November 25, 2013

Bikram Yoga - Yoga Without Soul

Bikram Yoga is the McDonalds of yoga. No matter where in the world you go, Bikram Yoga uses the same script, the same moves, the same set up as every other studio.

Bikram Yoga has been sanitised and stripped down to the bare bones, it is devoid of the spirituality usually associated with Yoga. There is no music or ambience, it is definitely not relaxing. Bikram Yoga is hot and hard.

The instructor speaks to you like a horse race announcer, fast paced and sometimes rather  harshly. You are told how to get into postures but the only example you see is from the students in front. Occasionally an instructor will correct your posture or personalise the script slightly which makes for a refreshing change.

You are not supposed to drink any water until after the first three postures. You can then drink at will but are encouraged to only drink between postures and to not distract other students (by drinking too overtly I assume). This is a bit of a concern as exercising for 90 minutes in 40 degree heat causes a person to sweat considerably and can result in dehydration if that water is not replaced in sufficient quantities. To minimise dehydration I would advise drinking plenty of fluids both prior and following a class. It is also advisable not to consume dehydrating liquids such as coffee or alcohol a few hours before or after class.

In other forms of yoga (Yin Yoga for example) you are encouraged to hold postures and explore your inner depths (soul, spirit, whatever you choose to call it). Not Bikram Yoga; you barely have time to drink a sip of water between poses. They do, however, give you a two minute savasana between the standing series and floor series and then 20 second savasana between each posture following but these rest periods only just give you time to catch your breath, certainly not time to reflect or even think about your soul/spirit/body connection.

Bikram yoga also has the highest incidence of injuries of all types of yoga. This is probably due to students pushing too hard (you are actively encouraged to push hard and told that it is supposed to hurt).

Despite the cons (and there are many) there are also pros. It is reassuring to know that you can go anywhere in the world and be familiar with the pattern of the Bikram yoga class. You may not know the language of instruction but if you have been a student before you will know the format. The format is the same for beginners as it is for advanced students; the only difference is that you are able to go more deeply into postures as your flexibility and strength improve.

Bikram Yoga does increase your flexibility, strength and general fitness. After you’ve showered and cooled off you feel great, if a little drained. You can attend as often or as little as you like, the format will remain the same so your progress is only measured by how intensely you can go into the postures.

My advice to people wanting to try Bikram Yoga is be prepared for a challenging 90 minutes; drink plenty of water before, during and after. Avoid alcohol and coffee for at least 12 hours either side of the class and take it easy, be aware of your body’s limitations and don’t push too hard, especially on your first few classes and until you feel confident with the postures and know how your body feels after a class.

If you’re thinking about trying yoga for its spirituality and/or to connect more deeply with your soul, try another form of yoga, at least initially.

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