Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bikram Diaries, Part 1

There are all kinds of, forgive the pun, hot topics in yoga.  Skyrocketing prices to take class at a studio or to wear the most fashionable yoga clothes, debates about alignment in certain poses, teachers giving hands-on assists to students, spiritual differences and beliefs - there was even a huge debate on a yoga forum about whether you can be a true yogi and drink.  (My vote is a resounding Yes You Can).

One of the more contentious topics you can raise among a cross section of different yogis is Bikram Yoga.  This is a school of yoga in which the same 26 poses (including two pranayama or breathing techniques) are taught in each 90 minute class.  The practice room is heated to approximately 100 degrees, sometimes up to 110, which obviously causes the practitioners to sweat.  A lot.

Its devotees swear by it, some practically deifying the founder, Bikram Choudhury.  They believe the detoxification the heat provides is paramount to health and long life.  Some, however, are uncomfortable by a perceived highly sexualized culture, with the half-naked practitioners dripping in sweat in close quarters.  Some find the idea of the heat itself to be dangerous.  Some are simply bored by the idea of doing the same set of postures, or think it's damaging to push your body too far in the same poses time after time.  Some are turned off by the more physical, almost athletic emphasis as opposed to a more gentle and spiritual emphasis.  And that's not even getting to the reputation that many Bikram studios and instructors have of being unfriendly bullies who believe humiliation is a motivational tool.

Why am I telling you all this?

I received a dozen or so coupons as part of my goodie bag from  Summer Solstice in Times Square. One of them happened to be for Bikram Yoga NYC, New York's first Bikram yoga studio, established in 1999.  I find that, despite having practiced hot yoga before in studios in Virginia and really enjoying it, I held a lot of negative preconceived notions about the practice of Bikram based on what I've heard and read.  I realized none of those things were based on my own personal experience, and decided to change that.

My feelings are so multifaceted and this experience has been so interesting so far that I knew there was no way I'd keep it to one entry.  For now, I'll settle with sharing the basic background of Bikram for those who may have been unfamiliar.  Today was my 5th class and the end of my first week.  I have three weeks left with Bikram Yoga NYC, and I may extend it to a 5th week with Bikram Union Square (hooray for coupons!).

So far, I'm enjoying it more than I expected, but it's also much more challenging than I remember.  I most often practiced hot yoga at a great studio in the Williamsburg, Virginia area called Body Balance in the summer of 2009.  I was there almost every day - that place was my summer home away from home and I could not get enough of the sweaty sweaty room!  I was surprised that I enjoyed it considering normally I am extremely sensitive to being too hot.  I'd rather be too cold any day of the week, but for some reason hot yoga really appeals to me.

I'm not sure if I'm just not used to it or if Bikram NYC's rooms are hotter than the ones I'd practiced in previously, but the first class I took there this past Friday, I was dying.  Luckily, I really liked the teacher and the environment he created.  I didn't think I was going to get yelled at if I came out of a pose (which can occasionally happen in a Bikram class) and I survived.  It's gotten mostly better, and I'm happy to report that of the 4 different teachers I've had, I like 3 of them tremendously.  One...not so much.  But I'll explore that more in a future entry!

So far I am enjoying it, I must admit.  I'm a much more touchy-feely-spiritual yogi and this major hardcore stuff is not usually my cup of yogi tea.  But I'm sticking with it and the best part of it - it's making the unbearable heat on the streets of NYC right now much more bearable!

Are you a Bikram fan or foe?  Or have you even heard of it?  Or does it sound insane?  Or, if you're my sister or Kendra, like heaven?


  1. Yay extreme heat and sweaty-ness! I might put my yoga mat outside tomorrow in the 110 heat index and get a free class in :)

  2. Oh god, seriously! I wish I had the time to do that too, but I'm on a train to Boston tomorrow afternoon and I don't think Marc and his brother and sister-in-law would appreciate my disgustingness ;)

  3. The heat IS heaven!!!
    Bikram, not so much. I get bored with the same 26 poses and no chaturangas. I felt like it wasn't as much of a workout as other yogas, and the only reason my hear rate was elevated was because of the temperature.
    I love me some vinyasas and extreme heat. Hence, Baptiste is my yoga soulmate.


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