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An Overview of Bikram Yoga and Bikram Yoga Poses

Updated on January 27, 2016
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Chet is a Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher and has been practicing yoga for over 15 years. He teaches three to four yoga classes per week.

Bikram leading a yoga class
Bikram leading a yoga class | Source

If the idea of a challenging, 90 minute workout in a sauna with a large group of half naked people sounds appealing to you, Bikram Yoga may be the best yoga method for you. Named after its outspoken founder, Bikram Yoga is one of the most popular styles of yoga with thousands of franchised studios around the world. While the method has many hardcore devotees, many others find that Bikram and his style of yoga do not match their own idea of what yoga is all about.

If you are new to yoga or considering Bikram Yoga, you may wonder if the benefits of yoga change depending on the type of yoga practiced, if the style includes yoga for beginners and what the class experience will be like. Here is an overview of Bikram Yoga to help you determine if it is a good match for you.

Bikram Choudhury
Bikram Choudhury | Source

Bikram, the Man

Bikram Choudhury was born in Calcutta, India, in 1946 and moved to the United States in the 1970s. He practiced yoga as a child, learning yoga asanas from Bishnu Ghosh. Soon after his arrival in the U.S., he opened yoga studios in Hawaii and California.

Bikram Choudhury seems to court controversy. He is not shy about living a lifestyle that seems to be in direct conflict with yoga philosophy and the austerity practiced by most yoga gurus. He has spoken of his Rolls Royce and Bentley collection, which numbers 35 or more. When teaching classes, his outfit consists of a Speedo, a Rolex and a headset.

In 2013, and not for the first time, there were several reports in the media about inappropriate activity on Bikram’s part. Six former students and teachers in his yoga system have filed lawsuits against Bikram for sexual harassment. The cases are moving slowly through the courts; most will come to trial in 2016. In January, 2016, a jury awarded $6.5 million in punitive damages to Bikram's former lawyer who had filed a sexual harassment charge against him.

Usually called prasarita padottanasana, this is dandayamana bibhaktapada paschimotthanasana in a Bikram class
Usually called prasarita padottanasana, this is dandayamana bibhaktapada paschimotthanasana in a Bikram class | Source

Bikram Yoga Poses

A Bikram yoga class consists of 26 yoga poses. The sequence is set and will always be the same, regardless of your experience and where you take the class. The classes last 90 minutes in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Students are advised to drink lots of water on the day of class and be prepared to sweat. Though the poses are not altered, you are always permitted to skip poses or just lie on your mat. The class conditions might not be easily tolerated by those with particular medical conditions.

The Bikram Yoga sequence includes lots of standing poses and backbends. There are also balancing asanas, twists and forward extensions, but no inversions. Savasana is in the middle of the sequence with breathing exercises to start and finish each class.

All of the poses in Bikram yoga are encountered in other styles of yoga, but the names are often different. The pose sequence is also different than what you would be likely to encounter in other yoga methods. This is partly because Bikram claims he has a copyright over the sequence of poses as they are taught in his studios, despite a court ruling that this claim is not valid. In early 2014, Bikram hired a high profile Washington, D.C. lawyer to manage legal issues for Bikram’s Yoga College. She had previously worked for the White House and was a Bikram Yoga devotee.

Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class (Second Edtion)
Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class (Second Edtion)

If you want to follow the Bikram method, but aren't sure about the classroom experience, this book is a good choice. It's written by Bikram, himself, and has lots of photos.

 

Bikram Yoga Benefits Compared to Hot Yoga Benefits

It is easy to find Bikram Yoga in NYC, Chicago, Los Angeles and other large cities (Bikram studios are franchises; the owners pay fees), but in small town America, you are much more likely to find generic hot yoga classes. Hot yoga classes may not involve as much heat - some stay in the ‘80s or ‘90s - and may or may not use a sequence with yoga moves similar to the Bikram sequence. Some that teach hot yoga are former Bikram teachers who left the Bikram fold for various reasons; others like the idea of hot yoga, but want more options and independence than the Bikram system allows.

What Yoga Style is Best for You? A Look at the Most Popular Styles of Yoga.

The benefits of Bikram Yoga versus hot yoga depends partly on whether one set sequence of 26 poses works for everybody, as Bikram claims, or whether the same results can be achieved through different means. In Bikram Yoga, the individual must adapt to the method. In other schools of yoga, accommodations and adaptations are made based on individual ability and the presence of health issues.

A Bikram yoga class
A Bikram yoga class | Source

Bikram Yoga Teachers

If you are considering Bikram Yoga teacher training and a path toward Bikram Yoga certification, know that it will be a challenging and expensive process. The process includes a nine week immersion course that costs well over $11,000. It might be called a yoga boot camp.

It is noted that Bikram teachers typically follow a standard script when they teach yoga classes. With a set sequence and poses, there is little need to change instruction. Other than Certified Iyengar Yoga Teachers, Bikram Yoga Teachers are probably the most thoroughly trained and knowledgeable about their system of yoga.

Hot Yoga: Energizing, Rejuvenating, Healing
Hot Yoga: Energizing, Rejuvenating, Healing

Hot yoga is generally considered an alternative to traditional Bikram yoga. This book, written by a teacher trained in the Bikram method, stays close to that style.

 
A seated Bikram, teaching yoga
A seated Bikram, teaching yoga

Is Bikram Yoga for You?

Can you separate Bikram, the man, from Bikram Yoga? There are many that believe in the benefits of Bikram Yoga and enjoy the classes, but find his personal characteristics, behavior and lifestyle at odds with yoga, itself. A percentage of any class fees you pay at a Bikram Yoga studio ends up in his bank account.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali outline the yamas and niyamas, moral and ethical guidelines that those on the path of yoga should follow. Aparigraha, which translates as non-possessiveness or non-greediness, and brahmacharya, control over sexual desires, are two of these. Yoga gurus are human, too, but some believe they should follow the highest of standards.

The Bikram Sequence in Time-Lapse Style

© 2014 chet thomas

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    • Act 3 profile image
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      chet thomas 3 years ago from Athens, GA

      Hi Maggie - Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I'm glad the classes are working for you. Yoga is good stuff!

    • Maggie.L profile image

      Maggie.L 3 years ago from UK

      I've just started attending Bikram yoga classes. They're quite intense (due to the high temperature) but I do feel great afterwards and set up for the day ahead. I didn't really know much about the founder so this is really interesting information.

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      chet thomas 3 years ago from Athens, GA

      JP - It's good your wife does yoga. Let her talk you into trying it again!

    • Act 3 profile image
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      chet thomas 3 years ago from Athens, GA

      Eric- thank you for taking time to read and comment.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 3 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      My wife does yoga but I just can't get the poses right. Just looking at her was painful enough for me. :)

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very good explanation thank you