For years, I had a love-hate relationship with Bikram yoga. A natural rebel of authority, the strictness of the sequence, sweltering (and stinky!) room, and discouragement of creative freedom left me feeling frustrated. I preferred Vinyasa yoga, where I could move and stretch and try new things. I lacked discipline.
When a new Bikram studio opened up around the corner from my house, I decided to give the practice another try. This time, I would give it a fair shot -- 3 months of practice, 3-4 days per week.
And I did. About six weeks into my routine, after about 20 classes, my views and mood about the discipline began to change. Now, I can’t imagine my life without Bikram. Here’s why:
1. It Balances the Chakras
The Bikram sequence is 26 postures. Although there are no true inversions in the sequence (which bothered me at first), it balances the chakras, starting with the root chakra and moving up to the crown chakra.
You start off finding your balance and stability in standing asanas, then move to the floor to strengthen the muscles of the back, and finally lengthen the spine in Rabbit by placing the top of the head on the mat towel, working on the thyroid, parathyroid, and pineal glands.
If you are an individual able to tune into this kind of energy within your body, you know what I’m talking about. Balancing the chakras through proper sequencing and spinal alignment feels amazing!
2. Thermoregulation Works
The room is HOT. 105 degrees Fahrenheit hot with 40% humidity.
For someone who is naturally warm or going through menopause, this can be torture. One of the main obstacles to a consistent Bikram practice is the ability to stay in the sweltering room. Once mastered, though, thermoregulation begins to occur.
This is where your body adapts to the heat by using the endocrine, pulmonary, and integumentary (skin) system. The body becomes more efficient at cooling itself down, finding homeostasis during exposure to the temperature, both internally and externally. Chemical changes in the blood (carbon dioxide excretion, regulation of sodium, potassium, chloride, and magnesium, and elimination of lactic acid) occur during this time, regulating your body on a cellular level.
It doesn’t take long for the body to compensate. And once it does, the heat is no longer a concern. It begins to feel good to move your body in a warm, humid environment. Places that made you feel uncomfortably hot in the past are no longer an issue. Menopausal and postmenopausal women actually experience a relief in hot flashes and hormonal irregularities.
Overall, the body becomes a fine-tuned machine.
3. Spinal Alignment is a Really Good Thing
The Bikram sequence of asanas is carefully constructed to align the spine. You find space between the vertebrates, and movement occurs in all 6 positions; spinal flexion, extension, lateral flexion (right and left), and lateral rotation (right and left).
This variation of movement lubricates the sponge-like spinal disks, relaxes tense muscles in the back, and improves range of motion in the spine. The posture begins to improve as the core strengthens (abs and paraspinal muscles), shoulders learn to relax, and tight hips release.
Bikram brings the spine back to a healthy, natural, and neutral space, allowing the rest of the body to function at its best.
4. The Tourniquet Effect
The Bikram series is all about using postures to constrict the blood flow to different parts of your body and then releasing the constriction to allow oxygenated blood to rush back in. This is part of the science behind the benefits of the practice.
The body is heated up, increasing the amount of oxygen in the blood, and then the asanas do their work. Postures are held with intense contraction for 10-20 seconds, resulting in vasoconstriction (like a tourniquet). This is followed by deep relaxation, allowing time for recirculation and nourishment to the tissues.
The result is super happy cells and tissues!
5. It’s a Lifelong Practice
Unlike trend fitness and activities which place excess stress on joints, Bikram is a practice that can be performed for a lifetime. A perfect balance between strength, balance, stamina, and flexibility, no single area of the body is allowed to become overworked. Although the practice is repetitive, no class is exactly the same.
The body makes micro-alterations with each class, finding ways to utilize the benefits of the practice for what it needs most. For example, if your hamstrings feel tight, the practice will benefit you by releasing the tension in the backs of the legs and posterior hips. If you are fatigued, attending class will stimulate your adrenals, leaving you feeling rejuvenated.
Learning to live in the moment teaches the body to have patience with itself, striving to find peace and healing no matter what you are struggling with, or how much further you can go in the pose on any given day.
6. Anybody can do it
Big. Small. Young. Old. I have seen every shape and size in Bikram yoga class. There is no “mold” that you have to fit into in order to have a consistent and beneficial Bikram practice.
I used to teach and attend a lot of barre classes. After a while, seeing the same body type and magazine-cover aspiration in the clients that attended became boring. If someone of male gender or a girl who was slightly overweight attended class, they stuck out like a sore thumb. They just didn’t fit the “mold.”
Bikram is much more accepting. Being in a room full of a rainbow of skin colors and body types is refreshing.
7. It Feels so Good to Sweat
There is a lot of press out there about how sweating it out in Bikram class is unhealthy for you. That it can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
After reviewing the research on the subjects of Hot yoga and thermoregulation, it has become clear that there should be a warning out there. If you are pregnant, nursing, suffer from hypertension or heart disease, Bikram might not be for you.
The heat and sweat is intense. Much of the sweat lost in the first 15-30 minutes of class is water and electrolytes. After that, the sweat loss is mostly water. If you are not hydrated or have a condition which requires your body to utilize more water, it might be best not to practice.
Plan ahead. Drink plenty of water, and don’t eat 2 hours before your practice. This will help your body efficiently adapt to the heat of the room and pull necessary resources to the muscles and tissues that are working (rather than food digestion).
At the end of the day, it feels really good to sweat.
8. Moving Meditation
The consistency of the practice is comforting to me. The flow is always the same, so I don’t have to worry about what is coming next. After about 20 classes, the sequence became a type of moving meditation.
The instruction is clear and concise, so there is no guessing or thinking about what your body should be doing. Simply listen to the words and watch your body move in the mirror. Over time it becomes comfortable, like satisfying a craving.
My morning meditation practice has improved with Bikram because my mind can fall into a silent place much more easily than before. When you are no longer worried about the external environment, the extreme heat, or sweat dripping in your eye and learn to be still, the mind will follow with ease.
Do you love Bikram yoga, too? Share why in the comments below!