Yoga is an ancient practice that is known to provide a multitude of benefits to man’s health and wellbeing. In fact, millions of people all over the world practice various types of yoga and one of the more popular (and now controversial) types is Bikram Yoga.
Bikram Yoga enjoys a large following that includes Hollywood celebrities and many influential people. If you are a yoga novice and are interested to learn more about this type of yoga, here are some essential facts to help you out.
While the practice of yoga dates back thousands of years, Bikram is pretty much recent. In fact it has only been founded and developed in the 1970’s in California by its namesake Bikram Choudhury, an Indian yoga teacher. Bikram’s early celebrity clientele included Michael Jackson, Barbara Streisand and Shirley MacLaine. Choudhury, now age 74, is still alive and has been based in India since 2016.
One of the most defining difference of Bikram Yoga to other types of yoga is that it has to be performed in a heated room with a specific temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit with 40% humidity.
The purpose of the heated room is to provide a safe environment for deep stretching, which can help in relieving resistant joints, ligaments and muscles, while detoxifying the body at the same time. The heated environment is also said to increase heart rate for better cardiovascular workout, improve strength and reorganize fat lipids.
Bikram Yoga includes 26 postures or asanas based on traditional Hatha yoga, as well as two breathing exercises carefully designed to work the entire body. These are performed in set cycles over a 90-minute class. These poses aim to stimulate every system of the body by sending freshly oxygenated blood to 100% of the body.
The postures are said to be chosen to focus on accessibility so that everyone can practice regardless of age or ability. They do not include advanced poses that may be challenging for beginners to perform. However, the entire session, especially as it lasts 90 minutes, is not necessarily easy. Unlike other more relaxing yoga types, Bikram can be more physically demanding because of the heat involved.
Unlike Hot Yoga, which is also performed in a heated room, there is no room for variation in Bikram Yoga. The 26 poses have to be performed in a scripted sequence that cannot be changed in order to achieve the desired benefits. You can expect the same class and poses every time, especially if you’re attending classes with the same instructor.
In Hot Yoga, the instructors have the prerogative to teach their own styles and develop their own sequences as well as keep the session shorter than 90 minutes and make the room less warm. Because of these factors, some people prefer Hot Yoga over Bikram Yoga because of the variety and shorter sessions.
In Bikram Yoga, there is no music, interaction, or clapping. The class has to strictly follow how it has always been taught by Bikram Choudhury.
There are two types of breathing techniques recommended in Bikram Yoga used for different poses. The first one is the 80-20 breath method and the second one is the exhalation breath method. These two breathing techniques are not very easy and beginners may have to practice over time to achieve this correctly and naturally.
In the 80-20 method, you take a deep breath then you begin the pose and exhale 20%. Then you continue a 20% exhalation and inhalation as you hold the pose. This is used for standing and back bending poses to gain balance and energy.
The exhalation method gets you to inhale deeply as you begin the pose then you have to exhale completely as you achieve the pose. This is used for forward bending poses and is said to prevent lower back strain.
To become a Certified Bikram Yoga Teacher, an instructor has to go through a nine-week training program that takes more than 500 hours of study, including two sessions of Bikram yoga a day. The training’s curriculum includes lessons on yoga philosophy, Bikram’s yoga system, physical anatomy, yoga therapy, and even how to operate and market a class. 2018 course costs a minimum of $12,500 USD.
Bikram Yoga enthusiasts believe in the many benefits of the practice. One reported benefit is detoxification because the body sweats out a lot of toxins during the session. It is also said to promote weight loss and increase metabolism.
Because of the heated environment, Bikram Yoga allows deeper stretching which can aid in improving flexibility and mobility in the body. It can also help loosen tired or strained muscles. Other reported benefits include stress relief, improved focus, better blood circulation and enhanced focus.
While Bikram Yoga is designed to be safe for all ages and abilities, it is normal to be dizzy, nauseous or tired especially for beginners. This is often caused by dehydration.
When you exercise for more than 60 minutes in a heated environment, the body loses water and electrolytes which can lead to dehydration. This can cause you to feel disoriented or weak during the class. The best advice is to drink lots of water 2 hours before the class. While it is usually recommended to drink 1-2 liters of water per day, you should be drinking 3-4 liters on the day you are attending a Bikram yoga class.
Other risks include overstretching of muscles which can lead to injuries, and risk of infection if the room is not sanitized because of the hot and humid environment.
Following controversies involving founder Bikram Choudhury in recent years, the yoga community is still divided about the issue on whether to still adopt the name Bikram for the practice. While some completely disassociated their studios and classes from the founder, others said that the practice should be separate from the man but must still be identified as Bikram. For a lot of people, it becomes more of an ethical issue whether to support the practice amidst allegations of the founder’s negative behavior.
Bikram Yoga has become a part of many people’s lifestyles and while it remains controversial at present, it is undeniable that the practice has brought lasting changes to lives of its practitioners.
Jel is a creative ninja who produces multimedia content for a living. After 15 years of working for international TV networks, ad agencies, and film companies, she now defines career happiness as being able to write wherever it strikes her fancy - on the beach, in a local café or just at home while drinking a glass of Merlot and munching on freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies.