Bikram yoga for beginners

Bikram yoga is growing in popularity’but is it safe for beginners? Read the opinions of two yoga teachers, and share your own

Bikram yoga for beginners

Source: Web exclusive: January 2011

Like many forms of yoga, Bikram yoga, with its 26 signature yoga postures, can help you cut back on stress and feel more at ease, physically and mentally.

What makes Bikram yoga different is how and where you perform it: in a room heated to about 41 degrees Celsius. Sometimes called hot yoga (although not all hot yoga is part of Bikram), Bikram yoga is said to help you go deeper with your stretches and therefore reduce the chance of injury.

But not all yoga experts agree on the benefits and safety of Bikram yoga, especially when it comes to a beginner’s foray into the world of yoga. Here, two prominent yoga teachers shared their thoughts with us on Bikram yoga for beginners.

Our experts

Erica Cowan, a yoga teacher at Bikram Yoga Canada in North York, Ont., is studying to become a naturopathic doctor.

Hema Murty, a yoga teacher and owner of Shanti Consulting in Ottawa, Ont., has an M.A. in yoga philosophy and Sanskrit from the Karnataka State University in India.

Is it okay for beginners to try Bikram yoga as their first choice of yoga style?

Cowan: Absolutely! All students go through a learning curve when they begin their Bikram yoga journey, but within two to three classes, students begin to acclimate to the hot environment and the series of yoga postures. The Bikram yoga series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises is actually called the ‘Bikram Yoga Beginning Series’ because it is designed specifically for beginners.

Murty: Yoga means to join the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of a human being. In order to do yoga successfully, we must try and eliminate as many distractions to the practice as possible. Therefore, for a beginner, adding heat and sweat to the yoga practice would be counterproductive to the goal of yoga.

Why is Bikram yoga so popular? Does it have health benefits that other types of yoga do not generally deliver?

Cowan: It is extremely effective at increasing overall vitality and health. The heat facilitates change within the body and helps prevent injury. People return not necessarily for the heat per se, but because they have found something that makes them feel incredible.

Murty: Bikram yoga is popular because it introduces a ‘fad’ style of change to yoga. There is no scholarly evidence to support the fact that stretching in 41 degree Celsius heat is better for the muscles.

Since the idea of Bikram yoga is to perform the postures in a hot studio, how do you know when it’s safe and when you might be overheating?

Cowan: It is important to sweat. As soon as you notice you feel too hot and you are no longer sweating, this may mean you are overheating. I have noticed that students are adept at knowing their limits and rarely take themselves places they are not comfortable going.

Murty: You have to continuously monitor how you feel during the exercise session. Even still, the body never likes extremes. You could ask, is it better to run in 41-degree weather than in 15-degree weather? Runners know that it is more difficult to breathe in 41-degree weather and they do not plan strenuous runs in that kind of heat.

Is there anyone who shouldn’t do Bikram yoga?

Cowan: Young children are advised not to practise Bikram yoga because they are not able to sweat as well as teenagers or adults. Experienced Bikram yoga practitioners who become pregnant are welcome to practice, but pregnant women who don’t have previous experience with the Bikram series are advised to wait until after delivery.

Murty: Certainly anyone who would not go outside when it’s 41 degrees Celsius; for example, those with hypertension should not do Bikram yoga.

What do you think?

Based on our expert input above and what you know about Bikram yoga, tell us, do you think Bikram yoga is safe for beginners’or anyone? Tell us in the comments.