Many yoga poses are named after animals and other things in the natural world that they…
Your Ultimate Guide To Bikram Yoga Poses
Hot yoga, a class in which a group of people is packed into a heated room, is one of the most popular types of yoga classes worldwide. Although he is steeped in scandal, it can’t be denied that its founder, Bikram Choudhury, was instrumental in popularizing yoga in the USA. He began teaching there in the 1970’s. Although a large number of studios continue to offer classes that teach the original 26 Bikram yoga poses, many of them have dropped the brand name.
It’s important to remember that Bikram is only one style of hot yoga and that there are many other styles that involve teaching asanas in a heated room.
Nevertheless, the Bikram yoga series does remain the most popular and attainable style for most yoga practitioners regardless of their skill level. The poses are accessible yet challenging enough for any level of yoga practitioner. To make the poses even more accessible to those who don’t want to learn Sanskrit, each of the poses has been given an English name. Here is a run-down of all the poses in this hot yoga series as well as some safety tips for practicing them.
The Original Bikram Yoga Poses
1. Standing Deep Breathing – Pranayama
The series begins with a Pranayama or breathing technique. Stand at the top of your mat (short edge) with your toes and heels together and elongate your spine. Interlace your fingers underneath your chin and bring your elbows together. Inhale through your nose and open the elbows to the side. Exhale through your open mouth, bring your elbows together and drop your head all the way back. Repeat and tighten your glottis just enough to make a Darth Vader-like sound called Ujayii breath or ocean breath.
This deep breathing is said to help improve focus and circulation throughout the body, increase lung capacity and provide the body with more oxygen.
2. Half Moon Pose – Ardha Chandrasana
In Half Moon Pose it’s important to remember to keep your chest open, especially for the first two parts of the pose as this helps strengthen and stretch both sides of your body. If you’re still developing oblique stability, you might have a tendency to bring your top shoulder forward. Engage your thighs to keep your toes and heels together. Also keep your arms as straight as possible on either side of your ears and sandwich your head in between your arms. Interlace your fingers with your forefinger and thumb stretched out to create Kali Mudra with your hands.
The third part of this pose is also the first back bend of the series. Don’t overdo it. Pull your navel towards your spine, activate your core, open your chest and slowly push your hips forward as you relax your neck backwards and point your fingers, still over your head, towards the back of the room as you look back.
This pose stretches the sides of the body and helps develop strength and stability in the core and upper body.
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3. Awkward Pose (Chair Pose) – Utkatasana
Although the Awkward Pose in Bikram yoga is very similar to the widely known Chair Pose, the two poses are not quite identical. Keep your legs together and push your knees against each other to give the pose some stability. Stay on your tiptoes and lower your hips down to touch the backs of your heels. Keep your arms stretched out in front of you and parallel to the ground with your palms facing downward.
This pose increases lower body strength and helps you improve your balance and focus.
4. Eagle Pose – Garudasana
Eagle Pose is the fourth of the bikram yoga poses and may prove to be a little bit trickier in a hot yoga class because the sweat on your legs may prevent you from interlacing them properly. However, as you develop strength, stability and balance in this pose, you will find that your sweat won’t cause you to slip off as much over time.
This pose is said to tap into all the major joints of the body, that it helps develop greater mobility and increases blood circulation to the limbs.
5. Standing Head-to-Knee Pose – Dandayamana Janu Sirasana
Standing Head-to-Knee Pose is a core strengthener which also works on lengthening the hamstrings of your extended leg while at the same time helping you become more focused as you balance on one leg. As with all of these hot yoga poses, be sure to maintain a steady breathing pattern and don’t push yourself beyond your own limits. If your extended leg is still a bit tight, keep the knee bent and focus on developing strength and stability.
6. Standing Bow-Pulling Pose (Lord of the Dance Pose) – Dandayamana Dhanurasana
Bikram claimed that this version of Dancer’s Pose allows the blood to flow from one side of the body to the other as you balance in an asymmetrical shape, which helps equalize circulation. While the previous posture helps strengthen the core and lengthen the hamstrings, this pose stretches the core muscles and the quads.
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7. Balancing Stick Pose (Warrior 3) – Tuladandasana
The next standing balancing pose is called Balancing Stick. This pose also helps develop core strength, determination and focus all the while increasing blood circulation throughout the body, particularly to the heart and brain. In the Bikram yoga script, the body shape in this pose is described as “a letter T, not a broken umbrella.” To do this, shift your weight onto one foot, stretch the heel of your other foot back, level your hips and shoulders, stretch your arms out in front of you and reach forward with your fingers.
8. Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose (Standing wide-legged forward fold) – Dandayamana Bibhaktapada
For safety reasons, many inversions are not practiced in a heated room. Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose is, however, a safe inversion that can be practiced in hot yoga. This pose provides your hamstrings and inner thigh muscles with a good stretch, making it a great pose to practice for those who have a pinched sciatic nerve. As is the case with any inversion, this pose increases blood flow to the brain which is said to help improve memory. It also lowers the heart rate, which may have risen while practicing the previous balancing poses.
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9. Triangle Pose (Extended Side Angle) – Trikonasana
Triangle Pose in Bikram yoga is different from Trikonasana (literally “Triangle Pose”) in Hatha Yoga. It’s actually more similar to Extended Side Angle Pose. This particular pose is said to revitalize, strengthen and stretch the body and mind.
Many beginners find this pose challenging because at this point your mat might be pretty wet from your sweating, making it difficult to keep your feet from slipping as you try to hold the pose. Keep your legs engaged for stability and make sure you don’t collapse all your weight onto your hand, leg or foot.
The Bikram Yoga Triangle Pose works your core and legs as well as the sides of your body.
10. Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose (Pyramid Pose) – Dandayamana Bibhaktapada Janu Sirsasana
After experiencing the intensity of the previous pose, you can enjoy a nice little break in Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose. As an inversion, it helps you calm down your rapidly beating heart, stretch your legs and back muscles, and open up your shoulders. While you’re compressing your stomach into your front leg, this pose helps massage your internal organs and increase your metabolism.
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11. Tree Pose – Tadasana
This variant of Tree Pose directs you to place your lifted foot in front of your hip rather than pressing it into your inner thigh. If you’re still working on increasing your strength or if your sweat is making your foot slip too much, use your hands to hold your foot in place. If your foot does stay put in it’s position, you may bring your hands together in front of your heart in Prayer Position.
12. Toe Stand – Padangustasana
Tree Pose directly transitions into Toe Stand, which increases the range of motion in the ankles, knees, and hips while at the same time strengthening them. Although it may seem challenging at first, the trick is to keep your focus on a single point around three feet (90cm) in front of your mat (sometimes called a Drishti). This helps prevent the mind from wandering or getting distracted so that you can focus on your balance.
13. Corpse Pose – Savasana
The first pose of the Floor Series is Corpse Pose – a welcome time to rest and relax in any hot yoga class. It’s said that this pose is the most beneficial pose in any style of yoga because it helps you relax and increases mindfulness. Although it may seem so simple to just lie down on your mat, if you stay present in the moment, you may begin to notice how many times your mind can wander off. The good news is, however, that Corpse Pose, which is practiced in between each of the Floor series hot yoga poses, provides you with plenty of opportunity to bring your awareness back to the present moment.
14. Wind Removing Pose – Pavanamuktasana
Wind Removing Pose helps open up your hips and relieve lower back pain through gentle stretches.
This pose helps soothe the digestive system and, as its name suggests, also helps alleviate gas and flatulence.
15. Sit Ups – Pada-Hasthasana
Sit ups are done throughout the entire Bikram yoga floor series after getting up from Corpse Pose. This helps wake up the body, re-energize it for the next pose and develop core strength and mobility.
16. Cobra Pose – Bhujangasana
Cobra Pose, the 16th of the bikram yoga poses is a heart opener that stretches out your entire spine and helps strengthen your back. This pose is great for both core and back stability which may prevent back pain as well as protect you from developing herniated discs.
17. Locust Pose – Salabhasana
Locust is another backbend that engages the entire body, particularly the buttocks, legs, and hips. According to Bikram yoga, this pose prevents the development of varicose veins, eases lower back pain and tones your glutes. In the Bikram yoga version of this pose, keep your elbows underneath your body and as close together as possible. Your hands are placed on the mat underneath your thighs with your palms facing downward and your pinky fingers possibly touching. Using your hands, push against the floor as you lift your legs up behind you and raise your lower limbs and body as high up as possible.
18. Full Locust Pose – Poorna Salabhasana
The Full version of Locust Pose engages the upper and lower body. It helps improve strength and flexibility in the upper back, shoulders and core. Bring your legs together, big toes touching. As you extend your arms forward, remember to lengthen your body in order to create space in your spine for this backbend.
19. Bow Pose – Dhanurasana
Bow Pose brings you into an even deeper backbend to increase the mobility of your spine and create more space in your body by opening up your chest and shoulders. Make sure you have a good grip on your ankles – you may want to wipe off your hands and remove any excess sweat and moisture before getting into this pose. Remember to lift your legs upwards and keep your knees as close together as comfortably possible to help deepen the bend.
20. Fixed Firm Pose (Reclining Hero) – Supta Vajrasana
Fixed Firm Pose, also known as Reclining Hero, is a hip opener that stretches out your quads and gives you with a release from the previous backbends. This can be challenging for your knees and ankles so if you feel any sharp pain in those joints, do not fully recline backwards but instead stay seated in between or even on your heels.
21. Half Tortoise Pose (Child’s Pose) – Ardha Kurmasana
This is another welcome resting pose in any hot yoga class. Although your core and upper body should be engaged as you lower your forehead and chest towards the ground, once you get there, you can relax and allow your neck to gently release and your hips to stretch out. Keep your sit bones on your heels to ensure a good stretch in your lower back and allow your hips to gently open.
22. Camel Pose – Ustrasana
This is the last and deepest backbend of the Bikram hot yoga series. To keep your body in proper alignment, bring your hands to your lower back, fingers pointing downward. Pull your elbows behind your back, lift your chest up to the ceiling, drop your head back and open your throat. Go down half way. If that’s enough, stay there. Push your hips forward and only bring your hands down to your heels if you can easily touch them from behind without forcing it or the movement requiring too much effort, as that might negatively affect the steady flow of your breath.
23. Rabbit Pose – Sasangasana
The deepest backbend of the class is followed by the deepest forward fold in Rabbit Pose. Remember to take your time between the different poses and don’t push your limits too much in this pose. Sit your hips down on your heels. Grab your heels with your thumbs on the outside and your fingers on the inside of your heels. Tuck your chin in towards your chest. Grab your heels, push your hips up to the ceiling and squeeze your arms against your legs.
If you’re able to, place your forehead on your knees and the top of your head on the mat. To avoid injury and keep your neck unharmed during this pose, don’t turn your neck to the left or right or try to peek at the other students in the class. You shouldn’t feel a strain on your neck as most of the effort exerted in this pose should come from your hands pulling on your heels to create length.
24. Head-to-Knee Pose and Stretching Pose – Janu Sirasana with Paschimottanasana
Head-to-Knee Pose and Stretching Pose provide an intense stretch for your legs. In these bikram yoga poses it’s important to keep your back straight in order to ensure that you bend from your hips instead of from your waist, which allows for greater flexibility. Although bending from the waist might help you keep your fingers wrapped around your toes, it won’t increase your hip flexibility at all. It’s better to keep your knees bent and your back elongated rather than having straight legs and a crooked spine.
25. Spine Twisting Pose (Seated Twist) – Ardha Matsyendrasana
Spinal Twists help increase the range of motion in your spine as well as allow you to increase your focus and concentration. It’s said to be a great pose for realigning the vertebrae after practicing deep backbends and forward folds, and, just like wringing out a wet towel, helps the body eliminate toxins.
26. Blowing in Firm – Kapalbhati in Vajrasana
Finally, hot yoga classes finish up with a pranayama technique called Blowing in Firm. Kneel down on your mat, place your sit bones on your heels and reach up through the crown of your head. To start this exercise, relax your belly and take a deep breath in through your nose. Then forcefully exhale and inhale through your nose for around 50-100 breaths while pulling your abdomen in. Allow yourself to inhale naturally. This exercise is said to help release any “stale air” remaining in the body while at the same time removing any build-up of toxins.
Conclusion for Bikram Yoga Poses
After this last breathing exercise, the hot yoga class concludes with a final Corpse Pose. You can stay in for as long as you need. Try to recover and completely relax after 90 minutes of sweating and practicing bikram yoga poses in a hot room. Remember to hydrate after the class and take a cool shower.
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