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My short stint with Bikram Yoga

October 18, 2011

According to Dictionary.com, Bikram Yoga is “a type of hatha yoga characterized by a set series of postures and breathing exercises, performed in a very hot room.”

It’s the “very hot room” part that has most people talking. 105 degrees to be exact. When you first walk into a room heated up to 105 degrees, it’s like getting punched in the gut. You’re not quite sure what happened but you know you didn’t like it.

As a yoga teacher, I am asked all the time about different types of yoga – Bikram especially. So finally, with Groupon in hand, I went to my first ever Bikram Yoga class. Can’t hurt, right? (Famous last words?)

I approached Bikram with a lot of trepidation. I swim in sweat at room temperature so I was not looking forward to sweating more. Or worse yet, having someone else’s sweat splatter on me. And, of course, I was completely unprepared for my first class despite how many times I googled “how to survive Bikram” prior to going.

My first class was not a complete disaster but I was mentally unprepared for how difficult it was going to be. Suffice it to say, I didn’t quite make the 90 minutes. At 60 minutes I had to make the awful decision between walking out with tail between my legs or vomiting in the room. I opted for the walk of shame.

Other people would not willingly return after such a defeat but not me. I couldn’t stand the thought of failing at something yoga-related. So I came back… not just once but TWICE! (My belief is that you need to try something at least 3 times before you can have a respectable opinion on it. Belief excludes illegal and dangerous activities.)

I was better prepared the next time. My husband thought I was crazy as I packed my gear to try again especially when I ranted and raved after the first class. I looked like I was going into battle. I packed my water bottle with ice, wore shorts instead of pants, I brought a watch so I’d know how much time was left and I firmly planted myself by the door in the hopes of catching any breeze.Β Sure enough, it went much better and I made it through the 90 minutes with a smile on my face.

So the big question is: Will I be back? The answer is a firm NO.

I don’t want to offend Bikram lovers but it simply wasn’t for me. It was complete torture. When I tell people this, they always inadvertently imply that I didn’t have the mental stamina to practice Bikram. Some have demanded that I keep going until I learn to love it. But the truth is I spent all of my time at Bikram focused on making it through the movements and cursing the incredible heat. I wasn’t focused on my body and how it was feeling. I wasn’t thinking about how good it was for me. I didn’t feel glorious and open. I didn’t feel good. And I hated having to lock my knees! Sure, I felt tremendous pride in making it through but I didn’t like where my mind was while I was practicing.

So do I recommend that people try it? Hell yes! I admire the folks who practice Bikram and you should definitely have your own opinion on it. Don’t just take my word for it. But as for me? I will be keeping my distance.

What are your thoughts on Bikram or hot yoga?

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From → Mind, Reviews, Yoga

31 Comments
  1. I have not tried Bikram yoga, but have attended Moksha classes (which I think to be somewhat similar) and regular hot yoga classes… and yep, they are not for me either. I spend the whole class focusing on how hot it is, if I am going to make it, and analyzing how the teacher is not assisting students because the class has 50 people in it. I leave the classes feeling aggravated and energy depleted (almost passed out in my first Moksha class that was supposed to be beginner), so I don’t think that is useful to me or anyone around me after class. πŸ˜‰
    Gotta love this part though -> “Some have demanded that I keep going until I learn to love it.”…. I have experienced this as well and I wonder why? If the type of yoga doesn’t help me feel any better, why keep going? Good for you for knowing when to stop! πŸ™‚

    • I was torn about writing this post because I didn’t want to put off people who might try it and might fall in love with Bikram. I like to think that any yoga is good yoga but the questions kept coming and I just couldn’t lie about the fact that I was no Bikram-lover. But apparently there are a lot more of us than I realized!

    • Kim permalink

      My first introduction to yoga was two months ago and it was a Moksha class. I would classify it as warm yoga…but very peaceful, where you are encouraged to make it ‘your’ practice. Drink water as needed, return to savasana as necessary, etc.. Very peaceful and very rewarding.

      There is no Moksha near where I call home, but there is a Bikrams a short drive away. It is the complete opposite of Moksha. The lights are on, instructions are very loud and demanding. It is not peaceful. Saying that, I have been going daily and love it. I am no longer intimidated walking into the studio and accept that I will do the best that I can do. For a middle-aged man, it has inspired me to eat properly and take care of myself. I may struggle with some of the postures, but I am grateful for the change that it has brought to my life.

      Namaste.

      Kim.

      • Thank you, Kim. Your comment is inspiring! I am wondering now if Moksha classes are available near me! I may or may not try Bikram again. But I do not regret trying it at all.

  2. I had a brief stint with Bikram, too. I started it when I was having some hip difficulties that prevented me from running and other cardiovascular exercise, and I was looking for something that would make me sweat.

    I honestly liked it for the first few months. I looked forward to class, even going twice per week sometimes! Shortly after that, my interest began to wane. First, it occurred to me that many of the poses are bottom-half-centric, meaning, my bum hip was constantly being irritated. My upper body was craving some attention! Second, a dancer by nature, I wanted to FLOW! The static, repetitive structure started to get mind-numbing, and I craved some variation. Plus, I think always knowing what’s coming up next doesn’t do much good for keeping the mind sharp. You need a few curveballs sometimes, ya know?!

    So, in summary, it was more the structure of the class, not the heat, that did me in. I still sometimes attend hot vinyasa classes (at ~95 to 100 degrees) and simply LOVE the combo of flow and sweat!

    • I crave variation as well… Yoga is way too expansive to restrict to 27 poses. πŸ™‚ Granted they are challenging poses. I also like music in my class. There’s simply no room for Bikram. I don’t have the funds to be part of a gym and a yoga studio… let alone TWO yoga studios. A lot of people do seem to be amenable to hot yoga. 95 – 100 degrees seems way more reasonable.

  3. I’m a teacher too, and I’m yet to try Bikram. I get that lots of people love it, but I’m almost positive I’d feel the same as you do about it. I’m one of those people who already has a lot of heat in their body — I don’t feel like I need more. Maybe I’ll try it one day, but probably not anytime soon.

    That said, I’m certainly not going to try and put people off going. It takes all types, as my Mum always says, and I think that applies to styles of yoga just as much as it does people.

    • I definitely don’t recommend it to people who are morally opposed to heat (like my sister!). πŸ™‚ It most certainly does take all types… and like I told Crystal I was hesitant to post this because I don’t want to discourage anyone who is curious but this happens to be my truth and I couldn’t exactly lie to people and say I enjoyed it. (Thank you so much for commenting, by the way!)

  4. I generally do hot yoga which I enjoy but I am very reluctant to dive into Bikram. I tried a sampler of it at Virginia Yoga Day earlier this year and even though it just simulated the first 10 minutes of class, I hated it. I hated the breathing exercise and having to hold certain poses for so long. And while I didn’t get the real feel of what it’s supposed to feel like since the event was outdoors, it was humid enough for me to just want to slink into child’s pose just a few minutes in (i also did other yoga samplers prior to the Bikram bit so I was tired). One of the studios at the event gave me a free pass to come in and try a real class and maybe one day I will but honestly, I probably won’t.

    I think I’m more of a flow yoga girl and like moving from posture to posture rather than hold something for a great length of time. Also the fact it’s the same postures all through class I think I like the fact my usual classes are always different.

    • Oh yes, I agree about that opening breathing sequence. Of all the ways to incorporate breathing into the practice, that one is just so uncomfortable and awkward! My neck always hurts afterward.

      • Jennifer – I never did figure out the whole breathing thing and it made me feel uncomfortable as well.

    • I think hot yoga is great. I prefer it when the studio isn’t ice cold but 105 is a little too excessive for me. You and me, Michelle… we’re definitely flow kind of girls. πŸ˜‰

  5. Nicole Parrot Whitaker permalink

    I like short stints of hot yoga, but when my groupon expires at the end of the month, I don’t renew. For me, it’s a way to rejuvenate my practice and reset my appetite after weeks of neglect.
    I’ll get too busy for yoga and find that I’m only catching one or two classes a week and that the scale reads 2-3 pounds more than it should. The heat reminds me of my drive. It is a little masochistic, I guess, at first. Because I’m able to endure the classes, I feel more confident in being able to endure challenges in my life After a couple of weeks (about 6 classes), I don’t sweat as much and start to notice an improvement in the feel of my skin.
    As for resetting my appetite, it is a big help. I know I can’t eat for a solid 2 hours before I go, so I drink way more water. Afterwards, my thirst is so deep that my belly is full of water for so long that I get in touch with my hunger again and have more control over not eating sugars, which are my weakness.
    As far as bikram goes, blah! Some bikram teachers even clap between those pre-set poses. It was so disconcerting for a flow girl like myself! I opt for vinyasa-type classes that are closer to 90 degrees. The studio I’m going to now has two rooms- one for hot and one for hotter.
    I don’t blame you for not liking it- you gave it a try! And Sam- I wish I could take your class. If u visit Vegas or I visit DC, we’ll have to meet up!

    • Nicole! I have great pictures of us from our Vegas days! πŸ™‚ I will definitely call the next time I am in town and you MUST call me if you’re in my neck of the woods!

      Bikram was tough for me and I definitely couldn’t see myself continuing to do it. But I like the idea of using it as a way to reset. I have yet to try hot yoga but people rave about it! Sounds like it’s an excellent alternative to Bikram!

  6. I just recently tried Bikram myself. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it. I much prefer the nice flow of a vinyasa class. Bikram just doesn’t feel natural for me. I might give it a few more chances but I don’t think I will ever be a full bikram convert.

    • Hate is a strong word and I don’t think I could ever hate something related to yoga. πŸ™‚ But like you, I don’t think I’ll ever be a Bikram convert… Hot yoga though… I think my next thing will be hot yoga.

  7. It’s just fantastic that you tried it in the first place!!

  8. After my first Bikram class, I thought they were all nuts! But I did three classes, so I could say I did it – and got hooked. That was two years ago and I go 4 times a week. For me, it’s much more meditative than any other form of yoga that I’ve tried (and I shopped around) and it’s been better for my body, too. I had a spinal injury a while ago, and the heat has repaired the lingering nerve damage. So, I’m a fan. : ) That said, yoga style is a very personal choice, and it just doesn’t work for everyone. Like Buddha says – it’s just different paths up the mountain!!

    • I’m so glad to hear from a fan!

      I can see how knowing what’s coming next can allow a person to sink deeper into his practice and be completely present instead of worrying about what’s coming.

      I can’t believe the good it’s done for your spine! That’s incredible! Thank you for encouraging others to try it by sharing your story. Go YOGA! πŸ™‚

  9. Anna Skinner permalink

    I love Bikram, but I love it as a really challenging workout that produces results I can see quickly in terms of weight loss and increased cardiovascular fitness, strength, and flexibility. Some people are able to find some serenity in it, but I am typically focussed on challenging myself, and some days on just making it through the 90 minutes. Even the 20 second savasana poses in the floor series, when you are told to completely relax in order to recover between postures, I tend to focus on bringing my heart rate down and find myself mentally psyching up for the next pose; NOT the point of this posture and it’s somewhat counterproductive, but it’s the mindset I get into during a challenging workout–which is what this is for me. There are many benefits to this form of yoga and I have learned how to enjoy the class (I’m happy to share if anyone is interested), even going up to 5 times per week at times. I feel great afterwards and it’s one of those classes that makes me want to treat my body well and put good things in it.

    I’ll admit it’s been a while, but I also love flowing yoga in a nice, cool room. Its a completely different experience; and while I challenge myself (and tend to sweat in just about any class, regardless of the room temperature), the experience is far different. I need to start to make time for “real” yoga. Sammie, I’ll be in touch to find out your teaching schedule!!

    • Your mindset to get through Bikram is a form of yoga! And I can definitely see myself getting through it for the exact same reasons that you just said. And let’s be honest… You look fabulous!! πŸ™‚

      You’ve been emailed my teaching schedule so I better see you there.

      • Anna Skinner permalink

        Awww. Thanks, Sammie πŸ™‚ I will definitely start stalking your classes!

  10. I totally related to your experience and loved reading about it. Thanks!
    The strange thing is that my first experience with yoga, fifteen years ago, started in a Bikram studio, and lasted for several years. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it. I do remember everyone in the class clutching giant bottles of Evian. I remember really liking the repetitive series of poses, and noticing tiny changes in my practice from day to day. I remember the relief I felt when the teacher turned off the heaters for savasana (maybe breaking a Bikram rule.) I guess the lesson is that we’re different people at different times in our lives. I tried a Bikram class a few years ago, and, like you, chose a hasty exit over passing out. These days my challenge is to start a home practice up again, whatever the room temperature…

    • Thank you for taking a moment to read my post, Priscilla! (Looking forward to your tweets as well!)

      “Different people at different times” is a great way to put it. If you told me 12 years ago that I’d be a proponent of yoga, I’d have laughed in your face. Thank you for the gentle reminder that life is too wonderful to believe in absolutes. I may wake up one day and find that I’m ready for Bikram. πŸ™‚ Good luck on your home practice. I struggle with that as well and probably shouldn’t wait for the home yoga studio to finally come to life.

  11. Hi! I have to warn you, as if you can’t already see the length of this response..I’m a yoga nerd so like to gab…
    I have been teaching, studying, and practicing Raja & Hatha Yoga history theory and practice for over 6 years. I just tried my first Bikram class a month ago…I had my reservations, actually I was a Bikram knocker downer..So I decided to look a bit closer at Mr. Bikram and to the context of this method. Just about everything practiced in US is some diluted form of Westernized Hatha. Hatha is meant to “bake the body” and means literally “force”. The aim is always for enlightenment. The only reason the focus turned to the body in Hatha history was because we are trying to become enlightened while we have a body! While we are embodied. The body is a platform for spiritual practice. If we look closer at Bikram, he is practicing deeply the baking of the body, of this vessel to clear it & clean it throughly & systematically to become prepared for the real practice of spirituality….even though that part gets completely left out. Postures where never a real facet of Hatha..(in fact, really there where not that many and the development of them increased over the years). If you were to learn these postures in India you would have naturally been practicing in high heat and humidity which is why he performs them that way. The only thing I wish is for him to speak more to the practice outside of the physical, what do I do with my body now? You know? That’s my hang up..we totally forget to understand the context to why this is all practiced…the teachings become diluted and out of context. As a teacher, I took the 30 day Bikram “challenge” and I have enjoyed it but I think my practice of it will always be short 2-3 weeks…I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone of course especially those who have no history of yoga or of the physical practice.

    Peace & love! Andrea

    • Thank you for pointing out that aspect of Bikram. And you’re right, the explanation for theory behind how Bikram is practiced is sadly lacking. But I guess maybe it’s our responsibility to look it up ourselves? Is that what they’re thinking? They should consider a brochure or intro class then people could explore the spiritual side of the practice. I took 3 different instructors when I tried out Bikram and only one out of the 3 took the time out to point out the nuances of some of the poses which as you know can really make the difference in how a pose feels. That was a good class for me… So though it’s not likely I’ll return I wouldn’t swear it. πŸ™‚

  12. Lindsey permalink

    I’m only new to yoga, and I don’t have the fitness level required to try Bikram yet, but being from Australia, 105 degrees is a pleasant summer’s day, which I jog in for half the year! That said, I gladly tap out when the mercury pushes 115. I find it much harder to do anything in the cooler weather – below 75 and I can hardly stay warm enough not to injure myself. It’s really interesting how what you’re used to affects you. I’d like to get to a point where I can do a good workout regardless of the weather, but I’m not there yet!

    Great blog! Thanks for the interesting piece, I’m sure I’ll try this style out some time. I have to admit, though, given how much I sweat on a 105 degree jog, it could be a messy experience!

    • Anna Skinner permalink

      Lindsey, I have to say that I have seen people of all ages and levels of fitness in Bikram. If you’re the type that will not be satisfied unless you do every single posture starting with Day 1, then it makes sense to wait until you feel that you are physically ready. But if you’re ok with sitting out a few postures and taking breaks when you need them, you can start anytime, and you’ll still get tons of benefits from just sweating out toxins and doing the postures you feel ready for. They tell you that during your first few classes, you should just get used to being in the hot room (which should be easy for you coming from Australia!). No pressure, of course, and as I said, if you’re going to be overly competitive with yourself, you may want to wait, but you may be surprised!

    • I confess to being completely grossed out when some of the sweat from the man next to me landed on me. I think that’s a Bikram hazard. So if you do get messy, you certainly wouldn’t be the only one. πŸ™‚ But Anna is right, at some points it didn’t matter whether I could do the pose or not, I had to sit some out because I didn’t feel ready. I learned quickly after the first class what I needed to do to make it through. I have no doubt that you would as well. Just do me a favor and don’t give up on it after one try. It’s only fair.

  13. I love Bikram. It’s 90 minutes of dying. At the end, I feel like I’ve had many mini heart-attacks and I just completed a marathon. …It gives my system a much needed ‘re-boot’.

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