Bikram yoga has a reputation for being more of an army-like boot camp than a yoga class, (understandably). If you have not taken a Bikram class, it is easy to assume the worst and refrain from trying it. All of the rumors are true. It is extremely hot, the amount of water you should drink is limited, and classes are 90 minutes long. However, there is a method to the madness.
Your body is equipped to handle all of these intensities. Tapping into that power is the ultimate goal of Bikram yoga. Bikram teaches you to get out of your head and be present.
It teaches you to respect your body and its limits. It urges you to work hard at the practice and show perseverance. And what is more persevering than mastering yoga poses in sauna-like temperatures?
The History of Bikram Yoga
Before getting into all of the wonderful bikram yoga benefits you can reap, let’s talk about its history. Bikram Choudhury, an Indian-born yogi, founded Bikram yoga after suffering a knee injury that was supposed to keep him from walking again.
Through the use of yoga, he was healed 6 months later. This gave him a true appreciation for the poses and breathing used in yoga. He developed his own program using 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises associated with classical yoga.
Bikram Yoga Poses
A Bikram class will always begin with Standing Deep Breathing and then move into standard postures such as Halfmoon, Eagle, Cobra, Locust, Camel, and Rabbit.
Once all 26 poses are completed in their specified order, the sequence is ended with a final breathing exercise known as Breath of Fire.
Strengthens muscles and cardiovascular system. Replace weight lifting, which is hard on the joints, with yoga poses requiring balance. Both exercises contain isometric muscle contractions which strengthen and tone the muscles.
See an improvement in posture. You will be instructed to stand upright, tucking your tailbone underneath, in order to improve posture. After consistent practice, you will naturally take that posture from your mat to your everyday life.
Rids the body of toxins. It is HOT in Bikram. As you sweat, you release toxins which, believe it or not, many of them come from the environment.
Reduce levels of stress and anxiety. Have you ever heard of the body’s flight-or-flight response? It is a part of us because of the time when our ancestors had to fight for their survival.
The body cannot tell the difference between life-threatening situations and non-dangerous situations...it simply recognizes stress. In yoga, endorphins are released into your bloodstream and your focus shifts from stress to the poses and breathing you are doing.
Minimizes issues with digestion. When your body is in fight-or-flight mode, digestion is inhibited. The stomach produces acid instead of digesting your food. This affects your intestines and can lead to constipation. The twisting and forward bending poses in yoga aid digestion by helping your intestines function properly.
Promotes weight loss. For many reasons, yoga promotes weight loss. Especially hot yoga. It is a form of exercise. Your muscles contract and expand. On top of that, decreased levels of stress lead to greater weight loss.
Expands capacity of the lungs. Through proper breathing, you will calm your body while expanding the capacity of your lungs. When we are in hyper-active mode, we swallow air. This makes our chest feel tight, which is the opposite effect of the proper breathing techniques taught in yoga.
Increase the flexibility of the body. This is one of the top bikram yoga benefits. Stretching in hot yoga increases flexibility to a much greater degree. But keep in mind that you should go easier on your muscles when you return to a lower temperature.
Balances blood sugar levels. Stress hormones raise blood glucose levels and promote overeating. This has a negative effect on the levels of fat in your body, which can lead to diabetes. Relieving stress can reduce blood sugar levels.
Develops concentration, patience, and determination. Especially in Bikram yoga, it is a crucial aspect to get out of your head. It gets hot, you get sweaty, and you are stretching your limits both physically and mentally. The only way to achieve peace in this state is to concentrate on what your body is doing, breathe, have patience, and stay determined. This determination trickles its way into your everyday life, rounding you as a better person.
Warms and cools the body as needed. It is actually a good sign if you are sweating profusely in yoga. The body naturally secretes sweat when the body needs to cool down. When the body needs to warm back up, it produces goosebumps and may shake lightly.
Bikram Yoga Tips
Due to the heat, it is smart to wear clothes that will absorb sweat. Like compression shorts and shirts. Many women wear shorts and a sports bra to class. Many men just wear shorts. Remember that the yoga studio is a judgement-free zone!
Try not to eat about two hours before class. Going to yoga with a full stomach is a recipe for disaster and cramping.
Drink 8-9 glasses of water during the day before and after class. You will lose a lot of water from sweating and should stay hydrated.
Be early to class so you can get acclimated to the heat.
Do not push your body past its limits. Yoga should provide a good stretch, but never pain. If you feel sharp pains, back off a bit. Leave your ego at the door.
Bikram yoga is a serious practice. It follows a strict sequence and never shifts away from that. The same 26 poses are practiced in the same order every class. This may sound boring, and maybe even worse when paired with the heat and length of class. But if you are devoted to the yoga practice and understand its benefits, give Bikram a try. And not just one class.
Prepare to go back to class after the first day. Do not be discouraged after your first class. Every Bikram yoga teacher and practitioner will tell you the second class is always MUCH better. Yoga is called a practice because it is just that. The purpose of Bikram yoga is to practice mindfulness even in the most intense settings. Over time, this creates a more peaceful outlook on life and its circumstances.
“Give me 30 days, I’ll change your body. Give me 60 days, I’ll change your life.”
I will continue to share ideas about diet and exercise that have helped me along the way. If you have any questions I can help you with, or if you have any ideas you want to share, feel free to contact me or visit our Q&A forum.