I recently got an email asking me to give a review of bikram:
Trying to find a measured, non-sensationalist review of Bikram is damn near impossible….As a sane person whom I trust, I’ll have to rely on you. I’m interested in learning more about what you perceive to be the superficial body mechanics benefits — putting aside for the moment any kind of spiritual stillness, endocrine cleansing, emotional uplift, yadda yadda stuff. What’s your take on the upshot for muscles, joints, range of motion, flexibility, strength, etc.? Maybe in contrast to traditional yoga, or traditional stretching? The heat certainly would make a difference in terms of helping warm up your muscles, but other than that?
Sorry if I sound at all grumpy about the topic. I seriously just spent an hour trying to find stuff online…There are a few people who speak in a very straightforward, intelligent way about it, but most of them don’t delve at all into what it does for their body. They’re much more focused on how it makes them feel, how their skin looks, how it makes them sleep better, etc. That’s all awesome… but I want the exercise science geeky goods!!!
I suppose I’ll know more when I try it, but I doubt one time will tell me as much as you’ve learned through regular practice.
I had been planning on doing a review of Bikram and this email gave me a kick in the pants.
I want to start by saying that I am still really new to Bikram and I am by NO MEANS an expert. I know very little but I can tell you what I think. Bikram teachers go to 9 week intensive training to teach and learn this stuff so trust them more than you trust me.
Here’s a regular persons take on Bikram:
Muscles-if you do the postures correctly you WILL strengthen your muscles. After doing it for 17 days, my biceps are defined for the first time in 3 years. My arm strength has improved tremendously and I’m working on my leg strength. My spine strength is through the roof. Since I started my spine is SO MUCH stronger.
Joints-It actually helps your joints because it uses compression so you stop blood flow to certain areas for a period of time and then go into savasana where the blood rushes to those areas and flushes out that area. My joints feel MUCH better. If you follow what the teacher says, your joints should get better and should be protected. They are big on joints!
Range of motion will increase-the 26 posture series works all ways.
Flexibility-I’ve always been flexible but now I’m like OMG flexible. I can now bend from my waist, put my hands beneath my heals, fingertips forward, bring my stomach to my thighs and my head to my calves with no gap at all and then I can straighten my legs until my knees are locked. I can almost now with my legs in front of me sitting with straight engaged legs and a straight spine touch my head to my toes. I am naturally flexible but I’ve never been this flexible.
Some people will be really strong and need to work on their flexibility and others will be really flexible and will need to work on their strength (that’s me). Everyone gets to work on their balance
I’m really concentrating on my leg strength, most specifically my inner thighs! My middle spin is not flexible yet but I’m working on it
I haven’t had a sore neck or back from tension since starting my challenge. My lower spine was sore after one class where I pushed it too much. You get cardio too. My heart rate and cardiovascular system does more in a Bikram class than I used to do in a spin class-hands down, no joke. And just to throw it out there-my digestion has been amazing and I’m sleeping better-for real
All that being said, the beginning and ending breathing exercises are freaky and weird and some of the stuff they say at first struck me as silly and kind of bogus but if you can recognize that for what it is then it’s no biggie. I will say though that more I have practiced that they stuff they say is actually happening so maybe it’s not silly or bogus-I try to keep an open mind. I do think you can most of the benefits of a Bikram practice without buying into all the claims though.
Breathing-Breathing during class (not during the beginning and ending exercises) is really important. Bikram says that if you can come into the room and just breath for 90 minutes then you are already gaining benefits. You should breath normally throughout the postures (that’s your goal) with your mouth closed. The deep, audible breaths that they encourage in other yoga practices is not encouraged in Bikram. Your goal is to breath deeply but quietly and “normally”.
Other Tips-You’re not really supposed to talk during class, you can’t leave class (unless you are going to puke), you have to be 5 minutes early (at least), you can’t really talk in the studio, and you can’t drink water until the first three postures are done. After that you can only drink in between postures so that you don’t distract other people in class. You have to save your questions for afterward.
The teacher DOES NOT do the postures with you. They walk around and talk you through the class. As a beginner, you should never set up at the front of the room because you’ll need to watch the people in front of you for some of the grips and postures. A girl did this weekend (it was packed) and I offered to switch with her and she totally blew me off and told me that she had done yoga before and that she’d be fine. She was so lost and disrupted class because she was so clueless and didn’t have anyone in front of her to watch. The poses are very specific and doing other types of yoga before is helpful but you’ll still need to watch.
The standing postures (at the beginning) work to warm you and that’s where you will really notice where the strength stuff comes in. However, all of the postures really do use strength (if you are doing them correctly). If you don’t feel anything in a posture then you’re probably not doing it right. I know that in Eagle, other than focusing on balance, I didn’t really feel much. After the clinic this weekend, I feel TOO much almost
I hope that helps. I am seriously addicted to this type of yoga. My mind is in a much better place ever since I started and everyone around me can tell. I’m very happy and grounded. I’m working harder in all areas of my life because of Bikram. That being said, I think it’s a very polarizing type of yoga. You either love it or hate it. I can definitely understand why people don’t like it. It’s intense, it pushes you, it’s very repetitive, it’s hot, you sound like a barking seal at the end of class, the teacher yells at you, you’re not allowed to close your eyes, etc., etc., etc. I’m one of those people that loves it. I’m so thankful that I’ve found it and that it has become part of my life.