Booted Out of Bikram

A while back I attended two classes in Bikram Yoga. This is yoga performed in a hot room.

You see, I love a good sauna, and I like yoga…. perfect combination? Right?

WRONG!

Classically trained on and off for the past 30 or so years in Iyengar/ Hatha yoga as a recreational pursuit for fun, flexibility and fitness, I decided to give Bikram a go. Despite several warnings from my work colleagues, about the challenging nature of the class, I was ready, or so I thought.

What I wasn’t ready for, however, was the No pain, No gain, six-pack built teacher, complete with “Madonna-style” mic, on raised pedestal, who quickly began barking orders and clicking fingers at the class, like we were some kind of performing seals! 

I was instantly on my guard. This, for me, contradicted all that is appealing about Yoga. Yoga is usually all about relaxing, finding peace and zen, tranquility, and being at one with mind and body. I suddenly felt apprehensive. Let me tell you, the rest of the class didn’t go well.

meditation
Meditation and mantras

Am I a little strange, I thought, at one point? Looking around, I noticed the 17 other people seemed okay with being spoken at like caged circus animals, and relished enduring poses where the objective, according to the instructor, was “pain.” Clearly, this is hard core yoga and the participants enjoyed communing with other overly sweaty bodies in a smelly room, heated to 105 degrees celsius.

When booking in for the class, I was advised to drink at least 3 litres of water, beforehand and here is a tip: do not even think to touch your water bottle, during class, unless instructed to do so by the six pack girl.

emotion

One student was reprimanded for attempting to drink. I say attempting, because he didn’t get to the point of taking a sip. Poor guy had rivers of sweat pouring off his head and body, no exaggeration. This has to mean he was dehydrated and I hate to think of the headache he must have had afterwards.

Then – it is apparently a BIG problem if a student tries to vary a pose, due, let’s say, to a muscle cramp, in a way that is deemed contrary to the Bikram technique. I was told I had to complete the pose, as instructed, and when I explained that I was unable to do so, I was told that unless I did it as instructed I should leave the class.

vigeland

For the record, I stayed and told the instructor I would sit out, if there was pose I couldn’t do the ‘correct’ way the teacher instructed. Unfortunately, the teacher did not provide any alternative poses for those who are hmm, a little more advanced in years, something I was quite used to. It is certainly not an older person’s yoga.

No wonder they ask you to sign a disclaimer that includes the phrase,” that you have in the last 6 months seen a medical practitioner that states that you are safe and fit to do Bikram Yoga and that you are aware …..that there may be….injury, even  paralysis and death.

Are you surprised that I deleted this condition before signing?

When I attended the second class – Yes I did go back, but I was careful to select a class with a different teacher than the one who had asked me to leave midway through. This lady was, I have to say, a little more in tune with Yogic philosophy of, “Listen to your body” etc. I could make it through her class without being reprimanded for being disobedient.

However, this was a morning class, very early, and there was no way I had time to prepare by drinking the 3 litres of water. Thus, when the class was over, I suffered the classic symptoms of heat stroke, and only recovered 6 hours later. I’d suggest it might be dangerous to drive a car in this condition? Do you think so?

So that was was it for me. I forfeited the rest of my class fees and went back to gentle poses with a Hatha Yoga teacher. In my opinion, and it is only my opinion, I think Bikram as it is practised by the first teacher, is an abomination of the concepts of Yoga as I know it.

Feeling ticked off that it is even called Yoga, I began to research this style, and it seems that there are some issues that question the very integrity of Bikram, and these are evident in a basic internet search. Wiki tells us competition is a fundamental tenet of Bikram, something that is anathema to Yoga.

{http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bikram_Yoga] Another controversial component of Bikram yoga pertains to the prevalence of Yoga Asana Championships, regionally and nationally. While practitioners of other forms of yoga maintain that competition contradicts the idea of peace and unity, Bikram contends, “Competition is the foundation for all democratic societies. For without ‘Competition’, there is no democracy.”[

Legal issues

In the United States, {Bikram} Choudhury has claimed and been aggressive in enforcing broad copyrights in most aspects of the practice, teaching, and business of the system. While these claims are not definitively resolved (i.e., by any judicial ruling on the merits), Choudhury has extracted legal settlements from a number of yoga teachers and studios. However, in a recently issued, official statement, US Copyright Office concluded, that the copyright for Bikram’s sequence of 26 postures had been issued in error. Note: {These postures have been done for thousands of years and are not his to copyright at all}

In Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class (First Edition), Choudhury claims he conducted “medical” studies at the Tokyo University Medical School validating the medical benefits of his 26 postures. During one of the lawsuits, defendants demanded copies of the “medical” studies and Choudhury claimed he could not find them. In Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class (Second Edition), Choudhury removed all references to “medical” studies.[

Competition is necessary in democracy?  Copyright and legal issues? Fraudulent science?

Our six pack advised us that the techniques are “scientifically proven.”

No thanks, I thought. Gentle Yoga and Meditation is the only Yoga I will be doing. Bugger the Bikram.

This is me inwardly cringing

Have you tried Bikram Yoga? What was your experience like?

Something to ponder about in a more relaxing moment.

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80 thoughts on “Booted Out of Bikram

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      1. I can imagine why! It is certainly not for everyone. Pain is the body’s way of letting you know something is wrong. In Bikram, pain and punishment seems to be their goal.

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  2. I just read the Wikipedia article, finding that Choudhury was accused of sexual harassment and responded by saying “I have no intention to have sex with any of my students or any women… Sometimes students, they commit suicide. Lots of students of mine, they commit suicide because I will not have sex with them”. Doubt I could put any faith at all in such a bloke, nor in his spinoff from yoga. It’s a very interesting article ! 🙂
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bikram_Yoga

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      1. I think they did, that and the attitude so contrary to Yoga, and they found it was not so healthy. Plus Bikram himself was accused of some not so nice behavior which turned many people off.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. OMG! That sounds just awful Amanda. I wonder if there is somewhere you report the six packer. How on earth could the rest of the class not say anything. It would be interesting to see how many see out the full course.

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  4. I haven’t looked into yoga but have heard there are different kinds floating around, and know people who practice yoga. I think you’re the first I’ve heard of who has tried Bikram yoga. It sounds intense, and as you alluded to in the end, a competition among yourself to get the poses 100% right. Dehydration is dangerous and none of us should put our health second. Maybe this kind of yoga is designed to strengthen the mind, mind over matter and the more you do it, the more physically you can cope. Then again, it’s not for everyone just like how not every sport is for everyone. Not every class and event needs to be a competition.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mabel, I can always feel an energy with your comments and it teaches me to be more understanding and less judgemental. I think that it is a hard core exercise, and intended to be a discipline. That part I think is somewhat justified, although false claims and some of his comments may not be. The underlying principles of heat allowing for one’s muscles to warm up and so, stretch further, sounds plausible, but I think there is some evidence that warm ups don’t help, so I am unsure if this could translate to Bikram. If the muscle is over stretched when it is too warm, it may cause injury as well. So right about the competition. The competition should only be with yourself. Have you seen courses advertised in your area? Or have they as one other blogger suggested, gone a little out of vogue?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are very kind, Amanda. Thank you for your nice words. That is interesting to read that this kind of exercise makes use of body heat. You are right, there is a risk of overstretching muscles, and each of our bodies condition heat differently – for instance different warming up and cooling down rates. I haven’t seen much yoga or exercise courses in my area, but I also don’t look out for them.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I was never a keen one for exercise or sports, Mabel much preferring books, however after a car accident that injured my neck, I had a lot of muscle tension and stiffness. The physio suggested I should try Yoga. That was the start of something really wonderful for me. Yoga changed my life in so many beneficial ways.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. When I was living in Dublin there was a Bikram yoga studio a few meters from my home. I always felt intrigued by it but in the end I chose pilates. And since then, I love it! I’ve also done some clases of yoga, but I still prefer pilates. For me, it’s a great combination of the calm of yoga and some very rewarding exercise!
    I don’t think I’ll ever try this hot yoga after reading your post, hehehehe.
    Have a great week, Amanda!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pilates is a great way to exercise, and I believe it is discipline for the mind in that it encourages discipline and steadiness. Core strength is so good for protecting one’s spinal health too I incorporate pilates into my morning yoga routine! How long have you been practising?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Uuuummm it’s been already 4 years!! I started with reformer clases, and it was incredibly good for my back… now in Switzerland I take mat clases. I couldn’t have imagined that using only your own body was even harder than using the reformer or other pilates machines… but it is! And even if I feel exhausted after every class, I also feel incredibly well 🙂
        Actually, I’m thinking now on taking also yoga classes to combine both disciplines.

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      2. Awesome, Mercedes. Do try Yoga. I totally agree with you on Pilates. The first class I did, I was aghast at how something so simple as lifting one leg two inches off the floor repeatedly could be so exhausting. That is the beauty of Pilates – really targeting the muscle and developing endurance and control. Yoga is more concerned with integration and calming of the mind and body. Breathing is a central tenet. By calming the breathing, one calms the mind. Yoga has been so instrumental to me in beneficial changes to my life. I can highly recommend both practices. ( but not Bikram, of course!) Nb. Different yoga teachers have different approaches to the running of the classes. Some are more focused on the meditative side, some more on the fitness and flexibility benefits. Perhaps you might try a couple of different teachers to find one that is more aligned with what you are seeking?

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  6. No I have not tried this form of Yoga and reading your account of it would not even contemplate it.. I will stick to my Meditation practice and to my gentle Spring Forest Qi Gong..
    That sounded more like a boot camp than Yoga session.. Sorry to hear you had such an experience.. ❤

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  7. Bikram yoga was all the rage here a while back. I’ve never tried it, but several people I know did. A couple of them injured their backs doing it. They also said they felt compelled to twist and contort themselves even if it really hurt. 😬 I’m more the mellow type, plus I hate getting barked at by humans! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Why am I not surprised that folks have injured their backs.Pain and punishment seem to be their objective, Sabine, so they certainly achieve that – in many respects. How pushing your body beyond its limits on a regular basis could be good for anyone, is quite beyond me. I hope they woke up to that?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Nor me, Sabine. I am much better coming from an angle of trying for my own personal best and gradual increment in flexibility or strength. I wonder why people like competition, as they are not going to win anything? Perhaps to see if they are the best in the class?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Some people just seem driven and need to win at anything. We used to play board games with some friends our age, so not children, and the guy got so disruptive and disagreeable whenever it looked like he wasn’t going to win. We were just having fun, enjoying the moment and their company … alas, we no longer get together. Sad, but I just don’t care to be with people who act that way.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It is a funny thing, that competitive streak, isn’t it, Sabine? I went along to a few trivia nights and early on, I felt quite competitive. I never said anything aloud, but inwardly was questioning the adjucator’s ruling of some answers. Why – for goodness sake, I asked myself. It is not important. It was a charity event. Then I had to laugh at myself for being a bit ridiculous. The ability to laugh at oneself and a reality check is the best antidote to competitiveness, I think Those folks might have not been listened to, in their past and seem hell bent on proving to themselves that they are right?

        Liked by 1 person

  8. WOW!!! I’ve seen them advertised here and a couple of studios here and there. I know better than to participate since I had a heat stroke at age 10. It was the only time in my life I thought I was dying and wished it would happen. I can no longer do extreme heat any time. I like yoga and have taken a few classes and enjoy it. The last few years I have gone to Qigong DVDs with Lee Holden that I can do at home. They are gentle but you know you have had a bit of a work out and help so much when I do it. The contract would stop me in my tracks if nothing else did. Yoga is to help us connect with our higher self more than about exercise. When you are all in physical alignment, your spiritual alignment comes easier. My daughter did the Qigong for healing dvd on Saturday with me for the first time. With her Fibromyalgia, she called it time after 30 minutes out of 52. I didn’t feel anything painful but we stopped there for her. We will try 35 minutes next time and keep working her up gently. No one barks at me! No one. I’m a really peaceful person but I may have had to knock that person off their pedestal before walking out. 🙂 Glad you are back to something that suits you better. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for telling me more about QiGong. You are the second person to recommend it, Marlene. Sue Dreamwalker referred me to a link above. I don’t really know anything about it, so I am keen to read up more. Your description of Yoga is spot on, fusion of spirit and body is the aim. The breathing practices in Yoga have also helped tremendously with my Asthma as well and latent anxiety. Good idea to add small increments of time to your practice.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow, what courage to go to a Bikram yoga class! And even more in staying on and going to a second one. I could never so it. Just look at their Instagram account, it’s so intimidating – everyone is like the six pack girl you encountered. Funnily enough, beginning of this year, I listened to a podcast on Bikram. In it his former students recount their experiences of the yoga and his sexual harassment. Before I got to the end I was so disgusted that I had to quit listening. Needless to say, I will not be going to a Bikram yoga class! I love pilates where everyone can perform according to how they happen to be feeling on the day ❤️

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    1. I haven’t seen their Instagram Account, Suvi, but I can imagine what it is like. It might be best for me not to look at it! Lol! The sexual harassment issues are even listed on Wiki now, as M-R mentions in her comment. I hope this is a big red flag for people contemplating it as an option. It defies everything nurturing and is an abomination of Yoga practice. Your Pilates class sounds just right with everyone able to perform at their level – this is more in tune with one’s body. I have a close friend with two disabled adult children, and she has always practised Pilates. With constant lifting of two now adult kids, her back has never missed a beat. She puts this down to her Pilates practice. I also like that you can do Pilates in the smallest of spaces, and don’t need any equipment. I incorporate quite a few Pilates exercises in my morning Yoga. I think they can be sympathetic practices. So, you never tried Yoga, Suvi?

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      1. I have but only once quite recently. The instructor was a lovely Polish lady and I would’ve loved to continue her classes but the studio is just too far from my home. She was as far from Bikram as you can get!

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Yikes, sounds very stressful Amanda! The instructor could do with a bit of politeness. I wouldn’t have the patience to stay for the whole class for sure!
    I don’t know much about Yoga, although it’s quite popular with the older crowd in Nepal. My mum does it everyday. I didn’t even know that Yoga was so popular in the West until I came here. I have been meaning to try some simple, relaxing yoga from youtube videos for a while, but maybe I will get around to it soon. To me, yoga should be relaxing, simple and more for your beneficial for your mental health than physical, but I might be wrong!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. In Nepal, yoga is associated with the older people by younger ones, as it’s something traditional. They want to do and feel modern things so younger ones prefer gym with equipment 😀 They don’t know yet how trendy it is in the West hehe

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Isn’t that ironic, Pooja? I have never been one to be into gyms, although I did go to a gym for 12 months. I didn’t really like that sort of fast paced exercise and sustained quite a few soft tissue injuries. I had never injured myself at Yoga so after 12 months, went back to that. I so prefer it. Passive gentle stretches seems to suit me and my body type better. What about you? Which did you prefer?

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    1. I am not sure who is would be suitable for, Donna. Maybe boot camp junkies? Hot, gentle Yoga sounds like what I was anticipating Bikram to be. The heat one generates in Yoga poses is a great way of releasing toxins. How long have you been doing it?

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  11. Oh my. I’m sorry you had this experience. But obviously you know what is good for you and what isn’t, so I’m not worried. It depends how masochistic a person is. I stem from the country and family of masochists so I’m really alert and weary of it. I didn’t choose the way – and the country – of hedonists for nothing. 😀

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    1. No you need not worry, Manja. After doing Yoga for quite some years, I was confident in doing what I did, and speaking privately to the teacher, albeit briefly afterwards. She was recalcitrant and didn’t want to engage. That is fine but I did mention that she should take care not to force anyone to do something they couldn’t do. She dismissed it off hand. So be it, I thought. You say you are weary of masochists. Is that was Slovenia is like, culturally?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m afraid so, yes. Slovenia was always repressed by somebody or other. Right now it’s by the capital, like everybody else. But it’s also this mittel-European angst that we share with Austrians. Not that I really recommend it (because it’s twisted) but Haneke’s film The Piano Teacher shows it so well and Ms. Isabelle Huppert is so good. Haneke is Austrian as it the Nobel prize winner Elfriede Jelinek, the author of the story that the film is based on.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I will have to try and source that film/book. Mittel European angst. I haven’t heard this before, but it certainly sounds plausible. When I was in Poland, they were talking a similar history of domination by others.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Oh no! So sorry to hear about your awful ordeal, Amanda. Hope you are feeling better now. I don’t have much experience with Yoga but I do remember hearing about this form of “ yoga” from a friend whose aunt had tried it as it was all the rage at the time and she too had a terrible experience.

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  13. oh wow –
    I can relate – I have been some power classes, which follow the Bikram vibe, and some I have liked and some I have not. And I say “not” – that means I will never go back – as you noted here – I like the approach to yoga that is like yours – the “we will all look different in this pose” because we have different body shapes, different things going on that day – and we are at different levels with the pose.

    and just one note about the drinking – I think there is debate about “when” to hydrate – and before class might be too much liquid before a class. So some argue hydration is the day before or earlier that day –
    and my hubs drinks water with sea salt on some of his hard workout days.

    and then one lady that we had as a substitute for a class – she was amazing- she was a power yoga teacher but also knew we all look different – and she still challenged. Like she had us “flip our dogs” and I never would have tried it if she did not just make it sound so easy (and it was).
    And what I really wanted to share was that when we went to sip our water – she reminded us that we “would cool down the fire” in our gut.
    I have learned more about what she was talking about.
    When we are working out in hot yoga – and getting the body temp up – part of the benefit is allowing the core to heat (if one can stand it) and so she said to sip small amounts if really needed.
    And I think that for ideal gut and organ energy health – it can be beneficial to let the core heat up – but one must work up to it –
    This is my take (and just what i have pieced together and so some expert might come and correct parts – but this is how I view it now)

    Yoga poses have the yin and the yang. Yin poses are long holds and deep stretches – and often can connect to the asana (poses) that align the chakras in the body. The meridians or nadis are these energy flows we have and all yoga connects to the organs and the flow – right? And so the yang poses are the fire poses – the ones that generate more heat – and they work the core and the body in a different way from the yin poses.
    There are classes just for yin (and I heard someone fell asleep in a yin class- ha) and then there are these power classes which is supposed to be this yang – heat – or just intense workout.
    I agree that some of this “go hard” and “compete” is opposite of the yogi philosophy – but not all yoga workouts are connected to the yogi way. And there can be the deep spiritual side to yogi ways that I do not want to be part of – the chanting and religious side is not for me.
    Anyhow, some of my best experiences with yoga have been power classes (done right) with a restorative savasana.
    __
    Thanks for sharing about your experience and i would have done the same – dropped the classes and took the loss. I am super picky about who I practice with and under – and I have walked out of a class after five minutes – if i don’t like the teacher’s energy and delivery – I cannot be under their teaching…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is clear you have researched this well and come from a knowledgeable place, Yvette. I don’t mind a bit of chanting in a class if one is doing meditation (which I find so relaxing), but I do like the vibration one feels in the body when we say a collective ‘ohm’ to start and finish a class. I am not a religious person so too much religious overtones is not a preference for me – whatever the type of religious doctrine. But the personal body has an energy or spirit that knows no doctrine. That is what I listen to. I think we agree that there are various types of classes and different ones might suit different persons. There is not one single right way. Your comment on the hydration makes sense. And some poses are heat inducing for cleansing of toxins – absolutely. However, I think the way a teacher approaches that topic should be instructive and constructive, not disciplinarian, wouldn’t you say?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes –
        I 100% agree with all that you said especially the discipline side – and the competition – ugh.
        And I thank you for your reply – also – I have not totally researched this o-
        Just been doing yoga for a few years now and have had more than 100 teachers (really) and for a while I was keeping a log – (long story)
        And beyond the disciplinarian side

        Do you know what else turns me off- and this is super personal
        -but teachers that are snooty to late comers
        And one of my top teachers who is really amazing and and sweet – she teachers 300 hour trainings and maybe 500 now (I love her and made her an art piece)
        But I stopped going to her class for a while because there is this rudeness with latecomers.
        Well I would never go to her class late because of it – (funny how we get motivated to be on time when we have to – even tho I try not to be a habitual “late-y”)
        But I was in her class one day and it was like 5 or 7 minute in and she sent someone away. “Class is already underway”
        The person was late and probably needed yoga more than anything that day….
        And that part of her energy just bagged at me –
        However – I still might pick up some of her classes because she is such a master – just anal and a little rude about the arrival time. Do you think it would bug you to see her anal like that?
        – in contrast / this guy teacher – who is her good pal- he lets people come in at anytime and he says “people can do svasana the entire class if they want” and they need to let their practice breathe and unfold for what they need that day. You would love him for that! But he does have flaws – like one day – he stood near someone and said “LEFTttttt side…” to a person who kept going the wrong way.
        And many times people have to sync their brain and so going right or left might take a bit- if that makes sense – and he is sometimes too “Directional” which can be a hurdle for some –
        Like too many “left” and right”
        If that makes sense –

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes your comment does make sense, Yvette. I know my current yoga teacher shuts the door when she is ready to start class, but she waits to start the class, if she sees a latecomer just parking their car outside. I love the male teacher’s openness in letting folk do what they want, but I guess there is no perfect teacher, (or student). Some are better at being more flexible to student’s time management, others too fixated with directionality. They too are on a journey in developing their teaching skills and communication, I think. Each student likewise, is at a different stage, in their own personal development journey and because of this, will react in an individual way to a particular teacher’s behaviour – ie. It will bother one student and not the next. That is the philosophical me speaking. In reality, I would probably be offended if I was refused entry in a class, due to lateness. I am Danish though and am slightly obsessed with punctuality. (Danes believe running late is disrespectful to the other person’s time.)
        If the door to class was already shut, I would not dare to open it, I’d just go home. I do totally agree that the latecomer probably really needed yoga that night. Do you think the teacher was also making a comment on her inability to concentrate with interruptions and her wariness, in sending a message to the rest of the class that it is ok to run late, lest more of the class start being less punctual ?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Hi – that ending part about the teacher sending a message / very well could be…
        And the part about what one prefers bothers someone else – omg is this the right point for us all to remember
        – it is like that saying “I am not for everyone – I am not a taco” or not chocolate – etc.
        and I also found that as a student my needs changed – like I went back to a teacher who specializes in “alignment” – not that she says this – but it unfolds in her style of teaching and her class is like chiropractic work – I even told her – and then I stopped her class / she also does a chair yoga that is aligning – so good. Oh and Amanda – you are so right about a good class “ohm” – when you here the hum of vibration of sound. We once had a class (with mr directionality dude) and here is his cool he is. People were pouring in – and he invited folks to keep making room. Then he said “In New York City we have mats lined up with two fingers between mats – so let’s do it New York City style”
        And then… we just modified a few arm things (so to not hit each other – ha)
        It was the biggest class I have ever been in – it was a bit of a power yoga – but not the rude stuff aforementioned – and it was also hit yoga and so I just remember being so one with my mat and my space and had this bubble around me yet was with a crowd and felt the flow of others – but the ending ohm was so Loud they said they heard it up
        Front – and I could feel it in my chest –
        Cool experience –

        And I have enjoyed comment sharing about this topic very much ! Thanks for it amiga

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Wow. That New York style class ohm sounds fantastic, albeit it hot yoga (I am pretty sure it was a typo when you wrote ‘hit’yoga – LOL. For a brief moment I had to stop and think: Yvette says they are two fingers apart, is it a style of yoga that I hadn’t heard of, and you are supposed bend and hit each other??! LOL.
        Seriously, there must have been a really great energy flowing in that space. Obviously a lovely group of students too!
        I am not familiar with the phrase:
        “I am not for everyone – I am not a taco” or not chocolate – but I do understand what you mean. Different strokes for different folks, kind of meaning?

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Your lesson is enough for most of us I think. Nowadays so many yoga gurus with new techniques has emerged like wild mushrooms. One should be careful in choosing any one. Mils yoga and meditation is best with proper breathing excercises.

    Liked by 1 person

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