An unlikely recipe for a scorching workout: Wall Street executives mixed with raw foodies and a dash of Lady Gaga, heated at 105 degrees for 90 minutes. Bikram yoga is a hot grobby (Greatist lingo for hobby) that preaches a sweat-inducing, body-stretching, and inward-looking workout for everybody from the fitness thrill seeker to die-hard yogi.
Some Like it Hot — The Need-to-Know
Like other yoga techniques, Bikram promises to stretch and strengthen the mind and body through a series of postures and breathing exercises. Invented by yoga “bad boy” Bikram Choudhury in the 1970s, this unconventional style has gained an immense and diverse following over the subsequent decades, with hundreds of official studios operating around the world.
Classes run in near-military fashion and consist of the same 26 posture series each and every time. The copyrighted series (the only patented yoga style to date) is designed to warm and stretch muscles in a specific sequence, with each move building upon the previous posture until almost the whole body is worked.
But the main difference between Bikram and other yoga styles is the heat factor. Each 90-minute class occurs in a sauna-like room heated to exactly 105 degrees, somewhere between a warm bath and “fry an egg on the sidewalk” hot. Some Bikram practitioners believe the heat opens the skin’s pores and helps sweat out toxins, though the accuracy of such claims has yet to be verified. Bikram may also encourage blood flow to injury-prone areas like the knees, making it popular amongst runners.
Yet Bikram and other “hot yoga” styles have drawn fire for encouraging strenuous activity in an extreme environment. Some medical experts warn that pushing the physical envelope in 100+ degree heat could result in dehydration or heat-related illness, especially for individuals with cardiovascular problems. Doctors also warn about the possibility of over-stretching joints during classes where competitive spirits can take hold and heat makes practitioners unusually resistant to pain.
So, When Can I Do the “Half Tortoise Pose”? — Your Action Plan
Individuals with a history of cardiovascular problems should consult with their doctors before trying Bikram, as the heat puts increased stress on the circulatory system. For those who do take the metaphorical plunge, the first class can seem borderline unbearable, with 90 minutes of heat and repetition. But that’s A-OK for practitioners who claim Bikram is as much about exercising control as it is about exercise. For some, the stifling feeling and dizziness fade after a few classes, and the heat becomes tolerable, even enlightening.
The key for survival: hydration. A deep appreciation for sweat can’t hurt, either.
Updated August 2011