Bikram Yoga: Worth the Heat?

It’s 5:30 in the morning. You’re locked in a hot room, gasping for your next breath – feeling as if it might be your last – for more than an hour. You’re uncomfortable, you’re in pain and you’re stuck in there with 30 strangers. Sounds like a scene straight out of a horror movie, right? For some, perhaps, but for those who practice Bikram yoga, it’s their daily workout and the most relaxed they’ll be all day.

Bikram yoga was developed by Yogiraj Bikram Choudhury. After injuring his knee and being told he’d never walk again, Bikram created the 26-pose series and successfully cured his knee. He began teaching the series, eventually making Bikram well known and practiced throughout the world.

Bikram yoga is considered to have many healing powers. You are taught to control your breathing, thereby increasing the efficiency of your respiratory system. As you’re guided through the postures, your bones, joints and muscles fall into balance while you stretch your body to its outermost limit. There are also benefits to practicing in a heated room: the heat allows for deeper stretches, increasing your heart rate and turning Bikram yoga into an aerobic workout. Plus, it also helps detox the body by opening your pores.

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The 26 poses created by founder Bikram Choudhury.

I’ve grown up struggling with my weight and worrying about my body image. When I decided that I wanted a healthier lifestyle, I opted to give Bikram yoga a try. After some research, as expected of all workout regimes, I found both positive and negative reviews. Some websites even claimed that practicing Bikram might be dangerous!

I’m a risk-taker, so I gave it a shot anyway.

Lacking self-confidence but oozing motivation, I stepped into a local Bikram studio in yoga pants and a tank top. Everyone else was scantily clad (prepared for the unusual heat, clearly). I immediately felt out of place and insecure, but it was too late to turn back. For your first class, you’re given some guidelines emphasizing that “No matter what, you cannot leave the room.” Scary! With more doubts and fears than ever before, I walked into what they call a “torture chamber” – a hot, humid and dark room.

The instructor was helpful and supportive, guiding me through each posture to make sure I was getting the most out of my practice. And after my first class, I felt invincible! I had tackled something I had previously incorrectly assumed only fit, healthy and zen people could participate in. As I walked to my car, drenched in sweat and pride, I felt ready to tell the world about my experience.

For someone who is not well coordinated and who had never been active before, Bikram was not that bad. My body got stronger and more flexible after each class, and little by little I learned to control my breathing. But Bikram is not for everyone. If you’re interested, do your research – and if you dare, join me in the “torture chamber”!