To Burn or Not To Burn. Studio Etiquette. And Demystifying Svadhyaya.
Hot. Steamy. Sweaty. Half-naked bodies breathing. And bending.
Welcome to Bikram—where students do a 26-posture sequence in 105° heat and 40 percent humidity as they follow the teachings of trained yogis who are certified through a 500 hour-Bikram Yoga College of India program. Founded by 67 year-old Yogiraj Bikram Choudhury, Bikram is hailed by sweaty advocates for providing relief from ailments ranging from sore muscles to allergies and congestion.
Bik-What? The 411 On Hot Yoga
Bikram Choudhury, creator of the “Bikram” yoga practice, posed his way to first place in the National India Yoga Championship at 13, where he held the title for three years. After a weightlifting injury, Choudhury practiced yoga daily, healing himself back to health. With his health, he found a new calling: to share his story and his practice as a way to heal the suffering back to strength. Choudhury incorporated 26 well-known asanas (postures) into a specific sequence to be practiced under a set of mandated “conditions.” This is Bikram Yoga.
Each pose is held for over a minute, requiring intense focus and stamina. The class facilitates the mind-body connection, where the strength of the mind builds the strength of the body. Self-belief, body awareness and determination are all active ingredients in building the foundation of the practice. The sequence is taught by a single, barefoot instructor on a carpeted floor. The first part of the class is made up of a “standing series” followed by a “floor series.” A 20-second Savasana (corpse pose or pause for total relaxation) follows each posture.
To Burn Or Not To Burn
Bikram benders often proclaim that the 90-minute class scorches 1,000 calories, helping with weight loss. But before you strip down to your hot pants and run to your nearest sweat chamber, consider that the proclaimed calorie burn is debatable. Dr. Madelyn H. Fernstrom, Ph.D., C.N.S. reveals that an hour-long yoga class only burns 200-600 calories, depending on intensity. Regardless, Bikram’s sauna-like-heat can help purge extra pounds by speeding up the heart rate and blasting away water bloat.
Students often leave the studio feeling skinnier, but this immediate shrinking is attributed to water loss, which may lead to dehydration if fluid intake does not surpass the amount of sweat lost. To know how much water you should be drinking, divide your body weight in half, turn this into ounces, and double this for each hour of hot yoga exercise you take. Add another eight ounces for each cup of caffeine you drink.
Aside from weight loss, breathing in the hot, humid air may help alleviate symptoms of sinusitis and other nasal passage blockages. Dr. Tim Mainardi, adult and pediatric allergist, researcher and educator, explains that the humid air will cause blood vessels in the sinuses to become larger, which may result in an immediate worsening of the symptoms of chronic sinusitis (resulting from inflammation of the tissues lining the sinuses), but will ultimately benefit the breather in the long run. The humidity speeds up the activity of cilia (those hair-like projections lining the airway from the nostrils to the lungs), clearing out foreign particles and toxins that pollute this passageway at a much quicker rate. Dr. Mainardi further notes that the humidity will relieve symptoms of eczema and other symptoms of cold and dry weather.
Walking into a hot yoga studio may seem intimidating. The yogi doctrine requires attention to cleanliness and self-discipline, and students are expected to behave accordingly at all times in the studio. Don’t panic, we’ve got your VIP access into the official rule book of Bikram studio etiquette:
1. Arrive early to class.
2. Use a yoga mat with a bathsized towel placed at the top or yogitoes, the only yoga towel with a patented design that prevents you from slipping.
3. Don’t talk in the yoga practice room.
4. Be still during the Savasanas.
5. Try not to drink water until the water break.
6. Try not to leave the room unless you need an emergency bathroom break, and sit or lay on your mat if you feel nauseous.
7. Clean up your sweat before you leave.
Mirror, mirror on the hot yoga wall, who is the sweatiest of them all? We all have a love-hate relationship with the mirror. We probably look into them too much, and we can’t escape them even in the “torture chamber” of the Bikram studios. But perhaps this is your greatest challenge—to be at peace with your reflection. Perhaps it is the mirror that offers you the greatest reward. Svādhyāya (Devanagari: स्वाध्याय) is a Sanskrit term in Hinduism having several meanings, including self-reflection. While the postures themselves benefit the body, most of us need an equally strengthening mind work out to purge the negative, and preserve the positive. We stare deeply into the mirror, focus steadily, and breathe. Bikram challenges us to leave the outside world, the stress, the distractions, and be at one with and in ourselves. This is “svadhyaya.” This is perhaps the greatest and rarest tool that Bikram can offer: the chance to be at peace with who and what we are. And all of us busy bees can benefit from a little one-on-one and the power of self-love.
More than 600 Bikram Yoga studios exist worldwide from Casablanca, Morocco to Huntington Beach, California. With plans to open even more studios, Choudhury continues to grow his empire along with his estimated $7 million net worth. With a purported collection of 40-plus Rolls Royces and Bentleys, Choudhury rides outside of the traditional yoga doctrine of mindfulness and non-attachment, finding abundance in “things” and not solely in spirit and connection. Whether or not you agree with Choudhury’s personal lifestyle choices, his yoga “product” is undeniably successful.
With that said, Bikram isn’t the only steamy studio where you can find a physical release of tight muscles and bathe in moments of complete psychological bliss. If Bikram’s sweat ridden carpets, frowned upon water breaks, and fiercely regulated room gives you more anxiety than relief, try a sweaty alternative. Moksha Yoga, which hails out of Montreal, Canada, offers an eco-friendly, clean, green hot yoga studio that focuses on peace, community, and compassion. “Moksha,” which means liberation in Sanskrit, uses the core teachings of Eastern philosophy to bolster its hot yoga practice.
As the number of coconut-water-sipping, sweat dripping, euphoria-glistening yogis continues to rise, so will Choudhury’s number of pimped out rides, sex scandals, and court appearances. But fear not, friends, the heat of the hot yoga studio is here to stay, at least for now. And for all you hot virgins, forget your fears, and let it burn.
Kylie Swenson recently graduated from UC Berkeley on a full ride academic scholarship with a degree in interdisciplinary journalism and visual arts studies. With a passion for exercise, whole foods and nutrition, she works to maintain integrity in the food industry and empower consumers through food education. She obtained her two hundred hour yoga certification in 2012 and currently teaches power vinyasa, sculpt and heated yoga in Central California. She hopes to apply for her PhD next fall and one day educate at the collegiate level to inspire others to collaborate, seek and share the truth so that we can all live better, healthier and happier!