We see it often as teachers in the room – someone is coming off a recent injury and they truly believe that the Bikram series will help them recover more quickly. They take it slow in class, they modify the posture to accommodate their limitations. We even provide suggestions to help the students stay in the safe zone. However, weeks, even months later, the same student continues with the modifications, not wishing to attempt the true posture for fear of reinjuring themselves. Months later, they have retrained their bodies in the modification without receiving the full benefit of the series as it was designed. The purpose of this story is not to judge.
There are certainly times when modifications of postures are needed and, indeed, advised. However, remaining in the constant state of modification will inhibit one’s ability to truly heal.
If you have ever heard the saying, “If you don’t use it you lose it,” nowhere is it more true than in a Bikram Yoga class. If you don’t use your body, your muscles will atrophy. If you don’t move a particular body part, it will get “stuck” and your range of motion will dramatically decrease.
‘I often get acupuncture treatments. My acupuncturist often tells me to tell him when I feel the needle because if I don’t feel it then I stop short of the therapeutic benefit of acupuncture. That little pinch lets him know that he has activated something in my body. The pain never lasts but I often dread that initial insertion of the needle.’
In Bikram yoga the same principle applies, you have to go to the point until you feel some discomfort to truly make breakthroughs. Does it hurt? Yes! Does it feel uncomfortable? Yes! But in that discomfort you start to understand your true limitations and learn how to manage them to get the maximum benefit of your practice. And, pain is not necessarily a bad thing. Pain is the body’s way of talking to us. It helps us to become more aware of what we are doing in the moment and your ability to recognize it means you are ALIVE. So the next time you are in class consider why you continue to remain in Modification-Ville.
Modifications are advised under the following conditions:
- You are coming off of a recent injury, therefore caution is advised. Let your teacher know before you start class. We still advise that you see where you are in the posture. Can you get into the set up? If so, then THIS is your modification! Avoiding this step means that it will take you even longer to achieve the particular posture. Each posture has multiple phases (set up, middle and final expression). When you feel sharp pain, back off. We don’t push past pain in class.
- You have a medical condition which warrants the modification (i.e. pregnancy). Our teachers are trained in the modifications necessary for pregnant women as they advance in their pregnancy. Please inform our teachers so that they can help you get into the proper modification.
When you are physically not able to get into even the set up of the posture and a modification is warranted, the general rule is that you stay with the intention of the original posture. No point doing a back bend when the posture is actually a forward bend compression pose. No point doing a bridge on your back when the point is to get your head below your heart. This matters in the series because it is designed to create balance in your body. Each pose is balanced out by an opposing pose (i.e. a back bend is followed by a forward bend).
Remember that each time you come back in the room is a new day to try to test your limits.
Staying in a modification that you received for a very particular issue will leave you “stuck” without the possibility of advancing in the series. Trust yourself and let us help guide you safely in the series so you can get the maximum benefits. Start at the beginning: the setup. The setup is generally accessible to all people. This is after all a beginner’s yoga!
I believe in the power of this healing yoga because of what it has done for me and members of my family. I came to Bikram yoga seeking a new form of exercise that was not so taxing on my body and I found so much more. In training, we are taught to “trust the process.” I invite you to do the same in your Bikram Yoga class. It may hurt and cause discomfort but, in the end, it will be worth it. Don’t rush it, however. You have the rest of your life to do this yoga. But, by all means, do it the right way 100% and you will get 100% of the benefits. We have posture workshops every quarter to help you better understand the series and support your progress. Take advantage of these to see if you are doing the posture correctly, receive individual corrections and ask questions. We are here for you!
See you in the hot room!