Bikram Yoga 101

Bikram yoga class

Bikram yoga was founded in the 1970s by the yoga teacher Bikram Choudhury. It is also commonly referred to as hot yoga.  However, there are other types of yogas that are also being done in hot studios these days. Bikram yoga is also referred to as “boot camp” because students are drilled in every 90-minute lesson.  Each class uses the same two breathing exercises and the same 26 Hatha yoga postures, completed in the same pattern.

Hot Yoga

In the studio, temperatures range from 80F to 110F, with a relative humidity of around 75%. One theory of the heat is that it mimics the conditions in India.  This is the birthplace of Hatha yoga, which is the most ancient form of yoga, dating back to around 1500 BC.

The second theory behind the heat is that it relaxes and lengthens muscles, giving a better workout. It is also said to promote weight loss and release toxins from the body. Those who favor Bikram say it boosts the immune system as well.

However, doing vigorous yoga poses in such conditions can cause severe dehydration and pose a serious health risk for anyone who has any heart health issues. Therefore, while Bikram studios are popping up everywhere these days, is not recommended for seniors or anyone with an underlying health concern.

Physical Emphasis

Yoga means union – the union of mind, body and spirit. Bikram, on the other hand, is a modern invention that emphasizes physical strength. Yoga is meant to be non-competitive, but the founder encourages yoga pose competitions to see who can come up with the perfect pose, in order to win various awards.

Bikram Pros and Cons

Bikram Choudhury came from Bengal, which is on the Indian subcontinent.  He brought his version of yoga to the US through Hawaii and California. This form of yoga has gained in popularity recently.  This is due to the novelty of the hot studios and the ease of only having to learn 26 yoga postures out of the thousands available. These poses can give a good workout in themselves, with little need for a hot studio.

In addition to the health benefits mentioned above, the heat is also supposed to help increase willpower as people struggle to carry out their practice in such difficult conditions. Willpower or not, excessive sweating can cause electrolyte imbalances and result in heart rhythm issues.

Students must drink plenty of water before, during and after their workout, or they can experience dehydration. Dehydration can lead to an irregular heartbeat and to lower blood volume. Low blood volume can in turn lead to hypovolemic shock, which can even lead to death if not treated promptly.

Bikram Asanas

If you like the postures of Bikram, you can do them anywhere to improve your body without dying of heat prostration. You can find simple posters with each of the asanas listed that you can follow along with. There is no meditation component with Bikram as there is with other forms of yoga.

Is Bikram Right for You?

In addition to the hot studios and asana drilling, Bikram is often referred to as “cult-like” rather than warm and welcoming. The founder and the teachers on his teacher training program have even been accused of systematic sexual misconduct with their students recently.

While any exercise is better than none in most cases, there are a range of yogas to choose from. You will do best to pick a style that matches your age, fitness level and interests. Compare and choose the safest and healthiest for you, along with a studio to match.