There are very good reasons why people who know Yoga, know that, “Bikram yoga is not real yoga. Or not good yoga. Or not good for you. Or something.” It’s because it isn’t.
I know a lot of people who used to practice bikram, and then after ages of practicing it, realised it wasn’t good for them and stopped and went to a proper Yoga school. Now days when they talk about the days they were going to bikram they cringe with embarrassment. They’re like, ‘Oh my God what was I thinking!’
I have seen that bikram suits a lot of people’s imbalanced state of mind. I see how it is attracting a lot of people with eating disorders, and people who have a real mentality of self punishment and flagellation. From a Yogic perspective this usually has to do with an overactive thyroid, and/or low secretion of serotonin. There are certainly particular postures that will help to correct these imbalances, most of them are inversions, but the Yoga teacher will have to be sure that the student doesn’t suffer from other issues before he/she teaches them.
If bikram taught anyone anything about energetics there would very quickly be no more people in bikram. Keep them ignorant and keep them keen. If people were switched on to what really is happening to their body and mind in a bikram class then they’d be walking out the door of the studio quick, never to return!
If you want to know the science of why bikram is bad for you in clear black and white, here it is:
(1) Doing asanas in 40* heat drains your adrenals and kidneys. This is one of three subtle energies. In Yoga this is called ‘Ojas’. In Chinese medicine it is called your ‘Jing’ energy. You are born with this energy, and when you burn it up it is very difficult to get it back. When you drain it you get more paranoia, impaired energy level and quality. It is foundational energy – without it you are going to burn out, fast!
Actual Yoga builds this energy very slowly over years and years, it is like a deep bank account, and if you invest in it the rewards keep on paying dividends, but if you draw from it you’ll quickly lose your beauty and youthfulness and vigour. In fact, when you have children you pass on that energy to your children, and they pass it on to they’re children.
(2) When doing asanas in 40* the muscles, which would in normal temperatures protect the joint from overextending, become atrophied. The extreme heat makes the muscles flaccid and limp, and then the movement of the exercises hyperextend the joint beyond its normal range of motion. This stretches the tendons and ligaments, instead of lengthening the muscle. This creates instability and weakness in the joint. As a result the muscles have to over overcompensate to do the job that the tendons and ligaments would normally do. The body becomes bendy, but not truly open and flexible and strong.
It is good to practice in a warm room. When you are more advanced you won’t need it, your body will naturally and organically generate its own internal heat, this inner fire is called ‘agni’ in Yoga. Until then I recommend that you gently warm the room for your practice, especially if you are a beginner. A reasonable temperature of up to about 30* is good. But 40* is harmful, and absurd.
(3) When doing your Yoga asanas the breath is essentially the thread that ties all the elements together. In the ancient text, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, it is said, ‘the mind is the king of the body, and the breath is the king of the mind.’ So the breath is the master that controls everything – the body and the mind.
How exactly does this work? Well I will tell you briefly. The nerves that run through the central nervous system are connected to the top of the nose, this point in Yoga is known as ‘trikut́i’. When you learn through your regular practice how to control the breath through the nose, the vital air will stimulate the nervous system so that it slows the rhythmic pulsation of the nerves and then the mind and the body will be at peace and calm.
However, if you are doing postures in 40* heat then the density and atmosphere of the environment will make the breathing techniques we use in Yoga asanas impossible. I can tell you that I have taught and practiced at many studios in both Melbourne and in Sydney, and those studios I love to teach or practice in are always the ones that have a flowing circulation of fresh air. Otherwise I feel drained after teaching. If there is too much humidity, or stale air I cannot do ujjayi breathing, and I certainly cannot do kumbhaka breathing or recaka breathing, which are essential for doing some postures correctly.
Many people have commented to me that they can’t stand the smell of bikram studios. They comment, ‘It stinks!’ Not only is it hard to breath in that heated and humid atmosphere, but it also reeks. This is a terrible environment to be in period, let alone do Yoga asanas in.
There is a fourth reason why bikram is harmful, but it is best expressed by another Yoga teacher, who said: “Every time I have ever asked a Bikram teacher why we do something I’ve been told: because Bikram says so! I have been teaching yoga for quite a few years and find so few Bikram teachers know much about Yoga, or how to adjust a pose.” Well said!
This has also been my experience. I met the ‘world bikram champion’ a couple of months ago in a cafe, and I explained to her exactly how the ‘shukrá’ or lymph which is a vital fluid is massaged and directed around the body through the postures in a systematic way. She was shocked that she knew nothing about this science of Yoga.
I have been teaching Yoga for many years. And I am keenly aware that what good we do in spreading correct information will karmically return to us. I hope this information serves you well and you make well informed choices. Whatever you do don’t switch off from your intuition and listen to marketing ploys. Listen to your body. Your nervous system and your body are telling you all you need to know. You’ll feel the truth there.
By Marcus Julian Felicetti