Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Bikram Yoga Experiment

Bikram Yoga, also called hot yoga, is a style of yoga practice developed by Bikram Choudhury from Hatha yoga. It uses a specific sequence of twenty six asanas (postures) practiced in a room heated to 105 degrees, thus the nickname of hot yoga. I'd never tried it before today because Bikram isn't offered at the fitness center on base, where all group fitness classes are free, and I just can't justify paying for yoga classes at a studio when I can take them for free on base or at home with DVDs. But I have to admit that I was a little curious after spending the weekend with all my cousins at the lake, two of whom have done Bikram yoga for a while and absolutely swear by it.

So I decided to conduct a little experiment today. I don't have access to a Bikram studio, but I do have the internet and YouTube. I don't have access to a special room heated to 104 degrees, but it's June and hot as hell outside. I spent the morning doing some research online as to what the twenty six asanas are, what the two pranayama techniques are, and just generally how to practice the sequence. My plan was to wait until the hottest part of the day (which today was only about 85), take my yoga mat onto the back porch (which is both shaded to protect my fair-skinned self from sunburn and screened to keep away the insects), and try my hand at a self-guided Bikram yoga practice armed with only a water bottle and a print-out chart of the twenty six asanas.

Well I didn't go outside. I went upstairs to our bonus room to do some pre-move organization and discovered that it was 93 degrees up there. To save on energy, we keep the upstairs AC unit turned off most of the time since we don't spend a lot of time up there right now. Since it was hotter upstairs than it was outside, I opted to try my experiment up there instead. It took me roughly an hour to get through the whole sequence, including a quick breather and a sip of water between some of the asanas.

I'm not going to lie, it was very challenging. A lot of the challenge has to do with the fact that I haven't been as diligent with my home practice as I was at the beginning of this year. I could definitely feel the limitations in my flexibility and balance. And I don't know if I was really doing it correctly. I have a tendency to melt into each asana, relaxing my muscles so they can become longer and more supple, but I have the distinct impression that I should have been flexing them during certain asanas in order to work all my muscle groups equally. It would be very interesting to take an Bikram class with a certified instructor to feel the difference.

Overall, I can't say that I fell in love with Bikram yoga but it certainly has my interest. I'll reserve final judgment on the style until after I've taken a real class. Until then, I think I'll go take a long, relaxing shower.

**Update - Okay it's the next day and OMG (!!!) I am so sore! I was already a little sore from trying my hand at knee boarding on the lake last weekend, but that was starting to subside. I am definitely more sore today than I was before, particularly in my glutes, hip flexors, and my entire abdominal wall. Seems like there really is something to this concept.

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