The Pros and Cons of Bikram Yoga

photo by Leo Castillo

photo by Leo Castillo

I am a man and I enjoy yoga.  I make no apologies.  I am accustomed to the Vinyasa style of yoga but have been coaxed into trying Bikram Yoga for the past couple months.  For those unfamiliar with this world, Bikram Yoga is a class of 26 poses carried out in a room heated to 105°F at 40% humidity.  If you’ve never tried it, perhaps these impressions will give you an idea of what you could expect.

1.  It’s a great cardiovascular workout.  Especially during the challenging first half, you can expect to be at or near target heart rate for the duration.
2.  If you enjoy the sweat of a steam room, multiply that perspiration by 10 and you will get an idea of the volume of liquid that will be gushing from your pores.
3.  Bikram Yoga consists of the same 26 poses every time, each held for a prescribed amount of time.  In this sense, you know exactly what you’ll be getting out of a class and can focus on steadily improving those 26 postures.
4.  It’s usually cheaper than other flavors of yoga.  The truth is, most people hate Bikram yoga the first time they try it.  To entice people to stick with it, many studios will offer ridiculously cheap Bikram packages for beginners.  In Chicago, at least one studio offers a month of unlimited Bikram for $29.

1.  If you are not feeling it, it’s 90 minutes of pure hell.  You can cheat your way through the poses, but there is no escaping the heat.
2.  Bikram yoga consists of the same 26 poses every time.  There’s no variation, no new poses to look forward to.  Unless you are self-motivated or competitive, you’re unlikely to make significant progress.
3.  Bikram instructors are somewhat militant.  The exact regimen must be adhered to and this leaves little time for individual attention.  Part of this is due to the fact that the series of poses is actually copyrighted by Bikram Choudhury (which is ridiculous by itself) and deviation is verboten.
4.  There is too little attention given to the upper body.  The first half of the series is devoted to standing,  balancing poses.  Your legs will be exhausted after this section, but the second half is not equally challenging for the upper body.  I typically leave having gelatinous legs but feeling completely fresh from the waist up.
5. I miss the emphasis on Ujjayi breathing I get in Vinyasa.  A strong focus on controlled breathing brings some mental calm and lessens the feeling that you are battling your body.

Have you tried Bikram Yoga?  Add your thoughts in the comments.

May 17, 2009 12:23 pm

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