What is Bikram yoga?

Primary Care Doctor at Bupa UK
18 April 2017

I discovered Bikram yoga just over three years ago. At the time I was a partner in a busy GP practice, working long days and finding little time for exercise. I knew I needed to make a change and find a way to get more active.

Yoga mats

The most obvious thing to do at that point would have been to sign up for a gym, but I wasn’t keen to repeat my past mistake of paying a monthly subscription and not making good use of it. I wanted to try something new, something low impact, which wouldn’t aggravate an annoying ankle injury I had picked up from running.

I’d heard of Bikram yoga and knew there was a studio nearby, so after doing some research I decided I would give it a go. I signed up for a 20-day trial and can honestly say it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done!

What a Bikram yoga class involves

Bikram yoga is a 90-minute class consisting of 26 postures (positions). You’ll be in a room that is heated to 40 degrees centigrade. Each posture is done twice and every class is the same. I find there’s something very comforting about the repetitive nature of the class once you get familiar with the posture sequence. It’s a great way to put the thoughts of the day to the back of your mind and to concentrate on your breathing.

Focus on just doing as much of the sequence you can. There’s no pressure to complete all the postures. The only thing you’re asked to do from day one is to try and stay in the room if you can for the whole 90 minutes.

The posture sequence works every muscle in your body. Each posture is done twice. The first time allows you to gauge how your body feels that day; the second gives you the chance to push deeper into the posture to enhance the stretch. After the first few classes you become much less aware of the heat.

Bikram yoga teachers don’t usually demonstrate the postures. They talk through the sequence, guiding you in and out of each posture while reminding you of the importance of your breathing. The focus is always on doing what you can to gain the maximum benefit from each posture. The class is split into two sections. First you’ll do a series of postures standing up and then a series of postures on the floor. There are regular short breaks or ‘savasanas’ throughout the class and frequent opportunities to drink water.

My Experience

I will admit that it wasn’t much fun to start with. Spending 90 minutes in a room that felt hotter than the sun and struggling to follow the fast-paced sequence of 26 postures whilst completely drenched in sweat was tough. The whole time my brain was telling me to get out of there.

After my first class I really wasn’t sure if I could hack it. I had never practised any type of yoga before and felt very out of my comfort zone. By the next day I was aching from head to toe, but I was also in a great mood and felt full of energy. I was intrigued and headed back for my second class. Just knowing what to expect made this class more enjoyable and since then I have never looked back!

The benefits I’ve gained

Before starting Bikram yoga I was bothered by back pain. The spine-strengthening part of the class focuses on strengthening your back muscles and this worked wonders for me. After only a few classes, the pain had completely resolved.    

As well as improving physical strength, posture, balance and flexibility, I find Bikram yoga also develops mental strength. I find myself more focused yet relaxed, I sleep better and I can cope better with everyday stresses.

Bikram yoga is a great option to combat lives which are only getting busier and more pressured. It’s a combination of cardiovascular exercise and meditation, which will leave you feeling euphoric and with a sense of accomplishment as you see your practice develop.

I try to practise two to three times a week and I would encourage everyone to give it a go. It really has been a life changer for me!

Quick tips for beginners

What should I wear to a Bikram yoga class?

Wear leggings or shorts and a T-shirt or sports bra (if you’re female).

Should I eat before I go?

It’s best to avoid eating for at least two hours before class. This is to avoid feelings of nausea, which can be triggered by the heat and the frequent posture changes, especially during the floor series when you spend time lying on your stomach.

What should I take to drink before, during and after class?

Focus on hydrating well before and after class, and be sure to bring a bottle of water to have during class.

What else should I take?

You’ll need a yoga mat and a large towel (big enough to cover your mat) and it’s best to tie hair back (if it’s long) and remove any jewellery or make-up.

Dr Lynsey Baird
Primary Care Doctor at Bupa UK

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