Sunday, December 06, 2009

Workout Spotlight: Hot Yoga

I got the latest O Magazine yesterday, and there was an article about a woman who was 83 pounds overweight, divorced, and deeply in debt and decided to change her life with 60 days of Bikram Yoga. I read it with interest because I recently did my first hot yoga class. Just like Spinning, the name Bikram Yoga is trademarked, so you can't call your workout that without going through special licensing and training procedures, so knockoffs of Bikram are usually called Hot Yoga.

I didn't think I would like it. I had heard Jillian Michaels talk over and over again about how much she despised it because it could make you dehydrated. I was more worried about being uncomfortable and stuffy, but there was a free class at my studio by a visiting yogi (who actually was Bikram-trained) and I wanted to give it a try. There were 30 or so people packed into the tiny hot yoga room, and an instructor whose face suggested she was in her late 50s or early 60s but had an incredibly fit body prominently displayed in a teensy leopard-print halter and miniskirt. I am glad we weren't required to wear the costume. We were supposed to wear shorts but I could only bring myself to wear capris.

Our room was only heated to somewhere in the 90s, but real Bikram studios are heated to 105. I felt very warm but not uncomfortable, and the heat really did help me feel more flexible. In India, where yoga originated, every yoga class is probably a hot yoga class. The instructor was excellent at cueing the postures, and because some of them were unfamiliar to me, I listened carefully to every word she said. I found myself more able to tune out my internal chatter because of this, but if I was, like the woman in the article, doing the same poses every day for 60 days, that monkey mind might creep back in. I really enjoyed the class because we changed poses frequently, but repeated sequences a few times so I got a chance to get deeper into the poses and push myself a little further once I figured out what I was supposed to be doing.

I am not sure I'd want to do it every day, like true devotees of Bikram, unless I had endless time to work out each day so I could get some variety in my workouts. I felt good for the rest of the day, though, not wrung-out and exhausted like I might expect. I did go swimming later that day and didn't notice being any more tired than usual.

As far as the woman in the article's transformation, I'm not sure that Bikram yoga had any special magic -- I think it was the act of stretching herself and committing herself to a radical change. I know that I have been in a situation like hers before, and the biggest roadblock for me was the inability to imagine a different future was possible. Once I was able to get past feeling stuck and hopeless, change could happen. I think the secret is to commit to something, preferably something radical, to unstick yourself and jumpstart that change process. If what you're doing isn't working, do something, anything, that will take you in the direction you want to go.


  1. Hi, Jen! I have read your blog for quite a while but I don't think I've ever commented (probably because I don't read in real time...I'm always behind the curve). I am a HUGE Bikram devotee. I started practicing on June 1 and have lost 15-20 lbs and more than 17 inches. Like all yoga, I believe the real benefits are mental. They say in Bikram "if you can keep your peace in the torture chamber, you can keep your peace in any circumstance."

    Though it would seem that the prescribed 26 postures would get boring, I haven't find that to be the case since your body and mind are different every day. Plus, it includes cardio and strength elements. One of my biggest surprises has been how my muscles have developed since I began practice...much more defined than when I was doing traditional strength training.

    Thanks for letting me chime in! I get annoyed when people who have only heard about the concept of Bikram bad mouth it. Like Jillian Michael's concern...I guess for someone coming off the street to take a class dehydration might be a problem. But, trust me, you learn quickly how to take care of your body when you practice. Plus, the benefit of taking a sanctioned Bikram class is that the teachers are very well trained (Bikram teacher training is 9 wks) and know how to take care of students in class.

  2. Hot yoga is so intriguing! I would worry that I would get dizzy (I have when I tried regular yoga) but part of me really wants to try it. And following up with a swim sounds perfect ;)

  3. Kilax,

    Sometimes you do get dizzy, no matter how much you practice. You just sit or lie down and breathe until it passes. You only do as much as you can.


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07