The stellar reviews on Yelp.com were my only motivation for returning to the studio each week for 90 minutes of perspiring hell. Every time I came home swearing under my breath at the state of my body and mind after class, I wondered what it is that the other hot yogis experience that I don’t. Everyone raved about how energized they felt, how they lost weight, didn’t want to each junk food anymore, how it healed old injuries. I felt nothing but dizzy and strung out when I left. The only major difference I noticed was that when I rode my bike home after class my legs were stronger and I could increase the tension on the gears. But when I was expecting a body-altering experience, the bike ride seemed insignificant. I can understand the method to their madness, to sweat out toxins and unclog dirty pores; which is probably more healthy and active that the comparative spa treatment of an $80 facial. But asside from the rebirth of my skin, I didn’t feel like the practice knocked my core into an altered state of living.
It’s also disheartening to experience how vastly different the energy of the bikram class is compared to a classic vinyasa or hatha yoga class. One of the building blocks of yoga, as I have learned it, is acceptance. Acceptance of your body’s limitations. Acceptance of your, and others, skill level. Acceptance of an empty mind. Acceptance of calm and quiet running through your body. The bikram yoga classes bring out a person’s limits, challenges the body’s commitment, brings a competative mindset to the forfront of your practice. The harsh clap that signals a change in pose doesn’t allow you to fall into a flow between poses. The monotone, scripted instructions of the instructor doesn’t allow for creativity or change from practice to practice. Having attention drawn to you in a negative way when you stop to take a drink of water to prevent yourself from passing out because you did not wait until the point in the class when you are allowed to drink. The demand to push your body past its natural point of resistance, which seems strengthening in theory, is very defeating in actuality when you cannot hold a pose long enough. In traditional yoga classes you are supposed to stay in tune with your body’s needs and pains, to listen and obey your body; not the instructor. There is a stronger feeling of pulling the body into a pose in bikram yoga, as opposed to the feeling of gentle pushing the body into a stronger pose in hatha or vinyasa yoga. The lack of force put on the body and mind of hatha yoga is what lets my mind relax and absorb the practice. I suppose the conclusion of this would be that if you are looking for a different way to push you body physically, a new challenge to face, then bikram yoga is something worth trying, but if you perform yoga for the spirituality of the experience, then bikram is going to be a blast of cold water on your peaceful body. Or hot air.
A brief histroy of bikram shows the conceptual differences between the practice and traditional yoga. Bikram was developed by Bikram Choudhury in LA. It is an exercise of 26 posturses performed in a room heated to 105 degrees guided by a specific dialouge of the bikram certified instructors. The sequence of the 26 postures is copyrighted and the studios are franchised by Bikram. There is intense controversy around the term “yoga” used within the Bikram yoga practice. The acient history of yoga poses, which predated by centuries, the ideas of copyright, franchisment, and capitalist nature of today’s society, seems to tarnish the sacred act dedicated to inner growth and awareness, not profit or national acclaim. The documentary “Yoga, Inc.” gives more examples and details on how bikram yoga does not follow so many of the teaches and nature of traditional yoga. I have been to my fair share of yoga studios in the last 2 years. I have always admired their low maintenance decor and operation. I envy the teachers that come to class, not because it is their job or because of the money they are making to be there, but because of their love and dedication to the practice, the desire to help other experience what they do in their practice. They are always friendly and happy, calm and open. I would hate to think that if more “McYogas” pop up around the US, the appeal of the profits, of cashing in on people’s love for yoga, will overhaul the pure, simple joy that traditional yoga brings.