Fit Chic NYC’s Blog

Think of it as fierce yoga
February 19, 2009, 11:56 AM
Filed under: Fitness, Yoga | Tags: , , , , , ,

Great question Lynne. Through both my experiences, and research, I find Bikram Yoga to be fundamentally different than other yoga styles. While I’m by no means a yoga expert, I do enjoy the practice and try to take classes at least once a week and experiment with the different styles.

Typically I practice Vinyasa Yoga which utilizes a flowing movement, and at the core of its practice are the Sun Salutations – a series of poses done in a flowing succession. Hatha Yoga is the more popular practice, and is what people usually mean when the refer to “yoga.”  This style has a slower, calmer pace and is about establishing a balance. Both of these styles utilize a variety of poses allowing each practice to vary depending on instructor. There are lots of other styles and if you’re interested, I found a great yoga style guide here.

Bikram Yoga was developed separately by yoga master Bikram Choudhury and is practiced by performing a strict sequence of 26 postures, each performed twice during a 90 minute class. The studio whose class I took, Bikram Yoga Lower East Side, compiled this fun description of the different postures. According to the official Bikram Yoga College of India Headquarter’s website, this sequence is effective because of it’s tourniquet effect. Unlike other yoga practices such as Vinyasa which is designed to create flowing movement and Hatha which incorporates stretching, Bikram poses are designed to stretch, constrict and compress the body to create pressure. This sequenced stretching and compression of various internal organs was designed to help improve circulation, increase joint mobility, boost the immune system, release toxins and stimulate the nervous system.

For example, during my previous yoga training, if I wasn’t flexible enough to have my forehead touch my leg during a pose, it was a stretch for me to work towards. However during the Bikram class, students are encouraged to bend their knees in order to force the forehead to touch the leg in order to create that constriction and compression that the pose was created for. A yoga instructor telling me to bend my knee? This was oddly exciting, until I moved fully into the pose and felt the constriction, ugh!

Oh and that brings up a good point, during the classes I took (which happened to be taught by the same instructor), we were told, not shown, how to move into the designated poses. Unlike the other yoga classes I’ve taken where I could watch and follow the instructor to move into the pose, the Bikram class I took was lead entirely through verbal visualization and encouragement. The 90-minute performance my instructor gave – and I say performance between her description and motivational encouragement and pure stamina to talk for 90-minutes straight in the heated room –  deserves an Oscar. It was very easy to follow and I was able to model my positions after the obvious Bikram experts in the class.

Another main difference I’ve found is in the basic nature and atmosphere of the class. In my other yoga classes, during the practice you are free to move around and readjust. But I found Bikram to be strict. It’s fierce and intense. You follow a precise order of poses and move from pose to the designated neutral stance with precision. Each class is exactly the same and was designed in a precise order and extraneous movement is discouraged. I’ll admit, I felt a little naughty for grabbing my towel to wipe the sweat off my face or readjusting the shorts that were riding up my thighs but after the warm-up, you are encouraged to have water between poses and take breaks when needed.

Although designed for anyone, at any fitness level, in my opinion, Bikram Yoga probably isn’t for the modest or faint-hearted. You’re going to be hot and uncomfortable on top of trying to be as flexible as possible and take each pose to its full potential. You’re going to be disgustingly sweaty. You’re going to want to be as minimally dressed as possible. It’s a challenge, and the first class isn’t going to be fun. But give it that second chance, it is an incredibly rewarding and empowering experience.

Still up for the challenge and interested in trying a Bikram class near you? Here are my tips:

1. Bring multiple water bottles. Better to have extra, trust me, I ran out and was miserable.

2. Start hydrating well before the class.

3. Bring multiple towels. A large bath towel to cover your mat and a wash cloth to wipe yourself down with.

4. Don’t me modest, strip to the essentials. But please, wear the essentials! I saw way more than I signed up for during one of the classes.

5. Be humbled by the experience. Unless you regularly spend and hour and a half in the sauna, the heat will take getting used to. You will be increasing your heart rate, stretching and working towards a total body detoxification. Embrace it.


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