Yoga is popular these days; certain types of yoga are more popular than others. Bikram yoga is among the most marketable and attended forms of hatha yoga today. That said, before you jump into the hottest studio in town (both literally and figuratively) get a little background on this yogic formula and weigh the pros and cons for yourself.
Bikram yoga is the quintessential hot yoga, performed in studios heated to a minimum of 105 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity around 40%. While some find this invigorating, be selective about the studio at which you choose to practice.
Some studios pump recycled air rather than fresh pre-heated air into their rooms; this actually depletes oxygen levels and increases air toxicity. As most yogis know, oxygen is our primary source of prana.
Oxygen deprivation and carbon dioxide poisoning may be the cause of that invigorating, giddy, energized feeling you experience after a hot yoga class. This is not the case for every hot yoga studio. Find out how your local studios are heated and question the air quality.
Bikram is a series of 24 asanas (poses), bookended by two pranayama, or breathing, exercises. Each asana is repeated twice and held for 30 seconds a round. Depending on what type of person you are, this may be a pro or a con.
On the plus side, once you’ve mastered the series, you will a) look like a fabulous pro in class and b) be able to do the series out of the studio (though many Bikram students go specifically for the hot studio experience).
Some students of yoga, however, find the series restrictive and monotonous and prefer the discovery and exploration of an open hatha yoga practice. To each his or her own; the absence of inversions in the series is a frequent complaint for some.
However, the Bikram system is classical hatha and pranayama yoga. It does work the entire body. It is “effective,” but it may not be the mind-body-spirit experience you’d like to cultivate.
A Company or a Community?
The system was developed over 30 years ago by Bikram Choudhury from Calcutta, India. A four-time champion of the National India Yoga Contest, Bikram was also a marathon runner and Olympic weightlifter.
After sustaining a serious knee injury in weightlifting, Bikram returned to India and his guru, Bishnu Charan Ghosh, and underwent six months of yoga therapy. He based his system of yoga on his rehabilitation experience.
All Bikram teachers are required to complete a two-month intensive certification process through Bikram’s Yoga College of India (based in Los Angeles) in order to teach the system. Critics of Bikram claim that this monopolizes the market and does not create an open, sharing network of practitioners, which is contrary to the central tenets of the philosophy of yoga.
Indeed, Bikram yoga has proven to be a very lucrative business venture for its creator. However, it should be noted that this training is thorough and comprehensive in all aspects of yoga, includes the “84 classical asanas” beyond Bikram’s standard series, and includes yoga’s applications in various forms of therapy. You can trust that your Bikram instructor is well qualified and well trained.
Because Bikram’s yoga is based on rehabilitation, he has close ties to the international medical community and works with a variety of patients looking for alternative therapies.
The popular culture of the west, however, has also discovered that the physical benefits of his system include weight loss and muscle tone; for many, it is the perfect path to the coveted “yoga body.”
Because of the lack of meditation, mantra, and other aspects of yoga in Bikram’s system, Bikram studios tend to be more oriented toward physical rather than holistic health. This is wonderful for a strictly hatha yoga practitioner, but may not be suited to students looking for more of a community feel in their yoga studios.