What is Bikram yoga?
While the subject of this blog, Bikram yoga, has been popular since the early 1970s, some of the techniques behind it come from traditional hatha yoga.
Bikram yoga can only be taught by a certified instructor, although some gyms will market classes with similar techniques as heated room yoga or hot yoga.
Many people practice yoga in tandem with other activities such as playing sport or working out with a personal trainer, for all-round body fitness.
The development of Bikram yoga
This particular style of yoga is named after the man who developed it: Bikram Choudhury. Having practiced yoga for several hours a day from the age of four, he became the All-India National Yoga Champion before setting up the Yoga College of India. Today he runs a global network of Bikram yoga studios and personally trains the instructors.
Who can practice Bikram yoga?
People of all ages and abilities can take part in Bikram yoga classes.
While this form of exercise can be beneficial to those with certain conditions or injuries, it’s always worth alerting your instructor and checking with a medical practitioner before embarking on any new classes.
Who can teach Bikram yoga?
Because it’s a specialised form of yoga, only a Bikram Yoga Certified Instructor can teach classes under this name. In order to teach, they will have trained with Bikram Choudhury himself, following an intensive nine-week course of more than 500 hours of study.
What equipment and conditions are needed for Bikram yoga?
As with many other yoga classes, the only requirements for those taking part are a yoga mat and comfortable clothing that doesn’t restrict movement.
However, the most essential factor in Bikram yoga is that the room be heated to around 37°C. This makes the muscles more pliant, which allows the demanding positions of Bikram yoga to be carried out and reduces the likelihood of muscle strain and other injuries. It also helps to build up stamina and endurance.
In the same way that a client working with a personal trainer should keep hydrated through their work out, it’s important for those practising Bikram yoga to drink plenty of water before, during and after the session (see our blog on The importance of hydration).
What happens in a Bikram yoga class?
The class will start with a breathing exercise, followed by a series of 26 poses. Each pose is designed to work the specific muscles, joints and ligaments need for the next, so that movements flow naturally, providing a full body workout.
A final breathing exercise is designed to help eliminate toxins. Classes are always 90 minutes long.
What are the physical benefits of Bikram yoga?
A personal trainer with a client following a Bikram yoga class should notice a difference in their strength, posture and flexibility.
Providing a total body work out, the exercises and the heated environment also offer a range of other benefits, including:
- Strengthening the cardio-vascular system and increasing blood circulation
- Speeding up the metabolism and burning fat more effectively
- Increasing energy levels
- Reducing injuries, strengthening the back, relieving chronic pain from conditions such as arthritis
- Improving breathing
- Helping to remove toxins from the body and strengthening the immune system
What are the mental benefits of Bikram yoga?
Bikram yoga can be beneficial for mental wellbeing (see our blog on Exercise and mental health).
First by bringing positive physical results, such as weight loss and relieving symptoms of conditions from back pain to chronic illness, which can have an affect on mood and mental health.
Second, it can reduce stress, balance moods and help to keep the nervous system and endocrine system in harmony, both of which are important for emotional wellbeing (see our blog on The endocrine system).
Finally, because it’s a disciplined exercise, it can improve willpower, concentration and self-control.
While a personal trainer may recommend the benefits of yoga to certain clients, there are some people it will not be suitable for.
Because exercising in the heat can put stress on the cardiovascular system, Bikram yoga and other forms of hot yoga are not recommended for those who have high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease.
It’s also not suitable for pregnant women, elderly people, children or people who suffer heat strokes.
Those with certain chronic conditions and people who are taking certain medications, including beta blockers, cardiac drugs and some of the drugs prescribed for Parkinson’s Disease, should take medical advice before taking part in a Bikram yoga or hot yoga class.
Participants should stop the exercise if they feel any of the following symptoms:
- Sudden severe fatigue
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or nausea
- Unusually dry, hot skin with no sweating
They should also take a break from the activity and seek medical advice if they feel a flu-like symptoms or unusual irritability.