Most studios and fitness centers offer yoga in a warm or hot room, but Bikram yoga, sometimes called the original hot yoga style, is a whole different ball game. Technically, Bikram is a version of Hatha, a traditional branch of yoga that combines postures and breathing. But it’s not just a style, it’s a specific experience with a cult-like following (Beyoncé included). Every class features the same 26 set poses, takes place in a 105-degree room, and is taught by a Bikram-certified instructor. But the heat and tough postures can provide different challenges than a traditional yoga practice. Here’s the 411 on how to stay safe and get the most out of a Bikram session.
Warm Bodies — The Need-to-Know
Back in the 1970s, Bikram Choudhury (a four-time Yoga Champion of India) created a series of poses for amateur yogis. Since Bikram developed his practice, hundreds of Bikram yoga centers have cropped up around the world, from Serbia to San Francisco. Regardless of location, each sweaty 90-minute class features the same series of postures, such as the half moon and the standing bow. According to the Bikram official website, the heat helps sweat out toxins, stretch muscles, and improve circulation throughout the body.
The heat definitely gets the heart pumping, but the jury’s still out on whether or not it counts as a cardiovascular workout. The evenly paced moves are super low-impact, making Bikram a good option for runners or anyone with sore joints. Research also shows that this form of yoga can boost strength, flexibility, and even aid weight loss Bikram yoga training and physical fitness in healthy young adults. Tracy BL, Hart CE. Neuromuscular Function Laboratory, Department of Health and Exercise Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2013 March; 27(3):822-30.
On the other hand, critics claim that the heat can limber up a body a bit too much, and actually do more harm than good when people are suddenly able to push themselves beyond their usual limitations. The excessive heat can also be a problem for people with cardiovascular issues, high blood pressure, or those who are more susceptible to dehydration or heat stroke. Bikram yoga is a tough experience for a first-timer — the often-crowded room, the heat, the sweat, and the tricky postures make for a serious workout. Before heading into the toasty yoga studio, check in with a doctor if you have or have had any health problems or a history of cardiovascular issues. Ready to sweat? Here are a few extra tips to get the most out of every Bikram session.
It’s Getting Hot in Here — Your Action Plan
- Get prepped. Because the heat can be so hard on the body, it’s important to think ahead before heading to a Bikram yoga class. Start hydrating 24 hours before the class, and avoid eating for 1-2 hours prior to a yoga class to prevent nausea. But don’t make up for lost time by chugging a whole bottle right before walking in the door — overloading on H20 can lead to an uncomfortably full stomach and overactive bladder during class!
- Dress to impress. Pick comfortable clothing that doesn’t chafe or restrict movement when wet. Nobody wants to get bogged down by a soggy cotton T-shirt, so opt for form-fitting clothing. Many people minimize the damage by wearing as little as possible — for men, a pair of spandex shorts, and for women, shorts and a stretchy tank top or sports bra.
- Choose bottle service. Don’t forget to bring water! Place a bottle next to your mat and take small sips as needed. Ideally, hydration occurs before class so drinking water between pose shouldn’t be necessary. However, everyone has different needs, so do what you gotta do! Note that some teachers may not “give” very many rest poses, so it’s important to listen to your body and take breaks (simply stand still, sit, or lie down).
- BYO Equipment. Most studios provide yoga mats, but many people prefer to get schweddy on their own personal mats (hey, we feel ya). Bring a towel (or three) to mop up a slippery sweat pool or use for traction when sweaty limbs start slidin’. Note that sweating regulates the body temperature, so avoid the urge to constantly towel it off. Wiping off sweat can actually make it harder for the body to adjust to the hot room and distract from the flow of the practice.
- Speak up. Before class, let the teacher know about any previous injuries or medical conditions you might have. An experienced yoga instructor can teach variations to reduce stress on a certain body part or make certain moves easier or harder depending on each person’s needs.
- Go your own way. As with any yoga class, it may be tempting to compare your practice with someone else’s. But paying attention to your own body (not what Mr. Gumby is doing over there) is especially important in a heated class, where heat can loosen joints and muscles and make it easier to push beyond your limits. If the heat makes you feel dizzy, take as many breaks as necessary. Most instructors encourage staying in the hot room lying down until ready to participate again. While resting, focus on breathing slowly through the nose.
- Ease out: After class, restore fluids and electrolytes with coconut water or a sports drink, or try plain H20 plus a banana. All certified Bikram studios have showers, so consider rinsing off that eau de yoga before heading back to the outside world.
Have you done Bikram yoga before? How was your experience? Tell us about it in the comments below or tweet the author @SophBreene.