you'll end up looking straight ahead) your spine is actually in a backward bending position. This position strengthens back and core muscles, releases tension in your lumbar spine, and compresses the kidneys.
Studio leader, yoga-doer and life-lover, Kay D.