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A Beginner’s Guide: What is Bikram Yoga?

08/28/2019
By Corey Lewis, CPT, CSCS

Bikram yoga is always hot yoga, but hot yoga isn’t necessarily Bikram yoga. Hot yoga is exactly what it sounds like: it’s yoga performed in a really hot room to make you sweat. Bikram yoga specifically involves 26 postures, stretches, and breathing exercises designed to improve your overall health, strength, and flexibility.  

Classes for Bikram yoga, considered the original hot yoga, usually last for 90 minutes with the temperature bumped up to 105 degrees F, so prepare to work. As you can imagine, an intense yoga session at high temperatures makes the body sweat profusely. When you take one of these Bikram yoga classes, your body heats up, which loosens your muscles and allows the sweat to cleanse the body. 

Bikram Choudhury is the creator of the hot yoga system. After Choudhury founded the Yoga College of India in Beverly Hills, California to teach his innovative method, Bikram yoga soon became one of the most popular styles of yoga asana in the West. Unlike a vinyasa class where students flow through different postures under instructions from their yoga teacher, Bikram is a specific sequence of 26 poses. Students don’t flow from posture to posture; instead, poses are held for a certain amount of time. 

Whether your phone is ringing constantly or your email inbox is stacking up, stress and anxiety can be everywhere. If it’s all getting to be a bit too much, then it might be time to hit the mat. One study shows that, after a three-month yoga program, women who were emotionally distressed exhibited significantly lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. They also experienced less stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue. 

Yoga is a mind-body practice that brings together physical and mental disciplines to promote overall fitness and wellbeing to help manage stress and anxiety. Escape from your daily stressors, disconnect, and feel the benefits of a regular yoga practice.

7 Bikram Yoga Poses to Increase Flexibility and Strength

Bikram yoga consists of 26 yoga poses and two breathing exercises that never change. These postures and pranayamas are used to stretch and strengthen your bodies. Here are seven poses to get you started and give you an idea of what to expect from your first Bikram yoga class. 

Standing Deep Breathing 

Every Bikram yoga sequence starts out in the same standing pose, with a pranayama breathing exercise. A deep inhale and exhale is practiced to provide the entire body with oxygen, improve circulation, and increase focus.

Awkward Pose 

This pose is often referred to as Chair Pose in other styles of yoga. The pose is designed to strengthen the lower body while continuing to increase circulation in the body. 

Eagle Pose 

The Eagle Pose really challenges your balance and is one of the only poses that taps into all your major joints. It stretches and strengthens the body while encouraging greater mobility and balance. 

Standing Bow-Pulling Pose 

This pose continues to challenge your balance and is all about improving your strength and flexibility. It also increases your attention and patience. Similar to the Dancer Pose in other forms of yoga, it tones and strengthens the legs while opening up the shoulders and chest.   

Cobra Pose 

Everyone loves a good Cobra Pose during a yoga session and Bikram yoga is no different. This move is great for releasing tension in the lower back, strengthening the core and helping to prevent back pain in the future. 

Locust Pose 

Locust Pose is a great backbend stretch that strengthens while opening you up. The pose actually engages your entire body and helps to tone up the bum, legs, and hips. Full Locust Pose builds on this pose but focuses more on working the mid-body.  

Camel Pose

Camel Pose is the last backbend in the Bikram yoga sequence and is perfect for increasing spinal flexibility, strengthening your back muscles and improving posture. 

The Benefits of Bikram Hot Yoga 

Whether you’re a regular Bikram yogi or curious to try it out, Bikram yoga is a physical and mental challenge that will make you the sweatiest you’ve ever been in your life. Here are five reasons why so many people can’t get enough of Bikram hot yoga. 

Increase Flexibility 

Yoga in general is great for increasing flexibility, but the warmer room in hot yoga makes it easier for your muscles to stretch. Heat makes muscles more pliable, and this means that you’ll be able to sit deeper into a pose and increase your range of motion. No doubt, the heat is intense and it will feel like a challenge, but it will also help you extend movement further than you thought you could. 

Strong Immune System 

Experts suggest that yoga can be a really useful way to boost your immune system and decrease inflammation in the body. As you probably know, stress can wreak havoc on your mind and body, weakening the immune system and increasing chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation can play a role in a number of diseases like heart disease and diabetes. As with many mind-body practices, consistency is key and yields the most benefits. 

Support Weight Loss 

A single 90-minute session of Bikram yoga can help to burn calories. Research from Colorado State University found the average woman can burn 330 calories per class while men can burn 460 calories per class. The heat combined with the yoga poses seriously gets your heart pumping, boosts your metabolism, and supports healthy and sustainable weight loss. 

Develop Friendships

Unless you have your own yoga studio where you can pump up the heat, you probably have to head to your local studio to get your hot yoga fix. One of the best parts about going to a yoga studio is joining a community of like-minded individuals with similar interests. It’s a great way to meet people and keep each other motivated to keep hitting the mat. 

Improve Mental Focus 

Your mind is just as important as your body; the more you train it, the better it becomes. There’s a lot of effort and mental focus involved in holding some of the difficult poses. The hardcore concentration that comes from nailing a hot yoga class will also help with tasks and focus in your everyday life. Yoga has been found to significantly increase attention, concentration, and memory. 

Increase Your Lung Capacity 

Although you might think a stifling hot room would make it harder to breathe, the breathing exercises involved in hot yoga can help deepen your lung capacity. Hot yoga can help train your body to retain more oxygen. Deeper breaths allow more oxygen to enter the blood and organs. Deep breathing can also lower your blood pressure and heart rate.  

What to Expect During Your First Bikram Yoga Class 

So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and give your first hot yoga session a go. Obviously, expect a hot room, which may feel great stepping into if it’s midwinter—but staying there for 90 minutes can be a struggle. If you’re new to the class, arrive 30 minutes early to give yourself a chance to settle, get dressed, and acclimate to the heat. 

Get Ready to Sweat

Sweating through your clothes is inevitable, so accept that now. Choose really lightweight clothing that is breathable and makes the heat more bearable. Try wearing moisture-wicking shorts that are stretchy and comfortable.

Food & Water Consumption


You’re probably wondering how much water you need to chug down before a hot yoga session. If you show up well-hydrated, you shouldn’t need to drink much during the session. Aim to drink up to two liters of water a day, but if you haven’t hit those numbers, resist the urge to down it all before your yoga session. Too much water might upset your stomach and leave you feeling a little queasy. Try to avoid eating at least two hours before your class, as it might make you feel uncomfortable if you are too full.  

Taking Breaks

Take as many breaks as you need, especially when you’re just starting out. If you can stay in the room for the whole 90 minutes, then you’ve done incredibly well. Putting 30 people in a hot, humid room means you should definitely expect a smell, which you might get used to as the class goes on. 

Get Started With Bikram Yoga

Find your local om yoga studio to try out a hot yoga class or head to a yoga studio that specifically teaches Bikram yoga. Either way, you’ll have the opportunity to sweat your butt off and join the yoga community. 
A Bikram hot yoga class is a mental and physical challenge, so it’s common to not take to it immediately. You’re pushing your breath, lung capacity, your balance, and range of motion past what you normally would. But, when you leave the class feeling both tired and invigorated with a clearer mental focus and clarity that lasts for the rest of the day, you won’t be able to deny the positive effects. Bikram yoga benefits both the body and the mind and helps to contribute to a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, good habits, and proper nutrition.

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