Imagine working out in sauna heat amid a bevy of perfectly toned, scantily clad classmates. That is the formula for “hot yoga” – or Bikram yoga as the discipline is also called in a nod to the founder of the extreme movement with a tropical twist.
Counter to the assumption that yoga should be laid-back, hot yoga is done at about 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Centigrade). That is seriously hot – the kind of temperature that bothers even Australians.
Based around strength and inner-core, Bikram consists of a set series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises.
You need a towel because you will sweat. Profusely. During classes, you can actually hear beads of sweat thudding against yoga
At the end of each 90-minute class, every student is drenched. You may experience the curious feeling of being sleepy and invigorated simultaneously, if you are lucky.
Some new students feel sick. So you need an industrial-sized bottle of water at the ready.
Apparently, after completing a class the key is to go back straight away. Then, cheerleaders say, you will be hooked. Apparent benefits range from reduction in blood pressure and body fat to – less credibly – “detoxification”. All that sweating releases toxins trapped in your body, proponents say.
Irrespective of whether that claim makes sense, hot yoga is a great way of getting fit. Some regular class-goers say that the workouts shave decades off them, and rejoice in increased energy that makes them more efficient in their daily lives. Oddly, the muscle-melting intensity fuels stamina.
As countless journalists have said, hot yoga also makes you look hot. The typical girl looks like a model. The typical guy, as one drooling admirer put it, resembles a “ballet dancer mixed with a soccer player with a swimmer’s torso”.
If only, as other yoga forms purport to, Bikram could bring its practitioners enlightenment – something not high on the syllabus, but you can’t have everything.
This form of yoga owes its existence to Bikram Choudhury: a multi-millionaire Indian yoga guru born in 1946 in Calcutta. A story in himself, Choudhury teaches hot yoga wearing just a Speedo and a Rolex.
Secretive about the money that his global yoga empire yields, Bikram apparently keeps a fleet of Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars in his Los Angeles garage. The yoga style he developed has been followed by stars including tennis ace Andy Murray, basketball champion Kobe Bryant, and pop
Choudhury even claims he taught hot yoga to ex-president Richard Nixon, who would have looked quite a sight in a pair of Speedos.
Choudhury began learning Hatha Yoga poses at three. At five, he began studying under yoga guru Bishnu Ghosh and, during his teens, won the National India Yoga Championship four years in a row.
Steered by his guru, Choudhury devised the 26 posture series which he would later aggressively copyright. At 20, Choudhury was crippled in a weightlifting accident. Doctors said he would never walk again.
But, with Ghosh’s help, Choudhury apparently made a lightning 6-month recovery. Emboldened, Choudhury opened yoga around the globe. Athletes, showbiz celebrities and politicians flocked. Japan’s Emperor Hirohito had a crack. So too did legendary Indian ruler Indira Gandhi, tennis prodigy John McEnroe and, perhaps inevitably, Michael Jackson.
In the 1990s Choudhury started offering costly nine-week teacher certification courses. Graduate instructors now apparently number in the thousands. Bikram studios are dotted all over the world, from San Diego to Sydney. The main school is near Hollywood, California.
Critics are suspicious of the glitz and claims that hot yoga can cure, well, pretty much any illness. Doctors warn of the oft-reported dizziness, even blackouts.
Still, nobody would deny that Bikram gives you an excellent workout. The heat helps you torch belly fat and become strong and brimming with energy. Meantime, you are calmer – and you sleep like a baby.
More info: www.bikramyoganyc.com.