I remember the first time I went to a Bikram class. I hated everything about it. It was so damn HOT. There were too many people in the room. I was sweating in places I didn’t know I could sweat. It was a free class over Thanksgiving, so the room was maxed out and we were literally mat-to-mat, three rows spanning the entire room. The teacher never stopped talking and he never left the podium. The entire experience felt oppressive. I swore I would never go back again.
Two years later in June, I was doing a dietbet and needed I change from the exercise programs I had been doing. Our local Bikram studio has a new student deal (30 days unlimited classes for $30) and I figured it was time to give it a chance, especially since the one and only time I had gone before it was a free class that was sure to have more students in it than normal.
So I tried it again. It was so HOT and it was so HARD, but the feeling I had afterward got me hooked. Now’s it January and I’m still going. My job sometimes keeps me from making it to the studio as often as I would like, but I try to go at least once a week at the absolute minimum.
Today’s class had me in the front right corner of the room- the very hottest spot with the way the air flows through the room. I hadn’t been to Bikram in two weeks, so I knew it would be a little tough. Bikram is one of those activities that proves the rule that the more you go, the easier it feels- particularly with the heat. You don’t serve yourself well in Bikram if you have overly aggressive modesty when it comes to showing skin. The tinier the shorts and tank top (or just sports bra for the ladies), the easier it is to combat the heat in the room. No one cares if you haven’t shaved your legs in two weeks, or if your belly is not as flat as you would like after having children, or if you’re covered in moles. No one is paying attention to you. Bikram only has mirrors in the front of the room so you can focus on yourself and your form. This practice gives you 90 minutes of complete and total “Me Time.”
The oppressive heat combined with the same set of postures every class almost forces you to go inward. You are so focused on your breath and getting into the pose that it becomes solely about your own body- you can’t focus on anyone else or judge yourself against another because you are in survival mode! Today’s class was a bit like that for me. I had a laser focus on my own body, breath, and heart rate. The sweat is so cleansing to the soul, at least it is to my soul. After class is done and I’m lying in final savasana, I feel sweetly wrung out and connected with my inner self, awed at what I am capable of. They say you never feel more alive than when you are close to dying, and I think that’s a bit extreme a comparison to Bikram, but there is a nugget of truth for this situation. You’re not dying, but you are definitely pushing yourself in a way outside of your norm and that’s GOOD sometimes. We so often sit in our desk chairs at work and let our bodies and minds simply ease along. Bikram takes you out of that and says, “Wake the fuck up! It’s fucking hot in here!”
Sure, there are some things I find problematic about Bikram yoga: the leader/founder of the style has an extremely skewed moral compass that I don’t agree with and is currently running from the law (I’m not joking); I’m not sure how I feel about locking your knee in certain poses (as a student of Vinyasa we are typically told NOT to lock the knee in poses); and there are often few adjustments provided by the teacher.
BUT, the benefits far outweigh the problematic aspects for me. I feel amazing after class. I’ve lost weight, gotten more toned, my anxiety has eased with consistent practice, and most importantly, my lower back doesn’t hurt anymore- something Vinyasa alone has never been able to do for me. I also love the studio I go to. The teachers are fantastic and friendly- they’ve worked to build an incredible community of practitioners.
I still practice Vinyasa and I am training to teach Vinyasa, as Bikram came into my life later and I’m not sure I can commit to the 500-hour at-a-shot training compared to my 200-hour weekend-module training. I highly recommend you give Bikram a try if you haven’t before. It has been amazing addition to my yoga practice and could be good for you too. As always, trust your intuition to keep you safe in ANY yoga class.