A Very Hot Experience with Bikram Yoga

“It’s never too late, it’s never too bad, and you’re never too old or sick to start from scratch once again.”

-Bikram Choudhury

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Each of us exercises with a different purpose in mind. Whether we exercise to escape from daily stress, lose weight, gain confidence, or just to be healthy in general. Some of us even view exercising as a challenge to see how far we can persevere and go beyond what our body was once unable to do, without throwing in the towel too early, only to look forward to finally being able to give ourselves a pat in the back for a job well done.

I fell in love with Bikram Yoga in 2008. Having been an on and off yogi for many years, I longed for a new experience that offers the same, if not more, of the mental and physical benefits that yoga offers. I didn’t know what Bikram Yoga was. I just simply walked in to the Bikram studio by my house one day to learn more about it and decided to sign up on the spot.  And I’m glad I did.

So, what is Bikram Yoga?

Founded in the early 1970s by Bikram Choudhury, Bikram Yoga (derived from Hatha Yoga) is a form of hot yoga consisting of 26 postures (each posture is repeated twice) and 2 breathing exercises. Done in a heated room of 105°F (≈ 40.6°C) with a humidity of 40%  for 90 minutes (yes, that’s one and a half hours long). Why the hot temperature? Hot temperature is used to relax our muscles and tendons in order for us to gain more flexibility and go deeper in each pose. Also, hot temperature causes us to sweat more than usual, bringing along the toxics from our body.

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Who can join?

Because of the intensity, Bikram is not recommended for pregnant women or those with high or low blood pressure. Please check with your doctor whether it is safe for you to join Bikram. If you’re not sure if Bikram is for you, check with a Bikram studio that offers a free trial. That way, you don’t fork out money for something that you won’t commit for a long-term. Bikram is for everyone, whether or not you’ve done any form of yoga in your life, and each posture offers an alternative pose (read: easier pose) to prevent injury. Remember, Yoga is not a competitive sport. You can move at your own pace and it pushes you to learn to listen to your body.

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What do you have to prepare before class?

Try to drink a lot of water the day before and eat clean food. Try to avoid sugary drinks, greasy food and dairy. Rest well to prepare mentally.

In your gym bag, you are recommended to prepare:

  • A big, thick towel- Bring this towel to class and lay it on top of your yoga mat.
  • A headband- You might need this to help decrease the amount of sweat that gets inside your eyes. I love this one from lululemon.
  • Hydrocortisone cream- I found it helpful to have this cream handy during the adjustment period (3-5 days of Bikram) where my body is secreting a lot of toxics and my skin is breaking in hives. Apply this cream on irritated areas after shower.
  • A regular towel-Bikram studios usually offer a locker with showers. You can skip bringing your own towel if your studio lends you one with your membership.
  • Toiletries-Most importantly, bring a deodorant. During the first 5 days of Bikram, your body will secrete a lot of toxics which cause bad body odor (gross, I know). Don’t worry, as long as you take a shower and don’t forget to apply deodorant (and perfume), you’ll be fine.
  • A banana-Skip the energy bar, opt for a banana instead. It’s great to crush hunger pangs after your session and it’s also great to alleviate muscle pain.
  • A big bottle of water-Bring this to class. The instructor will let you know when it is okay to drink. Drinking small sips of water is recommended.
  • Clean clothes to change.

Bikram class is toasty.  It is recommended to wear tight, yet comfortable, fitting clothes to class. You will be sweating profusely so opt for breathable, moisture wicking materials. I love these cropped pants , tank top,  and bra – all from lululemon.com.

OK, I’m ready for Bikram. Now what?

Arrive to the studio 15-30 minutes before class. You want to allow yourself to put your stuff in your locker and  familiarize your body with the hot temperature. Keep in mind that arriving late in Bikram is a no-no. Instructors are expected to turn away late comers as not to disturb the flow of the class.

With your big, fluffy towel in hand, sans shoes (barefooted), enter the class quietly. The first thing you’ll notice is how hot the room is and how foggy it is. It’s like being in a giant sauna with 50 other people. You, then, might notice the musky smell. It’s okay, it’s normal. No need to run away. You can do this. If you’re new to Bikram, choose a mat at the very back row, closest to the door. The first front row is reserved for advanced students only. Lay down your towel and if you notice the people around you might be lying down on their back. Do this. This is called Shavasanah, which is done to relax your body and focus on your breathing. Staying still is expected as to respect your fellow yogis in class, even before the instructor is present. Once the class starts, the instructor will identify new members and explain many ways of taking a break from the pose. If the pose is too intense, you may opt either to stay standing up with arms on your sides, or sitting down on your towel with your hands on your lap and focus on your breathing. Remember, no matter how hard the pose is, you are required to breathe in and out through your nose and not your mouth.

Another thing that I’d like to mention is that you might experience dizziness on your first try of Bikram. You might even feel sick to the point of vomiting. Now, I don’t really want to scare you but I was one of those people who did the later. It was not pretty. I was like, “Why did I subject myself to 90 minutes of hell?” That’s why, it is recommended for beginners to sit near the door for easy exit. Keep in mind that your body is trying to get rid of those toxics that’s been in your body for many, many years. I didn’t quit on the first try, although I wanted to. I kept on coming back for more. I can say after the 5th try, my body got used to it and began to reap the benefits of Bikram Yoga.

So, what are the benefits of Bikram?

The many benefits of Bikram are:

  • Stress and anxiety management Bikram focuses on the now. The intense poses and the hot condition really train our brain to switch off the unnecessary things to simply calm the mind by focusing on our breathing.
  • Thyroid regulation-Many of the postures in Bikram work the thyroid thus helping to regulate the gland balancing thyroid levels which causes increased in energy level, weight loss and better metabolism.
  • Improved skin and body conditions  Practicing Bikram regularly causes our face and skin to develop “the Bikram glow” as our eyes become brighter and skin becomes more clear and soft. As you sweat, your pores are opened and cleaned allowing natural lanolin to release through the pores, softening and preserving your skin’s elasticity.  As your body detoxifies, you may eventually never need deodorant again.
  • Weight loss-Bikram yoga is known for burning anywhere from 500 to 1000 calories a session. The harder you work in class the more calories you will burn.
  • A better relationship with your body-We are our harshest critics when it comes to our body. Bikram has taught me to be kinder to my body. I’ve learned what my body is or isn’t capable of doing and how far I can work to improve. I ‘ve learned to focus on my own mat and not to glance over to my neighbor to compare. I’ve learned not to beat myself down if I can’t do a toe standing pose. Out of all of the other benefits of Bikram Yoga, this is the most rewarding one so far and the answer to what I’ve been looking for this whole time. Not the weight loss, not anything else. Just to love my body.