Over 16 million Americans practice yoga, a figure that's increased drastically in the last year, according to a recent survey from Yoga Journal. But if you're not up to speed on your different kinds of yoga, you may merely want to take note of the hottest one around--literally.
Bikram yoga was named after its founder, Bikram Choudhury. A class consists of a series of 26 poses that are performed twice. The most distinctive aspect of Bikram is the fact that poses are done in a room that's heated in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
"Classes consist of standing postures, back bends, forward bends, and sitting twists," said Rene Holloway, a Bikram yoga instructor in Berkeley, Calif.
"The way heat is used in Bikram is extraordinary--you go deep into a pose, and the heat allows your body to become more flexible," said Holloway.
Other purported health benefits include the release of toxins in your body through sweating, as well as work on internal organs in addition to muscles and joints.
Best of all, despite Choudhury's reputation as the drill sergeant of yoga, anyone can practice Bikram. "I've seen a lot of people with chronic illnesses like diabetes benefit from the poses," said Holloway.
Hollywood celebrities like Goldie Hahn have sworn by Bikram yoga's ability to help them achieve high levels of performance and heal their bodies while increasing mental clarity.
"It's about strengthening the union between body, mind, and spirit; anyone can do it. It's just a matter of finding the yoga that works best for you," said Holloway.
All the same, the sauna effect might not be the best way to go about doing yoga for some people. Richard Miller, cofounder of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, has said that practitioners of yoga with high blood pressure and other ailments should check with their doctors before doing Bikram.
"And of course, bring towels, dress comfortably, and bring lots and lots of water," added Holloway.
I practice Ashtanga yoga 2 -3 days a week and once a week I do Iyengar. Last year I gave Bikram a try because they had a $10 for 10 classes special. I didn't like the heat, the teachers (cultish and on headphones and kind of rude), and the the students who were there merely to stretch and sweat and nothing else.
That said, I do drop in classes once in a while. I have chronic low back problems which come and go, and for some weird reason the intense heat of Bikram and the back sequences (which are pretty standard stuff) provide the relief I need to completely get rid of the backaches and they don't come back for a while either. I think it may be the heat but it does provide me relief.
By the way the heat does not allow your body to become more flexible. It becomes more flexible just for that time period you are in the heat. As soon as you leave your body is back to what it was. That's why I think it's better to build up heat and slowly become more flexible than artifically in an artifically temporary hot environment.
Bikram Yoga is something I am going to try, probably in late March. I have to get my regular yoga routine up to par first. I have heard both arguments for and against, and have decided to try it and make up my own mind. There are about four studios in the city that offer it, so even if my first experience isn't good, I can try again at another location.