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How to Improve at Bikram Yoga Poses

author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
How to Improve at Bikram Yoga Poses
Regular practice and patience is what it takes to improve at Bikram. Photo Credit fizkes/iStock/Getty Images

Bikram yoga, with its mix of sweat, challenge and release, can be addicting. If you've been bitten by the Bikram bug and want to look fluid and strong in Eagle pose or ease gracefully ease into a flat-backed Head-to-Knee pose, there's work to be done.

Flexibility levels vary from person to person. You may have structural limitations in your joints that prevent you from looking like Bikram Choudhury in every pose. That being said, you can still improve in your practice of the poses. The key to improvement? Repetition.

Muscle Tightness

One of the limiting factors in your flexibility is muscle tightness, and this is something you can work through. Habitual ways of sitting and standing contribute to tighter muscles. If you're athletic, repetitive patterns in your sport likely contribute to tightness in specific muscles.

Read More: Hot Yoga Benefits

Tightness in muscles is a way your body protects itself. If you're not strong enough in specific muscles, your body restricts movement there to keep your skeleton safe. So, you don't want to force stretching further in Bikram poses, including Triangle pose or Fixed Firm pose. Joints that aren't accustomed to moving into Bikram poses need the protection of your tight muscles, and easing into better performance is key.

Standing Bow requires flexible hips and back muscles.
Standing Bow requires flexible hips and back muscles. Photo Credit fizkes/iStock/Getty Images

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends daily stretching if you have limited range of motion. The more often you can get to your Bikram practice, the better if you're after improvements. Going once per week isn't going to cut it. In addition, stretch your hips with low lunges, your back with Cobra and your shoulders with Thread the Needle.

Stretch for Sensation, Not Pain

Improving in Bikram doesn't require you to push to the point of pain. When you force a joint outside its normal range of motion or stretch a muscle beyond the capacity for which it is ready, injury is imminent. Go into poses so you feel a slight sensation of a stretch. As you practice for several weeks, you'll notice your body gives you a little more in each pose. It might take a year or two of practice for three or more times per week to find your fullest range.

A strong core helps you balance in poses like Stick.
A strong core helps you balance in poses like Stick. Photo Credit fizkes/iStock/Getty Images

Build Your Core

A strong core is essential for many of the standing poses in Bikram, such as Balancing Stick and Standing Head-to-Knee pose. When you're away from the yoga studio, do stabilizing exercises to build your core several times per week. Plank, side plank and anti-rotation exercises help you train the deep, internal core muscle of the transverse abdominis and improve balance.

Read More: These 12 Moves Will Get You Washboard Abs

Train Your Balance

Balance is a fitness skill that must be trained. In addition to practicing Bikram at least three times per week to improve your balance in specific poses, train balance at other times. For example, stand on one foot while you brush your teeth or wash the dishes. If you belong to a gym, stand with both feet — and progress to one foot — for 30 to 60 seconds at a time on a Bosu ball, a half dome.

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