At the beginning of October I started yoga classes. Not the normal type of yoga, but bikram yoga.
It’s alright, I’ll give you a minute. I know the people who know me are laughing right now because I’m not the sort of person who’d be into ‘that hippy stuff’. Believe me, I laughed too at first but after experiencing it, I really love it.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with this form of yoga, it takes place in a room heated to roughly 105 degrees with around 40 per cent humidity. The 90 minute class consists of a series of 26 hatha yoga poses and two breathing exercises, which focus on keeping you completely still in both mind and body.
It was developed by a man named Bikram Choudhury in the 1970’s. The warm temperatures are said to increase flexibility and the ability to ease into each pose. Another claim that Choudhury makes about this style of yoga he created, is that sweating releases toxins and impurities from the body. You can believe what you want about yoga, but I know for a fact that when I go, I work for it, I sweat my ass off and my skin is so beautifully soft after the class and the next day that it’s doing something right for me.
I guess one of the biggest hesitations for people to try bikram yoga is the heat. At first I was worried because I didn’t know if I’d be able to breathe in the heat, let alone stand in it and do awkward poses, why would I want to put my body through such a workout in extreme heat? But, if you think about it, yoga has been practised for thousands of years in the unescapable heat in places like India. So, I read more about bikram yoga and learnt that the heat prepares the body for reconstruction by warming it up and making it more flexible, hence, why the Indian climate is replicated in bikram yoga studios.
In no way am I an expert or an athlete or even a ‘yogi’ but I know that it has helped me so far, even after so few lessons. I sleep better, I do actually feel happier, I have more energy and although I don’t have a toned body just yet, I have darn smooth skin. And in the long term, I’m hoping I will have overall improved physical and mental health.
The biggest change I’m benefiting from, in my opinion so far has been the way I breathe. I normally breathe through my mouth. I’ve grown up unable to negotiate with my mouth or nose. I hardly ever use my nose because I was born with ridiculously-sized tonsils and adenoids so I’ve only ever breathed through my mouth (hence the snoring, apologies)…even after I had them removed. Thanks to bikram yoga, I have been reacquainted with my nose and have learned how to breathe through it once again.
During the 90 minutes you are supposed to breathe deeply through your nose, not through your mouth at all. Almost like it’s forbidden. So you can imagine how hard my first class was. But for the next two days after, until my next class, I practised breathing through my nose. Now when I breathe through my nose and take my time (count in for six, then count out for six) I actually feel more relaxed…which isn’t an easy thing to do for me. We all know how I tend to get a wee bit stressed and moody. So for me, this is a huge thing.
If anyone is interested in trying out a class, I highly recommend it. No one will be an expert when they first go, some take weeks, months or even years to perfect their poses, posture and flexibility. If you’re feeling tired, out of breath or dizzy, just sit down or lie down until you catch your breath. The first couple of lessons will take you some time just getting used to the heat so you should be proud of yourself for lasting the 90 minutes just being in the heat and still being about to breathe. Plus no one there is there to judge you, how can they when they’re sweating their ass off just as much as you are. Think about it.
To give you more of an idea, here’s the list of 26 positions/poses you perform during your 90 minute class, each pose is carried out twice. These are from the book Bikram Yoga: The Guru Behind Hot Yoga Shows the Way to Radiant Health and Personal Fulfilment by Bikram Choudhury.
Standing Deep Breathing
This deep breathing exercise warms the body up to prepare it for the 26 postures ahead, it also aids to prevent respiratory problems such as bronchitis, asthma, emphysema, and shortness of breath and even improves blood circulation.
This pose increases flexibility of the spine, tones the lower body, strengthens the body’s core muscles as well flexing and strengthening the latissimus dorsi, obliques, deltoids and trapezius muscles. This pose also promotes proper kidney function and can help cure enlargement of the liver and spleen.
2. Hands to Feet
Whilst stretching the spine, this pose also firms and trims the lower body, works the muscles, ligaments and tendons in the legs which improves circulation and strengthens the glutes, upper body and back muscles.
3. Awkward Pose
This three-part pose is an ultimate leg toner (have you seen my legs?!) that increases circulation in the lower body, strengthens balance and concentration and also helps to cure slipped discs and relieve rheumatism and arthritis.
4. Eagle Pose
This pose opens up the 14 largest joints in the skeletal system, and provides fresh blood to the reproductive system, sex organs and kidneys. It also tones the legs and strengthens the upper body.
5. Standing Head to Knee
Flushing out the internal abdominal organs, this pose improves flexibility of the sciatic nerves, strengthens hamstrings and leg muscles and works the back muscles, triceps and biceps.
6. Standing Bow Pose
Strengthening the spine and sending fresh oxygen and blood to all the organs and glands, this mental strength and balance developing pose firms the abdominal wall and upper thighs, tightens upper arms, hips and buttocks.
7. Balancing Stick
This 10-second posture makes your heart race! Sending high-speed blood to the heart, it flushes out the veins and arteries strengthening the heart muscle. It also promotes good posture and improves concentration.
8. Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose
Opening the hips, this pose strengthens and stretches the sciatic nerves and tendons in the legs and massages the internal abdominal organs and the intestines.
9. Triangle Pose
Teachers often say that this pose is what we work towards in all the prior poses. This master posture is where the heart and lungs work together. It improves bones, muscles, joints, tendons and internal organs; it also revitalizes nerves, veins and tissues, tones the oblique and intercostal muscles, improves posture and relieves rheumatism and lower back pain.
10. Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose
Trimming the abdomen, waistline, hips, buttocks and thighs this pose compresses the thyroid gland, which helps to regulate the metabolism and immune system.
11. Tree Pose
Improves posture and balance, whilst also strengthening the internal oblique muscles.
12. Toe Stand
The entire Bikram series helps develop mental strength but this pose certainly challenges your concentration and balance. It strengthens knees, and is therapeutic for rheumatism of the knees ankles and feet.
13. Dead Body Pose
Lying completely still is probably the most challenging pose for most people. By laying still your body creates internal cleansing thorough powerful blood flow and rejuvenates you for the second half of the series.
14. Wind Removing Pose
Whilst compressing and massaging the entire digestive system, this pose will also strengthen your arms, prevent flatulence and firm your abdomen and thighs.
The sit-up strengthens and tones the abdomen and also energizes the body for the next posture.
15. Cobra Pose
Improving digestion, appetite, liver and spleen function, cobra will increase low blood pressure, strengthen the lumbar spine, deltoids, trapezius and triceps, relieves menstrual disorders, and combat slipped or herniated discs, scoliosis and arthritis.
16. Locust Pose
With the same benefits at Cobra, Locust Pose is even better for slipped discs and sciatica. It strengthens the upper spine and also helps with varicose veins in the legs.
17. Full Locust Pose
Strengthening the middle spine, this posture is good for scoliosis, kyphosis, spondylosis and slipped discs. It also increases rib cage elasticity and firms’ abdominal muscles, upper arms, hips and thighs.
18. Bow Pose
Improving function of the spleen, liver, kidneys and intestines, this 360-degree spine flexion will strengthen the spine, aid digestion, and counters constipation, bronchitis and diabetes.
19. Fixed Firm Pose
This pose strengthens the entire immune system, relieves back pain, sciatica, rheumatism, and varicose veins, and also promotes good function of the spleen and liver.
20. Half Tortoise Pose
Known to relieve headaches, this calming pose relieves tension in the neck and shoulders, increases blood flow to the brain and stretches the lower part of the lungs, which is therapeutic for asthma. In addition it combats indigestion, flatulence, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.
21. Camel Pose
My absolutely favourite pose but disliked by many (from what I see in class this one is often sat out!) Camel Pose stimulates the nervous system, relieves back pain, and helps degenerative spinal problems such as kyphoscoliotic deformities and cervical spondylosis. It also stretches the abdominal organs, throat and thyroid and parathyroid and even firms and slims the abdomen and waistline.
22. Rabbit Pose
Sending fresh blood and oxygen to the nervous system, rabbit post relieves tension in the neck, back and shoulders and even helps alleviate colds, sinus problems, and chronic tonsillitis. In addition, it also rejuvenates the thyroid and parathyroid and can be therapeutic for insomnia, diabetes and depression.
23. and 24. Head to Knee Post and Stretching Pose
Increasing circulation to the liver, spleen, pancreas, thyroid, thymus and intestines, this pose promotes healthy immune and lymphatic systems and improves digestion and circulation to the bowels.
25. Spine Twisting Pose
Calming the nervous system and increasing circulation to the spinal nerves, veins and tissues, spine twisting also improves elasticity of the spine, relieves lower back pain and helps prevent slipped discs, rheumatism of the spine, kyphosis, cervical spondylosis and arthritis.
26. Blowing in Firm Pose and Dead Body Pose
This final breathing exercise improves digestion and circulation, increases elasticity of the lungs whilst also strengthening the abdominal organs and increasing circulation to them whilst also stimulating the digestive system, the final dead body pose allows your body to rest, relax, recover and absorb the effects of the practice.