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To be healthy on the outside, one should first focus on the inside. Bikram yoga is based on this principle, and features twenty-six poses, or “asanas,” which are practiced in a heated room that reaches up to 40° Celsius (105° Fahrenheit) at 40 percent humidity.
Bikram Choudhury, the creator of the technique
Bikram is not new. This system of yoga was developed in the 1970s by the Indian national, Bikram Choudhury. He established a specific 90-minute circuit which aims at improving health through balance and by strengthening all of the body’s systems.
Choudhury had practiced yoga in his home country since the young age of three. He was an advocate of yoga but was later injured.
He did not let this become an impediment: with the help of his teacher, he was able to develop a own system of poses that allowed him to rehabilitate himself. He later perfected the combination of eastern and western practices for any age or skill level, and the technique took off around the world. Bikram came to the U.S. in 1973 – by his telling, at the invitation of President Nixon, though whether this is true is unclear. As it gained popularity, he founded his own school in Los Angeles.
Bikram himself has taught many practitioners, given that these classes can only be taught by those certified in the discipline. Bikram yoga made its way to the U.S. and Europe through a series of franchises; because of this, bikram is most popular in both these places. There are approximately 2,000 schools around the world.
Yoga itself makes about US$ 30 million on an international level. The U.S. accounts for about US$10 million of this, given that beyond bikram, twenty million people practice yoga daily across the country.
Training at high temperatures
Practicing in a room heated to at least forty degrees Celsius — 105 degrees Fahrenheit – and at least thirty-five percent humidity is the defining feature of bikram. Although it might be difficult at first, it pays off in the end: the heat helps eliminate toxins, improve strength and flexibility, and helps increase energy. Bikram Yoga Spain members say that the heat creates improvements, especially since the temperature is exactly that used in India, where this system was invented. Moreover, the heat protects the body.
While the heat can be beneficial, it’s also important to take precautions, especially for those with blood pressure concerns. “The heat is an element that is wonderful for joints, to improve injuries, and to lengthen and build muscle tone. But, if you suffer from pain or injuries, especially in the knees and back, it’s important to consult a professional before you try any poses,” explains Leticia Carrera, a licensed pharmacist specializing in biochemistry and nutrition, and director of the prestigious Felicidad Carrera center in Madrid, which specializes in aesthetic medicine.
Carrera explains that the heat, combined with humidity and subsequent perspiration, creates a greater impact than what can be accomplished in dry, room temperatures.
“It can push the limits of poses which you wouldn’t be able to reach in any other way. The only risk is wanting to try too much, too soon without the supervision of professionals.”
In Western culture, bikram is more commonly thought of as a way to relieve stress. The various poses, the heat, and the mental relaxation contribute to a level of wellness we all need. Teachers of the discipline assure that after one bikram class, we all come out as good as new. Ten times more endorphins are released than in other types of exercise. It’s an addictive sport that hooks more and more people every day.
This form of yoga also helps to eliminate toxins, and an effect which can be beneficial towards anti-aging. The exercise helps build vitality on the inside, helping improve our physical state. “The heat and sweat usually have a favorable effect in eliminating toxins through the skin, meaning that practice could be especially helpful in improving imperfections in the skin. Moreover, sweating in this extreme form creates more white blood cells, which helps the immune system,” explains Leticia Carrera.
Carrera recommends that when practicing bikram, be sure to drink plenty of water before and after exercising, but no too much during the session in order to avoid feeling full or weighed down. “Coconut drinks or energy drinks with high levels of sodium and electrolytes after class allow you to recover better after pushing yourself and dehydration.” It’s also vital not to eat two to three hours beforehand, for the same reasons.
With the right precautions, bikram yoga can become the best ally of your health. ■