A simple definition for Bikram Yoga

by | Dec 16, 2022 | Nurturing Your Practice

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Millions of people around the world practice yoga, making it one of the most popular wellness activities out there. One reason for the immense popularity of this ancient art is that there are so many disciplines to choose from. If you are looking for a way to relax, then restorative yoga may be for you. But if you are looking to challenge yourself on the mat in every way imaginable, look no further than Bikram yoga.

Bikram yoga is a highly structured discipline that is practiced under strictly monitored conditions:

  • A constant temperature of 105° F and 40% humidity
  • The same sequence of 26 poses
  • 2 breathing techniques

Even the rooms must meet certain criteria, such as carpeting and mirrors along one wall.

Since its founding over four decades ago, Bikram yoga has enjoyed immense popularity and has even spawned a number of other hot yoga variations looking to replicate its success. This unique form of yoga is not for everyone, but it has a loyal following praising its many purported benefits. Intrigued? Keep reading for everything you need to know about Bikram yoga including some controversies it has stirred.

What Is Bikram Yoga?

In the minds of many yogis and practitioners, Bikram yoga is synonymous with hot yoga. After all, it was Bikram Choudhury who first brought the notion of practicing yoga in an artificially heated room to the United States in 1974, and from this unique concept sprouted numerous studios and classes bearing the Bikram name.

But what is important to understand is that Bikram refers to a specific format for the practice of yoga in a heated room and not all types of hot yoga can be characterized as Bikram. The definition of what can qualify as Bikram yoga is very detailed and consists of these specific elements:

  • The room in which Bikram yoga is practiced must be heated to a temperature of 105° F and the humidity level must be maintained at exactly 40%
  • Each session of Bikram yoga consists of the same 26 poses sequences in the same order each time and the same two breathing exercises
  • Every Bikram yoga class lasts for precisely 90 minutes
  • Bikram yoga is practiced in complete silence with no talking permitted among practitioners and no music or ambient noise playing in the background 
  • As for the room or studio, it must be carpeted and well-lit and mirrors are to be placed along the entire length of the wall facing the students

Furthermore, in order to be properly associated with the Bikram name, there was a time when all instructors had to be personally approved by Bikram Choudhury, and studios were required to be formally affiliated with the Bikram network in order to market themselves as an official provider of Bikram yoga instruction. 

Due to a number of allegations involving assault that have been levied against Choudhury, many former Bikram studios have sought to distance themselves from the disgraced founder by operating under different names (although the yoga regimen itself remains unchanged). There have also been contentious legal battles surrounding Choudhury’s attempts to copyright the poses used in his classes.

How Did Bikram Yoga Get Started?

Bikram yoga gets its name from its founder, Bikram Choudhury, an Indian guru who learned his craft from a renowned instructor named Bishnu Ghosh. After spending a brief period of time teaching the Ghosh method in Japan, Choudhury’s journey brought him to the United States in the mid-1970s where he founded The Bikram Yoga College of India in Los Angeles. The rest, as they say, is history.

From this original Bikram studio was born a movement unlike any other in the long history of yoga. The popularity of the Bikram style of hot yoga gave rise to hundreds of Bikram studios around the world and practitioners from all walks of life, world-famous celebrities included, flocked to classes to sweat their way to good health.

What Makes Bikram Yoga Different?

At the risk of stating the plainly obvious, the one thing above all else that sets Bikram yoga apart from other forms of yoga is the sauna-like environment in which it is practiced. This in turn produces levels of perspiration that few other activities can rival. But there are other aspects of Bikram yoga that newcomers to this discipline should be aware of, including these:

  • Whereas modern yoga classes typically mix up poses and sequences for variety and spontaneity, Bikram yoga sessions are the exact opposite – every class is a repeat of the exact same poses performed in the exact same sequence
  • Proper attire is an absolute must when participating in a Bikram yoga class – light, airy, and moisture-wicking are the way the go here (you would also be well-advised to bring an extra change of clothing for the trip home)
  • If you are a yoga enthusiast then you may have attended yoga classes that are lively and social – be prepared for a drastic change when taking in your first Bikram yoga session as they are done in complete silence
  • Even if you expect to sweat profusely be prepared for wet and slick conditions, particularly your yoga mat
  • Speaking of perspiration, proper hydration is key – before, during, and following the session

Perhaps the one aspect of Bikram yoga that is least talked about but quite possibly the most noticeable (especially for first-timers) is the unmistakable odor that only unrestrained amounts of perspiration can produce. It is a reality of this discipline and if you are intent on getting serious about Bikram yoga, it is one you had better get used to quickly.

What Does Bikram Yoga Do?

There are a number of reasons why people practice yoga. Some do it for its calming effects while others participate in yoga to reap its many benefits to their physical well-being. For those looking for the ultimate challenge, both physically and mentally, that one can experience on a mat, there is Bikram yoga. Here are some of the highlights of what Bikram yoga can do:

  • The sweltering heat and humidity inside a Bikram yoga studio can make warming up your muscles and loosening up your joints an easier process
  • This discipline purportedly makes you more flexible
  • You can expect to burn significantly more calories during a Bikram yoga session (up to 460 for men and 330 for women)
  • Bikram yoga provides a robust cardiovascular workout
  • Another reported benefit of Bikram yoga is improved skin health through increased perspiration and blood circulation

Above all else, the main reason why Bikram enthusiasts swear by this form of yoga is the invigorating rush that they experience after spending 90 minutes in a sweltering studio that Choudhury himself referred to as a “torture chamber”.

Final Thoughts on Bikram Yoga

When it comes to hot yoga, Bikram is the undisputed OG, the one that started it all over forty years ago. Not only has Bikram yoga earned a loyal following of diehard enthusiasts but it has also redefined the boundaries of yoga in ways that no one could have imagined when the very first practitioners walked into that sweltering Los Angeles studio and took part in this groundbreaking discipline.

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