Bikram yoga proponents credit the 26 Hatha yoga poses performed under specific climatic conditions with correcting all bodily malfunctions and restoring health and well-being to practitioners. Beginners learn the proper sequence for performing each of the 26 poses for optimal benefit in warming and stretching muscles and ligaments. The accompanying increase in blood flow to organs helps to stabilize and balance body functions. Parathyroid glands, four pea-size organs located behind the thyroid gland, regulate calcium and phosphorous levels which affect both physical and mental well-being. Neck- and spine-stretching and -compressing Bikram yoga postures affect these organs.
Bikram yoga is practiced in an environment that makes you sweat. Ideally, the temperature is 105 degrees Fahrenheit with 40 percent humidity. However, if humidity is higher, then the temperature can be lower. A carpeted floor is the only type of flooring approved for Bikram yoga. Postures are practiced in sequence to achieve the tourniquet effect, which blocks blood flow in preparation for the rush that flushes arteries and veins upon release. Consult your physician before beginning a new exercise program. If you have high blood pressure, stay in spinal compression poses for no more than five counts for at least the first three days of practicing Bikram yoga.
Two types of breathing techniques are used while performing Bikram yoga exercises: 80-20 and exhalation. The 80-20 breathing technique begins with a deep, full breath before going into a posture. During the pose, 20 percent of the breath is exhaled through the nose, with 80 percent of the breath retained to aid the body in the pose. At the end of the pose, a full inhalation is followed by a full exhalation, known as the exhalation breath.
Camel Pose: Ustrasana
The Camel pose stretches the neck during a deep backbend. Kneel on the floor with your knees shoulder-width apart. Tighten your inner thighs and buttocks, but do not squeeze. Place your hands on your lower back pelvic area with your fingers pointing down. Ease into the full pose by lifting your chin and moving your hands to the soles of your feet. Exhale approximately 20 percent of your breath through your nose. Hold this pose for 30 to 60 seconds. Slowly return to a kneeling position and perform an exhalation breath.
Rabbit Pose: Sasangasana
Follow the camel pose with the rabbit, a counter-pose to stretch out the spine. From your kneeling position, reach behind you and grasp your heels firmly. Take an 80-20 breath and tuck your chin into your chest. Curl your torso as you lean forward and touch your forehead to your knees, with your head resting on the floor. Roll your body forward to lift your hips while pulling against your heels. Hold this pose for 20 seconds. Reverse your movements to come out of the pose.
For Judy Kilpatrick, gardening is the best mental health therapy of all. Combining her interests in both of these fields, Kilpatrick is a professional flower grower and a practicing, licensed mental health therapist. A graduate of East Carolina University, Kilpatrick writes for national and regional publications.