1. I do not believe inner peace/enlightenment can solely from within and thus I will strictly be focusing on the physical and mental aspects of yoga.
2. I am not a yoga instructor of any kind; the information in this post is based solely on my experiences and is meant to serve as a guide for beginners and discussion for those who practice.
I. What is Bikram Yoga?
Bikram yoga is a style of yoga created and popularized by this guy named Bikram over the last 40 or so years. In the USA it started in Los Angeles and got lots of momentum from celebrity backing etc, and now it's a global thing and Bikram is fantastically wealthy.
Hot yoga is exactly what it sounds like - yoga in a heated room. Different places have different definitions of "hot;" some are really just "warm." Personally I would say if the room is less than 100F/37C, you aren't doing hot yoga. There are 3 different classes of hot yoga - Bikram, "Bikram in everything but name," and "yoga in a hot room."
Bikram yoga is a specifically designed, strictly controlled series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises. If you go to different studios you will hear the instructions given in largely the same way, because every instructor memorizes the same series of instructions ("the dialog" as it is referred to). The room will be heated between 100 and 110F with a humidity level of around 40% - this is said to simulate daily conditions in India.
"Bikram in everything but name" is just that. Bikram (the guy) runs a very tight and expensive ship - to be a licensed instructor you have to take a course that costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000 every few years. To get around this studios will do his routine (more or less) and call it something different - "the hot 26!" or something similar. Because they aren't part of a network, there is less continuity between studios.
Outside of that you just have yoga classes that happen to be in a heated room.
II. The Class itself - Goals and Procedures
Speaking very generally the goals of a hot yoga class are/should be:
1. Increasing strength in every part of the body, especially in the legs and core.
2. Increasing flexibility.
3. Improving cardiovascular health.
4. Minimizing of stress through physical activity and basic meditation techniques (more on meditation later)
So by now you're probably wondering why the room is so hot and humid. Being warm helps the body limber up and go further, but it also helps you stretch out more safely. It also makes your body work harder, increasing the cardiovascular benefits of the workout. The humidity limits the effectiveness of sweating, keeping you warm throughout the class. As far as "sweating helps you detoxify" - I've heard arguments on either side saying it's true and it's BS; either way it doesn't really matter as the heat has the aforementioned benefits regardless.
1. I'm not going to go through the 26 postures one by one, but I definitely feel they are effective in building strength throughout the body. Muscle groups you don't use all the time will be stressed, and with each improvement in form or depth you will need more and more strength to progress. It is NOT a replacement for a weight training regimen; it's a complimentary practice.
2. Increased flexibility - it is yoga, this kind of speaks for itself. You're doing stretches and compressions to increase flexibility and strengthen your joints.
3. Both the intensity of the activity (the postures would be difficult even in an unheated room) and the heat mean your heart rate will be elevated throughout the entire class. The postures are also designed to provide a mild tourniquet effect to different parts of the body which when released provides an increased level of blood flow that improves cardiovascular health. Blood vessels relax and expand allowing for increased blood flow to different areas of the body that sometimes don't get as much as they need. Also, proper breathing technique is stressed through the class.
4. The thing I like about Bikram yoga is that while it is "meditation," it's fairly straightforward with no mojo or bullshit involved. No chanting, incense burning, candle lighting, crystal healing, chakra aligning, power animal finding, etc. Typical meditation instructions in a bikram class would be "find your eyes in the mirror and concentrate 100% on what your body is doing, shut everything else out" and "relax with your eyes open, concentrate on your breathing, focus only on what you are doing right now in this room."
Overall the classes are very challenging. Over time you will become more accustomed to the heat and humidity and the class will get "easier" but never "easy." There is a saying "form before depth, breath before everything." You should breathing normally for the entire class (don't hold your breath or gasp for air) and form (doing the posture correctly) comes before going deep. Doing the posture wrong is not helpful and can be dangerous (just like any exercise). As your form and breathing improve, you will gradually go deeper and deeper. This means that every class is just as challenging (if not more) than the last.
III. How to find a reputable studio
To find a studio near you, you can try the www.bikramyoga.com website. All of the official Bikram studios are listed there. From there you can check their websites etc. Use a review website like yelp.com to see what other people are saying. For a non-Bikram studio use a google search and or a review site like yelp.com.
A good studio is:
a. Clean - no funky smells or skeevy looking surfaces. You should see the staff cleaning up in between classes. There should be somewhere to change in and out of your gym clothes.
b. Class schedule - busier areas will have more classes, but the studio you choose should have a good number of classes at different times of the day so that you can get to class at a convenient time.
c. Professional - a good studio will show you around, walk you through the basics, and have clearly posted guidelines of what is expected. Every studio has a different culture/personality.
d. Instructors - a good instructor will encourage you to put breath before form and form before depth. They will monitor for anyone who looks like they are struggling a lot and tell them to lie down and take a break. They will encourage you to push BUT stay within your limits, especially in regards to your back and knees.
e. Trial membership - any decent studio will offer at least a week worth of classes at a trial rate so that you can get a feel for the class. Typically at least mat is included in that price, sometimes towels as well.
IV. Beginner's guide
A. What to do before class:
1. Drink water/hydrate - I don't know that you need to drink extra, but you should hydrate well and if you haven't been drinking enough water, you will need to start.
2. Eat healthy - You want to have eaten a healthy meal 2-3 hours before class (with a good mix of protein/fat/carbs). I like to have a small snack about an hour before class, typically a serving of fruit and maybe a small glass of milk.
B. What to bring to class:
1. At least 1 liter of water to drink during class. Plain water is fine. On occasion I will fill my bottle 1/4 of the way with a low sugar (but not diet, you need that little bit of carbs) sports drink or coconut water (lots of electrolytes, but expensive).
2. Appropriate clothing. You are going to sweat like crazy. Do not wear anything cotton.
Men: Look for shorts with a 5 to 6 inch (12-15cm) inseam that are loose but no baggy and made from a nonabsorbent material (nylon, polyester, spandex, micro modal, or a blend thereof. NO COTTON OR COTTON BLENDS! Do not go out and buy a set of moisture wicking shirts - they will not work and most guys go shirtless in class anyway. The heat is ridiculous and your shirt will get soaked, making it harder to breath and feel much hotter. Personally I wear a t-shirt for the first 3 postures and then take it off during "party time," which is about 10 minutes into the class. If you're feeling self conscious and you just HAVE to wear a shirt, go for something sleeveless like http://www.roadrunnersports.com/rrs/products/RRM1007/ . For bottoms I recommend a short with a 5inch (~12cm) inseam or shorter. Same rules about fabrics apply. I use a polyester running short with an inner liner (http://www.roadrunnersports.com/rrs/products/RRM1041/) and when those are in the wash I go for a similar pair that's unlined w/ some supportive undies (less is more, support is good, and the same fabric rules apply). If you really get into it you will probably want to invest in some dedicated shorts/tights/briefs.
Women: (I'm not a woman so my terminology might not be 100% accurate, but I'm speaking from the observations I have made over several months of classes I have taken). Same rules about fabrics apply - NO COTTON OR COTTON BLENDS! I see a range of outfits at my studio. Some opt for a full top (http://www.roadrunnersports.com/rrs/products/ASW2834/) others just a sports-bra type top (www.roadrunnersports.com/rrs/products/NKL1388/). Choose whatever you need to be comfortable and supported - there are no fast movements or jumping around, but you don't want to be falling out in the inversion/bending/crunching postures. As for bottoms I see most women in something similar to http://www.roadrunnersports.com/rrs/products/RRL893/?cc=GY or http://www.roadrunnersports.com/rrs/products/RRL1134/ or in a pair of regular shorts http://www.roadrunnersports.com/rrs/products/RRL1179/
DO NOT cover up in a full sleeve and long tights. Most studios require that your elbows and knees are completely visible (so that the instructor can make corrections to your form and for safety reasons). On top of that, these outfits will make you much warmer than necessary. As a guy I can safely say that no one is ogling you; there is no time for ogling in class. The practice doesn't typically attract pervy guys, and inappropriate behavior is shunned. Ultimately wear what you will be comfortable in, but I caution that you will grow more comfortable in your own skin over time, so opt for minimal but modest clothing.
Don't worry about looking silly. Most people come to the studios realizing that they are a judgement free zone. On top of that, remember that everyone in class is feeling the same anxiety about their looks, etc (women and men) but that it will go away once the class gets underway.
3. Two towels - one large towel to cover your mat and one for showering after.
4. A mat (optional) - you will want one of your own eventually, but the studio should have some to borrow/rent.
5. A good attitude - don't push yourself too hard on your first class. Be willing to learn. Be humble to avoid hurting yourself.
C. What to do in Class
1. Arrive at least 20 minutes early. There will probably be some paperwork to fill out and the staff will want to talk to you first and show you around.
2. Take a place in the back row of the studio.
3. Listen to directions!
4. If you feel dizzy or nauseous at all, sit down immediately, or lie down on your back, palms upward. Don't try to soldier through it in your first class.
5. Watch what the people in the front row are doing, but don't get frustrated if you aren't as good as them. Breath before form, form before depth!
-Class based nature helps you maintain a regular schedule
-Class setting provides additional motivation to make it through the class and go hard every time
-Total body work out.
-No impact, very easy on the body. You will be a little sore as with any strenuous activity, but I liken it to giving yourself a massage. My back doesn't bother me as much any more and neither do my wrist/fingers.
-Cost - much more expensive than a regular gym membership
-Classes are 90 minutes long, you need to be at least 10 minutes early, and you will need at least 15 minutes to cooldown, wash, and change. That's about 2 hours, which can be very hard to commit to.
-Not all studios have class times that can accommodate you.
1. I'm too fat/inflexible/out of shape/other excuse. - No, you aren't. Like any form of exercise, you start out at your level and increase in intensity over time. Unless you have some severe limiting factors, you can practice Bikram or any kind of yoga.
2. I don't like the heat. / I can't take the heat. - Well neither do I! You get used to it over time. When the instructors say "in your first few classes, make it your goal to stay in the room for the entire class, and anything beyond that is extra." THEY MEAN IT!! Staying in the room is very doable, and you can do much more than you think. As mentioned earlier, if you start to feel dizzy or anything just lie down immediately and don't overdo it.
3. I'll look silly. - No, you won't and either way everyone is there for the same reasons so even if you do look silly no one cares.
4. I'll be the only guy there. - Most likely you won't be the only guy there. Many studios have male instructors and at my studio (in suburban NJ) most classes are at least 25% male.
5. People will think I'm gay. - You also love esports and are probably a nerd. Haters gonna hate, fuck them.