Bikram yoga sounded like a stupid idea. I tried it anyways and have nothing but positive things to say about it.
I don’t like exercising indoors. I like running around outdoors. When I hit the treadmill in February, all I can think of is that I’m working hard but literally getting nowhere. I also can’t stand fitness classes. To me, they seem like forced enthusiasm for becoming less sedentary, like taking a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.
So of course, I don’t like the idea of yoga. It’s hippie-ish and fad-ish. It targets 20 to 30-year-old white females who may also be Zen Buddhists. It markets itself as exercise but involves a lot of sitting down and staying still.
So of course, I already hate the idea of Bikram yoga– yoga in 105-degree weather. Ugh. I am the person who bikes in shorts in 40-degree weather. The only thing I hate more than sweating is sweating when you’re not supposed to, and in my mind, you are not supposed to sweat when you are barely moving.
Well, I attended my first Bikram class (and my fourth ever yoga class) at the Hot Yoga Spot in Albany, and there is a lot more to it than you might think. You know I’ve drunk the Kool-aid when I’m pretty much convinced that the inventor, Bikram Choudhury, is a fricken’ genius. Bikram yoga is practiced at 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 40% humidity to replicate the environment in India, and all Bikram sessions consist of the same 26 poses.
A lot of people say that the heat revs up your metabolism and allows your muscles to work more effectively/efficiently to achieve the correct poses. Another idea is that sweating helps flush out toxins. I don’t buy that. Your metabolism will speed up at a certain point beyond our physiological temperature range, but you will also be hindered from accomplishing strenuous exercise by the fatigue and despair that accompanies heat or cold. The temperature range at which human metabolism increases beyond 37 degrees C is also very narrow, because after that we tend to die. And peeing, not sweating, flushes out toxins.
In my (amateur) opinion, the REAL reason heat is so beneficial is that it functions not as a metabolism-booster, but as a psychological aid in achieving focus and form. I may be wrong, but this is what I observed from attending that class:
1. Each Bikram class consists of the same 26 poses, so the Bikram philosophy clearly emphasizes achieving proper form and attaining perfection. Unlike Vinyassa, which is movement-oriented, Bikram focuses on still poses. Each motion is carried out with deliberation until the final pose is attained and held. The heat and humidity is so pervasive that it forces you to focus on perfecting your poses. I am a very easily-distracted person, so focusing on holding a pose would normally bore me. Bikram, however, simplifies the task– either focus on the heat and suffer, or focus on the pose and survive. The end result is that your mind ends up somewhere in between and you end up dissociating a little (that’s the best description I have). I remember holding a one-legged squat and realizing that both the heat and the muscle pain had faded to a buzz. I was aware that there was heat and pain, but I felt that I could almost choose not to feel it. It was very weird.
2. This may or may not apply to all forms of yoga, but Bikram in particular emphasizes self-awareness. The air is so heavy that every breath you take must be controlled and deliberate. You are physically not allowed to pant or become out of breath. There is also no instructor to imitate, so every movement must be conceived in your mind before it is synthesized by your body.
The purpose of heat is not to speed up your metabolism or warm up your muscles, it’s to slow your mind and body down so you can concentrate on perfecting your pose.
I am a convert.
I highly recommend that everyone who is young and healthy try Bikram yoga at least once in their lives. Just remember to drink a lot water beforehand.