Looking for a way to jump start your health and fitness plan? Try Bikram yoga. Rooted in Hatha style yoga, the Bikram style, also referred to as “hot yoga,” is a series of 26 yoga postures practiced in a 105 degree studio for 90 minutes a session.
Each pose is held twice for a very specific amount of time and is practiced in the same exact order every session. The Bikram routine never changes and is quite rigid, which is one of the reasons why it’s the subject of criticism from some traditional yogis, but its simplicity is exactly what makes it great for beginners. Newbies get to practice those same 26 poses over and over again each time which helps them get comfortable with the yoga and build confidence in their abilities. Plus, just about all of the poses have beginner, intermediate, and advanced modifications.
A few years back I decided to give Bikram yoga a shot – it seemed like a crazy challenge and the studio in my neighborhood, like most Bikram studios, offered a deal for beginners where you could attend unlimited classes for a week for only 20 dollars.
During the first session I was positive I was going to die. I was dizzy. I had to sit down several times. I kept thinking I couldn’t breathe even though I could. I was assured this was normal for first timers. The goal for beginners, the instructors said, was to simply stay in the room no matter what. So I did it. I stayed in the room, but I suffered. I went home with a headache and slept for a long time. But 2 days later, I went back and tried it again.
This time I hydrated myself properly (nearly 2 liters of water a day) in the days leading up to the session and I felt much stronger; I didn’t have to sit down once during the session. I was amazed at what a different experience I had when I was properly hydrated. Plus, there’s this sort of Bikram “high,” just like a runner’s high, you feel after a session.
After my intro week, I was addicted. I decided to embark on a 30-Day Challenge, and that was when I felt and saw serious changes in my body. Most studios offer a 30-Day challenge. You pay a fee up front and the idea is that you are supposed to do Bikram for 30 consecutive days. If you successfully complete the challenge, you get some kind of a prize. At my studio you earned your next month free. Unfortunately, Bikram is quite expensive at around $170 per month, so of course I was determined to win 30 days free.
I quickly discovered that like hydrating properly, eating cleanly and healthfully made all the difference during my session. I remember about 4 days in I had a bacon cheeseburger and fries and soda for lunch and I suffered through the class. I was dizzy, couldn’t keep my balance, and felt weak and discouraged. But on days when I ate right in addition to hydrating, I felt strong and capable. Yes, it is always challenging and yes you will always sweat, but there are times when it’s a good challenge and you feel strong and confident throughout the class, and I have found that it’s a direct result of how you treated your body that day and the previous day. We all know we need sufficient sleep; we need to drink water and avoid caffeine, and need to eat well. But how many of us actually do it? Because I knew I would be feeling the direct results of what I ate and drank that night in class, it forced me to think twice and make the right choices. I couldn’t avoid class because I had to win my challenge and get my free month! So if I had to go to class, I needed to make it as enjoyable of a time as possible, which required me to take good care of myself in terms of diet, sleep, and water.
In the end, I survived all 30 days and won the next month free. I watched my body contort in ways I never though possible. By day 14 I was doing poses I couldn’t do on day 1 and wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to do. My mind felt clear, my high stress level felt calmed down, my face, chest shoulders and tummy slimmed and my arms, legs and butt became more toned. I’ve always been an athlete, but I’ve never watched my body change in that way right before my eyes, day after day. Simply put: Bikram works.
So why’d I stop? A few reasons: 1) as I mentioned, it is rather expensive, 2) I relocated to a new city and just haven’t found a studio I like yet, and 3) those same 26 postures, while nice in the beginning, can get boring after a while.
Well, there you have it. Bikram, while somewhat controversial in the yoga world, worked wonders for me. The cost is a bit high and the routine can become a bit mundane after a while, but if you’re looking for a new challenge and need to kick start a fitness program, give it a shot and decide for yourself.