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Bikram Yoga - Not Your Usual Yoga

Updated on July 25, 2012
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When Rachael isn't in her studio dyeing yarn (her real job), she's called to her passion for writing, and so here she is : )

Most of us know about Yoga as a form of stress release and exercise. The benefits are widely reported and there are a number of variations on the discipline of Yoga but one of the most intriguing has to be Bikram Yoga.

Now if you know nothing about Bikram Yoga, other than the fact that it’s another yoga practice, you’re not alone. Bikram Yoga isn't quite as well known as other forms of yoga.

There's probably a few good reasons for that, including the fact that Bikram is reasonably new in terms of Yoga practices, it is a practice that has been restricted in it's teaching and access to the practice, and it is designed to be done in certain conditions, that most people can't replicate in their own homes.

Where as many yoga disciplines have books, DVDs and easy to access information so that pretty much anyone can practice them, Bikram has always been a bit more exclusive, by design.

Basic Bikram Facts

  • Bikram Yoga was founded by Bikram Choudhury, who used its practice to repair a major knee injury which doctors predicted he would never recover from, nor walk with.
  • Bikram is based on the traditional Hatha Yoga.
  • Bikram is only taught at certified Bikram studios which are approved by Choudhury’s company.
  • A Bikram Yoga session is made up of the formation of 26 poses which are done in an order that encourages blood to flow to each part of the body preparing you for each pose and providing the optimum stretch to realign the body.
  • You always do the same 26 poses, in the same order.
  • There are 12 standing poses and 14 floor poses.
  • You do each pose twice, holding it for a certain period of time.
  • Each session is 90 minutes long and starts and ends with breathing exercises called Pranayama.
  • The Bikram studio should be totally silent except for the voice of the instructor. The members of the class normally do not speak during a session and there is no music, just the sound of your breathing and the collective movements of bodies.
  • There are usually mirrors around the room, which you are encouraged to use to connect with yourself, visually.
  • Bikram is practiced in a room heated to 105 degree Fahrenheit, with approximately 40% humidity.

105 Degree Heat!!

Indeed. The idea being that the heat helps to warm your muscles, allowing them to move and extend better and achieve deeper poses without injury. It also promotes perspiration which in turn aids in detoxification and also helps to burn fat.

Although the heat can be a little disarming when you first walk in, it is more of a mental challenge than anything. Yes, you will sweat. A LOT! Yes, it can feel airless and stifling being in a room with 40% humidity, but the key is to remind yourself that it won’t get any hotter, and there are plenty of people doing this exercise everyday with wonderful benefits and no dramas.

“If you follow my instruction and do my yoga postures Sequence to the best of your ability, you will live a better, healthier and more peaceful life.” -Bikram Choudhury

If you do find that you become overwhelmed by the heat, the best plan is to quietly sit down for a moment and breathe deeply and gently. You may feel light headed or nauseas but it should pass and no one will mind if you need to sit a few poses out.

This is the time to mention that it is absolutely critical to drink plenty of water during the sessions to keep hydrated. And before each session it is recommended that you don’t eat anything for 2 hours before practicing, so have a light snack and then wait until after your Bikram session to eat again.

Mental Stamina, To Go With The Physical

Bikram is an incredibly mental exercise. While some of the poses might seem easy enough to attain, the real achievement is getting into them with ease, holding them for longer with each attempt and focussing entirely on extending your body through its normal range of movement.

It is tempting, at first, to try and compete with others in the class who have probably been doing Bikram or Yoga of some sort for many years, but you should only be focussing on the improvement in your body’s previous flexibility and balance, not someone else’s.

As mentioned, during the session you will be facing mirrors most of the time and you are reminded to look into your eyes while you hold the poses. This can be somewhat disarming at first but as you get used to it, you notice a real feeling of connection with yourself which is empowering and, at times, even emotional.

Bikram should be a time purely for you, and your body. It’s a time to connect with the wonderful machine we have been gifted with and appreciate it for all its capabilities.

At the end of a session you will feel hot and flustered but there is also a peace and an exhilaration that comes with completing a Bikram session. You have pushed your mind, and body through new barriers.

You will likely feel extremely tired too after your first few sessions. Your body has moved in new, previously un-practiced ways, and the detoxification alone can leave you feeling drained.

Again, drink plenty of water, and get the rest you need. These affects lessen after regular ongoing sessions.

Bikram's definitely not for everyone and the first time is, as with many things, definitely the hardest but believe me, you CAN do it. It’s all about mind set and trusting that your body is capable of more than you believe.


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