Bikram Yoga is a special branch of the vast yoga tradition. Defined by a sequence of 26 poses and two breathing exercises, this form of yoga differentiates further through its emphasis on a controlled environment: a heated room maintained at approximately 105°F with 40% humidity. This combination of heat and technique not only challenges the practitioner’s physical capabilities but also immerses them in an environment that promotes detoxification, flexibility and enhanced circulatory function.
In this article, LotusBuddhas will provide comprehensive knowledge about Bikram Yoga, from its history, benefits to centers that teach this form of yoga in the world for you to register to study.
What is Bikram Yoga?
Bikram Yoga, often termed “hot yoga“, is a distinctive form of yoga founded by the eminent Yogiraj Bikram Choudhury. Characterized by its meticulous practice in a controlled environment with temperatures ranging from 95 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, this discipline harnesses the power of elevated heat to optimize both physiological and therapeutic benefits.
Consistently practicing Bikram Yoga under these conditions has been scientifically proven to offer myriad health advantages, most notably in enhancing cardiovascular health and mitigating chronic muscular pain. Each session encompasses a rigorous sequence of 26 strategically curated yoga asanas (poses) complemented by two pranayama (breathing exercises). This regimen is designed to be administered exclusively by certified professionals to ensure its efficacy and safety.
The elevated temperatures serve a dual purpose: they prime the muscles for enhanced flexibility, reducing the risk of injury, and promote profuse sweating, which facilitates the expulsion of toxins and impurities from the body. Furthermore, such an environment catalyzes an increase in heart rate, thereby stimulating the circulatory system and augmenting cardiovascular resilience.
However, Bikram Yoga has been surrounded by controversy, especially concerning its founder, Bikram Choudhury. Allegations against him, ranging from financial disputes to harassment, have been widely reported in the media. Scientific research on the benefits and potential risks of Bikram Yoga remains ongoing. Still, it is recommended that those interested in the practice consult with medical professionals, especially if they have pre-existing conditions or health concerns.
History of Bikram Yoga
Founded in the 20th century, Bikram Yoga has its roots in the teachings of founder Bikram Choudhury. Born in Calcutta in 1946, Choudhury began his yoga journey under the guidance of Bishnu Charan Ghosh, a renowned yogi and younger brother of Paramahansa Yogananda. By the age of 13, Choudhury had won the National Yoga Championship of India and then held the title for the next three years.
In the 1970s, Choudhury emigrated to the United States, where he founded the Bikram Yoga system, which built on his experience and knowledge from India. Recognizing the unique challenges posed by the Western lifestyle, Choudhury developed a sequence of 26 postures (asanas) and two breathing exercises (pranayama), designed to be practiced in a specific sequence in a room with heating system. The environment, with a temperature of about 105°F (40.6°C) and a humidity of 40%, is designed to emulate the hot and humid conditions of his native India.
The newly opened Bikram Yoga studio has opened in Beverly Hills, California and is gaining attention thanks to its celebrity clientele. Its success has fueled the growth of Bikram Yoga studios worldwide. Choudhury also founded India’s Bikram Yoga College to formalize the teacher training process, ensuring that the practice retains its integrity and consistency as it expands.
Choudhury’s emphasis on accurately replicating standard poses and temperature conditions sets Bikram Yoga apart from other yoga styles. He even tried to copyright the particular pose sequence. Although the move was controversial, in 2012 a US federal court ruled that the sequence could not be copyrighted the way Choudhury desired, ensuring that the sequence was still possible accessible to the broader yoga community.
The growth and popularity of Bikram Yoga is not without controversy. Choudhury faces multiple lawsuits, with charges ranging from a financial dispute to more serious allegations of harassment and misconduct. These controversies have somewhat tarnished the reputation of the Bikram Yoga brand.
Despite the controversies, Bikram Yoga’s impact on the global yoga scene is undeniable. Its rigorous methodology, combined with the physiological challenges posed by the hot environment, has resonated with many practitioners. Over the years, this practice has led to the emergence of other “hot yoga” styles, although these may not strictly follow the original sequence of 26 poses established by Choudhury.
Principles of Bikram Yoga
Bikram Yoga works on several fundamental principles that guide the practice and distinguish it from other forms of yoga. These principles are intertwined with pedagogical methods, health claims and an emphasis on accuracy.
- Heat and humidity: One of the defining characteristics of Bikram Yoga is its practice in a room heated to approximately 105°F (40.6°C) with 40% humidity. This setting is believed to increase muscle flexibility, promote sweating, aid in detoxification, and enhance the cardiovascular challenge of the practice.
- Structured sequence: Bikram Yoga’s regimen consists of a fixed sequence of 26 postures (asanas) and two breathing exercises (pranayama). Each session follows this order, ensuring uniformity across classes and studios. This structure is intended to provide a comprehensive workout for the entire body, with each pose preparing the body for the next.
- Repetition: In a typical Bikram Yoga class, each posture is performed twice. The first execution aims to align the body and familiarize it with the posture, while the second deepens the pose, maximizing its benefits.
- No variance: In line with its emphasis on precision, Bikram Yoga instructors are trained to use a specific dialogue when teaching, ensuring that the instructions remain consistent regardless of the teacher or location. This standardized approach seeks to maintain the integrity and consistency of the practice globally.
- Holistic health approach: The sequence of postures in Bikram Yoga is designed to provide a total body workout, targeting every system of the body from muscular to digestive. The practice claims to improve flexibility, strength, balance, and stamina, while also promoting mental clarity and reducing stress.
- Focus on the self: Bikram Yoga studios typically have mirrors, encouraging practitioners to focus on themselves. The mirrors serve as tools for self-correction, allowing individuals to monitor their alignment and progress.
- Breath control: Pranayama is integral to Bikram Yoga. The class begins and concludes with breathing exercises, highlighting the importance of the breath in regulating physical and mental states.
- Endurance and discipline: The demanding nature of the practice, combined with the heated environment, requires practitioners to cultivate endurance, mental fortitude and discipline. The rigorous conditions of Bikram Yoga are seen not just as physical challenges but also as opportunities for mental growth and resilience.
- Accessibility: Despite its rigorous nature, Bikram Yoga purports to be accessible to individuals of all ages and fitness levels. With its emphasis on personal growth and self-awareness, the practice encourages individuals to work at their own pace and listen to their bodies.
You see, Bikram Yoga is not just a physical exercise. Its principles converge to offer a comprehensive practice that seeks to harmonize the body, mind and spirit, making it unique in the world of yoga.
26 Postures in Bikram Yoga
Bikram Yoga consists of 26 poses that are practiced consistently during each session. These poses, performed in a hot environment, are designed to provide holistic benefits to the practitioner, targeting different systems of the body. Here are the descriptions of the 26 poses:
- Pranayama Series (Standing Deep Breathing): This breathing exercise promotes mental relaxation, improves elasticity of the lungs, and increases oxygen intake.
- Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose): A posture that strengthens the core muscles while enhancing spinal flexibility.
- Padahastasana (Hands to Feet Pose): This forward bend stretches the spine and hamstrings, improving digestion and combating obesity.
- Utkatasana (Awkward Pose): A posture focusing on strengthening the quadriceps, improving joint flexibility, and enhancing the functioning of the liver and spleen.
- Garurasana (Eagle Pose): This pose enhances joint mobility, particularly in the hips and knees, and stimulates the renal system.
- Dandayamana-Janushirasana (Standing Head to Knee Pose): A posture challenging balance and focus while also strengthening the hamstrings and improving digestion.
- Dandayamana-Dhanurasana (Standing Bow Pose): This pose improves elasticity in the spine and enhances cardiovascular functioning.
- Tuladandasana (Balancing Stick Pose): This posture promotes cardiovascular health, tones the upper body, and strengthens the core.
- Dandayamana-Bibhaktapada-Paschimotthanasana (Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose): This forward bend stretches the spine, hamstrings, and calves, while also stimulating the prostate gland.
- Trikanasana (Triangle Pose): A posture that strengthens the muscles of the legs, back, and core, while also aiding the functioning of the cardiovascular and reproductive systems.
- Dandayamana-Bibhaktapada-Janushirasana (Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose): This asana improves metabolism, stimulates the thyroid gland, and strengthens the core.
- Tadasana (Tree Pose): A balancing pose that strengthens the legs, improves posture, and aids neuromuscular coordination.
- Padangustasana (Toe Stand Pose): This pose enhances balance, concentration, and joint flexibility, particularly in the knees and hips.
- Savasana (Dead Body Pose): A resting pose that fosters relaxation, calming the nervous system and preparing the body for the subsequent postures.
- Pavanamuktasana (Wind Removing Pose): This posture massages the abdominal organs, aiding digestion and relieving gastrointestinal issues.
- Sit-up: A transitional movement that enhances blood circulation and stimulates the nervous system.
- Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose): This posture strengthens the spine and upper back, and stimulates the adrenal glands.
- Salabhasana (Locust Pose): An asana that strengthens the lower back and improves flexibility in the cervical spine.
- Poorna-Salabhasana (Full Locust Pose): This pose improves elasticity in the spine and enhances the functioning of the cardiovascular system.
- Dhanurasana (Bow Pose): A posture that strengthens the back muscles, opens the ribcage, and aids digestion.
- Supta-Vajrasana (Fixed Firm Pose): This asana stretches the hip flexors, strengthens the knees, and combats sciatica.
- Ardha-Kurmasana (Half Tortoise Pose): A posture that stretches the spine, relieves tension in the shoulders and neck, and promotes relaxation.
- Ustrasana (Camel Pose): This backbend opens the ribcage, improving respiration, and stretches the front of the body.
- Sasangasana (Rabbit Pose): A posture that stretches the spine, relieving tension in the back and neck.
- Janushirasana with Paschimotthanasana (Head to Knee Pose with Stretching Pose): This asana improves digestion, stretches the hamstrings, and stimulates the liver and kidneys.
- Ardha-Matsyendrasana (Spine Twisting Pose): This posture enhances spinal flexibility, aids digestion, and stimulates the adrenal glands.
Performing these poses in the prescribed sequence will ensure a well-rounded workout, targeting different physiological systems and promoting overall health. However, you must practice under the guidance of a certified instructor, especially if you are a beginner, to ensure safety and proper alignment.
Benefits of practicing Bikram Yoga
In exploring the benefits of Bikram Yoga, LotusBuddhas delved into both empirical research and anecdotal evidence. From this examination it becomes clear that, when practiced responsibly and consistently, you can experience a wide range of physiological, psychological and therapeutic benefits.
- Enhanced flexibility: The heat in a Bikram Yoga studio allows your muscles to stretch with reduced risk of injury. Over time, you can notice significant improvements in your flexibility, which can also alleviate various musculoskeletal discomforts.
- Cardiovascular improvements: Engaging in Bikram Yoga places demands on your cardiovascular system. By consistently attending sessions, you can enhance your heart’s efficacy, potentially leading to better blood circulation and improved cardiovascular health.
- Detoxification: The copious sweating you experience in a Bikram class is believed to aid in the removal of toxins from the body. While the body naturally detoxifies through various processes, the heightened perspiration can potentially augment this detoxification process.
- Muscle tone and strength: Despite being a low-impact exercise, the postures in Bikram Yoga require you to use your body weight for resistance. This can lead to increased muscle tone and strength, especially when I consider the full-body engagement of the 26-posture sequence.
- Weight management: Numerous practitioners report weight loss and better weight management as a benefit of consistent Bikram Yoga practice. The intense environment and physical demands can result in elevated calorie expenditure.
- Stress reduction: Just like other forms of yoga, Bikram Yoga can act as a meditative practice. By focusing on your breath and postures, you can experience a reduction in stress and anxiety levels. This has been corroborated by several studies that have highlighted yoga’s efficacy in reducing cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone.
- Improved mental clarity and focus: As you navigate the challenges of the heated environment and the postures, you cultivate a unique form of mental resilience and concentration. Over time, this can translate into improved mental clarity and focus, even outside the yoga studio.
- Therapeutic benefits: Anecdotally, many individuals claim relief from chronic ailments after adopting a consistent Bikram Yoga practice. Some of the conditions reportedly alleviated include hypertension, diabetes, and arthritis. While individual experiences vary, and more research is warranted, it is hard to ignore the therapeutic potential this practice offers.
- Increased lung capacity and improved breathing: The pranayama exercises integral to Bikram Yoga target your respiratory system. Over time, you may notice improved lung capacity and more efficient breathing patterns.
- Enhanced discipline and commitment: The rigor of Bikram Yoga not only transforms your body but also your mindset. Committing to this challenging practice can foster a sense of discipline, which I believe can be transferred to other areas of your life.
While the benefits of Bikram Yoga are multifaceted and promising, LotusBuddhas advises you to approach the practice responsibly. Consulting in advance with a healthcare professional, especially if you have underlying health conditions, and listening to your body while exercising is imperative to reap the benefits while staying safefull.
Risks associated with Bikram Yoga
As with any form of physical exercise, Bikram Yoga has risks if not practiced properly. The special environment and demanding postures of this type of hot yoga can pose challenges for some individuals or if approached without proper caution.
- Heat-related illnesses: The high temperature and humidity in a Bikram Yoga studio can increase the risk of heat-related illnesses. These can range from mild conditions like heat exhaustion to more severe ones like heat stroke, which can be life-threatening if not promptly addressed. Symptoms might include dizziness, nausea, headache, rapid heartbeat and extreme fatigue.
- Dehydration: Given the profuse sweating experienced during a Bikram Yoga class, there’s a potential for dehydration. Dehydration can affect the body’s ability to regulate temperature and can lead to muscle cramps, dizziness, and more severe complications if not addressed.
- Overstretching: The heat can make the muscles more pliable, which, while aiding in flexibility, can also lead to overstretching. Overstretching can result in muscle strains or ligament sprains.
- Pre-existing conditions: Individuals with certain health conditions like cardiovascular diseases, respiratory issues, or specific metabolic disorders might find the conditions of a Bikram Yoga class exacerbating their ailments.
- Low blood pressure: Some individuals may experience a drop in blood pressure after a Bikram Yoga session, particularly if they are dehydrated. This can lead to dizziness or fainting.
- Electrolyte imbalance: Sweating can also lead to a loss of essential electrolytes. An imbalance in electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, can affect muscle function and other vital bodily processes.
- Risk of infection: The warm and humid environment of a Bikram Yoga studio can be conducive to the growth of bacteria and fungi. If mats, towels, and the studio itself are not properly cleaned, there’s a potential risk of skin infections.
- Pregnancy concerns: While yoga can be beneficial during pregnancy, the heated environment of Bikram Yoga may not be advisable for expecting mothers. Elevated core temperatures during the first trimester, in particular, have been associated with an increased risk of birth defects.
- Lack of personalized guidance: Given the standardized dialogue and large class sizes in some studios, there might be limited personalized guidance. This can be problematic for beginners or those with specific health concerns, as they might not receive individual corrections to ensure safe alignment.
- Cognitive impairment: Extended exposure to high heat environments, as found in Bikram Yoga classes, may cause temporary cognitive impairment in some individuals. This could affect decision-making and self-awareness during the practice.
Things to note for beginners to practice Bikram Yoga
To limit the risks listed above, in this next section, LotusBuddhas will give you useful advice when you want to practice Bikram Yoga.
I always say, punctuality paves the way for a smooth experience. Especially if you’re new, aim to reach the studio at least 30 minutes early. This allows you to register, get into your gear, pick the best spot for your mat, and soak in the unique ambiance, even the heat. I remember Michelle “Mochi” Camaya, an E-RYT 500-certified yoga teacher, emphasizing the same. And hey, introduce yourself to the instructor! Share if you have any health concerns or injuries – it’s your safety net to ensure the postures are beneficial, not detrimental.
Ever experienced the liberating feel of sweat trickling down freely? Well, you’re about to! Dress light, and let your skin breathe. Forget cotton – you’ll thank me later. I usually go for shorts that let me check out my leg muscles in the studio’s mirrors. And ladies, a sports bra does wonders in keeping you cool and lets you monitor your core movements. Some even confidently sport swimsuits – just remember, everyone’s there to focus on their own practice, not to judge.
Now, for the yoga itself: in a standard 90-minute session, you’ll typically repeat poses and breathing exercises twice. It starts standing and gradually moves to floor postures. Not ready for the full stretch? No worries. Opt for the shorter 60 or 75-minute classes. They’re just as rewarding! And those mirrored walls? They’re your best friend. Use them to keep your balance and refine your form. A quick glance at your neighbor will get you right back on track.
Lastly, your secret weapon: a hot-yoga towel. Lay it over your mat to trap the sweat. But here’s a tip: let your sweat flow freely. It’s your body’s natural air conditioner. As Bergman puts it, “Wiping away your sweat disrupts the body’s innate ability to regulate itself.” So, welcome the sweat storm and let it rain!
In addition to the above, from my own experience and insights from countless yogis, here are some key pointers I believe every beginner should be armed with:
Embrace the heat: The warmth in the studio can be overwhelming initially. Remember, it’s a core element of Bikram Yoga. So, let your body acclimate. Before you know it, you’ll start appreciating how it aids in flexibility and detoxification.
Stay hydrated: Can’t stress this enough! Drink plenty of water throughout the day leading up to your session. Post-class, replenish lost electrolytes with some coconut water or an electrolyte-rich drink.
Empty stomach, focused mind: I’d recommend eating a light meal 2-3 hours before your class. Practicing on a full stomach can be uncomfortable, especially with all those twisting postures!
Listen to your body: While pushing boundaries is part of the growth, never force a posture. Your body will open up and evolve with time.
Engage with the instructor: After my first class, I realized the value of sharing any health concerns or injuries with the instructor. They’ll offer modifications or advice tailored just for you.
Consistency is key: Like with any new endeavor, the initial stages might be challenging. But stick with it. The more you practice, the more familiar and comfortable you’ll become with the postures and the heat.
It’s a journey, not a race: Everyone’s Bikram Yoga journey is unique. Don’t compare yourself to others. Celebrate your progress and relish in the personal growth you’ll undoubtedly experience.
Bikram Yoga centers around the world
Bikram Yoga has seen a rapid global expansion since its origination in the 1970s by Bikram Choudhury in Los Angeles, California. The adoption of this specific regimen was facilitated by the creation of the Bikram Yoga College of India, which was instrumental in the dissemination and certification of instructors worldwide.
In North America, particularly in the United States, Bikram Yoga studios proliferated in major cities, ranging from New York to Los Angeles and from Seattle to Miami. The consistent format of the classes, regardless of location, allowed practitioners to seamlessly integrate their practice into their lives, even when traveling.
Across the Atlantic, Europe also witnessed a surge in Bikram Yoga’s popularity. Major cities such as London, Paris, and Berlin saw the establishment of dedicated Bikram studios. The appeal in European nations was similar to its allure in the U.S.: a combination of the physical benefits of the practice and the standardized regimen.
In Asia, where yoga has its roots, Bikram Yoga introduced a modern, structured iteration of this ancient practice. Metropolises like Tokyo, Singapore, and Bangkok embraced Bikram Yoga, juxtaposing this heated, structured style alongside traditional forms of yoga.
Australia and New Zealand, too, were not immune to the Bikram wave. Major cities like Sydney, Melbourne, and Auckland saw the rise of dedicated studios catering to both locals and travelers.
South America and Africa, though having a fewer number of studios in comparison to other continents, have also seen a steady increase in interest in Bikram Yoga, particularly in urban centers and tourist hotspots.
It’s imperative to note that while the spread of Bikram Yoga studios worldwide is undeniable, the brand and practice have not been without controversy, particularly surrounding its founder, Bikram Choudhury. Allegations and legal battles have led some centers to dissociate from the official Bikram name, rebranding their practices while maintaining the original sequence or modifying it.
According to LotusBuddhas’ research on yoga forums, many practitioners have attested to its transformative power. Beyond the sweat, intensity and initial challenges, there is an area of deep personal growth and unparalleled vitality. Whether you step on the mat for the first time or the hundredth, each session brings fresh discoveries about your body, mind and spirit.