Bikram Yoga: Taking the heat


SWLondoner’s Lucie Potter tries her hand at a Bikram Yoga class.


By Lucie Potter

Sweat was pouring from my body, head to toe.

I looked to my left and saw a woman gasp for water. To my right was a topless overweight man dripping with sweat. I could see the black hair on his back was saturated.

But everyone in this packed room was in the same position. Everyone could feel the heat. It was only a couple of us who had never experienced the intensity of something like this before.

I looked temptingly at the fire exit.

Before I entered the room I was told: “If you feel dizzy or nauseous it’s completely normal. Just resist the urge to leave the room.”

What had I signed up for?

It was Bikram Yoga and the most intense hour and a half of heat I’d ever experienced.

The room was 40 degrees and as time went on, the humidity felt more intense.

Olga Allon, the owner of Hot Bikram Yoga in Balham, where I took the class, said that it’s for all ages, shapes and sizes.

My mum has been practising Hatha Yoga since the age of 15 but had never tried Bikram before so I decided to bring her with me.

I have to admit, she did better than I did, but she said the intensity of the class was so much greater than the traditional style that she is used to.

In this studio of around 60 people there were only five men. The age range was around 20-35, which Olga mentioned is sometimes the case in a peak class.

The appeal of Bikram for young women seems to be the weight loss aspect. Yoga is good for your muscles, body and mind but in the modern day losing weight is important when it comes to exercise.

“The main benefits are flexibility, injury prevention, longevity. It is detoxifying and the heat is cleansing,” Olga said.

“You will see weight loss; it has the intensity of a cardio workout.” I did feel as if I had just done a two-hour gym session.

Serena Davis runs South West London Yoga; she teaches Hatha Yoga but has tried Bikram before.

She said: “Having heard Bikram Choudhury speak in London, it seems to me that Bikram Yoga tends to attract people with a more competitive streak than traditional Hatha Yoga.”

My mum agreed with this because in Bikram you are encouraged to keep your eyes open, but in Hatha your eyes should remain shut to allow you to feel your way through to the next position.

“It’s important to listen to your body as each pose should be done within the capabilities of the individual and should never hurt,” she said.

“Although I can appreciate the benefits of Bikram such as weight loss and aerobic exercise, I found instructions such as ‘lock your knees and elbows’ went completely against the basic principles of yoga, which are combining movement and breath which wasn’t mentioned.”

Olga said: “People who like a challenge are drawn to it.” And I can see why. The class is so difficult but I feel as if I could acclimatise as time goes on.

Bikram has a 26 posture sequence that works every part of the body and these were developed by Bikram Choudhury from Hatha Yoga.

Michele Pernetta has studied closely with Bikram Choudhury and opened the first Bikram studio in the UK. She now runs four studios: Bikram Yoga North, West, City and Primrose Hill.

She said: “When someone with a weight issue tentatively steps in to class feeling shy, to then see them at the end of the class where they realise this is a safe and welcoming place for them, and that they have found something that is going to make a difference – well then that is very special.”

Michele added: “Nothing packs such a punch in 90 minutes and gives you so many benefits for your money and time spent. I truly believe I am facilitating something that is worthy of people’s efforts.”

The ages in her classes range from 8-80. “A huge number of people in their 70s have found that they can actually reverse the ageing process,” she said.

Sophie George, 34, from Balham, started Bikram Yoga in January. She said: “When I started I couldn’t even touch my toes and suffered from pain in my knees from osteoarthritis. Within a month I was pain free and could easily touch my toes and had improved my flexibility greatly.”

She added: “Hot Bikram Yoga has definitely been a life changer. I even met my boyfriend there. I’d recommend it to anyone for the mind and body.”

The talk in the changing room after the class was that it takes more than one class to make a judgement, which supports what Olga said about its appeal to people who seek a challenge. I feel as if I’d like to go back to see if I can endure the whole session without sitting down to take a breather.

After the class, I felt an enormous sense of wellbeing and it did make me feel good.

In my opinion, the benefits of Bikram outweigh the negatives. Like Olga said, if you like a challenge then Bikram Yoga could be for you.

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