A Postural Critique of Bikram Yoga – Part 4

This is part four in a series. Go here for parts one, two and three.

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 problems of head forward posture. In short, if you have tech neck, your neck is forward curved, and your shoulders are likely rounded in. That means several postures must be modified to ensure you don’t hurt yourself. Here’s the list again, with more details on the dangers, and my suggestions for modification.

The first two postures bend your neck back (YAY!), but they do it with relaxed neck muscles. If you suffer tech neck, your neck and shoulders are weakened and rounded forward. If you relax your head back, you can overbend your neck, pinching the nerves and discs at the base of your skull (BOO!)

1. Pranayama breathing.

In Pranayama breathing, you are not only told to relax your head back, but also to push on your chin with your knuckles. Don’t do either of these.

  • Keep your neck muscles engaged (all around), using them to lift your head up and back
  • Don’t bend too far back.
  • Don’t push on your chin.

2. Standing back bend (in the half moon sequence)

As with Pranayama breathing, you are told first to relax your head all the way back. Don’t.

  • Keep your neck muscles engaged, lifting your head up and back
  • Concentrate, very hard, on maintaining a strong back, from tailbone to head, through the entire posture. It helps to engage your butt muscles here.

The next two postures bend your neck forward. If you have tech neck, your neck and shoulders are already rounded forward. There is no need to compound this.

3. Standing forehead to knee.

If you have tech neck, your problem is that your upper spine is basically reverse curved and forehead to knee makes this worse, so don’t do the forward bending part.

  • Stop at lifting your leg, thigh parallel to the floor.
  • Don’t bend down to clasp the foot.
  • Don’t touch your forehead to your knee.
  • Stand upright and concentrate on shoulders back, chin up, head back, neck straight

4. Separate leg with forehead to knee

Same problem as with Standing forehead to knee

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

5. Wind removing

In wind removing pose, you are told to flatten your neck to the floor. Why do this when your neck is already flat? Besides which, this posture is a disaster even for healthy lumbar spines, so;

  • Don’t do this posture, or
  • Skip this posture, or
  • Simply eliminate this posture from your practice.

The four postures which follow, the back strengthening sequence, are marvellous for strengthening your spine, and they all bend it in the proper direction. The trouble is, if your neck and shoulders are rounded and weak, going by the script will pinch the discs and nerves at the base of your skull.

6. Cobra

In cobra, you are told to look up and back, as far as you can only using your back muscles. Don’t.

    • Start face down.
    • Lift your face 1 inch, straight up.
    • Push forward with the neck, through the top of your skull, then lift your chin.
    • Simultaneously pull back and down with the shoulders
    • Through the entire posture, visualize pushing up with the top of your skull, not your chin.

7. Locust

    • Try doing the single leg lifts with your face down, not just the double leg lift.

8. Full locust

    • Same basic advice as Cobra, start face down lifting and pushing through the top of your skull instead of your chin.

9. Floor bow

With floor bow, you are told to look up and kick back. Before that, start as with Cobra

  • Face down, lift your face first
  • Push forward with the neck, through the top of your skull, then lift your chin.
  • Finally, do the kick up

10. Rabbit

With rabbit, not only are you told to bend your neck forward, you are told to grab your ankles and pull.

  • Don’t.

For the final two postures,

11. Separate leg with forehead to knee.

12. Final stretching.

Don’t do the forehead to knee parts, keep your chin up, with your neck curved back, and concentrate on the hamstring stretch.

13. The sit ups

Sit ups are a lousy core exercise, and Bikram compounds them by rounding the spine, so

  • Don’t do them.

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.