Bikram Yoga – The Real Deal Or Just a Lot of Hot Air?

By Ama Singh

Recently I’ve been going through a serious health phase. It’s something that I do occasionally, alongside raw-food weeks and long distance running. It’s alright though, as these phases are short-lived and in-dispersed with bouts of home-cooking and an over indulgence in cream teas. Most recently, a friend and I have tried our hand (and legs) at Bikram yoga. Being a regular yogi, I thought I’d take to the sweatiness easily. I’ve been stuck in a car in hot weather before, so surely yoga in a heated room wouldn’t be a challenge. Not so. What I thought would be my next health fad – transpired to be something very different.

I started preparing for the classes a few weeks before hand. It being sweaty yoga, I knew it would probably involve getting down to the undies. With this in mind, I aimed to be as toned and groomed as possible, although on arriving most people were of various different shapes and sizes – so it didn’t really matter. I thought it may be awkward with my friend Christine, but it really wasn’t; we gave each a once over and then just got used to it. We’d registered and mingled with the other class-members, most of whom seemed like regulars. Then we went inside the heated room and started the trademark twenty-six postures. Initially the heat was calming. Then it was cranked up – and the dripping began. The postures seemed to start of fairly easy, but had their own Bikram twist. I thought, being a regular practitioner of Yoga, I’d find this reasonably tolerable; however it soon got tougher and tougher.

As the instructor rolled through the poses, I was astonished at the speed at which the class was progressing. Barely had I moved into a pose, when we were asked to move on to the next. This was unlike the philosophy that I’d gotten used to. I thought you were supposed to ease your way into the poses through breathing. What I felt with the Bikram class was something far removed – something a lot more entwined with boot-camp than the serenity of yoga. Shortly, I began to feel incredibly drained, light headed and like I was going to pass out. Apparently this is normal. I can understand why some people might argue that pushing your body to such extremes helps attain a level of single mindedness and physical endurance which is like no other; but at the time, all I could think about was whether or not I’d ever be able to do this again. One hour seemed like four.

I got to thinking, I’m sure this isn’t what it’s all about. What about the relationship of working closely with an instructor to understand the movement and control of your body. What about learning to breathe before learning to move? All of these things were quickly brushed upon in Bikram and never fully investigated. I wondered whether that was because the class was heavily full and stringently scheduled. The venue that I’d gone to was obviously very busy, and would clearly continue to operate like a business than a place of discovery. For me, the battle between enterprise and methodology seemed to undermine the purpose of the class. Could these have been better classes with smaller numbers and more time? Eventually, this got me thinking about Bikram Choudhury himself. He’s clearly thought long and hard about the technique. Did he believe it would really kick-off the way it did? As a millionaire, is he still involved with the quality control of classes around the world?

I know that I will always appreciate the benefits of yoga, and I know its practice will be experienced differently by each practitioner; but for now, I think I’ll stick to the kind that I’m used to. On considering recent career choices, I was speaking with my yoga teacher about the prospect of learning to teach it. She asked me how much I expected to earn, and then went to say, it won’t really be much, ‘not unless you’re on TV or have a DVD of course’. Maybe Bikram’s got something going for him, I just wonder what the exact philosophy behind it is.

The Non Resident Indian

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