My Second Bikram Experience

Wednesday night, my favorite instructor EVER and I cashed in a Groupon we purchased for the same bikram studio and attended a class. Yes, I have TWO Groupons for two DIFFERENT bikram studios-one was a gift and one I naively bought for myself as mid-semester stress ravaged my mind and body. If I had any experience with bikram before I paid for 30 days of unlimited visits to hell, I would have avoided the offer.

The above statement clearly illustrates my feelings regarding my latest bikram experience, as well as my opinion regarding the cult discipline of bikram yoga. While others warned me of particularly hard-core and strict bikram instructors, I had yet to experience a drill sergeant barking poses at me and scrutinizing my posture with the intensity of an S.S. troop. The instructor of the first class I attended used a rather soft and monotone, yet firm voice to guide us through the 26 asanas. Sure, I could tell that Henri got off on planting himself on the platform at the front of the room, calling out the guy behind me on his slightly bent knees, and rhapsodizing about the importance of oxygenated blood. But his demureness would have rendered him completely unqualified for Hitler’s regime.

Last night, however, I unknowingly patronized a studio occupied by Bikram Fascists. The minute our instructor entered the room, she ticked off the rules. Her voice boomed. 1. No one leaves the room. 2. A large towel MUST cover our mats. 3. New students, MOVE to the back. 4. Experienced students, get your asses to the front. 5. You may drink water…though there IS an official “water break” so wait until then. 6. NO ONE LEAVES THE ROOM.

Homegirl meant business. And she was taking no prisoners. Standing in front of me, dictating when we could swallow and blink, was the Bikram Nazi.

My body stiffened as she patrolled each row of her students, commanding us to adjust every part of our bodies in every pose she called in order to achieve and maintain perfect posture. She (loudly) sped through an overwhelming number of physical improvements we needed to make in each pose: Suck in, lift the chin, lock the knees, eyes forward, don’t look away from the mirror, elbows down, Heil Bikram!

Bikram Nazi even targeted a few students by name. She praised those with proper posture and the fortitude to literally “push past the pain,” and admonished those with slightly imperfect alignment. Fortunately, I escaped her direct, customized scrutiny. However, I felt paranoid throughout the entire class that she would call me out on slightly rotated front foot (toes forward!) in Triangle Pose. I remained unscathed, though the woman caused me much internal stress.

In her defense, Bikram Nazi offered the class a few words of encouragement as we took our final Savasana Pose, though I saw them as back-handed compliments. She went on and on about how surprised she was that we did so well, especially because when she walked in, she groaned at the sight of several new students who might struggle. Yes, I guess we newbies illustrated our subservience to her satisfaction.

While Bikram Nazi’s sadistic passionate belief in this kind of yoga speaks to her authentic desire to indoctrinate immerse her students in the bikram philosophy, her aggressive, regimented teaching style completely subverts the true goal of yoga: to unite the body and mind, and ultimately to unite people, with love.

So my dalliance with bikram continues to bore AND rile me, an odd, conflicting mix of emotions. But if I’ve learned anything from my experience with this discipline of yoga, it’s that nothing makes sense.

Though I still have 28 days to enjoy my Groupon. I wonder if I can survive another 90 minutes of Fascist-inspired exercise, a regimen that dictators around the world would find effective in stifling independent thought and self-confidence.

6 thoughts on “My Second Bikram Experience

  1. i am shocked that you are sticking this out! i’d just give up on the deal and lose the $. bikram ain’t worth your energy, yo.

    PS must get that corporate karma segment to you! it’s BBC so you can’t play it in the states. i’ve got a copy on my laptop i can send over!

    • I just feel like I want to find out WHY the heck people worship this stuff so much. I know, girlfriend, I know-bikram really isn’t all that. But I’d like to use my Groupon a little more-ick but can I take another 90minutes of hot boredom…? Heck yeah I’d love to hear you rap about corporate karma. Send it my way, homie :)

  2. Ha! Nice to commiserate with you. I just found myself in the same boat. Bought a 10-day unlimited class intro pass to Bikram for $20. Survived the first class and went to my second this morning. F*cking HATED it. Will never go back.

    Here’s a copy-and-paste of the blog I just wrote when I got home…

    I’m just home from my second and last ever Bikram yoga class. I hate it. Maybe it’s for some people–competitive sadomasochists–but I’m not one of them. My experience was gruelling and miserable.

    First of all, the room is heated to ridiculously hot temps–around 40* C or 105* F, and it’s humid in there. So take that into consideration first and foremost. Secondly, the class lasts 90 mins (Supposedly. Today’s was actually about 105 mins.) On top of that you’re doing yoga. So you sweat A LOT, like more than you’ve ever sweated in your life. The heat works with the poses to really get deep into your muscle fibers, and like a good massage, it can bring up all sorts of latent repressed emotions. I didn’t realise I had latent repressed emotions until I found myself crying halfway through the class. I sat down to have a rest, and I got reprimanded for not trying hard enough. It wasn’t about the intensity of the stretches; I was crying because of something else–I don’t know what else, but something old. And then I wiped my face with the towel and I was reprimanded again. She said, “Jill, that’s the last time I’ll let you wipe your face with that towel. You are trying to make this easier on yourself.” And then she goes on about how when Bikram himself comes here in November he’s going be looking for this and that and yada yada yada about perfect poses. Jesus, lady, I’m just trying to stay in the freakin’ hot as hell room and understand your accent and follow your machine-gun-of-an-instruction-series-speech here. I’m not trying to win any yoga competitions. And she continues about how when the competitors are up on stage doing yoga—wait a minute, on STAGE doing YOGA? What kind of yoga is this?! Every other yoga I’ve ever tried has been gentle and non-competitive and relaxing. I realised from the get-go that this was not a relaxing form of yoga, but I was not expecting it to be stressful! How the hell are you supposed to relax when there’s not for one second a break in the instructions—talking, talking, talking–the instructors don’t actually demonstrate the poses because then they couldn’t talk you through them. So you have to listen and hopefully understand them when they say weird things like “Make yourself look like a Japanese ham sandwich.”

    So anyway, I’m embarrassed because I was already crying and then I was reprimanded in front of the class for wiping my face with a towel. Excuse me. And then I get on with it, holding back the tears mixed with sweat, and after another 10 mins or so, I start to feel dizzy. My fingers are tingly, I started getting tunnel vision. I thought I was gonna pass out from dehydration. So I took a sip of water between poses and was told off again. Seriously? You can’t wipe the sweat off your face or take a sip of water unless she gives you permission? Nazi yoga. That’s what that is. Nazi yoga.

    The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I tried to modify a pose so as not to further strain my ankle, which I twisted about a month ago and is still sore. There are apparently no modifications allowed, well, according to her anyway. I tried to modify the posture so it wouldn’t hurt and she reprimanded me. I said aloud, “I have an ankle injury,” and she ACTUALLY SAID to me, “Don’t give me backchat! When I was in India, I helped a girl with cerebral palsy do yoga, so I don’t want to hear about your sore ankle…” and went on a diatribe about her experiences which completely humiliated me in front of the rest of the class. I am an adult woman. I am not to be talked to like an 8-year-old child. Maybe it works for some people, but public humiliation is not motivating for me. From then on, I kept my mouth shut, endured the rest of the class, left as soon as it was over and sat in the car and cried.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the idea of that kind of yoga is to preen participants for competition and by making it hard, you weed out the ones who don’t want to go on stage and “perform” yoga in front of a panel. That is NOT for me. That is NOT what I have ever experienced yoga to be. I had an awful experience and I will NOT be going back. F*cking backchat. Grrrrrr…the nerve!!!

    • Hello!
      Girlfriend, I am WITH you! Nazi yoga, indeed. I wonder if you’ve every tried vinyasa? It’s an intense yoga that gives you a fantastic, full-body workout (which Bikram completely fails to do), but without the sadomasochism. Wow, your experience widens my eyes to what really goes on in Bikram classes, what Bikram philosophy is really about. And I thought MY bikram experience was shocking! I really appreciate your post. I wonder if I could feature it on my blog sometime?
      :) Sarah

  3. I don’t understand your logic- how does it stifle independent thought? You show independent thought and self-confidence in this post. It’s great you went back a second time though!

    • Hey, thanks for the comment! And I appreciate your encouragement! In my opinion, Bikram, a very regimented and specific practice, does not allow for creativity and (too much) advancement in poses. In the two classes I’ve taken, the instructors (different ones) barked orders at us and basically told us how to approach each pose and how to think about them. For example, the constant barking meant that there were no silent moments in the class, except for the final savasana, so it was very hard for me to stay in the moment and think about what I was doing because I was so distracted by the instructor talking. Also, from what I’ve researched about Bikram himself, he believes in perfecting poses and coming into them in the same exact ways, which makes me think that he does not want his followers inserting their own, unique styles and personalities into the practice. So, in those moments, I felt like the practice of Birkam stifles independent thought. I’m loving this dialogue! Keep it coming, please :)

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