A Postural Critique of Bikram Yoga – Part 2

This is part two in a series. Part one can be found here.

Many people, including me, have turned to yoga to help with poor posture. One popular form of yoga is Bikram hot yoga, which purports to offer help for poor posture. Unfortunately, doing Bikram according to the script may not help, and in some cases can actually harm, your back, neck and posture.

Last post I talked about the evils of lumbar flexion, how Bikram yoga can aggravate it and gave you a list of postures for elimination or modification. Let’s go deeper. Here’s the list again, with more details on the dangers, and my suggestions for modification.

1. Hands to feet.

If you have lumbar flexion issues, putting your feet together, grabbing your heels and pulling will make them much worse. So:

  • Spread your feet
  • Turn your toes out
  • Don’t pull, hang upside down and let gravity do the work, or
  • Skip the posture (this is what I must do)

2. Awkward (first part)

Past a certain degree of knee and hip bending, your low back may begin to flex (as does mine). If it does, either;

  • Reduce your depth of posture, concentrating on keeping your natural lumbar curve, or
  • Skip the posture

3. Standing forehead to knee

Same problem as Hands to Feet, you are forward flexing the lumbar spine and pulling. Remember, this is a 4 step posture and you can stop at any step. So;

  • Don’t bend over and grasp your foot, or
  • Stop before kicking out, or
  • Kick out, but keep your knee bent and your back straight
  • Skip the posture

4. Balancing stick

Similar problem to First Awkward, the lumbar flexes when you bend the hip past a certain angle (unique to your body).

  • Don’t go as deep, stop tilting forward where your lumbar begins to flex.

5. Separate leg stretching

Similar problem to Hands to Feet pose; loaded lumbar flexion. Some hints;

  • Widen your feet
  • Turn your toes out (I know the script says turn them pigeon toed. This is for you, do as your body requires)
  • Keep your hands on the floor, rather than grabbing your ankles and pulling
  • Keep your head up rather than dropping it and rounding your back
  • Concentrate on maintaining a proper lumbar curve and only stretch the legs

6. Separate leg with forehead to knee. This is an unloaded lumbar flexion, so depending on your sensitivity, you may be able to do it. If you can’t even do lumbar flexion under gravity;

  • Hands in prayer
  • Lean only as far as possible without the low back bending
  • Look forward or slightly up
  • Concentrate on stretching the front leg hamstring

7. Wind removing. This is a heavily loaded lumbar flexion.

  • Don’t do it. Ever.
  • Even if you have a healthy spine, it’s bad, so
  • Don’t do it.
  • Really, it’s bad, so
  • Eliminate this posture from your practice.

8. Half tortoise. Depending on your body, there may be no problem with this, or you may find yourself in lumbar flexion. If you can’t lay your chest on your thighs with your knees together without your lumbar curving out,

  • Spread your knees to allow your core and chest to get below your thighs.
  • If your hips are still impinged and lumbar flexed (like me) raise your butt until the hip impingement is gone

9. Rabbit is a high load lumbar flexion. You may

  • Stop at any degree of back bending which serves you
  • Skip the posture
  • Replace it with Cat

10. Separate leg with forehead to knee

  • Bend your knee, and pull on your foot with your lumbar in its natural curve
  • Stretch to your limit, without flexing your low back
  • Don’t bother with the head to knee part

11. Final stretching

  • Separate your feet and/or
  • Keep your knees bent, or
  • Skip the posture

12. The sit ups. Sit ups are a lousy core exercise to begin with, and the Bikram addition of grabbing your toes and pulling adds a loaded flexion to the lumbar spine, making a bad exercise worse, so

  • Don’t do them

That is pretty much half of the series, and that is only for lumbar flexion. The specific modifications necessary are unique to each body, but for anyone with lumbar issues, the basic rule of thumb is, DON’T FLEX YOUR LOWER BACK. In that whole list, the only things I actually skip are Hands to Feet, Wind Removing, Final Stretch and the sit ups.

Properly modified to your anatomy, Bikram yoga is an awesome total body workout. I love it, and still do it once or twice a week. The key is to remember that any exercise must serve you, to provide you what you need. So keep going to Bikram, modify it to your anatomy, and use it to learn to Stand Up Right.