I’ve you’ve been reading my blog for a little bit, you know that Bikram Yoga is a mainstay in my workout routine. I try to get to class at least twice a week because I love the stretch, the unique burn, and the cleanse I get from it. I’ve had a few questions about what exactly Bikram entails, so I thought I’d do a post breaking down one of my favorite forms of exercise.
What Is It?
It has been proved and experienced by millions that these 26 postures systematically work every part of the body, to give all the internal organs, all the veins, all the ligaments, and all the muscles everything they need to maintain optimum health and maximum function. Each component takes care of something different in the body, and yet they all work together synergistically, contributing to the success of every other one, and extending its benefits.
Bikram Yoga can be practiced under the guidance of a certified Bikram Yoga Teacher at one of the affiliated Bikram Yoga studios. These studios are built in such a way that you always get the proper heating (104F) which help you to do your postures optimally. Bikram calls these studios as “Torture Chambers”.
Bikram Chihoudry, born in Calcutta, India in 1946. Bikram practiced Yoga at least four to six hours every day at Ghosh’s College of Physical Education in Calcutta. At the age of thirteen, he won the National India Yoga Championship. He was undefeated for the following three years and retired as the undisputed All-India National Yoga Champion. At seventeen, an injury to his knee during a weight-lifting accident brought the prediction from leading European doctors that he would never walk again. Not accepting their pronouncement, he had himself carried back to Bishnu Ghosh’s school, for he knew that if anyone could help to heal his knee, it was his teacher. Six months later, his knee had totally recovered. In the 1970s, he invented Bikram Yoga and has now brought it around the world. His headquarters and the location of teacher training is in Los Angeles, CA.
There are endless benefits proven or attributed to regular practice of Bikram Yoga. Among them are:
- Works every organ, gland, nerve, tendon, ligament and muscle in the whole body
- Expands your capacity to breathe deeply and fully
- Prevents injury and may prevent or improve chronic illness
- Promotes better sleep, you may even need to sleep less
- Fabulous body toning effects
- Lengthening and strengthening of muscles
- Increased flexibility
- Improves flexibility of your spine in its range of motion in all directions allowing the improvement in function of your central nervous system.
- Calorie burn of 600-800 calories per class (for 120-140lb woman) – more than any other type of yoga!
I personally leave every class feeling like I’ve done something fantastic for my entire body. I fully believe that if I keep doing Bikram Yoga for the rest of my life, I will not have as much trouble with of arthritis, joint pain, or stiffness.
What To Bring
To each class I bring a yoga mat, towel, and large bottle of water (no gatorade or fruit drinks). Most studios will have mats and towels for rent if you do not have your own. Plan on getting to class at least a couple of minutes early to set up your things and get used to the heat.
What To Wear
As little as possible! No seriously, Bikram has done wonders for my self-confidence and appreciation for all body types because you really do have to get as naked as possible. Everyone is sweaty and showing skin, but you are there to focus on yourself and your practice. I started out wearing gym shorts and a t-shirt, and there is nothing worse than sweaty clothes hanging off your body when you’re trying to get in weird positions.
Most women will wear gym shorts or spandex along with a workout top or sports bra. Most men wear either gym shorts of spandex (yes, you see it all). My go-to outfit is a Lululemon Flow Y 4 sports bra and Nike Pro spandex.
What to Expect
Each Bikram class is 90 minutes long and is composed of the exact same set of 26 postures. You will start with a breathing exercise and then a 4 posture warm-up. The standing series (where lots of the difficult and cardiovascular postures take place) is followed by a 2 minute savasana on the floor. Next is the floor series which is the “real yoga” and includes a back strengthening series and some other flexibility postures. Class ends with final stretching and another breathing exercise.
Bikram has specific rules about his studios and his practice, and only certified studios and certified instructors can lead a true “Bikram” class. (Other yoga practices may use similar postures, but it cannot be called Bikram). Each stand alone Bikram studio (never part of a bigger gym) will have carpet, mirrors on the front wall, and 105 degree heat and 40% humidity. The teachers use a specific dialogue and language in each class and can explain corrections, but are not supposed to be hands-on. The class is a lot about listening to understand exactly what you’re supposed to be doing in the postures.
That being said, each studio is different. I’ve only been to one studio but I have been told that St. Louis has a “strict” practice. We do not talk inside the room, we do not use sweat towels, we only drink water in between postures, and we do not leave the room unless there is an absolute emergency. I’ve heard of other studios where it is okay to open windows, leave and get a breather, and face any direction you choose to in class. It just depends on where you go.
- You will sweat. A lot. Like people will ask if you just went swimming. Just don’t plan on going anywhere afterward.
- Bikram is a good workout -this is not stretchy, feel-goody yoga with soft music, setting intentions, oms and namastes. There is a definite time and place for that type of yoga and I’m a huge fan, it’s just not Bikram. If you’ve done other types of flow yoga you’ll recognize postures, but these are much more intense and generally held for a longer period of time. Instead of a “flow”, you do one posture twice and then move on to the next with a short break in between.
- It is 100% okay and expected to take breaks and sit out during some of the postures. It’s common to light-headed and tired when it’s hot and you’re working hard, so make sure to listen to your body. No one will ever think bad about you or reprimand you for sitting out – even the most experience people do it!
- Hydrate BEFORE class. There is a water break after the warm up series and then it is okay to drink for the rest of class in between postures, but really you’re better off just drinking a lot of water all day. There isn’t a ton of time to sneak in water breaks and really when you’re moving around that much you don’t want a sloshy stomach.
- You will get the most benefits out of Bikram if you commit to going at least a couple of times a week. I know that I would be even more flexible and get even better at the postures if I went more often, but I like to include other types of exercise in my routine as well.