Bikram Yoga, Forrest Yoga and Hot Yoga invite to push physical limits, regain freedom and amplitude in the body with a practice demanding intensity that combines physical and mental challenge, preferably with inner awareness. On the other hand, Yin Yoga, Kundalini Yoga and Lujong Yoga are more on the restorative spectrum.
The origin of Bikram
Bikram was created by an Indian named Bikram Choudhury, a young yogi prodigy who grew up in the slums of Calcutta and who practiced yoga at a very early age (from the age of 4) with discipline. He emigrated to the United States where he built an empire around his teaching, creating his own series of 26 postures based on Hatha Yoga. Within a few years, his egotistical personality, around which were gravitating a lot of profiles in search of perfection in this strange micro-universe of Hollywood, allowed him to build a great wealth. Today, many complaints have brought to light an authoritarian, tyrannical and unstable personality (megalomania, racism, homophobia, sexism and sexual abuse). It is interesting to witness what can happen with any guru. Recently, it was Yogi Bhajan’s turn to be exposed for abusive behaviour. Still, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.
What to expect during a Bikram class?
Bikram Yoga consists of a series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises, which are performed in a warm environment (36-41°C) with controlled humidity. The instructor is guiding the session with their voice: one can follow the instructions while concentrating on the reflection in the mirrors (the rooms are covered with them), thanks to which one can easily become aware of the alignment of their body. From the first postures, held for about 1 minute and repeated 2 times in a row, the body heats up. While the heat allows the muscles to stretch as much as possible, each posture requires precision, especially through the “locked” position of the knees. Many muscles of the body are being engaged, in length and flexibility. In this environment, it is important to listen to the body and the individual rhythm to avoid dizziness, cramp and dehydration.
Making sure to arrive well hydrated (fresh fruit juices or whole fruits rehydrate much more than water thanks to their structured water) and avoiding unnecessary digestive efforts will make it easier on the body. A bottle of coconut water, a comfy sport outfit, will be precious allies. In case of dizziness, we are invited to kneel down on our mattress until we can get back to the practice. Breathing is one of the key points. Surprisingly, it is sometimes easier to place the breath in this demanding environment than somewhere less challenging. The standing postures combine strength and balance. The last part of the session is practiced on the ground, and during the first classes, you have to resist the urge not to take off ever again. The particular flavor, at the end of the session, of the final savasana, a posture lying on the back, will be very much appreciated after the deployment of such considerable effort. Some Hot Yoga classes offer another approach, in temperatures that do vary.
Using discernment to choose a yoga instructor to train with
A clear guidance, energetically clean and full of experience, is important for all embodiment practices as many energy transfers take place in the practice room, where the body is suggestible and open to all kinds of different exterior influences, especially in postures that are heart opening, uncomfortable or vulnerable. Trust is really needed. Finding good guidance in yoga is an art. What’s the energy signature with which the teacher conveys and share knowledge? How good are teachers at space holding? Space holding is also an art.
I often come out saddened or carrying part of the emotional unprocessed or unconscious process of the teachers, having less energy than when I had arrived. Sometimes I noticed programs of performance, competition or self-hatred in the room. I have sometimes had a tremor response to the teaching of certain teachers during the first or second classes (a primal response that should not be ignored): this gives me a hint (a red flag) about a predatory profile, dangerous in my eyes because it carries hostile energy, especially when there is physical correction and adjustment during the class. These beings are a vector and vessel for forces greater than themselves. My decision was to stop attend these classes, no matter how great was the practice and how much progress I was making.
Some teachers rely on their musical playlists, letting the music carrythe biggest part of the session. Music can be an obstacle to connect with ourselves, bringing our attention outwards. How very rare is it that we find ourselves in silence with ourselves in our busy lives and how much can be learned in the quietness, away from external stimulations and distractions.
In the same room, so many different goals are present. An aligned teacher is someone who wonders how he can be the catalyst for all these aspirations and hold them together, giving space to each. Everyone is there for a reason, everyone has made the effort to come to the class. Whatever happens, everything is welcome. A trustworthy instructor will never stand in the way or derail someone from the sacred knowledge that is inside themselves. When a teacher holds the space with maturity, students are able to dive deeper into their own processes. Aligned teachers encourage questions such as, “is this right for me today? How do I feel right now? ». They invite students to be in touch with themselves.
Yoga in a heated room is an invitation to train the mind to empty itself of thoughts: as soon as we lose the thread of the present, balance and axis are lost. Warmth and endurance help to let go of the flow of thoughts, to surrender oneself to the presence of the body, to its sensations, to movement and to the moment. In the case of Bikram, the repetition of the same postures in each class can be a test: how to remain present in each movement once the effect of novelty is gone? New subtleties can be discovered as we learn further the postures. It remains an intense practice requiring to surpass oneself. The heat allows a sharper presence. The effects are a greater flexibility and an opening at the level of the thorax and the neck. The body aligns itself, becomes stronger, becomes less rigid, frees itself from tensions. The shoulder area, the back of the thighs and the knees are strengthened; the general posture is straightened thanks to the work of the vertical axis of the spine and the muscles of the lower back.
Ana Forrest is the creator of this approach, an older woman than the majority of actors in the yoga field. Forrest Yoga focuses on strengthening the center of the body (core work). Ana Forrest took her first yoga class at the age of 14 and became an instructor at the age of 18. One of her characteristics is that she makes no apologies for who she is. To give birth to her approach, she has brought together her life journey, from her knowledge of homeopathic and natural remedies, to anatomy or various body techniques, such as craniosacral, as well as her experience with other types of approaches (sweat lodge, vision quest and therapeutic approaches of the Amerindians). She also took into account the most common wounds: “I created Forrest Yoga because traditional forms of yoga did not address most of my deepest wounds; my lost soul, my powerlessness over my addictions and the suffering that was persisting in my life. I took inspiration from existing yoga poses that I modified or created new ones to treat physical ailments related to our current lifestyle, including lower and upper back pain, neck and shoulder or bowel problems. For me, Forrest Yoga is about entering a ceremonial space and the posture allows the space to explore this concept. “
Yoga as a journey of self exploration
Breanna Heil, a Forrest Yoga instructor in Brussels, shares: “what I like about Forrest Yoga is that it seems to attract people who are ready to move forward and want to take things a little further. » In Forrest Yoga you will not find Indian singing or Indian philosophy. None of this is part of the 200-hour training: “That’s not what Ana Forrest’s work is based on. I didn’t have to become someone else to practice yoga. I didn’t need to become more spiritual. What a relief. It’s much closer to my original westerner frame of reference.” In Forrest Yoga classes, the teacher has the opportunity to let his intuitive musical talents express. This moment at the end of the class leaves room for something more intuitive. In this way, slowly, everyone can better identify what is part of them organically. The practice focuses on abs and there is no doubt you will remember your first set, just as I did. Thanks to Forrest Yoga, I pay more attention to the tensions in my neck. A lot of poses leave room for neck relaxation. Thanks to these teachings, I pay closer attention when my neck finds itself in an uncomfortable position, asking myself: “How can I make things more comfortable? ».
Restorative practices: Yin, Lujong & Kundalini
I get a lot out of my encounter with yoga in a heated room, this practice adds fire to my fire temper. The risks of yoga in a heated room are not to feel the limit in the body. There was a time when I felt guilty because I loved Hot Yoga classes so much and have enthusiasm to go there but lack the same kind of enthusiasm for restorative practices that aim to calm the nervous system such as Kundalini or Yin. I later realized that heat really helps me to inhabit the present moment and my body. Sometimes I opt for a Yin or Kundalini Yoga class, which brings rest to the endocrine systems, although I must admit that this is rare. Kundalini activates the lymphatic circulation, which is essential during a deep detoxification work. Kundalini yoga brings the organs to optimal functioning, strengthens the nervous system and activates the pineal and pituitary glands. Yin focuses on long stretches held for several minutes and slow deep breathing.
- In Brussels, Danièle Proefski teaches Yin and Kundalini yoga at the Studio Vibration.
- Near Bruges, Katrien Haerynck teaches kundalini at Pavitar Studio.
- In California, Meisha Dev Avtar teaches kundalini yoga at Studio Shanti Naam Yoga.
Lujong Yoga (“lu” referring to the body and “jong” referring to transformation) is a form of Tibetan yoga with 17 vigorous movements. This ancient practice, developed in the Himalayan landscape by Tibetan monks, supports physical vitality while maintaining a balanced mind. Rooted in Tibetan Medicine, Lujong Yoga was developed by Tibetan monks who were inspired by the observation of animal behaviour and nature. This knowledge with its multiple virtues (activation of vital energy, release of tensions, strengthening of the immune system) was developed to support healing processes and resistance to diseases and to cultivate mental attention. In the absence of access to medical care, monks found a way to maintain a healthy mind and body.
Lujong is a teaching that encourages to see, hear, feel with inner openness, to be awake and curious, ears and eyes wide open, ready to be surprised by the playfulness of the world. Brian Hilliard shares: “Usually we tend to be in tense atmospheres. Bringing a group together is precious; a very important part of meditation is to establish a peaceful environment where one can be themselves.” We are guided through a meditative introduction. Brian reminds us that the primordial aspect of mindfulness is first and foremost posture and invites us to follow our breath as it dissolves in space, letting go to all forms of thought in order to focus on the present. Returning incessantly to the observation of the breath and how it occurs. “Let your thoughts become part of the landscape,” he suggests. Being attentive to the sensations of the body and the physical experience, sitting and breathing, not evaluating our own experience, always coming back to the breath allowing to rediscover our own inner world.
Invited to stand up, it’s time to tackle two basic Lujong movements. We begin the slow cycle of repeated back and forth movements with our arms drawing the horizon, the little finger and index finger raised and the other fingers covered by the thumb, accelerating until we move all parts of our body, then slowing down again until we stop. The class ends with a small postural jump in balance. The alternation of movements, sometimes extremely slow and sometimes very agitated, creates two complementary effects: a full awareness of the movement and a loss of mental focus in favor of the joy of the direct experience. At the end of each class, the body is relaxed and the ideas are clearer, less polluted by a disorganized and incessant flow. A good dose of vitality emerges and a desire to be more benevolence towards oneself.