Do you want a workout that will make you sweat, stretch and clear your head, all at the same time? Have you heard of Bikram yoga?

Consisting of 26 Bikram yoga postures, Bikram is a physically challenging form of yoga done in a heated, humidified room and you are guaranteed to sweat like never before.

But other styles of yoga, like hatha or vinyasa flow yoga styles, have also migrated towards heated environments over the last couple of centuries as teachers and yogis alike realised the benefits it can have on your cardiovascular health and flexibility.

Yoga offers yogis the opportunity to physically practise their bodies while jointly calming the mind. This path towards creating more a more balanced and blissful way of living has hot yoga studios popping up all over in South Africa.

But did you know that that not all forms of hot yoga are the same and when it comes to Bikram yoga there’s a unique formula?

You can ask anyone who’s done hot yoga or Bikram yoga before about their experience and they’ll tell you that it was challenging, but that they felt great after the workout. The glorious post-workout sensation is only one of the reasons why people love Bikram so much.

Find out what Bikram is, where it came from, how it’s different to other hot yoga styles and why it’s probably something you should try out if you want a great mind and body workout that will leave you glowing.

Glow from yoga
Get the yoga glow - Image by Rene Rauschenberger from Pixabay

What Is Bikram and Where Did It Come From?

Bikram yoga started in the 70s when its founder, Bikram Choudhury, opened the ‘Yoga College of India’ in Los Angeles, California. It gained popularity as celebrities flocked to the studio and claimed yoga and Bikram as a secret recipe for staying young, healthy and in shape.

The set sequence of 26 Bikram yoga poses (asanas) and 2 breathing exercises (pranayama) is practised in a heated room of 41 degrees Celsius. It’s a practice that lasts 90 minutes and at 40% humidity you will most certainly break a sweat. Bikram says he chose these specific poses from the original list of 84 Hatha poses he learnt while studying under his Guru, Bishnu Gosh, in Calcutta, India.

Hatha yoga today, is known to be a more relaxed style of yoga, but in its original form it was the more physical yoga that stemmed from ancient Raja yoga. Today’s types of yoga include physical yoga poses, breathing exercises and or meditation and chanting as inherited from a variety of ancient yoga forms. Bikram is thus, in a sense, similar to Kundalini yoga, Vinyasa yoga, Yin yoga, yoga Nidra and even yoga therapy, as it contains the same common thread as derived from ancient yoga forms.

These traditional roots laid the foundation of most modern yoga styles too and it will give you a good idea of yoga philosophy if you study them:

  • Raja Yoga is the more classical version of yoga focused on developing control over the mind to achieve union.
  • Bhakti yoga is a devotional path that’s all about worship and service to God.
  • Tantra yoga makes use of rituals, ceremonies, renunciation, and meditation and is not all what we think it is in some western societies (wink-wink).
  • Hatha Yoga is rooted in the Tantric movement and aims to purify the body and mind be creating balance between surrender and effort.
  • Jnana Yoga is for analytical and knowledge driven people who want to discover the ‘yoga of true knowledge’.
  • Karma Yogis believe that all actions have consequences and live to serve humanity through selflessness.
  • Laya Yoga lead to Kundalini and is all about mastering the energy centres in the body.

There’s a lot of controversy around Bikram himself and whether his eponymous sequence is actually his or his guru’s. It is however important to realise that all forms of yoga have similar sources and a variety of contributors; no modern yogi worked from scratch or developed a form on their own.

Yoga living
The objective of all yoga is to create a healthy body and mind - Photo by Theme Photos on Unsplash

The Bikram Benefits

Bikram yoga is believed to have the typical benefits of all yoga forms, but because it’s practised in the heated, humid room it’s said to advance these benefits even further. With claims that it can alleviate back pain, Bikram yoga’s heat will also help your body to flush out toxins and burn fat through building up internal heat.

Bikram claimed that his specific set sequence will create strength and flexibility while it targets and benefits every gland, organ and muscle and system in the human body. In true yoga style it places a big focus on physically challenging the body while we remove any blockages in our mind that keeps us from truly experiencing the present.

It is a practice therefore that will force you to forget about the difficult circumstances you are physically experiencing as you connect and anchor yourself in your breathing, not allowing the mind to get in the way.

There are plenty of scientific studies that provide empirical proof of the benefits of yoga. Bikram yoga, however, includes the added heat element to warm-up your muscles and allow you to stretch muscles, tendons and ligaments even further. Not only will you burn fat, you might also tap into your body on a cellular level to reverse the ageing process.

Yoga on cellular level
The yogic lifestyle is shown to impact us positively on a cellular level - Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

But Isn’t That Hot Yoga?

Don’t think that any yoga in a heated environment makes it Bikram.

Choudhury’s set sequence together with the specific, humid and heated environment is what makes Bikram what it is, and this will never change.

It’s in a style of its own, even when it comes to the way it’s presented, and you might be surprised to learn that most Bikram teachers don’t do hands-on adjustments in class. They expect students to tap into their own bodies and correct their posture using the mirrors you’ll find in Bikram studios.

Choudhury is known to be a tough yoga teacher and will push yogis to their physical limits, especially during their 9 weeks of intensive yoga teacher training.

Many qualified Bikram teachers thus adopted this uplifting, energetic and inspiring energy to motivate and drive yogis to new limits. They also tend to be strict and talking is not permitted in class; a great way to get yogis to focus on their practice and their practice only.

Hot yoga on the other hand happens in the chosen style of the teacher, at any temperature or level of humidity. Vinyasa hot yoga has become a popular style with more inversions (upside down yoga poses with your head beneath your heart) than you’ll find in beginner Bikram classes. They will also play music and include meditation and mantras suited to their class which is quite different to the ‘no music’ and set approach of Bikram.

Bikram is hot
The Bikram yoga studio will be hot and humid at 41 degrees Celsius - Photo by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Be Prepared for Your First Class

Your first Bikram class will certainly be a challenging experience. The right teacher will however guide you all the way and it’s great to have someone motivate you to go further and work harder as you give your body and mind a solid workout.

To have fun and make the most out of your first class we would recommend that you consider the following:

  • You are responsible for your own body. Move gently and slowly into poses as your body will experience new limits and can overstretch. Don’t push too hard until you become more familiar with the practice and have a developed sense of body awareness.
  • Ensure the teacher knows you are new at Bikram and inform them of any injuries you might have ahead of the class.
  • Be careful if you are pregnant, have a heart condition or high blood pressure. Ensure you see your doctor before taking on any heated class and stay safe.
  • Wear the right clothing. You are going to sweat … a lot … so stay away from loose clothing and don’t be surprised if some guys take their shirts off in class.
  • Ensure you have a towel and water.
  • Overheating your body usually goes hand-in-hand with dehydration, therefore prepare your body by getting enough fluids in the 24 hours leading up to the practice.
  • If you feel dizzy or nauseous during your class, take a break, go into child’s pose and just focus on your breathing a bit. It’s your body and your practice, and yoga is certainly not about keeping up with others in class.
Bikram hydration
Start with hydration the day before your first class - Image by klimkin from Pixabay

Soak in Your First Class

Today’s stressful living is forcing us to look at how we live our lives. With an upward trend towards mindful living, people search daily for ways to balance their lives to become healthier and more wholesome people. It is thus no wonder that yoga has been growing globally as method of improving overall well-being.

Yoga is a ‘union’ of the body and mind. It’s an ancient practice that dates back over 3 000 years, with new yoga practices and developments daily to suit your needs. Whether you want to build core strength, reduce stress, lose weight, increase flexibility, develop mindfulness or simply want to focus on the physical exercise, there’s a yoga style that suits your needs.

People across the globe are obsessed with Bikram yoga for a variety of reasons, but the best way to truly discover the benefits of this practice is to get onto a yoga mat and try it out. With over 1 600 Bikram studios across the globe, you’ll easily find a studio in Johannesburg or Cape Town.

If you prefer to practise at home, you’ll forfeit the heated room, but there are experienced and qualified teachers of all styles online, available at the click of a button. Find the right teacher, tell them what you hope to achieve and start to benefit from yoga today.

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Writer and qualified yoga instructor, who is passionate about health and well-being.