Bikram yoga and Thai massage

Bikram yoga and Thai massage have been the cornerstones of my health regimen for years. I discovered Thai massage and yoga at around the same time then later bumped into Bikram practice. I’d never seen anything like Bikram yoga. My first class was an arduous, sweaty, New Orleans original with humidity that makes Austin look like child’s play. I tried, did what I could and left wondering what the hell did I just do?

Over the years I’ve integrated knowledge and distilled the essence of both practices into my own work as a bodyworker and yoga teacher. I ran across this article on blood stops the other day.

Blood stops in Thai massage are not something often spoken of. It’s a higher skill, taught later in my series of Thai massage classes. I learned them years ago, use them with clients and later realized while taking Bikram classes that Mr. Choudhury had incorporated specfic poses in his sequence, along with the heart pumping heat, to do the same. The tourniquet effect and a blood stop are essentially the same physiological mechanism.

This isn’t new information to me. I know it in the way that one knows your lover, from intimate contact and ongoing communion. What I was impressed to find was, oh someone else actually knows this and wrote about it. I rarely see Thai massage and Bikram yoga mentioned in conversations together and found it interesting that Bikram’s yoga was referenced twice in the pdf.

Bikram helped teach me to do some Thai massage to myself. Thanks to the staff at Yogagroove for helping me keep the blood moving all these 7 years. If you’re interested in my work there’s an Introduction to Thai massage class coming in late January.


Having a conversation with a client he announced, “you give people hope.” When clients pay small verbal affirmations of my work I’ve made it a point to sit in them, honor them and let them sink in. All too often I finish a session thinking if I could have been more in tune, if I could have used more pressure etc. Being a perfectionist has its downfalls. I’m happy to give people hope, I’ve had it myself for quite some time.

Clients come to me with a list of complaints, aches, pains and usually in 2 hours they leave feeling much better. Their conditions don’t just go away, we’ve just lessened the issue. Their medical complaints are so vast I can’t expect to cure anything, that’s not really what I do. The only cure comes from inside them. Beyond genetics, they control the nurture. You can nurture all sorts of conditions and see improvement. It reminds me of veterans who’ve lost limbs. They seem to have the strongest bodies because the rest of them is compensating for not having the extra limb. They seem stronger than everyone else. I told myself many years ago that my pain may never fully go away but if it cannot the rest of my body will be so strong and so healthy my issue is just an annoyance that doesn’t rob me of my life.

You have arthritis? Carpal tunnel syndrome? Thoracic outlet syndrome? Pain and tingling in your hands and arms? Pain in your feet or lower legs? Pain that runs down your leg from your buttocks? Low back pain? Upper back and neck pain? All of those are the most common conditions I see and I can almost guarantee that within a few sessions I can show you great relief. Beyond that I can help describe what may be happening, how you can work on it at home and how we can prevent it in the future. That’s where hope comes in. I don’t work with you to keep you coming back. I work with you so you get better. I’m happy to work on you but it does my life no great joy to create a revolving door of clients.

Let’s look at something as insidious as arthritis. This one is personal to me since this seems to run in my family. There is I don’t doubt some genetic component but nature/nurture is the battle I see looming large. Until the science steps up and gives us more details I believe most conditions can be made tolerable if not healed. Any kind of -itis is usually inflammation at some point. Inflammation seems to be a normal healing response that goes haywire.

In my case I’ve apparently come from a line of people who are prone to arthritis and I’ve had trauma to my neck and upper back from a car accident. Double whammy. Do I have arthritis? I don’t believe so. Will I have it? A doctor has told me that I will probably get it particularly in areas that were damaged in the accident. That sets up my life and my challenge. I want to be healthy and whole.

Yoga in particular holds great potential. Thai massage and other bodywork is good as well but yoga in particular appeals because it’s inexpensive, noninvasive but goes to the core of your being and you take it with you. You don’t have to keep coming back to me, you know how to care for things yourself, with practice. Along with deterioration of a joint that goes with arthritis I believe there are muscular and structural issues at play. You must keep the joint mobile within reason and help your cardiovascular system flush the area with fresh, clean blood as much as possible.

It’s been my experience that warming the area, flushing it with blood will help with symptoms and long term I believe it may in some instances heal arthritis. Mine, if I have it isn’t bad. Certainly not to the point of taking medications. Currently I take…nothing. Not even an aleve from time to time. So, heat the body up, keep it pliable, strengthen muscles and continue using your body. Very simple health advice overall. This does however go deeper.

The poses in yoga help clean you out from the inside out. Your Whole body. This is the definition of holistic. Part of that work is breathing, the pranayama exercises in yoga. This work regulates the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your bloodstream and also helps balance the different parts of your nervous system. People’s sympathetic nervous system is often keyed up, fight or flight wins. Problem is in fight or flight your body doesn’t care if you digest food, doesn’t care about cleansing and repair. You Must stimulate your relaxation response. This part of your nervous system that takes over is the parasympathetic. This part cleans, repairs, and nourishes the relaxation response. Your body and your nervous system must be balanced.

Krishnamacharya held that the breath was critical to controlling the inner functions of the body. He would say, in English, “Lungs are pump. Control breathing. Control heartbeat.” ~ A. G. Mohan, “Krishnamacharya: His Life and Teachings”

Now we get to where it’s really interesting. This is the edge, the area that’s hardly been studied scientifically. Yoga gives you control over your body. With practice you can control things that most doctors will tell you you cannot control. We talked about vascularity and blood flow and how important it is in inflammatory conditions like arthritis. What about the center of the cardiovascular system, the heart? Here’s cutting to the chase. Not only do I think you can make areas more vascular and cleanse them I think that you can fundamentally gain control of your heart and heart beat itself. With practice you can stop your heart. Most will tell you this is impossible and that’s fine.

I don’t necessarily wish to have this control, this is deep, far reaching work that may take a lifetime but if you can control your heart enough to make it stop do you think you could help a case of arthritis? My point exactly. You have Far more control over your health and conditions than most would have you believe.

If you have arthritis I recommend Bikram yoga. The practice works your heart, warms your body and speeds cleansing and repair. The internal tourniquets you form flush the problem areas with blood. This may never heal your condition fully but if the symptoms go away, do you still have arthritis? Let’s explore and see. I’ve been doing so for the past 7 years.

Bikram’s torture chamber

Bikram yoga is one of my favorite discussions in the yoga community. Nothing else that I know of is quite as controversial and with as many varied opinions. Those in the yoga community tend to fall into camps. They prefer certain teachers, certain styles and although some are eclectic I find strong opinions in people that are nearly religious in their fervor. Bikram is separate, nearly reviled by those who do not practice it and loved and held in high estreem by those who do. It’s something akin to the disdain people have for the Grateful Dead and their music while Deadheads keep dancing merrily.

I took maybe 6 classes of Bikram before moving to Austin. I was excited upon moving here to live in a city that offered Bikram and signed up immediately and have not looked back. On average I’ve practiced once a week for 6 years. Yogagroove has supplied a steady supportive base for me to continue my practice over this time.

A few months into my jaunt I got together with college friends. All of their families are from India. As we ate curry, yoga came up. The modern situation one finds oneself in amazes me. Three Indian guys and one ScottsIrish from south Louisiana. I not only do yoga, I teach it. They’ve barely done more than a sun salutation.

Bikram came up as that was on my mind at the time. Immediately I was told that Bikram was horrible. The hot room was bad for you and what was worse, Bikram was selling the culture of India. I took all of this information in and respectfully as possible replied to certain concepts. It is true that Bikram’s business practices have received attention. Court battles have been fought and won and no one can teach Bikram yoga unless you train with Bikram. At its core Bikram isn’t selling yoga or Indian culture he’s marketing the sequence that he developed and now sells.

In the same way that a song is copyrighted, so is Bikram yoga, and it gives Bikram sole ownership. Many do not like this, they do feel he’s sold part of Indian culture. When I get these complaints much as I did that day with my friends, I ask them a question, “Have you ever done his yoga?” Usually the reply is what I heard that day, a confused look comes over their face and they say, “No.”

When you’ve practiced his yoga, done what he’s asking and looked at it the way I have you form different opinions. Having old injuries, inflammation and scar tissue the heat in a Bikram studio warms me and makes me pliable. It helps me open into those areas and flush blood to help heal old wounds. My body is stronger, leaner, more healthy and I can eat what I want. It’s not much of a sacrifice for 1.5 hours of my time once a week. It’s the only regular purposeful exercise I get. I’ve learned to hydrate well, drink little alcohol, eat lightly and prepare my body for the rigors of his practice. He in turn has helped me with my aches and makes my life more tolerable. I’m one of the healthiest people I know.

Bikram codified his sequence in the heated room for a particular reason, he’s working with Americans first and foremost. Americans are often overweight, lazy, work in air conditioned office like environments and are not yoga aficionados. Bikram’s yoga can take someone who is out of shape and wake them up. I’m not saying it is for everyone, if it doesn’t suit you go do something else. 105F isn’t for everyone but with patience and practice Bikram’s yoga can transform people, of that I’ve little doubt. I’ve done it for 6 years and I’m still finding new levels of health, alignment and openness. The practice gets less difficult but it’s never easy.

Bikram doesn’t have to tell his students to hydrate, they do so because they must to practice his yoga. Bikram does not have to tell his students to practice on a nearly empty stomach, they learn that they will have trouble practicing if they don’t. Bikram does not have to tell people to lay off of the alcohol, they will simply learn that they will be dehydrated if they do not. Bikram’s yoga can turn out of shape people into healthy liberated beings.

It’s not everything. It’s not all of yoga. It’s Bikram. I honor his work and teachings for the differences it’s made in my health and body as do I other teachers, particularly BKS Iyengar.

The heat helps someone who is tight begin to stretch. The heat means they will not be thinking about their grocery list during asana, they’ll be focusing on not passing out. The cardiovascular workout people receive in that light sauna environment gets their heart pumping. That blood circulating does what circulating blood does but add to it asana and its tourniquet effect and you have a way of cleaning out your body. That blood cut off then released flushes the organs, glands and helps heal injury.

Bikram developed his sequence after destroying his knee in a weight lifting accident to the point that doctors told him he would not walk again. Many I’ve spoken to in the Bikram community have overcome injuries due to his yoga. My clients are often overweight, they are lazy, they suffer from American average. If they have a remotely athletic bone in their body I tell them to do Bikram. The reason is that I know this yoga and what the clients will be doing. If I send them to just any studio what will the teacher be teaching? It will vary from teacher to teacher and class to class as does my teaching. This is one benefit to the practice as someone who would recommend yoga to clients.

I do not expect all to like Bikram or his yoga. I see results from my practice. If people practiced Bikram’s yoga they would not wander into my office with a list of medications for illnesses that only affect people in the 1st world. They would not complain about their upper back and neck because they work on a computer 40 hours a week and get no exercise while eating too much fast food.

It is not the only yoga I practice but I honor what he has done. If I ever meet him I’ll polish his Rolls Royce with my taut white keister.

Thank you mister Choudhury and thank you to my friends and teachers at Yogagroove.


Body changes

I went to Yogagroove for Bikram yoga last night and had a good class. I felt fairly strong and limber throughout. In the last 6 years my body has opened more and due to the recent master cleanse there’s less to push against. Having lost body fat I feel stronger, having burned off anything that was bogging me down.

When I arrived home my wife teased me about waking before she does the following morning. It’s not uncommon for my sleep to be deep but I’ll wake early. This could be due to extra blood flow to my thyroid and parathyroid or just due to exertion in a hot sweaty room. It’s frequent enough for Andrea to notice whatever the cause.

Sure as rain I woke at 6am and could see Bikram Choudhury driving his Rolls Royce around Beverly Hills giggling at me. If you’ve never tried Bikram hydrate well and remember that the first obstacle is the heat. Yoga is a good practice and regular Thai massage adds to its effect.

If you’re in north Austin, I practice at Yogagroove.

Lest we forget

What are we working towards in Yoga? Just thought about this video the other day and wanted to post it. Tony Sanchez is influenced by Bishnu Gosh, Bikram’s teacher.

Over the years as my practice has grown I realize it’s less and less physical and more internal. Your yoga practice over time becomes something you practice off of the mat. I always return though, to the body. It’s the one thing I can get a handle on and use as a fulcrum to access deeper levels. Tony’s work gives us something to aspire to.

Tony Sanchez