The other day I participated in my first Bikram yoga class.
I’ve never liked Bikram as a concept, but it did sort of put yoga on the map, at least that was my experience in Australia.
So, what is Bikram and how is it different? It’s a series of postures, they are the same 26 every class, that you do in 40-degree heat, sweat your ass off, feel like you might pass out, and then leave thinking you’ve had a really great workout.
Instinctively, I knew it was bad. But now I know it’s bad.
I was nervous about doing this class, but as the only 10am time slot in my suburban area, I thought; ‘maybe it’s time.’
On entry, the teacher is nice, the drop-in price is too high, and it’s not scary yet.
Then I enter the room.
Whoosh! The heat hits you like a sauna. But unlike a sauna, I’m not planning on sitting around with my eyes closed and grabbing a cocktail afterwards. I have to move in this heat!
The room is massive and looks more like a gym than a yoga shala. There’s a mirrored wall, which I really hate in yoga studios anyway, but in Bikram, they use the mirror a lot. The teacher has a stage and a microphone, and the room has a decent number of students for a 10am weekday class.
We start with a pranayama technique requiring the head and neck to go “back, back, back!” and already it starts to hurt. I remind myself that I know what I’m doing and what my body is capable of, and not to push it.
We continue through the series of Bikram postures. The teacher doesn’t move with the class, she doesn’t really have to, but she also offers no adjustments and certainly no alternative options for poses.
Even when that pose is a standing forward fold, where she has asked us to grab our heels and “lock out the knees, lock out the knees, lock out the knees!”
‘Round your spine, push your knees back, keep your eyes open.’
All the cues you would never hear in a yoga class. Not a safe one.
Not a class where someone who doesn’t have a lot of practice time under their belt, and therefore not so flexible or strong, could find the right option for them.
Plus the heat. Oh my goodness, it’s stifling.
One girl has left, I don’t blame her. Sure, it can get hot in India and Bali and all these other places we do yoga, but with no fresh air, there’s no relief.
The series of postures continue, each being completed twice, because that’s a thing too. When we finally make it to the floor, each break between poses requires you to get into savasana, head facing the opposite way, have a break, and then roll up “fast” into a forward fold, turn around, and do it again. Mostly this was just boring and frustrating.
The series finishes with Kapalabhati breathing, or breath of fire, because, you know, we aren’t hot enough. And then the strangest savasana ever.
We lie on the floor, the teacher says thanks and have a good day, and then exits stage left, leaving us there for as long as we want. Some get up immediately after, some take a little more time, but even this felt really odd, and not like we had completed the class collectively. One of the reasons I like going to group classes is to absorb the energy of the class, share the space and the practice together, but this was not like that. No savasana-yoga-bliss-bubble.
I get up and head straight for the shower. I am so completely drenched in sweat and mostly feel gross.
I guess I can see how students think they’ve had an amazing work out, but this isn’t sweat that you’ve built up from movement. Doing these moves in another class of normal temperature probably would’ve made me warm, but not sweaty. This sweat is just water, not workout sweat. I make sure I drink plenty of fluids for the rest of the day.
Even with the awareness I brought to that class, knowing what my body was capable of in normal temperatures, and trying not to fold myself up like a book even though I definitely could, my muscles being so warm, I was still sore the next day. My hamstrings! Damn that ego in forward folds!
Maybe by now some of you have also seen the Netflix documentary about Bikram, and who he was. A sleazy, guru-wannabe who would yell abuse at his students and they would soak it up. A sexual deviant. This blog isn’t about that, although I do recommend watching the documentary if you’re interested.
This blog is about my experience of Bikram yoga. After watching the doco, I’m annoyed that I gave money to the franchise that he benefits from. But I am glad to have experienced the class and am now able to form my own opinion of what it entails.
Like I said earlier, I didn’t agree with Bikram yoga as a concept, and now I can disagree with it as a practitioner.
It’s not for me.
And if you disagree with misogyny and sexual abuse, maybe it’s not for you either.