My first encounter with Bikram yoga was at a Bikram certified studio, Bikram Yoga Harbourfront, in July 2012 and I was still relatively new to yoga. I only did 4 classes before moving on to other studios, and my memory of the place was vague. The heat was one thing but since I was quite new, coping with the poses was a problem too.
What is Bikram Yoga?
The 26 postures with 2 breathing exercises are to be repeated twice for a total duration of 90 minutes. The room is at least 40 deg C and the humidity is high. You will sweat a lot but the benefits are said to come from the yoga poses that you do and not just from sweating, so it’s not the same as sweating in a sauna.
The next hot yoga place I tried, Hom Yoga, offered the Bikram series under the name of Hot Hatha. I used to do Hot Hatha classes quite regularly but reluctantly. I only did it because I wanted the benefits of hot yoga and only this style of static fixed hatha series will not require arm balancing or any poses where sweat makes it too slippery to perform.
Soon, I got used to slipperiness (always ready to wipe off with a towel on stand by) and transitioned my hot classes to hot flow instead. I secretly hated the Bikram series. I didn’t like heat, I felt that I wasn’t moving much and found it was a waste of time. I also didn’t like repeating the series because I love variety. I need variety in everything. I believe you must have some sucky experiences to appreciate the best ones. The people who loves routine may swear by this series but I am not one of them. I cannot fathom why people like monotony.
Anyway, the studio which offered Hot Hatha usually offered it as 60 minutes classes, sometimes 75 mins. I was secretly happier with this because I couldn’t bear the idea of being trapped in the room for 90 mins and I secretly hated to repeat the poses. Everything was same same but different from a real certified Bikram class and as time passes I had forgotten what a real Bikram class felt like.
For months, since the beginning of 2014, I avoided all Hot Hatha classes due to the fear of boredom and somehow the image of Bikram in my mind got from bad to worse.
However, I decided to give it a shot when an overseas friend asked me to try out a Bikram certified studio, Bikram Yoga Katong (BYK), near our neighborhood. Since it was nearby, there wasn’t much reason not to. This studio was notorious for being the hottest studio in town and I was reluctant but relented.
I have been doing yoga for about 2 years now, is actually familiar with the poses and can do it fairly well compared to my first experience in 2012. It was the only heat I had to deal with this time. The first class almost killed me. I questioned myself why I was there. It was super hot and humid. The moment I stepped into the room I starting sweating. The best part of class was the shower. I started calculating and figured 3 classes would make my 8 day pass worth it. The second class seemed slightly better but I still felt like dying, and was looking forward to go back to vinyasa practice soon. However, on the third day, I found myself looking forward to class. I couldn’t believe it. There were evident changes everywhere. Only in such hot environment would your heart accelerate so much, like a cardio workout. I think the “wanna die” feeling that people experience is when your heart is pumping too fast and you can’t breathe in enough oxygen to support it. The excessive sweating also causes fatigue which adds to the feeling of dying.
By the third class, I was no longer dreading Bikram Yoga. Soon I completed 6 classes during the 8 days and felt like a new person. I went back to my regular studio (now I go to Affinity Yoga) for their version of the Bikram series (they call it Hot B) but it was just not the same. I now understood the difference, and this is probably why I was never hooked on this series when I did Hot Hatha at Hom Yoga. The difference is big yet discreet.
Firstly, the teaching style for certified Bikram teachers are different – they tend to be bossy, military style with very clear instructions, even to the small details like where your eyes should be looking at. Non certified teachers do not really put focus on that area and simply tell you to get into the poses. This small difference actually goes a long way and you’ll feel more from doing the sequence. (However, some may think certain commands are unsafe for the body, like locking knees or pushing yourself with the backbend. I did hurt my back.)
Secondly, the teachers will be talking non stop and will tell you the benefits of each pose – eagle good to prevent varicose veins, compression good for thyroid etc. Hearing all these helps me feel good about my practice. This dialogue as important as explaining how to perform the poses in my opinion.
Thirdly, the heat at BYK is extreme and humid, and that gives the really “wanna die” feeling. That feeling makes you annoyed during the class itself (taking breaks is a normal thing) but the moment it ends it feels so good! To explain how hot the studio is, I shall just say that when I tried the hot classes at Affinity Yoga, I feel that it is not hot at all. I no longer drench in sweat or feel the need to rest halfway (I used to) doing their hot classes. My body seems to have been reprogrammed by the heat at BYK.
After just 3 classes, I could actually feel a difference in my body, and I can say that there is definitely workout done despite the whole 90 mins looking like I barely moved around. I don’t get the same feeling at other studios, no where close even. I would really want to join this studio but I currently have a year + left at Affinity so maybe next time!
For those who want to try Bikram, my advice is you got to try it more than once to give it a fair judgement. It will take a while to fall in love with it so be patient and try it only at certified studios (or rather, just try BYK. It is my new favourite).