Bikram Choudhury designed the yoga series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises (“26 and 2”) to be doable by beginners and beneficial for all. At its core, Bikram teaches that hatha yoga (or, physical yoga) is not equivalent to physical postures alone. Rather, this series of hatha yoga is practiced by holding a posture in stillness, with breath under control. Each posture is followed by a period of stillness in a relaxed state, called Savasana. It is a journey, not a destination. The ultimate goal is not the “perfect posture,” rather, it is the progression of your body and mind.
Bikram Yoga is also a form of medicine. It works slower than conventional western medicine, but is holistic and without the side effects of drugs. With yoga the practitioner feels the openings and body transitions as the changes happen, and the benefit is lasting. Yoga is also preventative medicine, preparing the body with strength, flexibility, endurance and patience.
Bikram Yoga is different than other forms of exercise. It is more beneficial to the body over the course of your life. Traditional exercise and sports tear the body down with impact upon the joints, which can cause injury and tearing of tissues. Unfortunately, our skill level and endurance decrease in each sport as we get older. Yoga, in contrast, rebuilds, feeds, flushes and cleanses the body. You improve, strengthen and grow more flexible with daily practice, even as you age.
Emmy Cleaves, Bikram’s most senior instructor, teaches that “the body is meant for movement.” Yoga is a vehicle for you to know your body and yourself. The mind must be patient; never force the posture. The body cells respond to mental thinking. Emotional tension can produce muscular tension, which causes blood and oxygen deprivation and pain. Stress reaches every cell in the human body, and we respond to the stress of life with patterns of physical tension. Yoga can bring awareness of the body and the ability to change our patterns, and react to stress in productive, healing ways. We learn how to control the fight or flight response.
Emmy consistently encourages: Precision; Sequence; Intensity; Frequency. You need them all to progress in your practice. Fitness is a journey, not a destination. However, practicing with regularity is a cumulative process, bringing physical improvement and mental calmness.
Emmy says that mindfulness is crucial. “It is only yoga when done mindfully. You need awareness of the self and the body.” The postures are 80% isometric contractions. The student must bring mental focus to each part of the body, and to the breath — the master function of the body. “Without mindfulness, it’s just exercise.” The Bikram series develops mindfulness. It changes the habitual responses to stress, reducing anxiety and depression. Rather than treating the symptoms of pain or disease, or numbing the body, yoga addresses the root cause — teaching the body how to handle stress with mindful movement. The body is designed to be self energizing and self healing. The object of yoga is not the posture; the object is your body.