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Is Bikram yoga okay for the injured?


Posted by Tracey R.

I have repetitive strain injury in my forearms and wrists and just started doing Bikram yoga on a recommendation. So far it really hurts, but they say it's supposed to. Anyone out there have experience with this?
 
Answers (10)
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I would recommend seeing a yoga therapist or a highly qualified teacher who is familiar with working with injury or is familiar with alignment. In my opinion, as a yoga teacher myself, I would say Bikram is probably not what you need to address your injuries right now. Even a gentle class would be better, particularly because you're dealing with repetitive strain already, it doesn't make sense to dive into a heavy-duty repetitive practice like what Bikram offers. You need to stretch, yes. But mindfully. "Pain" comes with practice initially, especially if the body is tight or injured. But what kind of pain? Intense and sharp pains are signs of something not right in the practice. And I personally would never recommend a teacher who says it's "supposed to hurt."
Thanks so much for your input, Candace and Gordon. To answer your question, Gordon, I am an administrator at a university, so I spend a good amount of time at a desk in front of a computer. I should explain what I meant when I said "it really hurts". Some poses really hurt my wrists and forearms while I'm in the pose, but after yoga class (hours later) my arms aren't hurting (any more than usual). The other thing is that I have scoliosis, which adds a complication. Some of the poses hurt my neck and lower back and I assume it's because of the curvature in my spine. I guess what I'm wondering is, if it hurts during practice, but later the pain fades or goes away completely, should I keep it up for a while and see what happens? Is there anyone with RSI out there who's done this? Thanks!

Tracey, it sounds like you need to identify your pain during practice as healthy discomfort, the body stretching and opening, or pain. The first will be normal to a body that is used to sitting in chairs as opposed to sitting in chair-pose. The latter will tell you that something is not right, either in the pose, or in your body, or in the instruction. It's difficult to "diagnose" this online, due to the variables of your body, your practice and your teacher. Where are you studying right now, with whom, and what is their background? Look for a teacher who can help you diagnose your practice. Some of what you're describing could be doing the poses incorrectly, or inadvisedly for your body, or they could be due to improper instruction. If in doubt, try out some other teachers. Whereabouts do you live? I'm sure I could look up someone for you in your area, and I'm pretty sure Gordon would be willing to do the same. In the meantime, be gentle with yourself. Healing doesn't always mean intense yoga. The most beneficial year of yoga I EVER practiced was when I was studying yoga for seniors!

Thanks so much, Candice. I live in San Francisco and I've been going to Funky Door Yoga. I could only give you the first names of the teachers, as I don't know any of their last names. I will say, however, that most of them seem quite arrogant, harsh and pushy. I wonder if this is what Bikram teaches and what most Bikram yoga instructors are like??? In some sense it helps me push myself to the limit, which I kind of like except when it comes to a pose that hurts my arms.
San Francisco! You have so many great options out there! I can't really say what Bikram teaches, but I've heard your complaints from many students. Yoga teachers are there to push you. But there are many ways of doing that. Ultimately, a good teacher should empower you to be more conscious of your body and it's needs. As for teachers and places I would recommend...Janet MacLeod and Judith Hansen Lasater teach in SF. Ramanand Patel, although I'm not sure if he's still teaching beginning classes. Leslie Howard, one of my former teachers is at the Y and a few other places. Also you may check out the Iyengar Institute. They have some $5 classes. Bija yoga and Yoga Garden offer Iyengar instruction. Iyengar yoga is heavily interested in therapeutics and alignment. The classes are not heated and there isn't likely to be much "flow" . The poses are held longer. It's important if you do decide to go, that you tell the teacher about any injuries before class, so that they can better help you in the practice. Iyengar teachers will expect for you to work hard. But not because someone is yelling at you necessarily, or because it's 200 degrees in the room or because you're jumping from pose to pose. Iyengar teachers, the certified ones, undergo an intense 2 to 3 year training that is similar to going to university. This is much much more than the minimum requirements to become a yoga teacher, which is only 200 hours and can be done in a weekend! Also remember you may decide that you don't like a particular teacher, so try out a few different ones before you decide if the method is to your liking. Good luck!

Thanks for the great advice, Candice! I'll check out Iyengar and the instructors/places you mention. All the best to you.

YOGA SHOULD NOT HURT! Mild muscle soreness after a vigorous practice makes sense. Pain during a practice does not. it is important to honor your body and develop your yoga practice. I agree that you might better respond to Iyengar or Anusara yoga where the focus is not on "working out" but on developing a personal practice with proper alignment, while increasing strength, flexibility and balance.
Kim
i agree wholeheartedly with candice. i am also a teacher of gentle hatha and HOT yoga. i know the dialogue in the Bikram classes can be misleading and often even "militant" bc thats how Bikram trains his teachers. often, new students that are unaware of such dialogue could end up hurting themselves from pushing"passed the pain". i do not recommend teachers that even use the word Pain. increasing your joint mobility and doing forearm strengthening i think should be encouraged, though.

Hello Tracey,

Odd that my previous reply, which you mention above, has disappeared from the thread. Perhaps when the site was migrated. I do not know.

Since the thread has matured I'll add a couple of points and hope they stick :-)

- Different bodies experience pain and discomfort in different ways.  For some sedentary or less mobile folk, stretching a muscles can be "painful" while for others that same action is only discomfort. Therefore I am very specific with my students about "pain". There should be no SHARP pain in a joint, ever! Some discomfort when lengthening that which is short is to be expected.

Muscles which are not used then used diligently can be sore in the belly of the muscle for as many as three days. Anything longer than that warrants a closer look. If there is pain close to the joint this is often an issue with tendons and the student has gone past their muscle's ability to support musculoskeletal integrity and the secondary system has kicked in - connective tissue. Not good.

- Most of the poses in yoga call for wrist extension. There are very few in wrist flexion. Bear in mind that a yoga practice should not be balanced it should be balancing. Therefore the appropriate practice for you would be one that results in equanimity of use in both flexion and extension based on your lifestyle (keyboarding).

- It is erroneous to believe yoga is about mobility. Rather it is about moving some things while stabilizing others. The function of a masterful teacher is to know which are which and lead the student there. 

- As for scoliosis, I do not find the more "frisky" practices to be as helpful therapeutically in this regard. The work in yoga to deal with scoliosis requires specific attentions, focus, awareness, nutrition, and meditation. However if the student is merely looking for exercise and activity and the superficial benefits of that than most asana classes will do, but not with a disc injury please.

I didn't like Funky Door either, however Mission Bikram teachers are GREAT!
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