by Georgia Pulling
(Boston, Mass. US)
The unique element in Bikram yoga is that the sessions take place in a well heated room in a temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit or more. This resembles temperatures in many parts of India where yoga developed.
If people arrive at a class for the first time unprepared for the intense heat, they often quit the classes. But like a sauna, it is beneficial for reducing muscle stiffness and increasing physical relaxation and flexibility.
People who stay through the first few sessions often come to appreciate this aspect of the class.
A Bikram yoga class uses a series of 26 postures which are based on traditional Indian yoga poses. Many of these poses are also used in other forms of yoga but Bikram yoga is unusual in that it only ever uses these same poses in one sequence, and no others, although a class may go through the sequence twice.
The breath is also very important in Bikram style of yoga. Most classes are 90 minutes and will include breathing exercises as well as the postures, plus a relaxation session at the end.
As with most forms of yoga it is important not to be competitive with others or expect quick results, but work at the yoga practice for its own sake. Students must take care not to over stretch or injure themselves. Progress will be steady but slow.
However the beneficial effect of attending a yoga class regularly may be felt in all aspects of daily life and often can be reawakened by returning to practice many years later.
Bikram Choudhury has sparked controversy in both the American yoga community and in India by claiming copyright on the sequence of yoga poses that he uses.
The opposition argument is that traditional poses which have been used by yoga teachers in India for centuries cannot be copyrighted. So far this argument has failed to overturn the copyright in the USA, and anyone wishing to teach Bikram yoga or use his sequence of poses must obtain a licence to do so.
Of course this does not prevent other yoga instructors from teaching the same basic yoga poses in different sequences, but they may not call themselves Bikram yoga teachers.
As well as the requirement for the instructor to obtain a licence, there are limitations on the popularity of Bikram yoga caused by the high temperatures required.
This is not only because people are uncomfortable in these temperatures. Most public building administrators would not allow an instructor to heat the room that high, so a special yoga studio is required.
Due to these factors there are not so many Bikram yoga classes as there are in other styles of yoga.