Bikram Yoga 101

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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.

Hot Yoga

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.

Physical Emphasis

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.

Bikram Asanas

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.

 

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Which Type of Yoga Is Right for You?

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There are quite a number of types of yogas these days that try to differentiate themselves from one another and emphasize certain aspects of the entire practice of yoga. Traditionally, yoga works on the body, mind and spirit, though most Western yogas tend to focus on the body.

If you live in a moderately large city, you should be able to find several different kinds of studios and teachers, including:

* Hatha
* Iyengar
* Vinyasa
* Kundalini
* Bikram
* Ashtanga

 

Hatha

Hatha yoga is the most traditional of all the forms of yoga, and dates back thousands of years. The name means willful or forceful, and the word is a combination of hat (sun) and ha (moon) representing power and balance.

Hatha works with the energy centers of the body, the chakras, as well as the muscles, flesh and bone, for a holistic workout. The main focus is on surrendering to and perfecting the many poses in this form of yoga. There are levels of practitioners who can do increasingly difficult poses for flexibility. They also improve their focus and concentration through meditation.

 

Iyengar

Iyengar yoga was founded by B. K. S. Iyengar in the 1970s in India and is a form of Hatha yoga. Iyengar’s focus was on detail, precision and perfect alignment for the asanas (poses) he studied and taught, in order to develop strength, mobility and stability. Before his death at the age of 95, Iyengar was said to have perfected approximately 200 Hatha yoga asanas.

 

Vinyasa

Vinyasa yoga is also known as flow yoga. It uses the same asanas as Hatha yoga, but they are put into sequences that move easily from one pose to the next. The word vinyasa means “breath-synchronized movement,” which refers to the movements being performed in conjunction with inhale and exhale patterns and for the asanas to be held for a certain number of breaths.

 

Kundalini Yoga

Kundalini yoga emphasizes the balance of mind, body and spirit through the moving of energy in the body, specifically in relation to the chakras or energy centers. Kundalini yoga has several unique postures designed to move the chakra energy up the spine. It does not require a lot of flexibility or stamina and can be done by anyone at any age. There are no levels to the classes the way there are with other forms of yoga such as Hatha.

 

Bikram

Bikram yoga, founded in the 1970s by Bikram Choudhry from Bengal, is also referred to as hot yoga. It is relatively simple in some ways because it uses only two breathing exercises and 26 Hatha yoga postures done in the same pattern every day for every lesson. However, the poses are demanding and the studio temperatures range from 80F to 110F, with a relative humidity of around 75%. This can also cause severe dehydration and pose a serious health risk to anyone with heart health issues.

 

Ashtanga

Ashtanga yoga is a form of Vinyasa yoga designed to flow the movements together, but in a more rapid and demanding way. It was founded in the late 1940s by K. Pattabhi Jois from India. It has seven main series – a basic one, and increasingly advanced ones. All of them are vigorous and very few practitioners are known to have reached the highest levels.

The type of yoga you choose should be based on your overall physical health and stamina. If you are a beginner and/or senior, try Hatha or Kundalini if there is a studio near you. For something more lively but not too demanding, try Vinyasa. Then see what a difference yoga can make to your health and vitality.

 

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