People are always asking me what each style of yoga is like and what type of yoga they should do. I will admit I have my preferences, but the questions made me realize that one of the ways I want to share yoga is to help everyone make a decision that is right for them. I want to encourage people to truly be aware of their bodies and make a conscious choice about what they need — a yoga prescription, if you will.
That being said, I needed to go out and do a little bit of research. The first practice I wanted to explore is Bikram Yoga. Not to be confused with power yoga, Bikram is a copyrighted series of 26 poses developed by Bikram Choudhury that includes two pranayama (breathing) practices. The 90 minute class typically takes place in a carpeted room with mirrors, and the room is heated to 105°F with about 40% humidity.
To expand my knowledge of Bikram, I scampered out to a studio to get my feet wet… or my face… or my chest… or how about everything? I was soaked! Here are a few tips and thoughts from my experience:
BREATHE: I know I keep saying this, but in a hot class it’s crucial to breathe. It’s the quickest way to check in on yourself and see how you are doing. It’s best to breathe through the nose. Not only does it help keep your attention and lengthen out your breath, but the nose is designed to filter air and catch toxins before they go into your body, as well as cooling the air down as it goes in.
BE AWARE: Not beware, but BE aware. Because it’s yoga and that’s what the practice is about, no matter what style.
HYDRATION: It’s key in this practice. Since the heat of the room is so high you need to make sure you’re not getting dehydrated. Instead of drinking a ton during class — which they only allow at certain breaks during the practice — try to hydrate before you go to class. If you practice in the morning, hydrate the evening before. If you practice in the evening or afternoon, finish drinking water at least an hour before class. Don’t drink coffee prior to class — I made that mistake! And don’t forget to drink water after class. Coconut water is a great way to rehydrate while replenishing potassium and electrolytes.
DON’T EAT BEFORE CLASS: With any physical activity, it’s important to practice on an empty stomach. Bikram is no exception.
REST: Even with years of practice under my belt, I was made very aware of this early on in the class. It’s not that the practice is impossible, but as humans with egos we have a tendency to push ourselves too hard and not pay attention to our bodies. All yoga practices are about AWARENESS, so take time to do what you need to care for yourself and rest when you need to.
DRESS FOR HEAT: If you go to a Bikram class in long, thick pants, you will probably be sorry. Wear breathable, lightweight clothing.
BE READY TO SWEAT: You will sweat a lot, so bring a mat, water bottle, and a towel. The grippy towels are really great, but a beach towel works too. Since there is no flow in this style, there is no tripping on the fabric. Sweat is a huge part of the practice. You do need to be ok with sweating. One of the amazing women I work with told me a story about her Bikram teacher encouraging her to let the sweat roll right into her ear (or wherever). At first it was a struggle, then she realized that she actually liked to conquer her desire to wipe the sweat away. It was empowering to let it flow all over her body. I find this SO inspiring to let your body be. Your hair will not be perfect, your shirt will be wrinkly and drenched and there will be sweat on your elbows, but you will be way more present and focused if you don’t let that rule your practice.
THINGS I LIKE: Bikram is an amazing way to detox. There is this sense of WOW I just made it through that and I’m still alive! In some ways it shows you a strength and endurance you never knew you had. You learn a lot about determination and concentration. To be in a hot class working hard is more of a mental thing than physical one. Anytime we bring the mental awareness back into our practice, I like it. The trick is to keep the ego in check so we don’t push too hard. No matter what the practice is like physically, the key in yoga is to not look at the asana (physical posture) as the goal. It’s just a tool to help you integrate more into yourself and into your life. Looking just like the teacher won’t help you have a better practice.
OTHER THOUGHTS: Since it is so hot, it’s really easy to push too hard. Don’t — you can seriously injure yourself. Not unlike any physical practice.
People are either hot or cold for Bikram. They love it or hate it. Bikram is not for everyone, but don’t dismiss all yoga if you don’t like it — just try another kind. There are a TON of options. If there are styles of yoga you’d like me to explore or questions you’d like answered as part of this “Ask Hannah” series, speak up in the comments. I’d like to help you find the “yoga prescription” that’s right for you!
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photos by Bret Linford Photography