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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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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.