Lean back, fall back, go back…I don’t think I’ll ever go back!

Published on March 23, 2011 by      Print
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By Suzy Powell

Bikram. You either love it or hate it. 90 minutes, 26 postures, 105 degrees.

I tried Bikram yoga recently. I love the heat. The postures are exactly the same for each class, so no surprises. I could do this!

When I arrived the instructor was briefing a group of 10-12 first timers. She told them that their main goal was to stay in the room for the entire practice. No problem.

I entered the studio—a steamy, mirrored room. It was very quiet and very hot. I rolled out my mat and waited for class to begin. The scantily clad instructor walked in wearing a headset. I thought, are we practicing yoga or shooting a video?

She then began calling out the postures. Alignment was emphasized greatly. She began shouting (yes, shouting) cues. “Suck in your stomach!” “Open your eyes!” “Lock your knee!” (What??) “Pull your chin back!!” She yelled out verbal commands for every single pose. She never stopped talking. Not for one minute.

At one point I became extremely dizzy. I went down into child’s pose for a few moments. I got up again and attempted to resume the practice. The instructor began yelling “If your knee is not locked, you are not in the pose!” My vision blurred, my ears were ringing. I went down to child’s pose again for what felt like a long time. The teacher never checked on me. For all she knew I could have been unconscious.

I got back up again and thought about running out of the room. I know she had said I had to stay in the room for the entire practice, but seriously – was she going to tackle me when I tried to leave? I weighed the odds, and decided that she just might. Not worth the risk.

So instead, for the remainder of the class, I concentrated on my breath and attempted the postures. I heard things that seemed vaguely disturbing and out of place in a yoga class. “Struggle!” “Struggle more!!” “You should feel pain in your hip!” “Pain is good!” (Really?) I looked in the mirror at the faces around me. Everyone seemed exhausted and unhappy. One gentleman behind me seemed completely miserable—at least according to his facial expressions.

I have never been so happy to hear the word “savasana” in my entire life.

Lean back, fall back, go back… I don’t think I’ll ever go back!

About Suzy Powell

Suzy Powell is yoga teacher trainee working toward her 200-hour certification at Flow Yoga in Leesburg, Virginia. Once certified, she would like to teach yoga to at-risk teens through organizations such as YogaActivist. She currently lives in a small town outside of Washington, DC with her husband and son.



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  1. Nancy says:

    I love hearing stories about the first time people go to Bikram. I have not tried it for many of the reasons you have described above, although one of my great YTT pals (and a new resident of Leesburg incidentally ) LOVED it. While she had strength in Hatha, she didn’t have the flexibility she got from Bikram. The meditative qualities of not needing to think what’s coming also was an appeal.

    Really enjoyed this! Thanks

    • Suzy Powell says:

      Thanks Nancy! After talking with my friends about my experience I am thinking to give it another shot. One friend told me that often times struggling can be a sign of growing. If not, maybe the next time I will have the nerve to run out of the room!

      • Joslyn Hamilton says:

        After many years of struggling through Bikram classes (I was a bit of a junkie back in the day) I heard my share of “if it’s hard, it must be good for you” advice from the Bikramites. One day I woke up and said to myself, whoa, life is hard enough without yoga making it harder. Now I only go to classes that feel good and make me happy. I’ll take my suffering in the unavoidable ways, thanks!

  2. StaticInvasion says:

    My gf invited me to a “hot-yoga” class once. I left the room twice. I didn’t even think about etiquette or whatever, I was going to pass out…for real. After visiting the bathroom for a splash of cold water in the face, I returned to the heated room and half-assed, finished. I told yoga teacher friend of mine about my experience and she explained to me that my core-type (?) isn’t designed for hot yoga. I totally believe her.

  3. adan says:

    i’ve never done “hot” yoga of the trade-name type, only gotten hot while during yoga ;-)

    and i no longer need nor want the military boot-camp attitude!

    but most of all, i grew up in houston, along with it’s 6 month summers – began doing summer construction work as a teen, and have absolutely no desire to immerse myself in something i was “so” glad to get away from -

    so, i may not have a “good” reason for not liking generic or brand-name hot yoga classes, but it’s where i am, and i’ll respect that ;-)

  4. Pam says:

    Thanks for sharing, Suzy! I know some Bikramites who swear by it of course, but they do say you have to get into the rhythm of it, or it’s just not going to happen.

    Also cool that you’re going to volunteer with YogaActivist! I volunteer with a community right now and it’s pretty great :) I have some friends looking for help with a NoVa program if you’re interested!

    • Suzy Powell says:

      Pam – Thanks for your note. I would love to learn more about your program with NoVa. Please feel free to email me directly at suzannepowell70@gmail. com. I look forward to hearing from you!

  5. Janet Foshee says:

    Great article, Suzy! I have actually been in yoga classes that weren’t even Bikram where I got up from a pose to find the person next to me had rolled up their mat & left!

  6. Jennifer @ Flowtation Devices says:

    If a class is going to be taught that way, it should not have the word “yoga” attached to it. How unfortunate for yoga newcomers to have THAT as their first class and then leave with the impression that all yoga is so militaristic. I feel very fortunate that the Bikram studio by me is run by a very cool and understanding woman whose goal is to keep people in her class, not scare them away. I’ve decided that Bikram just isn’t my style (the repetition/predictability is what gets me), but at least I’m not afraid to drop in for a class here and there.

  7. Kelsey says:

    sounds like the incident with one of the guys from ‘the secret’ and that sweat lodge incident where a few folks died: part 2.
    i loathe bikram…..i was yelled at for leaving class a few months ago when i felt faint. i refused to let a guy named mercury with a major ego be the death of me, so i left.

  8. Andy says:

    Wow, this is very timely for me. Yesterday I happened to attend my last Bikram class. I’m never going back. Not because I couldn’t handle it. I’m actually P.O.’d about it because I love the heat and sweat. But there was this poor older woman, at least in her 60′s, in front of me who tried to pick up her mat and leave the room about 3/4 of the way through the class–she was clearly exhausted and distressed. The teacher embarrassed her in front of the whole class about it and the woman reluctantly flopped down and stayed till the end, mostly in shavasana. I witnessed this little stunt on the part of the teacher, and it made me mad. I couldn’t shake the outrage I felt towards the teacher about this. I left still mad, probably for the first time ever I left a yoga class in a state of anger. I just felt bad for that poor woman who obviously needed to get out for a breath of fresh air. This, coupled with the lack of ujay breath, the straight up invitation to injury by “pushing beyond your flexibility,” the constant talking—it’s just I guess not for me. I just can’t believe how the majority of Bikram teachers are like that. I’ve attended a couple different Bikram places lately and they’re all like that. Super nice when you walk into the studio, then a total jerk for the class due to the method of Bikram yoga. There is no way I could go and listen to that crap several times a week. No offense to those who love it–more power to you. Adults should feel ok about stepping out for fresh air if they feel they need to. Shaming a grown woman who gave it all she could for most of the time is awful IMO.

  9. Briana says:

    Today I attended my 12th Bikram class in two weeks. I’ve attempted Bikram over a one month period twice before (several years ago), but had never reached reached the level of meditaion and strength that I have in the last couple of weeks. While I do agree that Bikram is not for everyone and it certainly isn’t calming in the traditional spirit of yoga, it takes some serious concentration to tune out EVERYTHING for 90 minutes. I was only able to achieve this after attending SEVERAL consecutive classes- I recommend at least 5 a week for newcomers. Ujjayi breathing (long slow breaths, in and out through the nose) is absolutely essential to this practice as it keeps your heart rate down and mind focused. When you feel yourself getting worked up, you must focus inward on your breath and recenter- much like traditional yoga practices. Suzy- I recommend giving it your 100% for a month and then see how you feel about it. In my first two tries at it, I probably only did 12 classes in the entire month and I had the same attitude about it. The consistency is key and it truly improve flexibility and posture tremendously. I’ve practiced vinyasa yoga regularly for almost 5 years, so I definitely have a profound appreciation for both practices. I will say though, that in those 5 years, I have never been able to do eagle posture in full expression until recently and that was in 2 weeks of Bikram practice! Anyway, that is my two cents. Hope it’s helpful… good luck!

    • Andy says:

      I agree with you about the ujay breath being essential, but in the last class I went to, the teacher said several times during class that the breath should not be audible. I realize I don’t have to listen to her, but Bikram teachers, more than any others make you feel like you’re doing it wrong if you’re not following their every command. Ugh, I loathe Bikram yoga.

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