I have now survived two Bikram Yoga classes! I first heard about this class a few months ago from a fellow spin class participant and my curiosity was piqued. I had always thought of yoga as something slightly airy fairy and have tended to value cardio-vascular, vigorous exercise over any other. However, the lady at my spin class is extremely fit and quite a serious gym bunny so when she told me that Bikram Yoga was the toughest workout she had ever done it was only a matter of time! Bikram Yoga was set up by Bikram Choudhury and is now a major worldwide franchise with famous practitioners including Andy Murray, David Beckham, Lady Gaga and Madonna. The class is 90 minutes long and involves 26 Asanas (Postures) and 2 breathing exercise. Okay so far, you may think, but here’s the rub: This takes place in a room heated to 42 degrees centigrade (107 F) and 40% humidity. Now, I am not exactly known for my tolerance of heat so this may seem a strange choice of class for me to be exercising in what is effectively a sauna. However, the Bikram experience does appear to have many benefits. Adherents claim improved flexibility and posture, increased stamina, toxin flushing, injury healing and emotion enhancing. Elite athletes from many sports now embrace Bikram as part of their training regime.
Unfortunately there is only one Bikram licensed studio in Scotland and it is in Glasgow’s West End. Not exactly handy for me to attend on a regular basis. It is also quite a time commitment given that each class lasts 90 minutes. There may be a reason why most of the class participants when I was there were students or retired.
When I first walked into the studio I was hit by a wall of heat, but the atmosphere is extremely calm. It is an oddity to go to an exercise class where there is no pumping music and extreme air con going. There is also something very liberating about being bare feet with minimum clothing on. Men wear only shorts and women shorts and cropped top or vest. The minutes before the instructor enters the studio are very surreal with many participants lying eyes closed on their mats as if sun bathing. The instructor talks the class through each pose, offering corrections to form where appropriate.
In my first class there were several points when I considered bailing. Waves of nausea took over at various stages. It is hard not to focus on the sweat that is drenching every participant and the constant dripping I can see coming from every area of my skin. As for the poses themselves, they are of varying difficulty and my knee injury inhibits several of the exercises. I certainly was not like the graceful image in this picture!
It was kind of more like this:
After my first class was over I had to have a good 5 minutes of my head between knees. I felt thirsty the rest of the day and felt slightly hungover when I woke up the next day. However, I also felt fantastic and was dying to go back. My second class was slightly more tolerable and I focused a lot more on my breathing and form. It is very, very intense. I could hear my heart thundering for much of the class and it is a very extreme experience. I was able to chat to some of the other class participants a little after the class this time and was interested to hear what had brought them to Bikram. I spoke at some length to a middle aged men who described himself as a runner. Like me he reported tightness in his legs, real lack of flexibility etc. He is now a complete Bikram convert. He feels great, is much more flexible and loves the fact that Bikram puts no stress on his joints. I am particularly intrigued by the stories of people who have apparently recovered from devastating injury. I was told about a man in his forties who, like me, ruptured his cruciate ligament in his twenties and has had limited knee movement since. After a couple of months of regular Bikram he can now move in ways that were previously impossible.
I am definitely hooked, but may need to wait till retirement (68, you say, Mr Osborne?) or the lottery win to fit it into my schedule. I don’t think turning my heating up and the full three bars on the fire and doing it at home will work either! Lots to think about and further reading to come.