Bikram Yoga is a style of Hatha Yoga imported to the United States by Bikram Choudhury in the middle 1970’s. It is the forerunner of the ‘hot yoga’ becoming broadly popular. High heat is used to limber the muscles. Bikram Yoga is practiced in studios heated in excess of 110 degrees F.
The exact same twenty-six postures are performed in the same order, for the same length of time, each ninety minute class session; starting and closing with a breathing exercise, and finishing with ‘deadman posture.’ Instructors are taught a dialogue that is repeated almost verbatim. Mirrors are surrounding the participant, so they can observe their performance.
I will discuss some of the benefits of the practice, having participated in four to five sessions a week, while still doing more conventional Hatha practice in addition, for over a dozen years. Entering the studio, at times, your first impression is you’ve entered a too hot sauna — the heat does limber the body at a very deep level. When practicing Bikram, you should be cautious performing the same postures without the heat. You can harm yourself because of reduced flexability. Doing the same postures, in the same order, for the same duration, while under exacting instruction, it is easy to observe and appraise your performance. The postures have unique subtle differences from conventional Hatha practice, and are very effective. They are sequenced in a very logical and complementary order. The high heat causes sweating, the skin being our largest organ, this can get rid of toxins, is purifying and good for the skin.
Bikram instructors have been known to tout the very one dimensional ‘physical’ nature of the practice. “This ain’t no incense, candles, and chanting–gazing at your navel yoga.” No mention or claims of spiritually are made. Because it is yoga, and because of the nature of yoga—a Bikram practice can be very spiritual. Its demanding nature forces the participant to explore their relationship with themselves, pushing through great exertion and exhaustion. The ‘sameness’ of the session frees the mind from thought. It’s a common to experience altered states through extreme exertion, what athletes call entering a ‘zone’. Think of the altered consciousness sought by swirling dervishes. During practice you are encouraged to focus on a spot between the brows on your image reflected in the mirror. It’s easy to lose subjective awareness and meld with the field. Exerting the will to accomplish a very difficult arduous task, one moment at a time, can be very educational and gratifying. It can be possible to have a glimpse of our more than human nature.
Some aspirants can’t take the heat and a person should know some yoga and be in pretty good shape, with a well hydrated body, before attempting a class. In all the thousands of classes I participated, only once did I see an ambulance have to cart someone away. Bikram Yoga’s greatest detractor is Bikram Choudhury himself. Why his guru, who developed the sequence, chose Bikram to bring the teaching to America is interesting to speculate on. Bikram projects a public persona of arrested development at around twelve years of age. He flaunts his narcissism and materialism. His ego appears to have no consideration for the feelings of others. Maybe there is a lesson here too. We’re all human and with fault— learn to look beyond the messenger and evaluate the message on its own merits?
Feel the Heat – WALKING STICK