As an avid yogi and yoga teacher, I made a big change in my practice a few months ago when I started to do Bikram/hot yoga. I immediately felt an intensity during my first class that, although very challenging, made me want to go again. I was told by personal trainers and other people a few years ago that exercise in excessive heat like that is detrimental to your health. I was so in love with my yoga practice as it was, I didn’t feel the need to try it, or to switch over. But recently I decided to give it a try, and for three months I have been doing nothing but Bikram and other types of hot yoga. I got completely addicted, as most people do. But I’m writing this to address some of the issues I have as a student, as well as being a yoga teacher myself. I’m also going to mention some of the things I love about it and why I kept going, but why I am now taking a very long break from the heated room, and going back to my regular practice.
I’d like to start by mentioning that Bikram was created by a man who’s still alive and teaching, is a millionaire who lives in L.A., teaches hundreds of teacher trainees in one session, and has a reputation for being a bit of a perv. When I first heard this, I immediately felt hesitation to trust it. It’s kind of like trusting a twelve year old’s advice. But I am a yogi, and who am I to say that a twelve year old can’t teach us adults something valuable? So I accepted, and listened….and went to a Bikram class.
I have done Bikram now in Toronto, London, and Glasgow, and have had a total of ten different teachers over the past three months. So although my experience has been rather short to some, I believe that I have enough experience to express my concerns with the practice. Maybe some people feel the same way about some of the things I’m about to mention, and I would love to hear any opinions.
The class is extremely systematic. I don’t say this lightly. The teachers are always strict, saying that you’re not allowed to drink water until 25 minutes into the class. They will not let you go at your own pace, either. Bikram is usually a busy class, so they treat the students like syncronized swimmers.
As a yoga teacher, I think there are many benefits to this, but my main issue is that everyone is at their own level and journey with yoga. It’s very hard to make the students feel like they’re in N’sync and have to go exactly at the same pace as their neighbour. I can sense Bikram’s OCD, and I can sense that he’s passed it on to all his trainee teachers. I have not seen many yoga teachers like this, so immediately I was caught off guard by this puppetry. I can understand it to an extent, because the class is very time dense and it is very important that they stick to this time schedule.
So I get it, but doing half lotus tree position, I do not need to hold my foot with my hand. Balancing on the opposite foot feels easy and natural, if I go with everyone else, I am undermining my own practice and not giving it my all. And with lotus and rabbit, while it’s easier for everyone else, by the time I’m half way there, the teacher is already instructing to get out of the posture. So again, everyone goes at their own pace and as a yoga teacher, I am always concerned with each student and give them different direction depending on what I see. You can’t really do this in Bikram, it’s all just systematic and while the teacher can help, they don’t have too much time to instruct students to do anything differently.
Let’s now talk about the heat. Bikram, specifically, was designed for that heat. So I would trust the Bikram method over other types of ‘hot yoga’ that I’ve been to. The reason for this is that other types of hot yoga seem to challenge your strength more, which I am vehemently against in that type of heat and humidity. To put things simply, you lose your strength in the heat, while you gain flexibility.
So my advice would be to go to specific Bikram yoga, or ask the teacher what kind of class it is. If you hear a lot of downward dogs, sun salutations, and pushups…beware. And I don’t know about you, but I like my strength. In fact, it’s one of my assets. And I do not like losing it. So while Bikram is humbling and that’s one of the main things Yoga teaches us, I also want to have my strength. When you’re in plank and you’re shaking because it’s so hot and your muscles feel like they’re going to collapse when you normally don’t have a problem with it… is well, a problem. But there are no planks in Bikram. So again, I’m referring to other types of hot yoga.
Another thing that most people underestimate before they go to a hot yoga class is how well hydrated you need to be. A teacher once said that she drank 500ml of coconut water before class and she would be fine. I agree with this. And I also bring a coconut water and regular water to the class. If you ever feel nauseous, dizzy, or faint, it’s not that you are unfit, it’s excessive heat and you are dehydrated. The teachers kindly remind you to push through this, or even embrace it, and that it is ‘normal’. It’s not. You need to drink more before class. I would recommend with all that’s in me, to drink a fresh vegetable juice an hour or two before the class. If you do this, I promise, you will notice the difference. After 90 minutes of sweating in those postures, at the end you’re going to be ready to do it all over again. I cannot stress how much of a difference it makes. This will also help you with the dizziness people often get at the last half hour of the class where you’re constantly turning around and doing sit-ups before each posture.
Another issue I have is this idea that you constantly have to have your eyes open. This is absurd in Yoga. The idea in Bikram is that you must stay present and awake. But that’s the point of closing our eyes. What does he think is going to happen? We’re going to fall asleep? I don’t think so. I would love it if the teachers explained this more because I feel sometimes I get more of a benefit from the posture if I close my eyes. And if Bikram wants us to keep our eyes open…at least paint the ceiling with sky blue and clouds? Just a suggestion.
And now we get to the end of the class. Where, for whatever reason, one of the best postures on earth, sitting knee twist…is only done once on each side instead of twice that we did for every single other posture for the last 90 minutes. Maybe Mr. Bikram isn’t as OCD as I thought. I would love to do the twist twice. Is anybody else a bit baffled by this?
Then there is Savasana. Everyone’s favourite part of yoga class. The teacher just says a few words and then walks out! No one is going to stay for longer than 60 seconds. And even when you do…you’re too immersed in everyone else rolling up their mat and getting the hell out of there. You almost have no choice but to leave. I personally don’t understand this, either. Why can’t they conduct it like other yoga classes and direct Savasana? If people are leaving, it’s the end of the class, and I’m going to leave without Savasana. That’s not a good thing.
Doing Bikram has made the muscles on my lower back feel like bars of steel. I feel like my spine is stronger and more protected. I am getting closer to wrapping my foot behind my calf in Eagle, and I’m actually getting my feet off the floor in Locust! But I have to question…wouldn’t I see these same results doing Yoga at room temperature? Also because of the heat, we can’t do inverts in hot yoga. I don’t know about you, but I love practicing my inverts. And inverting has many health benefits as well. So I feel like I’m missing out a bit by only sticking to hot yoga.
What hot yoga has that regular yoga doesn’t, is of course the detox benefits from sweating, and the extra flexibility you gain from the heat that loosen the muscles and allow you to get into the postures more safely. So for that reason, I am definitely going to attend more Bikram classes, just not as regularly as I have been. Yesterday was my last Bikram class for a long time. I am going to go back to my room temperature Yoga practice and happily do it with full strength and also having a peaceful mind that the teacher won’t be mad at me if I close my eyes or drink some water.
For those hot yoga addicts…I understand completely how addicting it can be. But I encourage you to break from the heat once in a while and find yourself again in a non heated yoga room.
Namaste right here,