[This is Part 4 of the Not-A-Yogi Guide series: Bikram Yoga]
There has been controversy surrounding the founder Bikram Choudhury, who is facing legal difficulties in the United States. Other than his infamous overzealous training tactics, he was sued in 2013 by Ms Minakshi "Mikki" Jafa- Bodden, who said he sexually harassed her and also unfairly fired her after she refused to help him cover up allegations that he had raped a yoga student.
Regardless, the popularity of this style has not dissipated, with different offsprings of the Bikram Yoga offered in studios for example in Singapore, Yoga Movement's version is the Monster Hot and Pure Yoga is Hot 26 etc. For the purpose of my writings, I’ll refer it as Bikram-styled.
The Bikram-styled Yoga was the very first yoga class that I tried in Pure in 2012. At that time, I wasn’t aware of any other styles of yoga other than "hot" yoga, which had a lot of hype with "Affinity Yoga" (formerly Absolute yoga and defunct now) at the forefront of the sweaty-sinewy-yoga-bodies trend.
PLUS they said it was suitable for beginners!
I am in 2 minds about the "for beginners” claim. I guess to each, its own.
Perhaps it is for beginners, as there is no vinyasa or downward dogs and it's mostly standing or seated poses.
That said, I struggled because of my inflexibility and the relentless heat, and the competitiveness feel in the class - to achieve the "end pose". I'm more of a type B personality, relaxed, easygoing and not at all competitive. So it was hard for me.
Because I didn't know any better, this was the only class I did till the day when I had the unpleasant experience of being reprimanded by a teacher (I will not name) for wiping my sweat and taking a sip of water. I'm sure he was talking to "everyone" but I felt he was directing the words to me and made me feel like I did something wrong. (So my childhood negative belief that I'm not good enough, came up again, lol it never goes away).
So I stopped coming to the Bikram-styled yoga. However I'm grateful that I did stop, otherwise I would never have discovered Baptiste Yoga.
Animosity aside, I’m back again for the purpose of research - and I went for a teacher/friend’s class where I know, he’ll take care of his students as he knows best.
I find that these days, I feel the Bikram-styled classes here are less military-styled and you can see the teacher’s personality shine through, which is the kind of yoga I like and will go back again to that do that teacher's class.
Definition of Bikram Yoga, according to Wikipedia:
Bikram Yoga is a system of yoga that Bikram Choudhury synthesized from traditional hatha yoga techniques and popularized beginning in the early 1970s. All Bikram Yoga Beginning Series classes run for 90 minutes and consist of the same series of 26 postures, including two breathing exercises. Bikram Yoga is a hot yoga style, and is ideally practiced in a room heated to 35–42 °C (95–108 °F) with a humidity of 40%. All official Bikram classes are taught by Bikram-certified teachers, who have completed nine weeks of training endorsed by Choudhury.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN A BIKRAM-STYLED CLASS
- It is a set sequence. Some studios have their own creation but the original has 26 static poses. For the list - click here. https://www.bikramyoga.com/about/26-postures/
- In a 90 mins class, they will repeat each pose twice. In a 60 mins, just once.
- Expect that it is going to be very super hot in the 40s. So you may feel hyper-ventilated or nauseated, as if you are going puke or faint or both. Whatever it is, try not to leave the room or lie down. Give it a chance. I’d recommend if you are feeling sick or faint, to stop exerting yourself, take a seat, drink water and breathe. And then get back to the practice.
- There is NO downward facing dog or Vinyasa, so if you are not big fan of being on your hands, with your bum in the air, then this is the class for you.
- Leave your ego at the door.
- In some classes, you will see girls wearing almost nothing and men only in shorts. Or even the opposite, skinny people wearing sweatsuits (for reasons I cannot fathom). You are fine in whatever you are wearing; just make sure, it’s sweat-wicking.
- Make sure you bring a big towel and a big bottle of water. And that you have a change of clothes after your shower.
- Suffering is the key takeaway. They want you to suffer abit, push past your edge and enjoy the benefits after. (like eating a huge piece of chocolate cake)
- If you have high or low blood pressure, suffer from vertigo, or pregnant, DONT DO THIS CLASS unless given permission by your doctor.
- It’s a Perfect class for Type As and those who loves to sweat and think that if they don’t sweat, they are not working hard enough. PS. Wikipedia describes Type A and Type B personality as two contrasting personality types. In this theory, personalities that are more competitive, outgoing, ambitious, impatient and/or aggressive are labeledType A, while more relaxed personalities are labeled as Type B.
What I don't like about Bikram-styled Yoga
- I didn't understand the purpose of the first pose - Standing Deep Breathing Pose. It's the very first pose where you have your hands clasped under your chin, and as you breathe in, you press your elbows out like a accordion bellowing and on the exhale, you press your elbows in, knuckles in to chin, lifting elbows and chin as high up as you can.
It’s really awkward for my neck. I’d do a supine with a block under neath my chest for an alternative to expanding the lungs more.
- They hold some poses for a quite a while. I'm a Vinyasa girl.
- The temperature is too hot!! I was trying my best to be present in class. But it was too hot to focus on being present, and there were moments when my thoughts start to wonder about what it is that I don’t like about it. and then I’ll calm down again, and then I’d be all over my breath.
- Not a big fan of the Standing Head to Knee pose, or any Standing poses
It breaks me every single time I have to do it. I hate that they command me to lock my supporting knee - ouch. And they hold all the standing poses for so long that the bottom of my feet feels like its burning.
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT BIKRAM-STYLED YOGA
- I hate to admit it but it kicked my butt. My legs were jelly after.
- There wasn’t weight bearing asanas on the hands, which is a relief to my sensitive wrists. However you are required to energise your arms in every pose, so its different kind load on the arm. I feel it's similar to pilates, where you are to lengthen and stretch, at the same time, you hold (the pose) isometrically to engage the muscles
- The natural afterglow sans makeup.
- It's proven to be a great weight loss practice, if done consistently.
- It’s a great class for men - because yes, it requires a certain amount of flexibilty, but all postures are standing, seated or lying down postures; so there is no multitasking exercise like the downward dog, which can disconcerting to be upside down and on on your hands, especially when you are very muscular or heavy in the legs and arms.
- Having the right teacher. I went to a Hot 26 by Rene Eikhen (No, he’s not the army sergeant)! My experience was definitely different from the last one. I think If I have not been practising Baptiste Yoga and I followed Rene’s classes, i might have continued with the practice.
MY TAKEAWAYS FROM BIKRAM YOGA
The Bikram-styled yoga doesn’t light me up. It didn’t felt right for my body then, and it still didn’t feel right for me when I do it now. I clear that I felt frustrated throughout the class; but the one moment it is over, there was a sense of relief and achievement. Although my body was sore afterwards, it could be a combination of new movements (having not done this sequence in a long time) and that, I’ve not worked out in a week.
But yes, it gave me a good physical and mental workout and I'm grateful for my Baptiste Yoga training which gave me access to let go of my ego, and i modified the poses accordingly.
Moving forward, I am glad I did it yet I won't do it willingly. I would do it with friends and for fun, and if my favourite teacher is teaching it.
I prefer a class with more flow or vinyasa which is close to my heart.
But you - you have the choice to choose whatever style of yoga lights you up. I’m not saying at all that bikram yoga is not a good style, it is just not for every body. BUT DON'T HATE IT TILL YOU TRY IT!