Editor’s note: Several lawsuits have been filed against the founder of Bikram Yoga, Bikram Choudhury, for alleged sexual assault and racial discrimination. Choudhury has fled the United States and there is currently a warrant out for his arrest. This article on Bikram yoga benefits is intended to inform the reader about the style of Bikram Yoga but it does not espouse the founder in any way.
Bikram Yoga was introduced to the United States in the 1970s by Bikram Choudhury. This form of yoga, often credited as the original “hot” yoga, is famous for its toasty 105-degree practice rooms (or “torture chambers,” as Choudhury has referred to them) and also for its scripted 90-minute sequences that always feature the same 26 postures, repeated twice. The dependability that arises from the consistency of both the temperature and the poses themselves is often appealing to many of its most avid practitioners.
Today, Bikram yoga studios can be found worldwide. However, due to the controversy surrounding Choudhury, some Bikram studios are re-branding in order to distance themselves from the founder of this style. Examples are Manhattan’s Bikram Yoga Soho, now known as The Yoga Loft of Tribeca, and the UK-based Hot Bikram Yoga, now Hot Yoga Society. Many other studios have also re-branded as well. While some have directly stated a desire to distance themselves from Choudhury, others have said that their reasoning for this shift is based on a desire to expand their offerings beyond Bikram-specific classes. Of course, some studios’ hot yoga classes did not follow Bikram’s method to begin with.
Not All Forms of Hot Yoga Are Bikram Yoga
Although Choudhury is generally credited with the invention of this sweltering style of asana, all hot yoga classes are not necessarily Bikram Yoga.
You can find anything from vinyasa to slow flow and even yin yoga-like classes held in hot rooms, and in non-Bikram classes the degree of heat might vary. Some non-Bikram classes do offer Bikram-style sequences although they may not be taught by Bikram-certified instructors. As it now stands, this is perfectly legal. Choudhury’s attempt to copyright the sequence of 26 poses famous to Bikram Yoga was denied.
General Hot Yoga Benefits
Why do people practice this style of yoga, and what are the benefits of hot yoga? What keeps people coming back for more? One of the most commonly cited benefits of practicing yoga in a hot room (Bikram-style or not) is that it detoxifies the body. But is it true?
According to Colin Hall, in his article “Hot Yoga: The Hype, History, and Science of Hot Yoga,” “Unless you consider water, salt, and magnesium to be toxic, there is no evidence that sweating flushes impurities from the body. The body has wonderful systems in place for cleansing. These are the kidneys, the liver, and (to a lesser degree) the intestines. Sweating is not a purification system. It is a cooling system.”
That said, there are some legitimate hot yoga benefits such as increased circulation, muscle relaxation, and an increased flow of lymphatic fluid (which also makes this practice contraindicated for anyone who has had their lymph nodes removed). Sweating can also reduce bloating. Some practitioners state that the heat enhances their concentration and even helps them move more deeply into poses. And, of course, yoga in general (no matter the style) can increase your flexibility, strength, and stamina.
But among hot yoga’s most touted benefits is that it can simply feel fantastic to get in a good sweat. As Hall puts it in his aforementioned article, “Hot yoga is awesome for the same reason hot tubs are awesome. They both make you feel great.”
Specific Bikram Yoga Benefits
If any hot yoga does all that, why do some yogis cleave to the Bikram style? Are there some specific Bikram yoga benefits? Advantages that are more readily gained when practicing this style than others?
Perhaps improved balance, for one. Out of the asanas that are specific to the Bikram yoga sequence, seven of them are balance poses (and some people might find them to be particularly challenging poses to boot): awkward pose, eagle pose, standing head to knee pose, standing bow pose, balancing stick pose, tree pose, and toe stand pose.
Bikram poses are also credited by many of its teachers and proponents as having digestion-boosting effects, therapeutic effects for the lower back, respiratory benefits, and more.
And, of course, for many, as mentioned, the consistency of this style is important enough that they consider it one of the major Bikram yoga benefits. Many practitioners appreciate knowing just what to expect when they go to a yoga class, and with a Bikram class, they can be sure in advance of what it will be like.
Finally, as with any yoga practice, many of the Bikram yoga benefits are less quantifiable and more specific to the individual experience of the practitioner. Some people love hot yoga, some people hate it, and we have different reasons for either returning to this practice or choosing something different.
Most experts agree that pregnant women, people with diabetes or kidney diseases, and those who have high blood pressure or heart disease should not begin their yoga journey with a Bikram yoga class.
How to Stay Hydrated and What to Wear
This might go without saying, but before a hot yoga class of any kind, drink plenty of water. However, don’t drink a lot of water all at once, right before or during class. Although it is important to drink a little water during class whenever you feel thirsty, some practitioners report feeling nauseous during class if they drink too much too fast. So, make sure to hydrate well in the hours or days leading up to the class.
Last but not least, clothing! Try to avoid long sleeves. Many hot yoga practitioners prefer to wear shorts as well, but you can wear yoga pants if you like so long as they are lightweight and breathable.
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