Bikram yoga was founded by Bikram Choudhury who was born in Calcutta in 1944. He began practicing yoga at the age of four and after winning the National India Yoga Championship, he injured his knee.
While doctors said that he would never walk again, Bikram Choudhury used yoga and was fully healed within 6 months. With the knowledge that yoga can cure chronic pain and heal the body, Bikram devised his series of 26 postures to help heal the body and mind – which would later become known as Bikram yoga.
What is Bikram Yoga?
Bikram yoga is synthesized from Hatha yoga’s techniques and values, a branch of yoga that combines postures with breathing. Unlike other forms of yoga, Bikram yoga allows very little in the way of creativity. It is a series of 26 set poses performed repeatedly in a 100 degree plus room. The class will go on for 90 minutes and will also include two breathing exercises.
Bikram yoga is extremely specific, which is why it’s important not to get it muddled with hot yoga – which may include Vinyasa flow or Yin yoga. While the instructors for these classes may create a flow either before the class begins, or as they teach, Bikram yoga is extremely regimented.
That’s not to say, however, that just because you can do most of the poses required you will find Bikram yoga to be easy. Bikram yoga can be extremely challenging due to the heat, and 90 minutes is a decent length of time to be practicing especially when stuck in a hot room.
Bikram’s 26 postures move fresh, oxygenated blood all over the body. The postures ensure our internal organs, veins, ligaments and muscles receive blood, helping them to maintain optimum health and function. Together, the poses promote and work towards a healthy and fully-functioning body and mind.
What are the Benefits of Practising Bikram Yoga?
A Tough Workout
Practising Bikram yoga is a wonderfully unique experience – and it also comes with a bunch of health benefits! The first of these is that it’s a serious workout. While working your way through a series of poses may not seem as intense as deadlifts in the gym or a Sunday morning 10k, we can assure you that it’s tough!
The hot temperatures will elevate both your pulse rate and metabolism, which will burn some serious calories. A lot of the postures are seriously intense, which will build muscle tone and help you get stronger. If it’s your first-time practicing, I guarantee that you will feel it the next day.
Bikram yoga is also a great stress reliever. While practicing yoga is a fantastic way to feel present and centered in your body, Bikram yoga takes this to another level – as you’ll likely be too hot to think about anything other than your current experience! You’ll leave the Bikram class feeling calmer, happier, and much, much sweatier!
The hot room is also great for stretching out any aches and pains. While this can be both a benefit and a risk (as you’ll see later in this post), the hot temperature ensures you can get deeper into the stretches, and you’ll be less prone to injury than you may be if you were working your muscles cold. While there is a risk of overstretching, if you don’t push yourself too far you should find stretching in the hot temperature very pleasant.
Helps with Chronic Pain
Like Bikram yoga founder Choudhury himself experienced, yoga can also help with chronic pain or even just day-to-day aches and pains. Sitting over a laptop or sleeping at an awkward angle can cause practically debilitating pain, and yoga can be a great help.
By strengthening the abdominal muscles, Bikram yoga will promote good posture which will help keep your body free of aches and pains. It’ll also reduce tension in your stress-carrying muscles – for example, the hips and shoulders which tend to tighten when we’re stressed. This can prevent injury and enhance your performance in other sports – such as running or cycling.
Finally, there’s the sweat. There’s no hiding it in Bikram yoga – you will sweat, but this certainly isn’t a bad thing. Sweating this much has a whole host of benefits. It’ll boost your endorphins, detox your body by flushing out alcohol, cholesterol and salt, and it’s also great for your skin!
While many people practice Bikram yoga when they are hungover, I would encourage you to proceed with caution. If you’re hungover you are already likely dehydrated, so it’s essential you get enough fluids in you before your class.
Are There Any Risks?
While Bikram yoga certainly has its benefits, there are some risks which must be considered before you start on your Bikram journey.
The first is dehydration. As Bikram is performed in a very hot room, there is a severe risk of dehydration as the body heavily sweats for a prolonged duration of time. If you don’t take in enough water, you are likely to become dehydrated. If you find yourself feeling nauseous, weak, faint or you experience cramping during a Bikram yoga class, you are most likely dehydrated.
Drink some water immediately and if symptoms do not subside then leave the class and seek medical help. A good way to stop this happening in the first place is to make sure you drink enough water in the days and hours before your yoga class, as well as pausing to take a drink throughout the class.
Heatstroke and Heat Exhaustion
Heatstroke and heat exhaustion are also risks that come with the hot temperature. As your core temperature increases so does your risk of heat stroke and it’s important that your body can cool itself down if need be. During heatstroke, the body’s cardiovascular system starts to shut down which is exceedingly dangerous.
Make sure you don’t push yourself too far, especially in your first few classes when your body isn’t used to the hot temperature. If you feel ill, it’s essential that you leave the class and rest.
Overstretching is another serious risk. The very hot temperatures can cause you to feel more flexible than you are. While you can get deeper into stretches when the temperature is hot, there is a risk that you will push your body further than what it’s capable of.
Overstretching can lead to joint and muscle pain as well as inflammation, and you will need to take time off to recover from it. It is best to know your limits from the offset and stop if you feel like you might be overdoing it.
While there may seem to be a lot of risks associated with Bikram yoga, provided you are fit, healthy and don’t push yourself too far, you shouldn’t have any complication. If you are unsure, check with your doctor and make sure you tell your Bikram yoga teacher about any underlying injury or health concern.
Preparing for your First Bikram Yoga Class
Your first Bikram yoga class can feel extremely daunting, but with the right preparation, it needn’t be the terrifying experience your mind is probably making it out to be!
The first thing I should tell you is that no, you are not going to die. If you’re sensible, you will be absolutely fine, and we are confident that you will leave the class a Bikram yoga convert!
Before your Class
Before the class, it is essential that you hydrate. If you can book an evening class for your first time then this is ideal, as it means you can drink plenty of water throughout the day and not risk turning up dehydrated.
Bikram yoga can also be very demanding on the body, so it’s important to keep your energy up with food. However, we’re not advocating eating junk food or doubling your usual sugar intake, yoga is uncomfortable if you’re full and Bikram yoga is no different. Instead, eat something light and healthy. You want to go to class feeling content – not so hungry that you are about to faint, but not too full either!
During the Class
Bring at least 1 liter of water with you, I cannot stress this enough! Other things to bring are a towel (as your mat will get slippery) and something to wear after class – especially if it’s cold outside. Although you may feel more self-conscious, long pants or long-sleeved tops are not a good idea.
You will get very, very hot. Instead, shorts and a t-shirt are a better option, better yet, a sports bra. Remember, everyone is on their own journey, no one is looking at you.
It’s important to get to your first Bikram class early for two reasons. Firstly, it allows you to speak to the teacher. Be sure to tell the teacher that you are new, they will help make it a good experience for you and look out for you in the class. While many people don’t like to admit that they are beginners, when it comes to yoga there is no room for an ego.
Tell the teacher you are new and I can assure you that they will help you feel a lot more at home. They may also be able to direct you to a cooler spot in the room, for example, nearer the door. If you’re not used to the heat, you will feel more than grateful for this once the class gets underway!
It’s also important to get there early because it gives you time to acclimatize to the heat. While 90 minutes is a long time to spend in a hot room anyway, entering the room 10-15 minutes before the class starts will allow your body to adjust to the heat before you start practicing. I recommend lying on your mat for a few minutes, practicing some deep breathing and trying to relax. Plus, getting in there early will also allow you to nab the best spot!
Be sure to take lots of breaks during the class. While you might be tempted to push on to keep up with everyone else – especially if no one else seems to be struggling – like I said before, there is no room for ego. No one is watching you, and no one cares if you take a break. If you feel like you’re struggling too much, sit or lie on your mat and try to relax. Listen to your body.
After the Class
While I have no doubt that you will be feeling refreshed and rejuvenated after class, I recommend taking it slow. Get up slowly, take your time leaving the room and make sure you sit down if you feel at all unwell. Drink lots of water and take it easy!
I hope this post has encouraged you to dive into the world of Bikram yoga and give it a go. While you may feel nervous, or in many cases highly uncoordinated and unbalanced, Bikram yoga has a whole host of benefits.
Not only will you feel the positive effects straight after class; stick with Bikram yoga and you’ll reap the benefits well beyond the time you spend on the mat.
This is a guest post by Kosta Miachin: Kosta Miachin is the creator of VIKASA Yoga method – a unique, challenging and effective approach to yoga. He is also the founder of VIKASA Yoga Academy. You can find him online: vikasayoga.com