Yoga Tip: Bikram Pitfall #1 – Lock the Knee! Or Die Trying!

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1. Bikram Teachers are Obsessed with Pushing the Kneecap Back!
It’s such a HUGE deal that I know expert yogis who’ve been handed their money back after taking class & told never to return because they were micro-bending their knee in standing postures. In the fitness world you’d be hard pressed to find a professional trainer who guides clients to repeatedly hyper-extend their knees. What Bikram teachers claim is that by engaging the quadriceps & locking the knee, you strengthen the leg. From the profile, if you look at the knee joint when someone hyper-extends versus bending their knee slightly, isn’t it obvious that hyper-extension is a prescription for overstretching the soft tissue of ligaments and tendons? What’s more, if you look at the hips and spine of someone hyper-extending their knee is a 1-legged standing pose, you will not see corelift in the spine. What you will see are sloppy body mechanics.
Look at this woman’s left Knee as she seeks greater depth. This Progression is typical in Bikram Yoga. Can you see how her weight is collapsing into the back of her knee? While the pose looks superficially impressive, Does her Knee look Healthy?

2. Why on earth do Bikram yogis hyper-extend their knees

while making claims of health benefits? The 1st thing is that many people who practice Bikram Yoga have experienced genuine miraculous healings in the joints. So these people think, “Bikram & his teachers must know what they are talking about.” Right? Well, not so fast. The heat provides a tremendous rehab environment. And so here’s a typical cycle for newcomers in the Bikram world.

3. Bikram Cycle
The Bikram Hot Yoga practice which heals thousands of injuries in the first 2 years of practice frequently ends up re-injuring the body in the 3rd & 4th years of practice. And the practitioner gets confused. Why is Bikram Yoga not working anymore? Answer: Because your body mechanics suck!
And no one corrected you because too often the teachers do NOT understand proper body mechanics.

4. Don’t Get Seduced by the Heat
Don’t get me wrong! I LOVE THE HEAT. But .. and this is a huge BUT … if you think you can defy the laws of gravity just cuz you’re in a HOT room, you are drinking Bikram’s coolaid! If you decide to push your physical edge in a challenging HOT Yoga practice on a regular basis, at first, you will get away with it. You’ll get a fantastic workout. Your brain will produce yummy feel-good chemicals: endorphins, dopamine, etc. Your muscle tone will improve. And your body fat will decrease. Organs & glands will realign with their proper balance. But if your body mechanics are poor, you will develop bad habits of collapsing into the soft tissue of your joints. And 3 years into your practice you may be scratching your head wondering how on earth did I overstretch the back of my knees? The very practice that miraculously healed your body 3 years ago is suddenly betraying you. Now how do you heal himself?

5. Don’t Blame Bikram or the Heat!
Pay attention when you practice. Look, Bikram is doing the best job he knows how to do. It’s not like this man is trying to scam anyone. Nor are Bikram teachers. These guys & gals believe in their method. I just happen to believe that the Bikram method is biomechanically flawed.  And I believe the Bikram empire will crumble within 5 – 8 years. People flocking to Bikram studios will smarten up. Renegade yogis will present viable Hot Yoga options. The yoga market will adjust. Hopefully the quality of Yoga Teacher Training will improve dramatically.

6. Competition Makes You Stronger!

Bikram loves competition. One of his favorite aphorisms is, “I was born in gymnasium! I was raised in gymnasium! I will die in gymnasium!” The tough little Calcutta yogi sprinted out of the womb driven to win competitions. And he is proud of this ethos. While I admire many qualities about Bikram, I believe Competition is Completely Antithetical to Yoga.
Practice yoga to awaken your consciousness. Not to impress the teacher or other studio members. Who cares if your leg is perpendicular to the floor when your foundation is crumbling in order to get the leg high? Of course when I practice, I get thrill seeing my toes crest like a second sun rising over the top of my shining bald head. Does it happen every time I practice? No. Sometimes I’m too stiff. And I’ve learned not to force height to meet some concept of how I should look. This is part of growing up on a yoga mat. The reasons I practice yoga are to heal and center myself in a state of unity between my soul & the cosmic soul. If your yoga studio has an overtly competitive vibe, you might wanna find another place to practice.

7. My Knee is Fine. So What’s biggie?
For those yogis who hyper-extend their joints without pain, it’s like the old Alka-Selzer commercial. You can pay me. Or you pay me later. If you’re young, supple & lithe, you’ll probably get away with it for awhile. But it will catch up with you. I know a highly accomplished Ashtanga/Bikram yogini who wishes she’d paid more attention to my warning. Born with a gumby body, she mistakenly believed she could never overstretch her knees. This is a gal who slings sweat with gusto on her mat. Now after 12 years of fierce practice she feels screwed. The ligaments in the back of her knees are overstretched. A month ago she turned to me for advise. Here’s what I told her. 1. Stop all hyper-extension.  2. Dial back the superficial depth of kicking so high or far in postures. 3. Bend your knees slightly in all postures. 4. Notice asap when you abandon your core & come back to the real work of lengthening though your wheelhouse (area from pelvic floor to solar plexus). I also told her that it will likely take 18 months to 2 years to completely heal her knees. As a former Bikram warrior, I went through this same healing process. Regardless of what style you practice, if you’re hyper-extending your knees, shoulders, hips, neck or wrist  … & thinking it’s all good … please re-examine whether you are truly working from your core in your practice. Make it a goal to develop impeccable body mechanics. So you can practice for many decades instead of a few years. BTW: My knees have fully recovered & my practice is fiercer than ever with slightly bent knees!