What Is Bikram Yoga? 8 Benefits of Bikram Yoga

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Some people shrug yoga off as “glorified stretching” and nothing more, but the truth is far from that. Yoga – as a series of moves – may be easy to conceptualize or comprehend, but it could prove to be more difficult than mere stretching. Certainly, that’s the case with this more modern evolution of yoga as exercise – Bikram yoga. In this article, we will explore what Bikram yoga is, and discuss 8 benefits of Bikram yoga, aka hot yoga or heated yoga.

Whether you’re into heated yoga or room-temperature yoga, the important thing is your health. Yoga was handed down through the generations in order to help people and make them stronger in body and mind, not to weaken them. There are some who fall in love with the Bikram method, and there are others who run for the hills after the first lesson. It’s a judgment call. Yoga takes dedication, no matter what method or technique you practice, and it seldom hits home on the first attempt. 

Some are renouncing the method based on the actions of its founder, but I don’t know if that is 100% fair either. I suppose the question is: are you able to separate the lesson from the teacher? There might be good cause to do so in the case of Bikram yoga. I’ll attempt to address that question as well, though it is completely subjective, later on in the post.

What Is Bikram Hot Yoga? Bikram Yoga Explained

Back view of group yoga class.

Yoga class.

Bikram yoga is a method of yoga created by Bikram Choudhury (born 1944) in the 1970s. The method consists of a fixed number of poses and breathing exercises (26+2), and it’s practiced under conditions that are designed to emulate the Indian climate. For 60 or 90 minutes, yogis practice in 105F heat and approximately 40% humidity or more. The walls are mirrored, the floors are carpeted, and there is no hands-on adjustment of the student by the teacher.

That’s Bikram yoga in a nutshell. There are other yoga methods that call for a heated room, but this one is considered to be the “original” heated yoga. Its popularity soared during the late 90’s and the beginning of the 21st century, but in recent years it has balanced out. Even though there are some who practice it daily, there are fewer studios and classes being offered, overall.

It really is one of the more difficult forms of yoga, but I am biased. I have always been a fan of room-temperature yoga, and I find that it is the kind that I vibe with. 

8 Bikram Yoga Benefits For Your Body And Mind

Back view of woman on balcony in lotus pose.

Woman meditating.

Yoga has the potential to make your life better, and this remains true no matter what method you choose to practice and follow. The movements and breaths correspond with different pathways of energy, and when you are focusing on that mind-body connection, if only in a physical sense, it can do a lot for you inside and out. Even though hot yoga is different from traditional yoga, it can also be beneficial. Here are a few of the benefits of Bikram yoga, though they may also apply to other methods and techniques.

1. It’s like taking a schvitz. Many of the classic benefits of a wet or dry sauna can transfer over to this sort of practice.

2. Apropo saunas, working out in a hot environment can provide your body with better circulation, due to the dilated blood vessels.

3. The workout (combined with the heat) may aid with weight loss.

4. There is less likelihood of injury when you’re working in a hot environment, since the muscles are warmer.

5. Hot yoga will cause you to focus extra hard, since the workout becomes that much more intense and demanding.

6. Your respiratory system works harder, due to the heat, which increases your lungs’ ability to draw and retain breath.

7. Improved level of balance. The moves aid muscle control and extremity strength, which plays a part in gaining better balance.

8. Discipline. Traditionally, there is no talking allowed in Bikram yoga, and the yogis are expected to be focused and disciplined.

Is Bikram Yoga Safe? Side Effects Explained

This is a loaded question if ever there was one. Bikram as a form of yoga is considered safe for those who are in a relatively healthy state. Provided you research the method and prepare accordingly -hydrate, etc. – nothing should befall you.

The reason why it is a charged question goes back to the founder. In 2019, Netflix aired a documentary titled Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator which tells the story of the rise and fall of Bikram himself, and of the yoga empire he’s built. The yogi settled several lawsuits out of court over the years, but when he was hit with more lawsuits – and lost a very expensive one involving his former attorney – he fled from justice and left the United States.

As for the practice of Bikram yoga itself: there have been no reports of adverse side effects, by and large. There have been a few isolated incidents, though, since the conditions are rather extreme to begin with. And of course, when the yogi himself was running the sessions, he was known to be very difficult, demanding, abrasive, and sometimes borderline-abusive towards his students. Some were into it, others did not appreciate it in the least.

So, is it safe? Altogether, yes; but it’s not safe for the entire population. No form of heated yoga is going to be as safe as ordinary yoga, period. You need to drink more, mind your stretches, and avoid passing out from heat or exhaustion. Plus, there is the added risk of heat stress or heat stroke. One of the things Bikram himself used to do was push his students to their limit, but thankfully that is not a prerequisite for teaching a Bikram yoga class.

Ultimately, we’re talking about a man who promotes a sequence of poses and breathing exercises that are not his original invention. These sequences were around long before he packaged them just so, and mandated they be carried out under those specific conditions. The thing is, this type of yoga automatically elevates the risk of those who participate, due to the nature of Bikram yoga.

Bikram Yoga Vs Vinyasa Yoga

Women doing yoga on the beach.

Yoga class on the beach.

As previously mentioned, Bikram is not the only hot yoga practice. A second popular method which you also practice in a heated environment is Vinyasa yoga, aka Vinyasa Flow yoga. The most obvious difference between them is the room’s temperature and setup. In Vinyasa it is around 95F, 10 degrees cooler than Bikram. The humidity stays the same, more often than not.

Another obvious dissimilarity between them is that poses in Bikram are broken up very rigidly. Conversely, the poses in Vinyasa are more fluid, in the way that the yogi’s transition from one pose to the next. The breath and movement play a different sort of role, and they enable poses to flow from one into the next.

More changes can be seen within the room or studio itself. With Bikram there are mirrors and carpets and silence; there is a set way of teaching and executing. With Vinyasa, there is the option of music and lighting and a more mellow mood in general. It is less predictable, and some could see that as an advantage or disadvantage.

5 Bikram Yoga Poses To Try Today

The poses used in Bikram yoga are no different to those used in ordinary yoga, but the heat can contribute to the efficacy and feeling of your movements and breaths. So, if you aren’t in Bikram conditions, you may find that the effects of the poses do not vary substantially from those of ordinary yoga practiced under normal conditions.

There are a few Bikram yoga poses that are definitely worth trying out. Heart rate and metabolism change in a heated environment, so you should make an attempt to practice these under the right conditions, as Bikram intended. Remember to hold the pose any time between 10 and 60 seconds (or longer, if you want). These are not in the order in which they appear during a proper Bikram yoga session.

1. Tree

Woman holding tree pose.

Tree pose.

Looking for balance and lower body strength? This is one of the easiest poses to grasp, and easiest to execute. Even if you have no yoga experience, this is one pose you can pull off well – providing you don’t fall!

2. Balancing Stick

Another fairly easy one, though it may prove more challenging for some. This one also requires balance. Designed to help with blood flow and engage your core, it’s another one of those “annoying” ones which do a lot of good, but may never be as easy as you’d like.

3. Corpse

When I first started out with yoga, this was a favorite of mine. Liberating and relaxing with a comedic name – what’s not to love? I have come to call this one the “Garfield” pose, since I have no doubt the tubby Tabby would love it.

4. Wind Removing

Great for mid-to-low back pains, and ideal for actual gas-buildup removal. Your hips will benefit from the mild stretch, and your center will definitely be able to feel it working. 60 seconds of that, and you are good to go for the poses which ordinarily follow.

5. Spine Twisting

Woman doing spine twisting yoga pose.

Spine twisting.

Some time ago, I realized I’d been performing a variation of this one way back before I ever knew what a yoga pose is. Make sure to twist both sides properly, and if you can manage to hold them for an entire minute, do it. It makes all the difference in the world.

Conclusion

Say what you want about the founder, the practice of Bikram yoga is still popular. Hot yoga is not inherently bad, but there are those who are rightfully suspicious of it. Overall, hot yoga is not everyone’s cup of tea, and that is doubly true for Bikram yoga. It has some advantages over ordinary yoga, but the basis is one and the same – poses, breathing, focus, and channeling energy through movement and rest.

Give Bikram’s method a shot if it sounds appealing to you. There are those whom it caught by surprise, so to speak. I’ve seen more than one face light up when the topic of hot yoga came up. With its stricter rules and “Indian” conditions – plus the unique teaching method – Bikram yoga provides a wholly different experience than most yoga practitioners are familiar with.

It really is quite a thing to undergo, and the only way to know if your mind and body agree with this method is by trying it out. There are studios that offer hot yoga, and some also offer the Bikram method. There is a chance they offer it under a different name, due to the veritable mess which Bikram has landed himself in. Alternate names include “26+2 yoga”, “heated yoga”, or the simple “hot yoga”, but it’s better to ask and be sure since there are other hot yoga methods.

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