Hot Yoga: A Beginner’s Guide to Bikram Yoga

Living yoga master Bikram Choudhury is a guru to the stars and the founder of what critics call McYoga – a 105 degree, 26 posture brand of the exercise coming soon to a strip mall near you.

Here we talk to Stevan Falk, Director of Bikram Yoga San Antonio www.bikramyogasa.com

What attracted you to Bikram’s Yoga?

For me, it was an extremely challenging form of exercise that identified lots of weaknesses that traditional western fitness methods (weight training, running) did not. If I am not good at something, that usually means that I need to work on it. It was apparent after the first class that I really needed to work on it. Come to think of it, it is apparent after yesterday’s class that I really need to work on it….

Why does yoga, backed by 5,000 years of practice, retain a reputation for being hokey to the general public?

Hmmm, hokey. I guess the media has made Yoga into a chanting/meditating practice when that is really only one aspect of certain kinds of Yoga. That is certainly an aspect of Yoga that is easy to sensationalize. Combine that with our (Westerners) lack of understanding of Eastern culture and it is easy to jump to conclusions.

Critics say the heat is dangerous. How do you respond?

Driving your car is dangerous. Playing sports are dangerous. Smoking is dangerous. In my opinion watching 10 hours of TV a week is dangerous. At some point critics will tell you not to breathe or you might pull a muscle….c’mon….Last time I looked air conditioning was an invention of the 20th century. Apparently there were lots of people living, laboring, hunting, warring, etc. in the heat in hot climates all over the world. Modern life has made us pretty soft….Obviously, one has to use common sense and account for any pre-existing health conditions. If you doctor has cleared you for vigorous exercise, then just be smart, hydrate, and you should be fine. If you are concerned about any personal medical condition then consult with your doc. If you have had heat problems before (heat stress, heat stroke), then again consult. Always talk to any teacher, or any fitness professional for that matter, if you are about to exercise and have any conditions/injuries. That way the teacher can make more informed and educated judgments as the class is going.

What do most newbies say after their first session?

Wow.

Can I leave before it’s over if the heat is unbearable?

Only if you want the guards to take you down at the door. Seriously, though, the heat shouldn’t be unbearable. We tell every student that if it (the heat, the work, any part of it) gets to be too much, just lay down and take a nap in Savasana. Last time I checked, naps weren’t unbearable. However, I am not your mother either. You can leave whenever you want. Just don’t make it a habit. It’s distracting to the other 30 students who stayed in the room. The only people who get in trouble in the room are the ones who have too much pride to lay down. If your body is sending you signals just listen. It’s no big deal. The heat can be tough for newbies but the body will acclimate over the first few classes. Just start small and build progressively by doing more of the postures over time.

Who should absolutely not try Bikram’s yoga?

That’s a very difficult question to answer. Each person is an individual, has a certain level of health and fitness, and reacts differently to foods, drugs, exercise and any stimulus for that matter. There are many drugs out there that increase sensitivity to heat. Heat can elevate the heart rate and have a positive affect on a healthy person, but it can be hard for people with heart conditions. There are lots of contraindications for the heat. So basically, just like starting any other form of vigorous exercises, use common sense and go get checked out by your doctor. If you are already pregnant, wait to try it until after you deliver.

Ever met Bikram in person? What’s he like?

In order to teach Bikram Yoga, one has to spend 9 weeks in Bikram’s Teacher Training in Los Angeles. At this training, you have day to day contact with Bikram and his senior teachers. It’s a pretty rough and extensive training process: classes meet Monday through Friday from 9:00am until after midnight some nights (actually, a lot of nights) and even on Saturday mornings. He doesn’t care about your flexibility or how cool your postures are, he just wants to see who really wants to teach this yoga and how mentally tough you are. Bikram is an extremely charismatic guy. Sometimes sweet, sometimes cocky, always entertaining. If you really want to know, then come meet him at his seminar with us in October this year at the Hyatt Hill Country. Guaranteed to be a blast!

What is the single biggest benefit of yoga?

That answer would be different for each student. The biggest benefit for me was relief of back and knee pain. However I also lost about 40lbs in the process and I sleep like a champion. Stress relief, weight loss, and pain relief are some of the most common benefits for our students. Most people come back because of the way they feel when they finish class. Besides the incredible relaxation and feeling of well-being, they worked very hard and therefore have a strong sense of accomplishment. It’s a good feeling.

How many sessions per week do you recommend?

As many as possible. Baron Baptiste, a great yoga teacher and former Bikram Student has a saying, “For good results come three times a week, for great results come every day.” Obviously, life gets in the way, but like anything else, the more you put into it, the more you will get out of it.

Is there a Bikram DVD for travelers?

No, Bikram isn’t real big on the idea of yoga videos and such. Ultimately, in the future, I am sure that he will have one out as the demand will become too great. However, there are hundreds of Bikram studios all across the US and the World, in just about every major city and in some non-major cities. Go visit another studio! Having a good teacher or coach is always better than a video. If you are traveling, check out the class finder at www.bikramyoga.com.

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