Bikram yoga was founded in the 1970s by the yoga teacher Bikram Choudhury. It is also commonly referred to as hot yoga, though there are other types of yogas also being done in hot studios these days. Bikram is also referred to as "boot camp" because it drills students in every 90-minute lesson using the same two breathing exercises and 26 Hatha yoga postures done in the same pattern.
In the studio, temperatures range from 80F to 110F, with a relative humidity of around 75%. This is thought to mimic the conditions in India, the birthplace of Hatha yoga, the most ancient form of yoga which dates back to around 1500 BC.
The second theory behind the heat is that it relaxes and lengthens muscles to give a better workout. It is also said to promote weight loss and release toxins from the body. Those who favor Bikram also say it boosts the immune system.
However, doing vigorous yoga poses in such conditions can cause severe dehydration and pose a serious health risk for anyone who has any heart health issues. Therefore, while Bikram studios are popping up everywhere these days, is not recommended for seniors or anyone with an underlying health concern.
Yoga means union - the union of mind, body and spirit. Bikram, on the other hand, is a modern invention that emphasizes physical strength. Yoga is supposed to be non-competitive, but the founder encourages yoga pose competitions to see who can come up with the perfect pose, in order to win various awards.
Bikram Pros and Cons
Bikram came from Bengal on the Indian subcontinent and brought his version of yoga to the US through Hawaii and California. It has gained in popularity due to the novelty of the hot studios and the ease of only having to learn 26 Hatha yoga postures out of the thousands available. These poses can give a good workout in themselves, with little need for a hot studio.
In addition to the health benefits mentioned above, the heat is also supposed to help increase willpower as people struggle to carry out their practice in such difficult conditions. Willpower or not, excessive sweating can cause electrolyte imbalances and result in heart rhythm issues.
If students don’t drink plenty of water before, during and after their workout, they can experience dehydration, which can also pose a serious health risk. Dehydration can lead to an irregular heartbeat and to lower blood volume. Low blood volume can in turn lead to hypovolemic shock, which can even lead to death if not treated promptly.
If you like the postures of Bikram, you should be able to do them anywhere to improve your body without dying of heat prostration. You can find simple posters with each of the asanas listed that you can follow along with. There is no meditation component with Bikram as there is with other forms of yoga.
Is Bikram Right for You?
In addition to the hot studios and asana drilling, Bikram is often referred to as "cult-like" rather than warm and welcoming. The founder and the teachers on his teacher training program have also recently been accused of systematic sexual misconduct with their students.
Any exercise is better than none in most cases, of course, but there are a range of yogas to choose from. Pick a style that matches your age, fitness level and interests. Compare and choose the safest and healthiest for you, with a studio to match.