Bikram Yoga: you either love it or hate it. It’s a dividing line in the yoga world separating the hardcore from the rest of the pack. Talk to yogis and non-yogis alike and everyone will have an opinion about Bikrams. The naysayers will complain, “it’s too hot,” “the heat makes you get into positions you normally couldn’t,” “there’s too many sweaty men (or women), “I injured myself pushing myself.” The devotees will say, “try it, it will change your life.”
If you are unfamiliar with Bikram Yoga, it is a yoga class that consists of a precise sequence of 26 postures and a beginning and ending breathing exercise that takes place over 90 minutes in a heated room (usually above 30 degrees celsius or 100 degrees fahrenheit). The teacher does not demonstrate any of the positions but rather sticks to the identical dialogue used in every Bikram studio around the world. The dialogue talks you through the positions and adjustments necessary to attain perfect form as part of a moving meditation.
Personally, I’ve had a long and erratic relationship with doing Bikram Yoga. I started many years ago at a studio in Old Town San Diego when I was about 13. Incredibly, I have practiced, at times with more commitment and gusto than others, for 19 years. Anytime I step away from my practice, I hear my body calling me back to Bikram. My mind usually protests and the longer I have been away from the hot room, the stronger the objections. I know I’ve said that “I hate Bikram Yoga” and that “I don’t do it anymore.” We broke up and got back together so many times now. I’ve even returned for 1 or 2 classes and not gone back for 6 months. I’ve hurled obscenities and turned my back on Bikram but in the end the room is always waiting for me to return. But, inevitably the pain in my hips and shoulders tugs at me until I return to sweat and resume my practice.
Despite all my excuses and straight-up yoga avoidance, I love Bikram Yoga. It changes you physically and mentally in the present moment and in the future. The great thing is that you feel many of the gains of Bikram Yoga immediately so it is easy to come back. Other benefits are delayed and unveil themselves like time-release magical feel good capsules. If you can get over your hang-ups about Bikram and get into that hot sweaty room, you will reap the gains for the rest of your life.
Some of my favourite Benefits of Bikram Yoga are detailed below:
1. Pain Relief
As a surfer, I suffer from chronic shoulder pain due to paddling. I also carry a lot of pain in my hips especially when I do any running or training. If I wake up with more pain than usual in my shoulders or hips, I can literally go to Bikram, practice, and leave pain free. It’s that effective at stretching out my pain-plagued areas.
2. Flexibility & Mobility
Surfing requires a great deal of flexibility and mobility particularly in the hips. You need to be able to get low and compress to get power into your maneuvers. Positions like Awkward Pose, Triangle Pose and Eagle Pose let me get down lower. It also improves your slutty, hip-hop dancing moves.
3. Mental Clarity
When I studied for and took the California Bar Exam, I went to yoga nearly everyday. Something about 90 minutes of meditation helps you focus on other things in your life like never before. Maybe it’s just coincidence but I believe that the periods of my life when I’m doing Bikram Yoga frequently are my most successful and productive.
Bikram builds the strength of your entire body from bones to skin, fingertips to toes using your own body weight as resistance. Plus, the practice focuses on spinal strength which is crucial to a long happy surfing career.
How strong is your meditation game? I spend countless hours wrestling with my annoying “monkey mind” during Bikram. The discipline to hold the postures teaches the mind to shut up for once and concentrate on just being in the positions. This discipline can be transferred to other parts of your life, like not eating an entire tub of ice cream or having patience in the water.
6. Attitude Adjustment
During hands to feet pose, the teacher always says “put your smiling happy face against your shins.” I always smile when he or she says that and it makes the posture a little less unbearable. I find that struggling through a Bikram class helps me shift my negativity and have an overall more positive outlook.
Not only does the heated room help you stretch and be more flexible, it makes you SWEAT profusely. Many toxins are flushed out by the amount of water you drink and the amount you sweat. Also, several of the postures themselves have detoxifying elements. Plus I end up fasting a few hours before any class to avoid feeling nauseous which gives my digestive system a break.
8. Natural High
Anyone who does Bikram Yoga will tell you that they feel amazing after a class. It’s a true natural high which, coupled with all the other benefits, may be the reason so many people become so addicted to Bikram.
As with most things, the saying, don’t knock it until to try, it applies to Bikram Yoga. It’s not for everyone but it will make everyone feel younger, fitter and fantastic. It’s party time.
My favourite places to practice: