You’re never too old, never too bad, never too late, never too sick
to start from scratch and begin again.”
– Bikram Choudhury
WordPress has this cool feature where you can see the terms that people plug into search engines to find your site. I’ve been noticing a lot of people coming here who seem to be Bikram-curious. They want to know what it is and how/if it works.
But by far the most common search term is:
Can Bikram yoga kill me?
So, I’ve decided to answer that directly:
Yes. Yes it can.
Anything can kill you – but fried foods, a sedentary lifestyle or a runaway bus are much more likely to end your life than yoga. So don’t be scared.
Before I attempt to write something defining the practice let me say this – defining Bikram is a lot like explaining love. Everyone is going to have their own interpretation of what it is and what it means to them. This is just mine, in a nutshell. If you have things to add, please feel free to comment at the end of this post.
In my experience, Bikram yoga has three parts. Exercise, meditation and community. Except…not really at all in that order.
Bikram yoga is a series of 26 postures (poses) and 2 breathing exercises which are done in a specific sequence. Class is 90 minutes long in a room that is heated to about 105 degrees. We practice in the heat so that we can safely get a deeper stretch and detoxify the body through sweat.
The class is led by a teacher who will describe the poses using a set dialogue, so the class will be almost exactly the same, every time, regardless of whether you take a class in Miami or Rome. The teacher will not do the postures, he or she will keep an eye on everyone and sometimes walk around the room to offer help or adjustments. Just look around at other students if you get confused about what to do and sit down on your mat if you get tired or overwhelmed.
Bikram yoga is a 90 minute moving meditation. The goal is to use our bodies in such a way that we can begin to still our minds. Taking the postures step by step, focusing on the alignment and the proper form can stop our mind from spinning. We can ignore the rest of the world for that hour and a half, and just concentrate on our breath and being in the moment.
Between each pose in the floor series, we will go into savasana, or “dead body pose.” This is 20 seconds to be still and focus on the breath. You might want to fidget and flop around but stillness is very powerful, just try to quiet the body and mind. (Savasana is also known as the hardest pose in yoga.)
This is a wonderful way to practice compassion. Our bodies are different each day, each class, and yoga teaches us to be accepting and grateful for what we are capable of today. It’s not a competition and no one gets a prize. You win just by showing up.
Those of us who have been practicing yoga for a while tend to find that increased patience, acceptance and gratitude are attributes that follow us off the mat and into the rest of our lives. It’s helped me to manage panic attacks and anxiety and has just made me a happier person. That’s what keeps me coming back…the physical fitness just tends to be a nice bonus.
There is a reason that Bikram yogis don’t do this alone in our own living rooms. For one thing, we couldn’t afford the heating bills, but mostly it’s because we love the yogi community. I happen to be the most introverted, hermit-like person that has ever walked the earth and even I love my Bikram yoga community.
That’s why there is just one type of class – for beginners and experienced yogis alike. We learn from each other. We feel compassion when someone else is having a hard class and accept support when we are struggling. We share our triumphs and celebrate our progress. We talk about why we love this yoga and motivate each other to keep coming, even on the days it’s really damn hard to get to class.
But when you don’t feel social, when you just want to walk into class and not talk to anyone and just do your yoga- there is total support for that, too. This is your class. Your 90 minutes to take care of yourself, whatever that means today.
Yoga means to yoke together. Connecting mind and body, heart and lungs, the individual with the community, the spirit with the divine. It’s about remembering that we are not separate, not alone – and we never were.
So, dear people who want to try Bikram; don’t be nervous.
It won’t kill you. It might just show you how to live.
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