I am late again with my weekly Stretch Note. And my excuse is to do with busy-ness rather than laziness. Helen and I have spent all week exploring new venues for our new business but haven’t found the right place just yet. 

On top of that I have been trying to get back into my own yoga practice after being away and that’s where I was this morning. Yes, rather than write my weekly blog post I was sweating my ass off in Bikram Yoga class!

Now this is a very controversial style of yoga. In fact, it’s so notorious it even has it’s own Wikipedia page which discusses some of the controversies in depth.

What are you on about Victoria?

Bikram Yoga is a system of yoga that Bikram Choudhury synthesized from traditional hatha yoga techniques and popularized beginning in the early 1970s. All Bikram Yoga classes run for 90 minutes and consist of the same series of 26 postures, including two breathing exercises. Bikram Yoga is ideally practiced in a room heated to 40°C (104 °F) with a humidity of 40%.

Sounds scary but where’s the controversy?

It starts with the founder – Bikram Choudry – he is Indian but emigrated to the USA in the 1970s where he started teaching his own unique style of yoga. It quickly became very popular, making him very rich. And, unlike our idea of Indian Gurus who are humble, Bikram bought into the American dream big-style! He bought a big mansion and a fleet of Rolls Royces and thought nothing of flaunting his wealth in public.

Another Americanism was the drive to copyright his method and aggressively pursue those who infringed upon it. While his copyright claims are not definitively resolved (i.e., by any judicial ruling on the merits), Choudhury has extracted legal settlements from a number of yoga teachers and studios. However, in a recently issued official statement, the US Copyright Office concluded that copyright for Bikram’s sequence of 26 postures had been issued in error.

On December 17, 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Otis Wright ruled that Bikram Choudhury does not have copyright protection for the sequence of 26 yoga postures and two breathing exercises commonly known as “Bikram Yoga.” The ruling, in favor of Evolation Yoga LLC and its founders Mark Drost and Zefea Samson, meant that non-Bikram studios are allowed to offer hot yoga classes utilizing that same 26-posture sequence—a legal right Choudhury actively and vigorously contested for several years.

Courtesy of Yoga Journal

Bikram courtesy of Yoga Journal

Then there’s the heat itself – Having a room heated up to around 40°C with such a high humidity feels like a slap in the face when I’m used to Scottish weather. But there you stand, in very little clothing, facing a wall of mirrors and try to get used to being in a sauna AND move at the same time. Obviously, this heat makes you sweat. Excessive sweating can result in dehydration, but can be prevented by simply drinking water (and they tell you when and when not to do that). Also, there is a risk of hyperthermia, which is overheating of the body. Symptoms include nausea, dizziness, or fainting, which can lead to a heat stroke. Simple hydration and resting during class reduces this risk.

Various conditions such multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and some cardiac complications can cause unique sensitivity to heat. Those struggling with these conditions are encouraged to check with their doctor before beginning hot yoga. Additionally, those who take medications for depression, nervousness, or insomnia may also wish to check with a doctor to determine if the heat will feel exacerbated by their medication. And don’t even get me started on the “miracle” cures that Bikram has claimed for his method.

There is also an issue which is not uncommon in the Yoga world and that is S-E-X. At the start of this year five women were suing Bikram Choudhury with allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault. And this is in spite of him being married. And being almost 70 years old. When you’re a guru, I guess people throw themselves at you.

So, why are you going?

I could say “Hate the man, love the method” when it comes to Bikram Yoga. I hate all the showing-off, competitiveness and aggressiveness he brings to yoga but I am really enjoying my experience of Bikram Yoga so far. I practice locally, in the new Bikram Yoga Southside studio, and I really like the staff and owners who are very different from that.

Everything about Bikram Yoga is the direct opposite of what I teach but, as a student, it is just what I need right now. I am happy to go in and repeat the same class again and again because it allows my manic mind to take a break from second guessing what will happen next. Normally when I attend someone else’s yoga class I spend all my time critiquing it. And this doesn’t happen with Bikram, precisely because it is SO different.

I am finding the heat a welcome challenge and feel that it helps me to stretch further than if I were practicing at home. This morning I had a sore neck and I found that it eased out the tension far better then anything else, although a massage would always be welcome! 😉

There are some things that I’ll never like about it – the mirrors being one! It is very off-putting looking at yourself with very little on, all sweaty and red-faced with effort, and, in spite of the teacher’s remarks, you can’t help but use the mirror as a way to compare yourself to others by sneaking a peek out of the corner of your eye. I also don’t like some of the variations of the traditional hatha poses – e.g. triangle pose with a bent knee – but I take it as an exercise in humility and I do what I’m told rather than change it into the “correct” version. I would love a proper savasana at the end too but everyone seems to be in a race to get to the showers first so it rarely lasts longer than 2 minutes. A shame, but I just lie there anyway and then finish slowly with a nice Down Dog as a final stretch (which is definitely NOT in the sequence).

If this has inspired you to try Bikram Yoga check out the new studio in Shawlands where they have a fantastic £20 for 20 days opening offer on. If it has put you off, that’s fine too! My “cool” classes (rather then hot) are still going strong at Battlefield Chiropractic on Monday nights at 5pm (1 space available) and at 6.15pm (2 spaces available). Just call Reception on 0141 636 9110 to book your place.