News Bikram Yoga: It's Hot Stuff
Bikram Yoga: It's Hot Stuff
Adherents swear by (not at) sweaty exercises done in 100-degree room
Diane Faircloth, studio co-owner and teacher, leads a 90-minute morning session. The heat is thought to detoxify the body, among other benefits. Photos by David Sanders / Arizona Daily Star
"It's not competitive," Shannon Snow, 33, said. She began practicing Bikram about five years ago in Phoenix and was referred to the Tucson studio when she moved here.
Snow, a nurse at University Medical Center and a University of Arizona law student, she said she tried other forms of yoga in Tucson to stay fit and manage stress, but Bikram was the glass slipper. "It just kind of keeps me sane," she said.
Bikram is hailed for its therapeutic benefits, both inside and out. Started by 58-year-old Calcutta, India-born Yogiraj Bikram Choudhury, the yoga is designed to work inner organs such as lungs and glands while toning and strengthening muscles and increasing flexibility.
Then there's the heat. Unlike most forms of yoga, Bikram is conducted in a 100-plus-degree room. The reason is to prevent injuries, relax muscles and detoxify the body.
So you sweat. A lot. Walking into the practice room is like wandering into a furnace. It has the look of a regular rectangular practice room with a wall-length mirror, a window at the end and dim lights, except the thermostat is cranked, with two large humidifiers so as not to compete with the dry heat outdoors. Even the carpet is warm. Ceiling fans are on, but they do little except recirculate the saunalike intensity and mock sweaty participants.
One who doesn't mind the heat is Gerald Birin, 47, who attends class six times a week. He said he started Bikram four to five months ago when he saw an old friend on a cruise ship sporting a flat stomach. "I asked him, 'How the hell did you do that?' " he said. Bikram yoga was his pal's tip, and so far Birin has lost weight and the nagging pain in his back.
Floyd said he used to throw his back out regularly, but now he is able to do heavy lifting and hasn't had spinal pain in about a decade. He began doing Bikram from a book his friend gave him, which led him to Beverly Hills, Calif., and a 10-week certification class supervised by Choudhury.
Faircloth, who was certified in 2003, said Choudhury is an "extreme Eastern and Western person rolled into one." Floyd said the man has embraced Western culture, being a multimillionaire and a yoga guru to stars including Shirley MacLaine and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar while staying true to his Eastern loyalties and beliefs.
In a 90-minute Bikram session at the studio, there is no portable CD player spouting generic sitar music. It's just the gentle voice of instruction from the single teacher, telling you to breathe, how to contort your body and where to focus. Marlena Holman, 15, said the extra attention given by teachers at the studio is among the reasons she "fell in love with the place."
Since every Bikram class features the same sets of postures in the same order, once you get the routine down you can walk into any Bikram studio around the world and jump in. This studio even has an special for out-of-towners: two classes for $20.
A session begins with breathing exercises to warm up and segues into 10 standing exercises, each repeated twice. This is the tougher portion of the class, but as you bend and balance on one foot for positions such as "eagle pose" and the apt-titled "awkward pose" for the first half-hour, the heat becomes less hell's doorstep and more the norm.
You won't realize it's hot after the standing exercises end and you begin the downslope, the 10 floor poses with titles such as "rabbit," "locust" and "cobra," though sweat will likely pour off your body onto the towel below.
As you befriend the devilish heat, you will notice its benefits as even the tightest joint becomes flexible.
Water breaks are crucial, but once you lie down for the "dead body pose," you reap the benefits of the standing exercises. As you lie on your back, staring at the faint ceiling lights and hearing nothing but the breathing of other participants, you may feel a wave of euphoria break over your body as you seemingly sink into the carpet. Ecstasy is not a designer drug but the reward for the awkward positions you have finished.
"It has a real calming effect," said Mike Carlier, 47. He and his wife, Stacy, 36, have been practicing Bikram for about 10 months, four to five times a week. Mike Carlier said newcomers should not give up - just take breaks.
Pam Wiegand, 58, has been doing Bikram for six or seven months and attends three to five days a week. A friend told her it would become addictive. She used to have arthritis in her hands so severe that she could not make a fist. Now, she said, she's pain-free. "For anyone my age, it's very helpful." Faircloth said she thinks of her Bikram studio as a microcosm of life. "We're really trying to create a safe place for people to explore their bodies and increase their health," she said.
Peter and Arlene Farrow, 41 and 53, are Argentine tango dancers and have been doing Bikram twice a week for two years. They said Bikram helps them increase energy, strength and focus. Actually, they said, it does more than that.
"It makes everything in life easier," Arlene Farrow said.
Contact reporter Kevin Smith at 434-4079 or firstname.lastname@example.org.