Exercise Science, Yoga

Bikram Yoga: It’s Hot! (Global College of Natural Medicine)

By Jackie Christensen, BS, HHP, NC, MH
Faculty Member of GCNM

A man named Bikram Choudhury developed Bikram Yoga over 30 years ago. At the age of 13 Bikram won the National India Yoga Contest. He then went on to pursue an athletic career as a marathon runner and a champion weightlifter. Then at the age of twenty Bikram experienced a serious knee injury while weight lifting. European doctors told Bikram he would not walk again. In disbelieve he made his way back to India and his yoga guru, Bishnu Ghosh. After six months of yoga therapy his knee had totally recovered and through his own healing regime Bikram Choudhury created Bikram Yoga.

Bikram Yoga is a series of 26 postures conducted over 90 minutes; it begins with one warm up breathing exercise, then progresses through 24 asanas or postures and finishes with one toxin eliminating breathing posture. The series of postures has been systematically formulated to work through the entire body. Each posture is completed twice and prepares the body for the next pose. The asanas and sequencing are designed to warm up and stretch every joint, muscle, ligament, tendon, vertebrae and organ of the body down to the cellular level. By moving fresh blood and oxygen to all areas of the body, all of the systems of the body are restored. 

Bikram Yoga is also known as “Hot Yoga” because one of the requirements is for the room to be heated to be between 95 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit. The idea is that the higher temperatures will help the muscles to loosen more quickly therefore it making for a “deeper” practice with greater flexibility. Bikram yoga teaches you to control your thoughts and emotions in times of high pressure. The hot temperatures also cause students to sweat profusely during practice. All the sweating can help with weight loss and will increase metabolic rate. It also boosts the immune system, by indirectly purifying the blood and circulating the lymph system. Along with the recommended eight-to-ten glasses of water daily, yogis practicing this form should be mindful to consume enough water to replenish the body. Practitioners are advised to drink up to 16 ounces of water two hours before a Bikram yoga session and up to 40 additional ounces during and after the session. The room in which Bikram is practiced is mirrored to allow for greater body awareness and to refine and deepen our postures with easy self-correction. Students are encouraged to look at themselves in the mirror while practicing so they can see if any posture adjustments need to be made.

Bikram started opening yoga schools, firstly in India and then around the world. In Japan, Bikram researched with doctors at the Tokyo University Hospital and was able to prove the medical benefits of his yoga system. These findings were presented in 1972 at the International Medical Conference in Kyoto.

Within reason, anyone at any age can perform the poses, but this style of yoga does require the practitioner to be in better physical condition and have a high tolerance for heat. While the practice is somewhat controversial due to a number of injuries sustained by class patrons, it’s still a popular and beneficial exercise choice.

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