Everything You Need to Know About Bikram Yoga and How it Can Improve Your Yoga Experience

Learn all of the ins and outs of Bikram yoga, and how you can benefit from it!

Working out with Bikram yoga.

Image courtesy of Very Well Fit.

There are dozens of types of yoga, all of which have varying benefits. So, how do you know which types of yoga are best for you and your desired outcomes? If you are looking for a yoga practice that will help you gain flexibility or experience weight loss, Bikram yoga could be the most beneficial form of yoga for you.

Find out if Bikram yoga is right for you by learning:

  • What Exactly is Bikram Yoga?
  • Benefits to Participating in Bikram Yoga
  • When to Avoid Bikram Yoga
Woman practicing Bikram yoga.
Bikram yoga takes place in a hot environment to enhance the experience. Image courtesy of Healthline.

What Exactly is Bikram Yoga?

And how does Bikram yoga differ from other forms of yoga?

Bikram yoga, sometimes referred to as 26-2, is a form of hot yoga popularized in the 70s by Bikram Choudhury. Traditionally, Bikram yoga is taught in a room at 105 degrees Fahrenheit, with about 40% humidity. When they say it’s hot, they mean it!

A Bikram yoga session lasts for exactly 90 minutes, and the instructor leads you through 26 different poses. You will go through this rotation twice, and hold each pose for 30 to 60 seconds each. There are also two breathing exercises practiced in the duration of a class. This is where the name 26-2 comes from!

Though, keep in mind that the instructor will not demonstrate these poses for you. So, you will most likely be following other students in the class. However, it is the same exact sequence every time, as the instructors are essentially reading from a script. So, the more you participate in it, the less you will have to rely on others in the class.

Bikram yoga also requires students to stay silent and listen to the instructor for the duration of the 90 minute class. The reason behind this is to allow the participants to have a more intentional experience and have a greater meditation experience during the class.

With all of that said, it is important to note that Bikram yoga is not the same as hot yoga. There are key differences between the two, as Bikram yoga follows the same 26 poses, while hot yoga does not follow any specific routine.

The 26 poses of Bikram yoga.
Bikram yoga is a sequence of 26 yoga poses. Image courtesy of East Bay Acupuncture and Natural Medicine.

Benefits to Participating in Bikram Yoga

From weight loss to an increase in flexibility, there are plenty of ways that you could benefit from practicing Bikram yoga.

As with any form of yoga, there are dozens of benefits to participating in Bikram yoga. Here are some of the benefits that are most strongly associated with Bikram yoga:

Increase in Flexibility: There are a few reasons why Bikram yoga is particularly beneficial for those looking to increase their flexibility. The first is the repetition of the same moves. By only doing 26 moves and repeating them twice in the same 90 minute interval allows your muscles to recognize the movement and encourages your muscles to become more flexible.

Also, with Bikram yoga being held in a heated room, the heat itself loosens your muscles, and it encourages greater flexibility. While you may not be flexible in a room temperature environment, the Bikram yoga heated room will encourage flexibility. This is why you will often hear yoga or exercise instructors tell you to “Warm up your muscles” at the beginning of classes. The warmer your muscles, the greater capabilities they have.

Between the repetition of poses and the heated room, Bikram yoga participants see a greater increase in their flexibility than other yoga and hot yoga participants.

Weight Loss: Bikram yoga is the most effective form of yoga in terms of seeing weight loss. Through the high temperature and high humidity in the room for Bikram yoga, it allows participants to drastically increase the amount of sweat that they produce during the 90 minute session. With this, it allows an increase in the amount of calories that you burn as well.

Not only are you burning more calories through the increase in sweat production, but you may also be detoxifying your body in the process. The process of perspiring includes the excretion of toxic elements from your body. This can also lead to weight loss.

Weight loss is actually not just a benefit to Bikram yoga, but also hot yoga. So, if you are not sure if Bikram yoga is right for you, but are looking to experience weight loss, hot yoga could be an ideal substitute for you. However, with Bikram yoga lasting 90 minutes, it is a bit longer than most hot yoga classes. So, you would see results faster through Bikram yoga than through hot yoga.

Avoids Shoulders, Neck, and Wrists: A majority of yoga practices put a fair amount of pressure on the shoulders, neck, and wrists throughout the practice. However, Bikram yoga contains very few poses that put pressure on the shoulders, neck, and wrists. So, if you have any restraints in terms of these three areas, Bikram yoga can be a great alternative to other forms of yoga.

As with all injuries or sensitivities, be mindful of certain poses that may put pressure on these areas, such as the full backbend, within Bikram yoga. These are all poses that can be altered to properly accommodate your needs.

When to Avoid Bikram Yoga

While Bikram yoga has great benefits, sometimes it is not the best option for everyone.

Unfortunately, despite all of the benefits to Bikram yoga, it is an intense workout that is not for everyone. Between the intense heat and the intense stretches, it can cause issues for those that are not careful their first few times participating in Bikram yoga. Make sure you know all of the potential cons to Bikram yoga before engaging in it.

Potential for Dehydration: You often hear that you should only stay in a sauna or steam room for fifteen to twenty minutes. Why is that? It can lead to dehydration and have adverse effects to the positive effects of going into a sauna or steam room. While the ideal 105 degrees isn’t quite as hot as most saunas and steam rooms, it can also lead to dehydration.

Being in the heated room for 90 minutes is not great for anyone. If you want to succeed in a full 90 minute Bikram yoga session, you need to be diligent in properly hydrating before, during, and after.

Keep in mind that with dehydration comes fatigue. If you regularly experience fatigue or experience low blood sugar, proper hydration is key to preventing these effects.

Potential Knee Injuries: While Bikram yoga does not put a lot of stress or pressure on the neck, shoulders, or wrists, it relies quite heavily on the knee. In fact, it mostly requires a locked knee for most poses. This can be particularly dangerous for most people. The knee can become particularly vulnerable when locked, and it can endure injuries just from being locked.

If you choose to participate in Bikram yoga, please approach all poses that require locked knees with extreme caution!

Potential to Overstretch: While a nice benefit of Bikram yoga is that it can increase your flexibility, you have to be careful. Oftentimes, Bikram yoga can lead to overstretching and consequently pulling or tearing muscles. While the heat loosens your muscles to allow them to become more flexible, they can still only take so much. If your muscle is not strong enough to support the stretch, it will lead to you pulling or tearing a muscle.

Bikram yoga teachers will most likely tell the students that it is good to feel pain when practicing Bikram. However, all pain is not good. There is a good type of pain and a bad type of pain that you can feel when exercising. If you are feeling pain, you should be very careful in discerning whether or not it feels as though you are hurting yourself or not. If you don’t know, hold back and do not push yourself.

The Smell: Just like any hot yoga class, it is meant for you to sweat a lot. With that comes a strong odor that stays in the room for the entire duration of the class. If you are not keen on enduring a strong odor for a 90 minute class, you may want to rethink participating in it.

A group class practicing Bikram yoga.
If you’re unsure if Bikram yoga is right for you, try out a short hot yoga class to get adjusted before fully immersing yourself in the Bikram yoga practice. Image courtesy of Men’s Journal.

Of course, Bikram yoga is quite intense, so do not feel bad if you are not up for the challenge. If you feel Bikram yoga is right for you, be sure to research the best practices to survive a Bikram yoga session.

Dean Pinnell

Dean Pinnell is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh studying Communication and Fiction Writing.
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