Named for its founder, Bikram Choudhury, Bikram yoga consists of 26 postures that are sequentially performed in a studio or room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Adapted from Hatha yoga, Choudhury believes that the 26 poses collectively work, strengthen and repair all muscles, organs and body systems. The order of the sequence is designed to optimize the benefits of the poses, and the heat can help to loosen your muscles and allow for deeper stretching. The postures are challenging and the practice is demanding; get the most out of your Bikram yoga class by being prepared.
The 26 Poses
During any Bikram yoga class the same 26 postures, or asanas, are performed in an identical, specific sequence over 90 minutes. The class begins with breathing exercises, progresses to 12 standing poses and then moves on to 14 seated postures. All postures can be modified to fit beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. Strive for strength during the standing poses; challenging postures such as Eagle and Triangle help to improve your balance, patience and endurance. Focus on deep stretching during the seated poses. For example, Bow pose assists in opening and stretching the shoulders and Half Spinal Twist pose improves flexibility in your lower back. Let the teacher know if you are a beginner so he can provide relevant instructions and adjustments. Know the limitations of your body and do not go further than your ability; progression in Bikram yoga should be gradual. Always pay attention to your form and stop performing any posture that causes pain.
Practicing Bikram yoga poses in a studio that is heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit requires a conscious effort to prevent dehydration. Health problems, such as heat cramps, exhaustion and heatstroke can result from excessive sweating in hot temperatures. Yoga Journal recommends drinking at least 16 ounces of water two hours before class. Drinking too much fluid right before you practice, without allowing it to digest, can result in an upset stomach during the class. Take small sips of water throughout the 90-minute session. In some classes, the instructor indicates between which poses you should hydrate. After class, drink 20 to 40 ounces of water, slowly, for every hour of exercise. For example, a one and a half hour class would require consuming 30 to 50 ounces of water. Signs of dehydration to be aware of include headache, elevated pulse rate, dizziness, cramps, fatigue, vomiting and confusion. A sudden decrease in your rate of sweating can also be a sign that you are dehydrated. Stop practicing and seek medical assistance if you experience any symptoms of dehydration.
What to Wear
Wearing as little clothing as possible, such as shorts and a tank top for men and shorts and a sports bra for women, is ideal when practicing Bikram Yoga poses. Swimsuits are also acceptable attire. Fabrics should be thin, breathable and wicking, which means the clothing pulls the sweat away from your skin. Though full-length leggings are regularly worn in many yoga classes, they can work against you during the Bikram practice since they can become uncomfortable once soaked with sweat. Avoid wearing shorts, tank tops or t-shirts that are baggy; along with becoming heavy and uncomfortable when wet, bulky clothing makes it difficult for the instructor to see your form. Also be aware of clothing that becomes see-through when it is wet. Bring dry clothes to change into before leaving the studio.
Set up a physical with your doctor before going to your first Bikram yoga class or practicing any of the postures. The risk of suffering a heat-related illness can be increased if you are pregnant or have medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, a respiratory illness, an eating disorder or if you are overweight, reports Yoga Journal. Once you have your doctor’s permission, approach the postures slowly to give your body time to acclimate to the heat. Stop practicing if you feel sick and find a cool spot to lay on your back, preferably with your feet elevated on a chair. Seek medical attention if your symptoms do not dissipate.
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