Bikram Yoga is a relatively new yoga style with a somewhat controversial background. The style was founded by Bikram Choudhury in the late 1900s and it's a rigid discipline known for two things. Number one, Bikram is practiced in a very hot environment. And number two, it incorporates 26 specific poses that must be performed in an exact order over a 90-minute period. Absolutely nothing can be altered or deviated from the prescribed cycles set by Choudhury. Otherwise it cannot be considered Bikram Yoga. The 26 poses that were chosen for the practice are intended to keep oxygenated blood flowing steadily throughout the body. The poses are mostly traditional hatha postures and they must be done in the correct order to enjoy all the advantages of a Bikram class.
Want to learn more about different yoga styles? Visit the Yoga Society blog.
The controversy surrounding Bikram Yoga stems from yoga studios that claim to offer Bikram Yoga classes, but shift and adjust the order of the poses that Choudhury established. Even though these classes maintained a temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit in the classroom, in the view of Choudhury, this was not a true Bikram Yoga class. Choudhury threatened legal action against any studios that were offering his style without adhering to his standards. As a result, studios had to change the name of their classes to “Hot Yoga” instead of Bikram if the instructors wished to create their own order of poses instead.
Related: What Is Kundalini Yoga?
Since Choudhury had insisted that studios use a more generic term instead of that which bore his name, hot yoga became a popular term to describe any number of different types of yoga. However, they all have one thing in common – a hot yoga class is taught in a room where the temperature is set somewhere between 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius) and 104 Fahrenheit (40 Celsius). Humidity in these classes should be kept at about 40 percent, especially for a Bikram class.
If the class is anything other than Bikram, the poses that are performed can vary drastically. A wide range of asanas might be included through one sequence after the next, at quicker or slower paces as the instructor sees fit. There are also specific types of hot yoga including Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga, Moksha, and CorePower, just to name a few.
While the elevated room temperature surely plays a role in how you feel after a Bikram Yoga class, the postures and breathing are both significant factors as well. Bikram Yoga is not for everyone and that may be a determination you make after you take a class. But you should definitely give it a shot, even if you are somewhat apprehensive or put off by the increased heat in the room.
Here are just some of the reasons why it might benefit you:Reduces stress
All forms of yoga are ideal for lowering stress levels and Bikram Yoga is no exception. In fact, it's become one of the more popular styles preferred by beginners and seasoned veterans alike for helping to deal with stress in a natural and healthy manner.Improves flexibility
A heated environment is going to make it easier for you to achieve the poses that are part of any hot yoga class. After all, stretching after a basic warm-up is a lot safer and more effective than stretching your muscles cold. So a Bikram classroom can increase your flexibility in areas such as the shoulders, lower back, and hamstrings.Eases depression
This is another benefit that can be gained through just about any type of yoga class. However, Bikram Yoga is ideal for bringing relaxation and peace of mind. This can work towards reducing feelings of depression and help to adjust your mood so the symptoms that come with a depressed state of mind become muted.Nourishes the skin
It's not hard to guess that Bikram Yoga is going to make you sweat a whole lot. You will sweat more in one of these classes than you will in another that doesn't bring up the room temperature. But when it comes to getting healthy skin, sweating can be so good for you, as it increases the flow of oxygenated blood to the skin cells which nourishes your skin from within.Builds bone density
What makes Bikram Yoga so advantageous for anyone who chooses to take these classes is that a heated environment can increase the benefits that normal yoga provides, and that includes improving bone density. Postures that require you to support your own body weight are good for building your bone density. We lose density as we age, but Bikram Yoga has been shown to reverse those effects of aging in the neck, lower back, and hips.Burns more calories
If you're looking to boost your calorie burn, turn up the heat. While the average person can burn roughly 150-200 calories with a traditional yoga class, that number can be almost doubled during a 90-minute Bikram Yoga class. Most hot yoga classes can provide you with this advantage for weight loss.Provides a cardiovascular boost
Performing a range of poses in a heated classroom increases their difficulty. This is a good thing for the cardiovascular system as it keeps the heart pumping and promotes the flow of fresh, nutrient-rich blood to the organs. This can do wonders for speeding up the metabolism as well.
A word of warning before you step into a Bikram Yoga classroom – be careful. Listen to your body and if you feel even the slightest indication that you are becoming dehydrated or suffering the effects of heat exhaustion, stop immediately. In order to stay safe, practice the following safety precautions:Acclimate and modify
Take it slow. Allow yourself to get used to the elevated heat of the room. Even if you've taken plenty of hot yoga classes in the past, give your body the time it needs to acclimate to the temperature. This is even more important to first-timers. Avoid any major exertion of energy as you get used to the heat. Don't put too much pressure on yourself, ease into the class and the poses being taught.Water, water, and more water
Two words: Stay hydrated. Try to drink 16 ounces of water or more roughly an hour or two before you're ready to step into the classroom. And don’t forget to bring your water bottle into the class with you, drinking as often as you can throughout the duration. When you're finished, continue your water intake with up to three 16 ounce servings for each hour you participated in the class.Recognize the signs of heat exhaustion
If you experience any of the following, you could be suffering from heat exhaustion:
- Sudden elevated heart rate
- Feeling weak
- Blurred or interrupted vision
- Decreased sweating
So you're ready to try a Bikram Yoga class. Remember, take it slow and find a studio that caters to first-timers. Even if you've taken a yoga class before, a Bikram Yoga class is a completely different experience with greater risks. But once you find the studio and the instructor that is right for you, you'll be ready to sweat it out in no time!
Choose materials that are lightweight, breathe easy, and are designed to wick sweat away from your skin. Always remember to bring a good water bottle with you that will keep your water cold and refreshing. Finally, bring a towel or two. One for your mat and one for your face, arms, and hands. Trust us, you'll need it!
It's always a good idea to try something new every so often. If you're feeling like you've hit a plateau in your yoga practice or just want a different challenge to reinvigorate your practice, Bikram Yoga may be just the thing you need.
If this blog has convinced you to try Bikram Yoga, be sure to check out the Yoga Society shop for all your yoga gear needs.