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The Complete Guide to Hot Bikram Yoga

Fitness, Yoga

The Complete Guide to Hot Bikram Yoga

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Discovering your shins and elbows had sweat glands can be a life-altering experience (just kidding!) but its hell of an experience. A style of Yoga that promises uncountable benefits with signature 26 poses and merely two breathing exercises is worth a try or worth a controversy (I’ll come to that later). Let’s find out if sweating profusely in a hot and humid room for 90 minutes straight is actually that toasty.

The style of yoga I am discussing about is Bikram yoga, also known as Hot Yoga and Hot Bikram Yoga.

What is Bikram Yoga? What happens in a class? Who can do it and who shouldn’t?

To find answer to all such questions, read: Yoga Lingo For Dummies. Diet, weight loss, myths, we’ll discuss every aspect one by one. First, how it came into being.

History & Origin

An Indian boy in Kolkata was a yoga devout since he was four. At 17, he suffered a knee injury and doctors gave up hope on his chances to be able to walk again. But, the boy did not give up on his faith for the ancient tradition of yoga and to everybody’s surprise, yoga did heal his knee[1]. A decade after, that boy, Bikram Choudhury founded Bikram Yoga and took it to communities around the world.

Bikram Yoga can be summarized as: 26 positions, 2 breathing exercises and 90 minutes; a derivative of Hatha Yoga with innumerable benefits. It is also known by names like,” since it is performed at a high temperature of 95-104 degrees and in humidity close to 40% or even more. This is to simulate the environment where Yoga was first founded by Patanjali centuries ago.

Well you must be wondering why this hot and humid environment for Bikram Yoga (not to forget stinky). Okay so, it is because of the belief that heat allows the muscles to flex and stretch with ease and lowers discomfort. The sweat on the other hand, flushes out toxins leaving you with a clearer complexion and a better circulation.

Who should do: Anyone who has been into yoga for a while and wants to take it further, as the poses are in no way cut for beginners. I say that, because if you opt for Hot Bikram Yoga you must know it is not going to be easy, at all.

Who should not do: People with cardiovascular problems, pregnant women.

Complete List of Poses

The series begins with deep breathing followed by selected standing poses. With relaxation pose, the Corpse pose, the sequence moves into the seated and reclining poses. This series end with another kind of Pranayama or deep breathing, known as Kapalbhati or the skull shining breath.

  1. Pranayama or Deep Breathing while standing
  2. Half Moon Pose with Hands To Feet Pose (Ardhacandrasana with Padahastasana)
  3. Awkward Chair Pose (Utkaṭasana)
  4. Eagle Pose (Garudasana)
  5. Standing Head To Knee Pose (Janusirsasana)
  6. Standing Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
  7. Balancing Stick Pose (Tuladandasana)
  8. Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose (Vibhaktapada Pascimottanasana)
  9. Triangle Pose (Trikonasana)
  10. Standing Separate Leg Head To Knee Pose (Vibhaktapada Janusirsasana)
  11. Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
  12. Toe Stand Pose (Padangusthasana)
  13. Corpse Pose (Savasana)
  14. Wind Removing Pose (Pavanamuktasana)
  15. Hands To Feet Pose (Padahastasana)
  16. Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
  17. Locust Pose (Salabhasana)
  18. Full Locust Pose (Purnasalabhssana)
  19. Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
  20. Reclining Thunderbolt Pose (Suptavajrasana)
  21. Half Tortoise Pose (Ardhakurmasana)
  22. Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
  23. Rabbit Pose (Sasamgasana)
  24. Head To Knee Pose with Back Stretching Pose (Janusirsasana with Pascimottanasana)
  25. Half Lord of the Fishes Pose (Ardhamatsyendrasana)
  26. Skull Illuminating Breath (Kapalabhati)

Hot Yoga Class Basics

Getting Ready:

Reaching early for the class is utterly important, so you could acclimate to the temperature and humidity.

What to Wear:

Dress hot for hot yoga, wear shorts, sports brassiere or a bathing suit, the less the better. Avoid cotton at all costs (Do yourself a favor, sweaty cotton will weigh you down). Wear extra wicking and extra venting fabric. And also form-fitting clothing, as it’ll keep you from feeling sticky. Also bring a set of clothes for changing after the class is over.

Before the Class:

Drink plenty of water before and after the session. Have a snack or a banana before the session but don’t over-eat. Drink coconut water or any other healthy drink to replenish lost electrolytes.

Talk to your teacher about any medical ailments you have, so some modifications could be done, though I highly doubt that would be done as instructions are conveyed verbally to the whole class at once and not demonstrated by the teacher. So, they’ll ask you to do poses to the best of your ability and not push to extremes. As long as you do this, you are moving in the right direction.

During the Class:

  • The routine is always going to be the same and repetitive. Also, in one session you’ll probably do a pose twice. First time it is diagnostic, where in you understand your body and realize its abilities and limitations. In the second time, you practice, you push yourself a little further in an attempt to raise the bar of strength and lower that of inflexibility.
  • Embrace the downpour and skip towel. Sweating is helping you maintain body’s natural homeostasis or temperature balanceand by wiping, you’ll be disrupting the process. So, let it rain over you.
  • Your breathing should be through the nose – slow extended inhalations and exhalations which helps calm the nervous system. A must avoid breathing is Open-mouth breathing or Panic Breath.

After the Class:

After the class, some people find their body tired which is quite obvious, you are not used to this exertion and your muscles are aching. But, don’t just give up, its a sign that resting muscles are now into action. After the next class, you’ll find more drawbacks to it – An unbelievable amount of High energy!

The Diet

Before Class

The temperature in the class can get you to feel nauseous and the effect can be magnified if you are coming in with a full stomach. So you can have fluid in form of an easily digestible smoothie and little snack like that of dried fruits or may be a protein bar.

During Class

No need. Reasons? First, you won’t have any time and second, you’ll be sweating profusely so you wouldn’t feel like taking anything in except water.

After Class

Usually, yoga practitioners avoid non-vegetarian and oily diet (I don’t) but if you must take something that’ll raise your energy stores with loads of veggies. Actually, a Sattvic or Vegetarian diet is what yoga demands. This includes fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, etc.

Foods to Avoid

Hate to say, but the list includes I love, hot & spicy meals, coffee, tea, processed & refined foods, alcohol, drugs and stuff that cloud the mind.

Health Benefits

The signature series of 26 postures will provide you with a multitude of benefits in the short as well as long run[2], as they work on every part of your body flushing toxins out of the system and aiding in better blood circulation.

For some they start showing up right from the first class, but to some it may take 10 classes. It basically depends on how early your body understands those poses and starts responding.

Weight Loss

The reason why most people join is Losing pounds and inches. Well, excellent choice I’ll say. It burns nearly 500 to 1000 calories per session[3]. You’ll find your digestion improve and unhealthy cravings diminish. Gradually your metabolism gets a healthy boost and fats turn into lean muscle.

Arthritis

Another benefit is relief from Arthritis or joint pain. Tourniquet effect of poses improves cardiovascular circulation and that leads to increase in amount of Synovial fluid, as a result, when your joints are better lubricated, your movements become less painful and your stride more graceful[4].

Back Pain

Similar benefits are alleviation of back pain, stiff neck, herniated disks and other back problems. Heat in the room will dilate blood vessels situated in muscles that surround your lumbar spine, thus promoting the internal healing process of the damaged tissue. Also, it stimulates neurons in skin forcing a reduction in transmission of pain signals to brain, so, you feel partially relieved from discomfort.

Glowing Skin

Cosmetic effects include a beautiful blush on face and a “Bikram Glow” all over the skin. You’ll find your skin becoming softer and more supple. Sweating opens your pores, cleanses your skin inside out and helps it regain lost elasticity. Your all time new expression is now a happy, smiling face all day long.

Read: Yoga for Beauty: Skin Renewal Detox Tips

Diabetes

Say good bye to insulin with Bikram by your side. Many students have reported that performing these postures on regular basis have helped keep diabetes in check and that they do not need insulin anymore.

Relief from stress & anxiety

None of those who practiced Bikram have reported feeling anxious or stressed again[5]. I see that is because you experience a fight-or-flight response during the session and that helps your mind focus more on the task at hand. A regular practice reduces cortisol levels and calms the mind[6].

Read: No Stress Reliever Like Yoga: Interview With Stephanie Mansour

Depression

Similar is the case for depression. On a day when you don’t feel like doing anything, just show up in the class and Bikram will take care of the rest. As you’ll leave at the end, you’ll find your thoughts more balanced and negativity lifted up[7].

Respiratory Relief

The two deep breathing exercise are highly effective. With time your lung capacity increases providing a relief from respiratory problems like asthma, allergies, etc.

Emotional balance

With regular practice your endocrine and nervous system are harmonized and you feel emotionally more balanced[8]. You become aware of your internal processes and your focus improves, so is your self-control and patience. With that I am obliged to mention the potential effects of these poses on the tiny gland in your throat that can very easily turn your life upside down – Thyroid Gland. Yoga effortlessly regulates your hormone levels infusing your day with positive energy, better metabolism and new-found enthusiasm.

Anti-aging Effects

Not to forget, the agility you’ll experience in you physical as well as mental self[9]. Your actual age and the age of your system are different (didn’t you know that? Shame!) Try touching your toes in Separate Leg stretch forward bend. Can you do that? Yes, wow great! You are still young. Did you whisper No? Poor you!

Not being flexible enough to do this ia sign of arterial stiffening that happens either due to inactivity or AGE (usually above 40). With Bikram Yoga, your arteries re-gain their agility and you re-gain your lost youth. And hey! Don’t you worry, arterial stiffening is inevitable with age, for god’s sake, don’t assume it a disease!

Better in Bed

I saved the best for last – Bikram Yoga will make you a better lover! With a toned body and all that glowing skin, you’ll look far more appealing than ever before. Top it with agile muscles, that feeling of happiness and confidence, plus unleashed energy for prolonged pleasure.

The Cons and Injuries

Well, to say the least, you’d be doing the same poses everyday. So, even if in the first few months, you’ll be losing inches and pounds drastically, truth is, you’ll eventually hit the fitness plateau. In my opinion, use the yoga class as a supplement for your other workout routines. Or try clubbing two to three different styles of yoga. Although, if you can’t manage that, Bikram Yoga, while it may not help you lose more weight, it’ll definitely keep you in good shape. So, that’s it. The only disadvantage of taking up this style.

As far as injuries and controversies are concerned, I believe they are mostly because people do not realize you need a certain, basic level of fitness to take up this class. Unlike other styles, it cannot be done at home or taught on a one-on-one basis and hence, you gotta move with the class. And frankly speaking, in most classes, no trainer waits for you to finish a pose.

Myth Busting

  1. I found some people complaining over forums as how they took classes to lose weight and instead piled more kilos. If you have been left confused by such reviews then, patience man! Sometimes muscles weigh more than fat, these are Good kilos, so you better keep at shaping yourself up! The poses are defining your muscles not making them bulkier. Get your facts straight! You’ll eventually get rid of muffin tops and saddlebag thighs and get a leaner more shapely avatar of yourself.
  2. Many feel all weight lost is just water weight and not the actual weight. Fortunately, they are right this time. If you weigh yourself before and after the session all you’ll lose is water in sweating which will be replenished once you get back to filling up your belly with stuff. But then, Bikram Yoga demands your commitment. I mean, you can’t expect to attend a session and fit into your new dress for the dinner date later. You need to give to give it at least 6 sessions for beginning to show results in loss of inches! Got my point?
  3. Next is detoxification. Biology tells us that our liver and kidney does most of detoxification of our system but had it done enough or with perfection we wouldn’t have faced system disorders that very often. And for that, only we are to be blamed. We burden them with unhealthy eating habits and excess of medication. So, an extra work requires an extra effort from our side in detoxification process. Sweating cleanses the skin and along with heat improves circulation of body fluids in lymph and blood vessels. As a result, our sluggish system is back on track.
  4. Some believe that yoga cannot build muscles but only tones them. Half truth. Yoga builds muscles too. Plenty of poses use our body weight to build muscles and that is how you do it without weights, the natural way!

A typical class

(Just for fun)

You reach there and find people with glowing faces chatting and changing to clothes which are barely there to protect their modesty. You too change into your shorts ‘coz its hot even in the changing room which leaves you wondering how hot the actual session gonna be. An instructor comes and asks you to stay there for a while and not wander off so you could acclimatize better. Finally after 10 minutes, you open door to yoga room and are invited by a gush of hot dry air carrying smells of breath and sweat.

You choose a spot and find a beautiful woman taking the spot next to you. The little devil inside your head says, ‘Oh this is gonna be fun’. But, wait, before you ask her out, you need to lose 30 pounds and that gets you back in business. The instructor enters and introduces himself to the class and with that the sessions begins.

Your sweat mustache is now an overgrown root of Banyan, the temperature is up to 95 degrees and for the last 8 minutes, all you have been doing are deep breathing exercises. Well, that wouldn’t have been a problem if you were actually breathing, instead, here you are breathing each other’s body odor, carbon dioxide and other unmentionables.
You steal a stare at your future-date and find her almost nauseated. At that moment, humidity is hovering at about 90%. All of a sudden you realize, you are in a position where you last were, 30 years ago in your mother’s womb.

Once again, from that awkward position, you look at the girl-next-mat and find her drenched in sweat her make-up dripping off her neck. “For better or worse” now you know what it means and you think you have found the one.

The temperature goes up again once more, your eyeball gets stung by sweat and you can no longer see. All you can do is hear instructions and feel your body turning into that of a slimy sea-eel.

After a while, its 140 degrees and start wondering if breathing is voluntary or involuntary. ‘Coz if its voluntary, you’re screwed! You decide you cannot do it anymore and pretend to get unconscious till aid arrives or crab-walk across 20 bodies and then out of the room. But, no, you gotta impress the chick beside you, you are in there for the long haul and you will do it.
So, you push yourself though the end and reach out to grab your towel which is no more capable of providing any wicking or drying effects, instead, its adding sweat on you.

Mustering your remnant energy you slowly walk out, towards the door, towards the door, yeah that’s the way. Swearing you are never gonna be back again, you walk out but then what happens later in the week is the game changer here.

Take up Bikram yoga and your future self will thank you for it.

Suggested Reads

1. Yoga for Beauty: Skin Renewal Detox Tips

2. No Stress Reliever Like Yoga: Interview With Stephanie Mansour

3. Yoga Lingo For Dummies

References: (Proof for skeptics)

[1] Khalsa SBS. Yoga as a therapeutic intervention: a bibliometric analysis of published research studies. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol2004;48:269–85. PMID: 15648399. ^Back to Top^

[2] Catherine Woodyard. Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life. Int J Yoga. 2011 Jul-Dec. 4(2): 49–54. doi:  10.4103/0973-6131.85485. PMCID: PMC3193654. ^Back to Top^

[3] Benavides S, Caballero J. Ashtanga Yoga for children and adolescents for weight management and psychological well-being. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2009 May15(2):110-4. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2008.12.004. Epub 2009 Jan 11. PMID: 19341991. ^Back to Top^

[4] Steffany Haaz, Susan J. Bartlett. Yoga for Arthritis: A Scoping Review. Rheum Dis Clin North Am. 2011 February. 37(1): 33–46. PMCID: PMC3026480. ^Back to Top^

[5] G. Kirkwood, H Rampes, V. Tuffrey, J. Richardson, K. Pilkington. Yoga for anxiety: a systematic review of the research evidence. Br J Sports Med 2005;39:884-891 doi:10.1136/bjsm.2005.018069. ^Back to Top^

[6] Kudesia RS, Bianchi MT.  Decreased nocturnal awakenings in young adults performing Bikram Yoga. ISRN Neurol. 2012:2012:153745. doi: 10.5402/2012/153745. Epub 2012 Apr 12. PMID: 22577578. ^Back to Top^

[7] Ray US, Mukhopadhyaya S, Purkayastha SS, Asnani V, Tomer OS, Prashad R, Thakur L, Selvamurthy W. Effect of yogic exercises on physical and mental health of young fellowship course trainees. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2001 Jan;45(1):37-53. PubMed PMID: 11211570. ^Back to Top^

[8] SBS Khalsa. Increased Hatha Yoga experience predicts lower body mass index and reduced medication in women over 45 years. Int J Yoga. 2011 Jul-Dec. 4(2): 77–86. doi:  10.4103/0973-6131.85490. PMCID: PMC3193658. ^Back to Top^

[9] Pallav Sengupta. Health impacts of Yoga and Pranayam: A State-of-the-Art Review. Int J Prev Med. 2012 July. 3(7): 444–458. PMCID: PMC3415184. ^Back to Top^

Last Updated: May 8, 2014

Next Scheduled Update: July 8,2014

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