Is Bikram yoga, often known as hot yoga, really any good for you, or is it just another healthy lifestyle fad? Barely a day goes by without yet another must-drink, must-eat, must-do trend – it can be difficult to know which you should be embracing.
Well, we’re here to tell you that Bikram yoga is very much on the Embrace list. And it’s no new trend, either.
The 26 Bikram yoga postures are taken from Hatha yoga, which has been around since medieval times. Globally recognised for having wide-reaching physical and mental benefits, the primary difference between Hatha and Bikram yoga is the addition of heat. Each 90-minute Bikram yoga session is practiced in a room of 41 degrees and 40% humidity, with the instructor moving through all 26 poses in order.
What makes Bikram so special, then?
We caught up with Yoga Master Bill Thwaites, founder of the prestigious sohot Bikram yoga studios in London, and asked him. His response? It’s like an onion…
Layer 1: Musculoskeletal Benefits
“A lot of people view yoga as a stretching exercise, but as a layer of the onion that’s way down the list. It’s definitely not the major benefit”, Bill points out. I’m surprised: I was definitely in the ‘yoga is for flexibility’ camp…
The major benefit of Bikram is that is opens up the joints. Imagine the humble hip joint, Bill directs. Imagine you go for a run. If the joint is already stiff, all you’re doing is overstraining when you run; the muscle is stiff, so you’re using muscle energy to move it and you’re not going to relax. Instead, if you can find a way to open up that joint you’re going to make it more fluid. Your walking style, running style, standing style, your posture – everything will improve because Bikram gets into your joints.
If you’re stiff, if you have back pain or whatever, you could go to a top Harley Street doctor and they might recommend you have spine decompression. They’ll basically hang you upside down to open your spine and get nutrients and oxygen into the joints. Or, you could go to Bikram yoga. Bill observes that they regularly have referrals from spinal surgeons for that reason.
It sounds incredible, but Bikram yoga has been repeatedly shown to add height. Bikram yoga teachers have to go through a rigorous training program run by eponymous founder, Bikram Choudhury, and as part of the training all measurements, including height, are taken. By the end of the course, every single person has grown an inch: that’s the spine opening up.
“The spine is so critical for health. It’s like the M1; it communicates everything. If you can have a healthy highway for your spine, then everything falls into place. We get a lot of sports professionals, a lot of models and dancers for that reason too. Bikram yoga going to empower you, give you fluidity and rhythm in your movement”.
Layer 2: Mental Stillness
You’re probably well aware of this, but one of the most significant benefits of yoga is that it’s mental as much as it is physical. Practising Bikram yoga regularly can help you achieve a level of mental peace, of acceptance, that carries with you outside the studio. Yoga gives you the ability to drop that self-consciousness we all carry; to drop the drama and be more humble.
Bikram yoga is particularly beneficial because it follows a set routine of 26 postures. Bill observes that the first few sessions of Bikram are most akin to a dancer learning a routine: you’re not fully engaging with the yoga itself, because you’re trying to learn to hold the postures correctly. It’s only once you move past this learning phase that you can truly engage fully, and can focus on achieving true mental stillness.
Most yoga classes will cycle through many different postures, and change each class – which means you’re held back in this learning phrase for longer and your progress is held back. You stay in this inward focus: you’re not connecting in the right way.
Once you’re able to truly engage with the yoga session, and the postures come naturally to you, you’ll see benefits more quickly. Yoga isn’t simply about ‘doing’ postures; it’s about reaching a particular mentality while you’re doing them. That’s one of the biggest benefits of Bikram: you can really learn to let go, and once you let go that’s when you’re really connecting; feeling the posture and feeling the joints opening up. That’s when the magic really happens.
Layer 3: Heat Promotes Health
One of the major benefits of Bikram yoga is the heat in which you practice. The temperature is very specific and precisely controlled to promote health and prevent injury by warming your muscles.
Bill observes that a proper warm-up session should realistically take ~45 minutes if you want get the full benefits of exercise. Bikram yoga eliminates the need for this lengthy warm-up (which, let’s face it, few of us actually do before exercise) because you’re in a hot room. It helps you open up more easily.
The other big benefit of the heat is that you’re sweating out impurities, detoxifying your body from substances which other digestive processes can’t remove. It’s all about getting rid of the heavy metals we have in cities, and finding ways to restore your body to its purest state.
It’s also worth pointing out that sohot are the only studio in the UK that controls the oxygen levels in their hot room. Impurities and allergens are removed from the air and oxygen levels are kept constant, ensuring a optimum supply of pure air while you’re practising.
For you, this means you can go deeper into poses and you’re getting an absolutely optimum workout for your body and mind. There are few places that are truly free of airborne contaminants: sohot Bikram yoga studios are one of them.
Layer 4: Flexibility
Stretching muscles is several layers down in the onion. To do the postures, it’s finding that sense of opening up the joints, and the act of doing that is strength. Flexibility actually has nothing to do with it, which a lot of people are misguided about.
One of the most important things to note about Bikram is that it is not about using your flexibility; it’s not about bending as much as you can. It’s about using your strength and focusing on opening the joints so you can get more nutrients into them. Flexibility is a consequence, not the means.
We were, which is why we’re super excited to be running a We Are Models takeover at sohot studios on Thursday 28th April. As part of our April Exclusive, Handpicked and Free giveaway, we’re inviting We Are Models members to come along to sohot studios for an exclusive tour, talk from Bill and free Bikram yoga session.