Reflections on Bikram Yoga Teacher Training: Dialogue

The “Dialogue” is the scripted verbal instruction for the 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises taught by every Bikram teacher around the world. In Bikram yoga, the teacher does not practice yoga with the class nor does the teacher demonstrate postures. Instead, it is 90 minutes of precise, step-by-step directions on how to enter the pose, how to do the pose, why you do it, and how to exit the pose. As a teacher in training, you must learn it. Verbatim. Period.

A copy of the dialogue becomes a trainee’s Bible for the next 9 weeks and the two rarely separate. Trainees walk with it in their hands, study it and mutter under their breaths in an effort to be discreet as they memorize the words. At least, that’s how the learning starts. As the days and weeks progress at training, all shame evaporates and trainees speak the dialogue out load without a care. You hear it in the elevator, the bathroom stalls, the hallways, and in the supermarket aisles. A cacophony of voices reciting dialogue is like hundreds of broken records on repeat.

People learn dialogue differently. Some are visual learners and draw the body parts in the text. Others listen to a recorded version of themselves reciting a pose. Some write out the words of dialogue from memory. Using flash cards and a mnemonic device, I took the first letter of every sentence of each paragraph and created an acronym. No matter how the information gets into your brain, it must also come out of your mouth.

Late Night Studying of Locust Pose Led to Silliness

It helps to find study partners so that your study buddies do the yoga posture as you direct them. At this point, there is no correcting. You are just trying to get the words out. When people gather by the pool, in the lobby, or in the parking lot to do this, it looks like the different groups are playing bizarre games of “Simon Says”. Staff reminds us not to practice our yoga poses in front of other hotel guests. Normal human beings freak out when they suddenly see trainees break out into a yoga pose in public. Below, fellow trainee and New Yorker, Dionne Presinal is taking her chances. She is practicing standing head to knee pose in what appears to be the Target parking lot (photo taken by Melodie Yoshida).

Trainees who still insist on studying alone do so with inanimate object(s). They simply look at it and talk to it: a plant, a line of shampoo bottles, or a wall. One Saturday afternoon, I studied at the beach and I yelled out instructions for a backward bend at the ocean. A school of dolphins swam by. One of my trainee friends said, “You were so commanding, I swear I saw a dolphin backbend for you.”

Renata Schánělcová (l) & my roommate LaLa (r) talking to a wall. Photo by Alzbeta Peskova.

Dialogue memorization and recitation are monotonous but these ways are the most efficient way to learn all the postures in such a short period of time. Trainees are tested in posture clinic where the group of 400 gets divided into 10 groups 40. Each trainee must stand up in front of this smaller group and recite one posture as 3 other trainees follow while 2-3 teachers listen. When all 40 trainees finish reciting one posture, they move on to the next posture in the series until 24 postures are covered (2 postures are skipped since those two are repeated often with short instructions). Posture clinics serve as class simulations so that trainees have the opportunity to recite each posture and receive feedback from teachers.

The most important teacher you do this for is Bikram himself. Every single trainee must deliver the dialogue of the first posture, half moon pose, to Bikram in front of all the trainees. He gives feedback to each individual. It generally takes two weeks to get through everybody. Some trainees deliver flawless dialogue, others forget words, phrases, even sections, others speak monotonously, while other talk like an auctioneer spitting out words in rapid fire without breathing so that the experience could be over as quickly as possible. We are all nervous as hell regardless of how prepared you are. I have great admiration for the non-native English speakers who must learn dialogue in English and after training, go back to their countries and re-learn it in their native tongues. Often, these folks fare better than the native English speakers since they have to work twice as hard.

Chilean Guillermo Allende delivers Half Moon Pose to Bikram as (L to R): Ivan Silva (Spain), Tereza Kopkova (Czech Republic), Jonathan Martin (Spain) demonstrate. Photo by Yael Graff.

After the first two weeks, the pace quickens. Trainees must prepare to recite one posture per day in posture clinic. If a posture is short, it is conceivable to go through all 40 people and deliver dialogue for the next posture…thereby getting to two postures in one day.

I hated posture clinic…every single minute of it. I never loved it or even grew to like it. I felt sick every time; my stomach churned. I felt I needed to be perfect. I felt like I was being judged. I felt I had to be first all the time. All my issues came tumbling out and there were some really emotional days. It is easy to have breakdowns when one is tired, stressed, and sleep deprived. Looking back, I wish I wasn’t so hard on myself.

Posture clinics are just simulations. The real teaching happens when you are in that hot room, giving verbal instructions to your students. As a trainee, you learn the dialogue verbatim since it is your main teaching arsenal. As a new teacher, you learn to communicate with your students. You speak and they listen. They move their bodies and you watch and respond appropriately, sometimes giving an individual correction. It this kind of dialogue you want to have with your students.

Nevertheless, when you live in a yoga bubble for 9 weeks, it easy to forget the big picture and focus on the task at hand. Fellow trainee Melodie Yoshida from Hawaii captures it perfectly in this photo as she studied dialogue for a posture.

4 thoughts on “Reflections on Bikram Yoga Teacher Training: Dialogue

    • LOL! After having met you, I can understand why! I got through it because I had to…the only way out is through!

  1. WOW I never knew you hated posture clinic so much. Every time I saw you deliver you were calm, awesome & verbatim. Amazing the difference what shows on the outside & what’s really going on inside. I’m down with the pressure to be perfect, I felt the same. Standing Bow Pulling is still one of the few PC I can actually remember with us both banging it out just before midnight!! :-)

    • Right?! Isn’t it amazing the difference between outside and in?! FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT! LOL! Yes, I too remember both us delivering a flawless standing bow at the end, before midnight with Ilke our main teacher giving feedback. I still smile. It is one of my favorite postures to teach…that and balancing stick. So much high energy; I love it!

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