Bikram Yoga: Lock your Knees

As a Pilates teacher in training, I’m always finding exercises to complement my practice. After attempting yoga two years ago, I thought I’d give it a second chance since, after practicing Pilates for several years now, my flexibility and balance had improved immensely. I first noticed a cute hot yoga studio on the corner of Henry street in Alexandria, called Zweet, and on a whim, decided to sign up. I fell in love with the hot yoga practice, following the traditional bikram 26 series as well as offering the traditional power yoga. bikram, a more intense static yoga style, where students hold the postures in 105-110 degrees has elements of balance similar  to Pilates. There have been some elements of bikram teachings that raise concern for me, contradictive of my Pilates training. The first being the Pranayama, or standing deep breathing pose. During this pose, you breath in and exhale very slowly, tilting your head back, way back. Ouch! Is this tilting of the cervical spinal cord rehabilitative in nature or a few practices away from booking an appointment with the Chiropractor?

This past week, I’ve begun practice at a traditional bikram studio, which I’m discovering is more classical and less contemporary than Zweet fitness. I hear a lot of the same cueing and verbiage repeated among different instructors but what I’ve found most disturbing is a particular instructor’s continual praise for knee popping during Utkatasana, when students stand on the balls of their feet and sit back into a chair pose. Ironically called “awkward” pose, this move certainly becomes awkward to hear when adults across the room, ranging from 30-65 years of age, crouch down tiger style in determination, “oh knees, you won’t blow out on me,” as the harmonious clicking sound fills the void of silence in the hot, stinky dungeon. “I like that beautiful sound,” the lithe instructor chirps like one of Michelangelo’s angels.

What is the deal with “lock the knees?” What your instructor wants you to do is lock the knees straight to avoid hyperextension. Again, as a Pilates practicioner, I’ve been instructed time over time again to keep a slight bend in your standing knee, to avoid locking out your joints. Not in bikram. In standing head to knee (see image above), you are instructed to keep your standing knee locked solid, like a lamppost, and if it’s not kept locked you have to start the posture again. Yes, all over again. While I haven’t experienced any pain yet, actually only increased flexibility, I will continue to practice hot yoga as a supplement to my Pilates practice. To all those who practice bikram daily, you too may want to consider incorporating other types of exercise into your regime. Relying solely on a specific type of exercise, whether running, barre, weightlifting, or yoga, you’ll likely break down your body by overusing the same muscles over time. The key to balance and well-roundedness to fitness and anything in life is variety,  variety, variety! Namaste.

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