Bikram yoga is a style of yoga that is practiced under extreme heat; the thermostat is usually set at 105 degrees Fahrenheit (approximately 40 degrees Celsius) and the room is inundated by high humidity (40 to 60 percent). The goal is to simulate the conditions found in India, the country from which yoga originated. The heat also helps the practitioner’s body attain a level of flexibility that is not easy to reach under normal North American conditions. This helps the student stay in a stretch deeper, longer, and also prevents injuries.
The high temperatures also induce profuse sweating, which can be a useful way to detoxify the body. Because of this, teachers of this system usually ask their students to arrive prepared with at least two quarts of water to prevent dehydration during the 90-minute practice. Bikram yoga is also appropriately named hot yoga.
Bikram instructors guide their students through a specific series of 26 postures, or asanas, each of which is performed twice. They are meant to stretch every muscle, engage the joints, and massage the organs inside the body. There are also two breathing exercises included in the Bikram series. Completing the series is an intense experience, but Bikram yoga is an unapologetically intense system. Students are encouraged to push their bodies to the limit, which is very different from the teachings of most other forms of yoga.
Another distinction from traditional systems of yoga is the missing sun salutations before the beginning of the series and the absence of inversions, usually found toward the end. Sun salutations heat up the body, but the high temperatures in Bikram yoga accomplish the same goal, while inversions are left out because many yoga students do not have the core strength necessary to complete them without injuring themselves. The benefits of inversions, such as increased circulation to the brain, are reaped through other postures that involve bending at the waist and dropping of the head. Practitioners and instructors of Bikram yoga claim many astonishing physical benefits, such as full recovery from old injuries and chronic disease.
There is quite a bit of controversy surrounding Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram yoga, because of a copyright and trademark case regarding his system of yoga. Bikram, who uses his first name only, would like to reserve the name of Bikram for those who have been certified by his Yoga College of India. They must teach his specific series of 26 postures and breathing exercises, at the precise temperature and humidity he specifies, with the studio set up in a prescribed fashion. Anyone else who may want to teach hot yoga may not call it Bikram yoga. His case was settled out of court, but there are many in the North American and Indian yoga communities who feel that Bikram’s exclusive control over postures derived from traditional practice is objectionable. Others, however, agree with his right to control his intellectual property.