What is Bikram Yoga? A Beginner’s Guide to This Popular Exercise Practice

Practicing yoga in a warm, humid room has become popular. For those who don’t know what is Bikram yoga, here’s a guide to this popular hatha yoga. Bikram Choudhury invented this style of yoga in the 1970s, hence its name. It uses heat to amplify the benefits of traditional yoga, helping the muscles stretch more efficiently, increasing blood and oxygen flow, and flushing toxins out. Teachers talk practitioners through the flow without demonstrating moves, creating an atmosphere of meditation and being present in the moment. Bikram yoga is one of several forms of hot yoga. Still, unlike others, it has a fixed sequence of 26 poses and two breathwork patterns moved through repeatedly until the session ends, usually 90 minutes.

Origins Of Bikram Yoga

Bikram began studying yoga in 1969 while in Calcutta, bringing it to L.A. when he moved to California in 1971; by ‘74, two U.S. students helped him open his first school. Being in L.A., the classes soon began drawing the attention of celebrities and investors who hadn’t seen much like it.

Initially, Bikram classes were free and ran very much as they do in India; once the classes Bikram put on started to gain interest, a fellow student told him he couldn’t run it like it was in India. So he soon started charging $5 per class, and its popularity grew.

Realizing the popularity and growth of the yoga he had introduced to the West, Bikram soon devised what would be called the ‘Bikram sequence,’ which includes the 26 postures. Most of the yoga Bikram invented was based on the teachings of B.C. Gosh.

What Is Bikram Yoga?Benefits of Bikram Yoga

Now that you know what is Bikram yoga, what are its benefits? The Hatha poses and pranayama exercise target every body part, keeping it oxygenated and allowing it to stretch. Besides building discipline, practicing yoga in a hot room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit and at a humidity of 40%  is said to have several other benefits:

  • Boosts detoxification and metabolism
  • Relieve stress, calming the nervous system
  • Improves body tone
  • Helps heal chronic pain like arthritis, knee injuries, back problems, etc.
  • Strengthens the muscles of the back and lower body
  • Improves balance and flexibility
  • Improves joint motion
  • Better blood circulation
  • Improves cardiovascular health and helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Improves glucose tolerance
  • Better thyroid and immune system function
  • Improves bone density
  • Relieves constipation

So far, studies are inconclusive as to whether Bikram yoga is more beneficial than non-heated yoga, but it does improve balance, fitness, bone density, cholesterol levels, and glucose tolerance. People with medical conditions should speak to a doctor before starting Bikram yoga.

The Science of Hot Yoga

Even though yoga is a light-intensity exercise, hot yoga sessions can result in high heart rates, increased core temperatures of up to 40˚C, and substantial sweat losses. Shape refers to a study that shows that it might not be safe because its intensity increases the risk of heat-related illnesses. Another study showed that the heart rate doesn’t change much between beginners and experienced practitioners, but there are differences in core temperatures and sweating levels. Experienced yogis can likely push harder as they become more adapted to the heat. The science behind detoxification doesn’t stand according to researchers who say that that’s the role of the kidneys. However, sweat loss can cause dehydration, making taking small, regular sips of water imperative during class to avoid dehydration, heat exhaustion, and sodium loss. However, athletes wanting to prepare against heat stress can benefit from hot yoga. It’s important to know that people with some conditions should avoid Bikram and other hot yoga. These include heart conditions, high blood pressure, and pregnancy. Finally, listen to your body, meaning you should stay hydrated and take a break during class when needed.

Exploring Bikram Yoga Poses

The 26 linked Bikram yoga poses help warm and stretch each muscle, ligament, and tendon in the correct order. Therefore, if you want to know what is Bikram yoga, these are the order of the poses:

  1. Standing Deep Breathing Pose (Pranayama)
  2. Half-Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana)
  3. Awkward Pose (Utkatasana)
  4. Eagle Pose (Garurasana)
  5. Standing Head to Knee Pose (Dandayamana Janushirasana)
  6. Standing Bow Pose (Dandayamana Dhanurasana)
  7. Balancing Stick Pose (Tuladandasana)
  8. Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose (Dandayamana Bibhaktapada Paschimottanasana)
  9. Triangle Pose (Trikonasana)
  10. Standing Separate Head to Knee Pose (Dandayamana-Bibhaktapada-Janushirasana)
  11. Tree Pose (Vrikshasana)
  12. Toe Stand Pose (Padangustasana)
  13. Corpse Pose (Savasana)
  14. Wind Relieving Pose (Pavanamuktasana)
  15. Sit Up Pose (Padahastasana)
  16. Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
  17. Locust Pose (Salabhasana)
  18. Full Locust Pose
  19. Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
  20. Fixed Firm Pose (Supta Vajrasana)
  21. Half Tortoise Pose (Ardha Kurmasana)
  22. Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
  23. Rabbit Pose (Sasangasana)
  24. Sitting Head to Knee Stretching Pose (Janushirasana-Paschimottanasana)
  25. Half Lord Of The Fishes (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
  26. Skull Shining Breathing (Kapalbhati Pranayama)

Yogajala lists the 26 poses correctly and gives instructions on how to practice them if you want to practice them at home before a Bikram yoga class.

How Bikram Yoga Can Transform Your Body

Bikram yoga can transform the body in several ways: Increased Flexibility – Hot yoga allows you to warm up your muscles before stretching, increasing their flexibility and range of motion in your joints. A study published in March 2013 found that after eight weeks, participants of Bikram yoga saw improved flexibility in their lower back, hamstrings, and shoulders. Increased Strength – The same study found that participants became stronger, increasing the weight they could deadlift. Increased Lung Capacity and Oxygen Intake – Mindfulness when practicing pranayama, the breathing techniques required for Bikram yoga, encourages deep, regular breaths. The benefits are increased lung capacity, which decreases with age, healthier lungs, and a better oxygen supply to the bloodstream. Improved Bone Mass – As we age, bone mass decreases naturally, especially in menopausal women, who can lose up to 50% in the first ten years. One study in 2014 showed that people can reverse bone mass loss when exercising in a heated environment, especially in the lower back, neck, and hips. Burns Calories – Compared to a standard yoga class, Bikram yoga helps you burn far more calories thanks to the body’s need to regulate temperature and circulate more blood. The more calories you burn, the better it is to transform into a healthier and firmer body. Boosts Health – Research shows that yoga helps people with type 2 diabetecs better control their blood sugar levels. According to researchers, Bikram yoga practitioners see results after 8 weeks. Furthermore, the intensity of the heat during the practice boosts heart health to the same level as a 3.5-mile brisk walk. Glowing Skin – The heat improves circulation and takes oxygen-rich blood to the skin cells. Therefore, expect to see a transformation of the skin in that it glows. The reason is that sweating encourages collagen production, improving skin tone and hydration.

Discover the Power of Hot Yoga

Once you know what is Bikram yoga, you will also want to discover the power of this hot yoga. Since you need a hot and humid environment to practice it, it’s not practical to do it at home. However, it’s a popular form of yoga, meaning you can find studios in most larger towns and cities. Bikram yoga is different from other types of hot yoga in that it uses the same set of poses every time. This unique feature makes it easier for researchers to study the poses and for practitioners to practice them at home. However, it’s worth noting that the instructors do not demonstrate the moves, but rather provide verbal cues to guide the practitioners. If you’re new to a yoga studio, it’s a good idea to arrive early so that you can introduce yourself to the teacher and let them know if you have any physical limitations. Arriving early also gives you the opportunity to get used to the heat in the studio. Make sure to wear comfortable clothing and bring a towel, water bottle, and any other equipment you may need for the session. It’s important to avoid arriving at the studio feeling hungry or thirsty. Instead, drink plenty of water throughout the day and only sip on water during the session.

The Healing Benefits of Bikram Yoga

Research has proven that Bikram yoga has several physical and mental healing benefits. These include improving heart health, reducing blood sugar, increasing bone density, and encouraging a healthier immune system. However, it also reduces stress naturally, according to a 2018 study on inactive adults after a 16-week hot yoga program. Furthermore, the same group felt they had more control over their behavior and social environment, making them feel they had a healthier quality of life. Furthermore, yoga is known to improve the mood and assist in relaxation. Research has shown it’s an effective way to reduce depression, something that the American Psychological Association also says appears to help. Bikram yoga can help boost a healthier body and mind, thanks to the challenges of the heated environment, encouraging a stronger you.

Unleashing the Potential of Hot Yoga

As you prepare to unleash the potential of a hot yoga class, you don’t need much more than the heat and humidity. However, it would help if you still took a few things to enhance the experience. These include:

  • Have a high-quality yoga mat with an excellent grip to keep your sweaty body from sliding as you move into your poses. Natural rubber is a good choice.
  • Bring a towel to dry your face, hands, or mat.
  • An extra set of clothes since you will probably want to change after your session.
  • Hydrate before your class starts, but you should also have a bottle of water to sip on when needed. By the way, ensure you have an empty bladder before the session to avoid disrupting your practice.
  • Wear breathable and comfortable clothes, and don’t overdress because it does get hot.
  • If you aren’t feeling too well, prefer to skip a class because there’s a danger of over-extending in the heated environment.
  • Don’t push yourself over your limits. If you feel unwell or have an injury, stop.

Why Bikram Yoga is Worth Trying

What is Birkam yoga? While this form of hot yoga is not for everyone, it’s worth trying because of its positive effects on your health and well-being. Many people who love yoga but don’t find it challenging enough love the experience of Bikram yoga. Besides leaving you refreshed and relaxed, you will leave with a sense of accomplishment. The heat makes the body more flexible, enabling you to gain a deeper physical experience from your yoga practice.    

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