A Bikram Yoga Primer from Our Founder1 October 2018
JOURNEY INTO BIKRAM YOGA
There has been a discernable change in the air as nature awakens to the beauty of Spring, and London transforms into a city alive with runners, cyclists, and…yogis! It is a time of the year where moods lift and many focus on healthier living, friendships and travel as the weather warms and endorphins rush. More of us are outdoors engaged in a variety of activities, and having a healthy and fit body becomes even more important as we trade the couch for the kayak or climbing wall!
The practise of yoga is regarded around the world as a highly effective way to tune the body and mind in preparation for an active life. What can make yoga so effective is that it is designed to engage the body without stress or impact, allowing muscles and joints to ‘wake up’ and perform more like they are meant to. Yoga is devised to get the body to optimal performance, while enabling the mind to strengthen and calm in equal measure.
While many yoga practitioners use this ancient practise to improve their performance in other sports (I come across many amateur and professional athletes in my classes), there is a growing trend of people who view yoga as their primary fitness activity due to its ability to tone, strengthen and heal the bodies of practitioners of all ages and fitness levels. It can be of particular appeal to those who may find other activities to be inaccessible due to injury or lack of appropriate conditioning.
‘GYM YOGA’ VS SPECIALIST YOGA STUDIOS
Look around any metropolis and you’ll find specialist yoga studios within easy distance, and recognizing the trend, many gyms have also come to offer a rudimentary yoga class squeezed somewhere between the treadmills and weight machines. While choice is great, the downside is that one can find themselves in a class where the instructor may not have the required level of knowledge to understand the diversity of issues individual students face, and if that instructor is teaching say once a week at a local gym, there is virtually no chance for them to get to know individual students and their issues.
As a result, bespoke yoga studios tend to be highly sought after, as they are often led by dedicated instructors whose sole passion is teaching yoga. These are instructors who have often gone through long and rigorous training programs to achieve a higher level of understanding as to how yoga can be applied to individual circumstances. They will also be far more likely to know the students and give them more specific guidance simply because they are seeing them on a consistent basis, once a week or more.
YOGA, RINSE, REPEAT
With any good, dedicated yoga studio, you should be getting an experience that’s far beyond the typical 50 minute gym yoga session where an instructor (and sequence) may change from week to week, creating an inconsistency in the practise and an inability for the body to improve safely and effectively. The repetition of the postures under an experienced instructor are two key elements in creating a safe and effective environment to achieve improved flexibility, strength, and toning, while working with breath and mindfulness to create the holisitic experience that yoga is meant to be. The third, is the heat, which leads me to the practise that revolutionized the industry: Bikram Yoga.
WHAT IS BIKRAM YOGA AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
The practise was developed around 40 years ago by its eponymous founder, Bikram Choudhary a Calcutta born weightlifter who relocated to America, initially working out of a small studio in San Francisco – the same studio at which I embarked on my yoga teaching career – before moving to Los Angeles where his special brand of yoga developed a rapid following among the celebrity set, professional athletes, politicians and anyone who wanted to learn his exciting new take on a 5000 year old system.
Why the Heat?
A Bikram class is a traditional “hatha” (meaning yoga of movement) yoga class, with two important differences. First, it is a specific series of 26 asanas, or postures, and two breathing exercises, always performed in the same sequence, every class, every time. The result is that with repetition one can more quickly see improvements while ensuring that the body is opening up progressively, resulting in a safer and more powerful and permanent transformation.
The second, most popular feature of Bikram Yoga is that it’s performed in a room heated to 40°C. Definitely not as warm as a sauna, more like being on a tropical beach! During the 90-minute class, due to the sequence of the postures and the exacting heat, you will work every muscle, tendon, joint, ligament, organ and gland, moving oxygen to every cell of the body. And you will sweat! Practitioners of all ages and abilities find they can often quickly build strength, flexibility, balance, and endurance, resulting in a leaner, healthier body and improved wellbeing.
Studies have shown that heat can be highly synergistic with exercise, allowing the body to operate more optimally, ensuring you’re getting the most return out of your exercise routine. While conventional wisdom states that a typical Bikram yoga class can result in a 1000 calorie burn, people have reported higher amounts. This is perhaps why so many Bikram yoga practitioners say they can often begin to feel and see the results within their first few classes. The heat brings significant benefits, allowing for more effective muscle relaxation and blood circulation enabling deeper, more fluid stretching and minimising risk of injury.
Some of the clients I teach are in their late 60’s to early 70’s and can seriously be considered far fitter and active than many 25 year olds.
Detoxification Through Bikram Yoga
Bikram Yoga is regarded by many as a highly effective method of detoxification. While common folklore is that sweat is the method of detox, that is only partially true. Sweat indeed can enable the skin to cleanse, often resulting in clearer, tighter skin, but an even more significant detox occurs internally as blood is pressurized through the organs, helping restore their function and allowing them to work optimally. As just one of many examples, a student of mine who began practicing at our Canary Wharf studio has completely reversed a chronic, serious, liver condition and has added years of quality life ahead.
I’M OUT OF SHAPE, INFLEXIBLE, AND INJURED. COULD BIKRAM YOGA HELP?
Over the years I’ve come to love many forms of yoga, but all too well recognise that some styles, such as Ashtanga, can be incredibly challenging for novices, putting them off from an amazing, life changing experience. A key reason for the popularity of Bikram Yoga is that it is designed as a Beginners yoga series. You don’t need to be flexible or fit to start your practise – on the contrary, the practise is designed to improve your flexibility and fitness, so the weaker, more out of shape you are, the more quickly you should start to see results. Weight loss is yet another benefit. At my yoga centre, we’ve lost count of the number of our students who have shed loads of weight, often in a matter of weeks or months.
Furthermore, if you’re injured, yoga when done safely under qualified instruction can represent a highly effective form of rehabilitation. Chronic back pain, joint stiffness, sciatica, and other common issues can improve, sometimes within a few sessions depending on the degree of injury. Gentle heat and stretching, plus the engagement and ‘awakening’ of every muscle in the body, strength in areas such as the lower back will improve with practise. Of course, if you have a serious pre-existing condition, see your physician and ensure your body is ready for exercise.
Be Consistent and See the Results
I always encourage beginners to ‘listen’ to their bodies and take things gently at first. As you begin to feel release and strength, it’s a sign you’re ready to go deeper. Set only one goal for your yoga – to practise consistently – and allow the process time to work. This basic dedication may lead you on an incredible journey, one which could completely transform your perception of how you are meant to look on the outside, or feel on the inside. We can all to easily get used to the idea that we are meant to be inflexible, or live with aches and pains, and that true fitness is only something meant for others. In too many cases, the biggest obstacle to experiencing results is to allow one’s practise to slide after having made often significant initial steps. It’s common for the new yoga practitioner to experience significant changes within the first few weeks of their practise, but then drop off their regular routine when the next set of changes come slower. The single most important thing at this stage is to Be Consistent. Don’t stop the process just because you’ve the made initial gains in the first few weeks. Use your initial successes as a basis for the next step. Allow your body the time it deserves to continue on the path towards better health and more optimum performance. Enjoy the journey and the amazing changes that a regular practise can bring to body, mind and life.
HOW I CAME TO YOGA
I’m a former investment banker, who knows what 90+ hour weeks are like. While I loved my former profession, I came across my first yoga class, and soon realized how relevant yoga was to helping me stay calm, fit and focused in my own career. After years of practicing many styles, with an emphasis on Bikram Yoga, and seeing my body and life transform beyond expectation, I realized my ultimate passion. I had seen so many fellow practitioners around me, like myself, emerge from the ashes of chronic illness, weakness, injury and inflexibility, to live fuller, richer, healthier lives. So, I gave up the 90 hour weeks, for 120+ hour weeks. In 2009 I founded Bikram Yoga London Canary Wharf, and from the first day placed an unrelenting emphasis on teacher development. The ethos at our studio is that under the guidance of an experienced, passionate and knowledgeable teacher, any student, no matter how weak, old, brittle or broken, has the ability to grow, to change, to heal and to improve in ways far beyond their expectation.
To live life fully, with happiness and passion, is the most important thing we can do, and yoga has helped many achieve that. If you’re in London, I welcome you to come and visit our Canary Wharf and London Bridge spaces and meet some of our yoga teachers and the many dedicated members of the BYL community!
ABOUT BIKRAM YOGA
• Designed for yoga beginners, aged 16-80+, the less fit you are the more quickly you’ll see results.
• 26 hot yoga postures practiced in the safe environment of a room in a room warmed to 40°C+.
• Increases muscle relaxation and blood circulation, minimizing risk of injury. Works out every muscle, tendon, joint, ligament, organ and gland.
• Strengthens the cardiovascular system and flushes toxins from the body through sweat.
• Builds strength, flexibility, balance, and endurance, creating a lean, healthy body & mind.
• Provides improvement of health to all systems, reduction of stress, strengthening of the immune system and healing of injuries.
• Excellent for back and joint problems, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, sleep disorders, digestive problems, tendonitis, skin conditions, and many other common ailments.
• Highly positive effects on mental well-being, making practitioners more balanced, focused and confident. Result is a healthier, happier and fitter person.