Have you heard of Bikram yoga before?
Don’t worry if not – I’m going to walk you through exactly what Bikram yoga is, what the potential benefits and risks of practicing Bikram yoga might be.
Hopefully this will give you enough information to decide whether to give it a go yourself.
What is Bikram Yoga?
Bikram yoga is technically hot hatha yoga. Each class involves 26 yoga poses and 40 degree heat, lasting 90 minutes. How does that sound?
Typically, walls will be filled with mirrors, so students can properly see their form. Students in a Bikram class will not be adjusted by their teacher, they are expected to adjust themselves.
Bikram yoga was devised by Bikram Choudhury. Bikram began to study yoga in 1969 and opened his own yoga school in America in 1974.
At first, his classes were actually free, until he was told maybe that wouldn’t be as sustainable in America as it is in India. Bikram’s popularity grew, and attracted a number of high profile celebrity clients.
However, Bikram is more of an experience than a class or style. Bikram methods are somewhat controversial, and have been described as intense and abrasive.
Bikram yoga has even been described to have a ‘cult like’ following, making even the most open-minded yogis cautious to try these methods.
What does a Bikram Yoga class look like?
Aside from the walls being filled with mirrors, the floors are typically carpeted (unsure of how this idea ever came about for a hot yoga class).
Unlike other more relaxing yoga classes, the room will be brightly lit and there will be no music.
Classes last for 90 minutes, and are always taught by a Bikram qualified instructor. Each class consists of the same postures, such as the half moon and eagle pose.
Bikram yoga classes also incorporate breathing exercises (pranayama).
Because of the intensity of the class, and the temperature of the room, you may want to bring along some water to help you through the class, and some snacks for when you finish.
Benefits of Bikram
A scientific paper published in 2015 found that Bikram yoga improved body strength, range of joint motion and balance. Other benefits include:
Increase intensity = increase results
The environment of a Bikram yoga class (high heat) mimics high intensity training (HIIT training).
HIIT training can be so beneficial for our cardiovascular health because in short intervals, it raises our heart rate very quickly, then allows it to drop very quickly.
The encourages the body to burn fat, and improves your cardiovascular health and metabolism.
Improves your mood
Now this may be slightly more subjective. A lot of people really enjoy fast-paced and intense workouts. They enjoy the feeling of pushing themselves to the edge, and breaking out of their comfort zones.
If this sounds like you, then your mood and motivation may really benefit from Bikram yoga.
Bikram yoga is designed to challenge you, and by overcoming the challenging poses and environments that Bikram offers, you can walk out of the class feeling more confident and strong, ready to take on whatever comes your way.
Increased focus and self-discipline
You don’t go to a Bikram yoga class ‘just for fun’.
Because it probably won’t be fun. It will be hard to concentrate, challenging, and your mind will want you to run out of the class soon after you start.
This is all great for your mind though. Bikram can be seen as a mental challenge as well as a physical one. By ignoring the voice in your head telling you to stop and leave, you lessen its power on you.
This is actually a skill, and you can then take this skill with you throughout the day. You can listen and act on the part of you that knows best, not the part of you who wants to quit when things get hard.
Risks of Bikram
Bikram yoga may not be for everyone. There are some things you should consider before getting straight into a Bikram Yoga class.
Bikram is actually slightly hotter than hot yoga. You’ll need to be ready for this before trying it out.
Make sure you wear the right clothes – shorts and a sports bra would definitely do. Lots of men also practice bikram yoga shirtless.
It can also help to take a towel in with you, so you can wipe the sweat off as you go. This is probably counter-productive in terms of cooling you down, but can certainly make you feel a little better.
If you did begin to feel extremely hot in the class to the point of feeling unwell or stifling, you can simply stop the pose you are doing and come down into a child’s pose.
Alternatively, you can leave the class and sit down with some food and water. However, in a Bikram class you will be encouraged not to leave, and if you do leave, they may ask that you stay outside and don’t come back in so you don’t disturb the class too much.
I’m sure this one goes without saying, but make sure you take water with you. You’ll want to be drinking or sipping on water as much as you need, depending on how much you sweat.
You won’t have a ‘break’ at all once you get going, so it’s up to you to recognise when your body needs a little bit of a break and drink up.
Make sure you sip, rather than gulp, to avoid feeling sick during the class.
Joint and muscle damage
The general consensus of any form of hot yoga is that the heat helps you get deeper into your stretch, and push your limits just a little bit more.
This, however, may not be that beneficial for your joints and muscles.
This may be described as actually ‘over-stretching’ your muscles, and can cause soreness and pain.
To avoid this during your class, check in with how you are feeling in your poses.
Whilst it is great and encouraged to challenge your limits, be aware that your body may not be as flexible as you’d like at the moment, and that is okay.
Respect your body’s boundaries and don’t push them too much.
I am personally a huge fan of hot yoga itself, however have never tried a Bikram class. I think whether you will enjoy a Bikram class may depend on your temperament.
For me, I prefer something a little more relaxing. You, on the other hand, may enjoy the intensity and pace of a Bikram class.
If you have ever tried Bikram yoga before, I’d love to hear how you found it!