Yogi, Bikram Choudhury, who is originally from Calcutta, India, founded Bikram Yoga. He was born in 1946 and has been practicing yoga since the age of three. He has been learning technique and the lifestyle of hatha yoga from his guru, Bishnu Ghosh since the age of five years old. Under the supervision of Bishnu Ghosh, Bikram learned fast, becoming a regional yoga champion at the young age of eleven. Today, Bikram is not one of the most popular yoga teachers and fitness gurus in Hollywood. His practice, which is still fairly new in the world of yoga practices, has been becoming more and more popular throughout the rest of the United States each year. (Pyman, 1)
While still living in India, Bikram, at age twenty, became severely injured in a weightlifting accident. He then gave up weightlifting and began to narrow his focus on the practices of yoga. The sixth months following the incident, Bikram, with the help and guidance of his guru, used yoga to recover from his physical injury. This recovery through the practice of yoga sparked the idea to teach his method to the rest of the world. In 1973, he came to the United States, where he founded the Yoga College of India and Bikram yoga and began teaching his methods to other potential Bikram teachers.(Pyman, 1)
According to Yoga Journal, Bikram Choudhury refers to Bikram Yoga as "the most exciting, hard-working, effective, amusing, and glamorous yoga class in the world." (Despres, 1) Bikram’s view on most practices of Hatha Yoga in the United States is that is it not true hatha yoga at all. Bishnu Ghosh, Bikram’s guru, was known in India as one of the highest authorities in the practice of hatha yoga. Bikram believes that his personal practice of Bikram Yoga is one of the few true forms of yoga practiced in America because it has not been altered or in Bikram’s words, “crucified” by western culture. (Despres, 2)
Bikram Yoga is a practice consisting of twenty-six different yoga posture poses and breathing exercises. Each Bikram Yoga class is ninety minutes long and takes place in a heated room, kept at a temperature around one hundred degrees. The poses and postures range in difficulty according to the person’s physical abilities. Bikram Yoga aims to work every muscle in the body, as well as every tendon, joint, ligament, internal organ, and gland. One of the main goals of Bikram Yoga is to restore health to all of the body’s by removing all toxins from the body and creating a healthy blood flow. (Pyman, 2)
Heat is essential in Bickram Yoga. According to the Bikram Yoga website, heat therapy is a healing method that originated in Greece during ancient times. Greek physicians raised body temperatures in patients to help the immune system fight against infection. The heat used in Bikram opens the pores and induces sweating, which detoxifies the body. The warmth loosens muscle tissue increasing flexibility. The extreme heat improves the flow of fresh, oxygenated, thin blood throughout the cardiovascular system. Also, the heat stops the body from overheating while working out because the raise in body temperature inside the body is creating equilibrium, matching the heat within the studio. (Pyman, 2)
I attended two of these ninety-minute classes at Bikram Yoga in Harvard Square. The instructor of my first class, Rich, was very welcoming toward new students and was very enthusiastic about the practice. Yoga has always been a part of Rich’s lifestyle, and for the past ten years he has been teaching Bikram Yoga. At the beginning of the class he told us a story about his first experience with Bikram Yoga. Rich said, “being that I practiced yoga for many years, I went into my first Bikram class with a big head, thinking that it was going to be a breeze. I left the class, which I barely completed successfully, frustrated and I didn’t attempt Bikram again until three years later.”
Initially, I was very intimated walking into Bikram Yoga. The studio itself was intimidating with its bright white walls and giant mirrors. Also, seeing the students, all extremely fit and sculpted made me nervous as a beginner. I was shocked to see everyone walking around in his or her skimpy spandex outfit. I stuck out, fully clothed with a baggy t-shirt, which instantly became drenched with sweat ten minutes into the class session.
The class began with a pranayama breathing exercise where we breathed in deeply through the nose and then breathed out through the mouth, emptying the lungs. Next, the series of twenty-six poses began, which included the awkward pose, the camel pose, and the tree pose. New to yoga in general, I found these poses to be awkward and somewhat strenuous. However, I did find that the heat enabled me to flex and elongate my muscles more than I normally am able to.
I left the class feeling very accomplished and invigorated. Rich told us walking into our first class that the goal was to simply stay in the room for the full ninety minutes. After class Rich explained the importance of using heat in Bikram Yoga as well as the significance of breath control and posture. I noticed that during the class session, Rich used the words pranayama and asana when leading us into either a breathing exercise or a postural pose. “Imagine a string running along your spine connected to the top of your head. Pull that string and lengthen the spine.” Rich said this referring to asana or the posture of many of the standing poses.
In Swami Muktibodhananda’s book, Hatha Yoga Pradapika, he describes the importance of asana in hatha yoga. “Through the practice of hatha yoga, one’s entire being is made fit and strong, as a shelter from the effects of the pains which come in life.” (Muktibodhananda, 34) Bikram Choudhury initially founded Bikram yoga as a healing yoga, which he found useful during his weightlifting accident. “Hatha yoga is the process through which the body becomes like a tortoise so that the external form is not the breeding place of disease and disharmony, but rather a protective covering.” (Muktibodhananda, 36) Asana, or posture is important in the strengthening aspect of Bikram.
Like discussed in class and in the readings, pranayama is breath control and is the foundation of yogic practices. “By practicing pranayama correctly, the mind is automatically conquered. By becoming aware of the nature of breath and restraining it, the whole system becomes controlled” (Muktibodhananda, 15) According to Muktibodhananda, breath is not only connected to the physical body but it is greatly connected to the mind. The more controlled the breathing, the higher the frequency of prana. “Breathing is a direct means of absorbing prana and the manner in which we breathe sets off pranic vibrations which influence our entire being.” (Muktibodhananda, 16) In Bikram yoga, the practice begins and ends with pranayama breathing exercises. Breathing, as a foundation in yoga, is used to relax mind wanderings, control mind activity, and bring the self into a meditative state. This idea creates these breathings exercises to be a great introduction in the Bikram practice to become focused and aware, and is the perfect cool down after a rigorous exercise that Bikram Yoga allows.
There is a clear connection between mind and body in Bikram Yoga. Practicing Bikram Yoga increases strength, flexibility, and balance in the physical body while energizing and awakening the mind. The workout gives a full body release, which in turn reduces stress and helps train the mind to focus and concentrate. (Pyman, 2)
“Connect your mind with your thigh” stated Rich during my first class as we stretched, tensed, lengthened, and then released the muscles in the thigh during on of the posture poses. Focusing the mind on each body part as it was tightened, loosened, and strengthened throughout the workout gave more intention to the practice and helped maintain focus and balance.
This connection of mind and body is something we have been discussing in class. “Since body and mind are intimately connected, physical flexibility contributes to an increasing freedom from a rigidity of the mind, which is at the base of all forms of fundamentalism.” (Ravindra, Intro xii) Ravi Ravindra discusses the connection between the mind, body, and spirit in The Spiritual Roots of Yoga. “The aim of yoga is the transformation of human beings from their natural form to a perfected form.” (Ravindra, 4) Seeing the sculpted, flexible bodies and the concentration and focus of all the students at Bikram Yoga supported this statement. “The undertaking of yoga concerns the entire person, resulting in a reshaping of mind, body, and emotions.” (Ravindra, 4) After leaving the Bikram Yoga studio I both my mind and body were relaxed and made me feel happy and uplifted. Along with Bikram Yoga, the studio offers Reiki and massage, which also furthers this sense of connection between mind, body, and emotions, like mentioned in Ravindra’s book.
The second class that I attended was more difficult for me than the first class. Heather, the instructor spoke to me about how Bikram Yoga is a great way to get into shape and stay in shape. Like Rich, she was very enthusiastic about new members and was very helpful in correcting our poses throughout the class session. Heather was also very helpful in directing me toward resources for researching further into Bikram Yoga.
Attending a class at Bikram Yoga has been the most positive experience that I have had thus far with yoga. I came into this Lesley University Yoga course with little excitement because the one time I attempted yoga, it wasn’t the most enjoyable experience for me. I love working out and lately I have been trying to be healthy and get back into shape. After two classes I can feel the reshaping of my body begin and I can feel an improvement in my mood and energy level after each class. I am interested in learning more about Bikram Yoga and am looking further into becoming a member at Bikram Yoga to continue attending future classes.
Despres, L. (2011). Yoga Lifestyle - Yoga's Bad Boy: Bikram Choudhury. Yoga Journal:
Yoga Poses, Classes, Meditation, and Life - On and Off the Mat - Namaste.
Retrieved February 21, 2011, from http://www.yogajournal.com/life
Muktibodhananda, S. (2009). Hatha Yoga Pradapika. Bihar, India: Yoga Publications
Pyman, A. (2011). Bikram Yoga Boston & Bikram Yoga Harvard Square - Bikram
Choudhury & Bikram Yoga. Bikram Yoga Boston Back Bay, Financial District &
Bikram Yoga Harvard Square. Retrieved February 21, 2011, from
Ravindra, R. (2006). The Spiritual Roots of Yoga: Royal Path to Freedom. Sandpoint, ID:
Morning Light Press.