The new year is a great time to reflect on new beginnings, transformation and change. Perhaps that means working toward a goal you’ve set for yourself, altering your diet to incorporate more whole foods, or delving into a completely new type of yoga than what you’re used to, such as hot yoga.
When I first started my yoga practice, I was drawn to a style of hot yoga called Bikram for its routine format and its ability to make me sweat and feel the benefits of the asanas—even several days later. After attending Bikram regularly, I noticed that my flexibility from my dancing days was improving and I didn’t feel as stiff in my day-to-day movements. Also for me, Bikram had immense stress-relieving power. Each class became my reprieve from busy life and I looked forward to that time on the mat where I could surrender my mind and body. Bikram has been a wonderful way to incorporate relaxation into my week.
(More on The Practice of Surrender.)
You may be familiar with this style of yoga, or it may be completely new to you. Either way, I hope you can learn a little more here about this unique style's history, some sample asanas to expect and how to decide if it's right for you.
As one of the most widely practiced forms of hot yoga, Bikram is a style that founder Bikram Choudhury created in the late 1970s, combining elements of Hatha yoga. Classes are very routine in format, which means no matter where you are in the world, you’ll be able to follow along.
Like traditional hot yoga, Bikram is practiced in a heated room (95 to 108 degrees Fahrenheit) and at a humidity of 40 percent in order to emulate the climate in India. According to the Bikram website, the heat helps sweat out toxins, stretch muscles and improve circulation throughout the body. This is something I definitely experienced almost immediately after starting my Bikram practice.
All classes run for 90 minutes and flow through a series of 26 asanas and two pranayama exercises. Bikram-certified instructors often have a standardized script to accompany these postures, but they also have the ability to modify it to match their teaching style.
(You should know The 5 Virtues of a Good Yoga Teacher.)
Sample Bikram Asanas
Dandayamana Bibhaktapada Paschimottanasana
Also known in English as standing separate-leg stretching pose, it is much like prasarita padottanasana (wide-legged standing forward bend). This asana is great for sciatica and improving flexibility in the hip joints.
- Heel-toe your feet so they’re almost at the length of your mat.
- Square your hips and upper body to the side. Inhale while lifting your chest.
- On the exhale, fold forward from the hips while maintaining a small bend in the knees. Maintain a flat back and a long spine.
- Press the fingertips into the floor or take opposite hands to elbows. Feel the stretch through your hamstrings.
- Root your feet into the mat and slowly rise.
- Begin in tadasana (tree pose). Hinge forward from the hips while keeping the standing leg straight.
- Distribute your weight evenly on both feet. Descend to the mat and focus on a point in front of you. Sit on your heel.
- Once you’re sitting on your heel, walk your hands to your hips, lift your chest and straighten your spine.
- Engage your core and lengthen your spine by lifting the crown of the head to the ceiling.
- Bring your hands into prayer, breathe and lift your gaze straight ahead.
- To come out of the pose, walk your hands forward and push away from the floor. Once you’re standing, lower your folded leg.
If You Can Stand the Heat
Bikram is a great option for many yogis, and the heat can make it more intense than yoga practiced in cooler rooms. While many types of yoga are accessible to all levels, there are some things to consider before embarking on your Bikram journey.
Like me, you’ll sweat like you never thought was possible! Ensure your body is hydrated before class, and keep drinking water after class to re-balance your body’s electrolytes.
Keep Clothing Fitted
Wear clothing that is comfortable and tight to the body so you can move through asanas.
Not While Pregnant
Because Bikram can raise core body temperature, it’s not advised for pregnant women or people with certain medical conditions. Like any new exercise, speak to your doctor about whether Bikram is a good style for you.
How Hot Can You Go?
If Bikram sounds like the right type of yoga for you, why not turn up the heat before summer and welcome it to your practice!
(Continue reading more on Why This Yogini Thinks You Should Finally Try Hot Yoga.)