Ok, I’ll admit it...I’m addicted to Bikram yoga. I started almost two years ago and since then I can’t get enough.
I remember the first time I walked in class. Being a triathlete, I tend to have the attitude that nothing can stop me so I thought: “This is going to be a piece of cake!”Well, I’ve never been more wrong in my life. The heat almost "killed" me and, on top of that, the lack of flexibility in my muscles and joints made my life miserable for the whole 90 minutes.
Fortunately I’m mad about challenges so I told myself “This is not over Bikram Yoga, not by a long shot!”. I had to become good at it, no matter what.
After few weeks of practice I’ve noticed how the improved flexibility made my life easier in swimming and running (in particular, more powerful strokes and longer steps).
It was then settled, I would include Bikram Yoga in my triathlon training routine.
What is Bikram Yoga?
Bikram Yoga is a system of yoga that Bikram Choudhury synthesized from traditional yoga techniques and popularized beginning in the early 1970s.
Bikram's classes run exactly 90 minutes and consist of a set series of 26 beginner postures and 2 breathing exercises. Bikram Yoga is practiced in a room heated to 105°F (around 40°C) with a humidity of 40%.
The heat is pretty violent and on some days your body can handle it on others it just don’t. This makes every Bikram class different from the other. Sometimes you sweat like crazy and feel dizzy since the beginning of the class, other times it doesn’t bother you. That's the beauty of it!
Why is Bikram Yoga good for you?
Bikram Yoga's goal is toward general wellness and Bikram Choudhury (the founder of Bikram Yoga) claims the heated studio facilitates deeper stretching and injury prevention, while reducing stress and tension.
Bikram also claims that his system stimulates and restores health to every muscle, joint, and organ of the body.
It is true that being in a hot room makes stretching easier but again (especially for non-flexible people like myself) someday you'll be able to stretch pretty easily, while the next day you'll feel super tight and not be able to do some of the postures.
In the hot room breathing becomes crucial. As one of my teachers advised me once: “When everything else fails just concentrate on your breath, it will never abandon you!”
The ability to breathe, stay calm and centred during challenging situations is an invaluable tool in life.
Bikram yoga practice allows us to develop life skills, such as:
- Patience: learning to master a difficult pose.
- Honesty: to do the pose honestly and not try to fake it, or change it so it is easier.
- Dedication and commitment: coming to class even when we would prefer to sit on the couch.
- Hard work: being prepared to go beyond our desire for the easy way, and submit to working hard in the poses.
- Fearlessness: as some parts of the class can bring up emotions and limitations that require bravery to move through.
- Taking time: be willing to spend 90 minutes with ourselves, to get to know ourselves and all that we are.
Bikram Yoga teaches us that we are responsible for ourselves, our health, our thoughts, our feelings and provides us with a tool through which we can develop this responsibility. It gives us the chance to deal with our emotions, thoughts, even pain and sometime discomfort.
The high temperature, in combination with the yoga poses practice, brings the body into a cardiovascular intensity comparable to an aerobic workout.
Depending on a person's weight, heart rate and muscle mass, a Bikram session works off an approximate range of 500 to 1,000 calories or even more (I once wore my Polar monitor, and at the end of the class it showed that I burned 1253 calories!).
Bikram's ability to burn hundreds of calories in a short period of time can contribute to a weight-loss program. Bikram is also praised as a way to work off a lot of calories without high impact on the joints.
Bikram Helps You Detoxify
When it comes to detoxifying your system and improving your cardiovascular health, nothing beats sweating it out. Your skin is the largest organ in your body, and it is every bit as active in maintaining your health as your liver and kidneys. In Bikram Yoga you learn to love the sweat as you develop a greater understanding of the benefits it brings your body.
Besides helping regulating your body temperature, sweat has two other functions.
Firstly the removal of toxic wastes. Detoxification through your skin means toxins do not have to re-enter your bloodstream with the potential to do further damage before being excreted through your kidneys. We are exposed to toxins daily; through air, food, water and substances we apply to our skins. The release of toxins through sweat creates a healthier body from the inside out. Secondly sweat keeps the skin clean, supple and free of disease. One of the most common benefits of Bikram Yoga is that it changes your skin. It becomes clearer, more supple and younger looking.
The heat not only cleans your body through sweating, it also enhances your endurance, increases your cardiovascular health, strengthens your immune function, increases weight loss and relaxes your muscles. Learn to love the heat, make sweat your friend not your enemy.
The Good Feeling After Bikram
Even if during class you’ve felt like you were the most miserable human being on earth there is a moment, after class, when you feel so good that you wish to go be back to class asap (ok, not maybe asap but certainly in a couple of days!)
Why do you feel so good?
First of all you, as we already mentioned, you have sweat out a good amount of toxins. When you take the shower after class you always feel awesomely fresh and rejuvenated.
Secondly you worked out a lot and thus your body starts releasing endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals produced in the brain, which bind to neuro-receptors to give relief from pain. Endorphins are also believed to: enhance the immune system; reduce stress; and delay the aging process.
Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, sending these chemicals throughout the body. Endorphin release varies from person to person but if you do exercise vigorously (like doing Bikram) you will probably experience multiple “waves” (that’s how they are called) of endorphins.
Wait, that’s not it: Bikram has been shown to increase the production of nitric oxide, which enhances circulation and that’s another feel good sensation.
I hope that by now you're convinced to give Bikram a try. If so, my advice is to be extra careful when you choose in which studio you’re going to practice and which teacher will lead you through your first class.
Read carefully the reviews that people have posted on the internet and listen to other practitioners’ advice as they, most of the time, know better.