Washington University Student Life: Health Beat
Brooke Genkin, Health Columnist
Published: Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Participants practice Bikram Yoga, otherwise known as “hot yoga”—a branch of the popular excercise style in which the room is heated and humidity is increased, promoting flexibility and cleansing of bodily toxins.
I push myself off from the ground, sweat dripping down my brow, my back, my arms and my legs. I take a deep breath as I stare at myself in the mirror. My flushed face and focused eyes stare back at me, determined to finish the 90-minute stretch and sweat session.
Bikram Yoga: it sounds like hell—90 minutes of stretching in a steam room set at 105 degrees with 20 or so other sweaty people grunting as they twist their bodies into pretzels—and yet, for some reason, it is becoming increasingly popular. I first heard about the studio near Schnucks when I was a freshman. The girls across the hall from me had gone a couple of times and came back raving about it. My curiosity was piqued—and so I tried it. Since then, I have been back several times.
The yoga routine is fast-paced and requires lots of stretching and balance with fewer traditional yoga vinyasa series. It is comprised of 26 postures and two breathing exercises and is performed in exactly the same order and exactly the same way all over the world.
The founder, Yogiraj Bikram Choudhury, insists that in order to teach “Bikram Yoga” instructors learn directly from him by enrolling in a $5,000 course that lasts several weeks. At the end of the course, the instructors are Bikram certified and allowed to teach classes in studios all over the world, as long as they strictly adhere to his program.
Choudhury developed Bikram Yoga as a means of healing his knee, which had been injured during a weight-lifting incident in 1963. At the time, he was 17, and his doctors told him his injury was so severe he would never walk again. Instead of accepting the diagnosis, Choudhury designed a workout routine that would allow him to stay in shape and strengthen his knee so that one day he would be able to walk.
His regimen worked better than he had imagined, and within six months, he had totally recovered. Learning about his success, Bishnu Ghosh, one of the leading yogis at the time, asked Choudhury if he would be willing to teach classes so that he could help others heal their bodies with such a practice. Since then, Bikram has become increasingly popular and has spread from Choudhury’s homeland of India to other countries worldwide. He moved to California and began teaching classes in Hollywood to celebrities including Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, Madonna and Brooke Shields as a means of improving health and peace of mind.
Several of the postures stimulate organs within the body, and the excessive sweating has been touted as an excellent way of eliminating toxins from different body systems. There are some dangers involved, and students are reminded to drink water before and after class, as well as rest in the designated postures if they become light-headed or nauseous. Still, Choudhury insists that the point of Bikram Yoga is to suffer.
In a CBS “60 Minutes” interview, Choudhury said, “I don’t sell cheesecake, you know that. So you come here to suffer. If you don’t suffer, you don’t get anything. Nothing [is] easy in this life.”
The idea that suffering needs to happen in order to gain confidence and strength is an interesting one and it challenges some of the basic American health philosophies. Still, Choudhury is confident that the practice works and he attributes the popularity of the classes to that fact. His philosophy: “You use the body as a medium to bring the mind back to the brain, perfect match between body and mind, then you can unlock the door to the spirit.”
Wash. U. students are flocking to Bikram as well—and surprisingly, all of them have slightly different reasons for doing so. Some try it as an alternative to their normal workout schedule, others for the relaxing side effects and some for the spiritual high. There is definite proof of each—both medically and experientially, and while I could bore you with explaining exactly how it works, I figured I would let the Bikram students’ experiences speak for themselves.
Lea Oxenhandler, a senior and an intermediate yoga student, heard about Bikram Yoga and thought it would be a fun way to mix up her normal yoga routine. She found that afterwards she had a “totally relaxed feeling.”
Similarly, Nate Klass, a senior and member of the crew team, first tried Bikram Yoga with some team members as a workout alternative to erging one afternoon.
“It definitely was good for sweating and losing weight, I lost about 5 pounds,” Klass said.
Although challenging, he found the classes extremely beneficial, citing the aftereffects as the best part.
“I’ve found that the biggest benefit of Bikram is the way I feel afterwards. My muscles are totally relaxed, I’m more limber and definitely more flexible.”
Eric Levin, another senior at Wash. U., tried it out of curiosity and found that the practice left him feeling healthier.
“I feel like I sweat out a bunch of toxins and stress,” Levin said, “I would recommend it to anyone who is stressed or inflexible and who wants a healthy way to relax.”
Jayce McQuerter found the same stress-relief benefits and also linked those feelings with “getting rid of a lot of toxins.”
McQuerter said, “After the breathing I am much more focused and determined, and the dripping sweat gives you a feeling of doing something very intense.” He recommends the practice to “anyone who isn’t adversely opposed to the idea of exerting themselves.” I would have to agree with Jayce; while it is a fun practice, it can be especially taxing on the body and first-time students need to take extra care and remain fully aware of their body, breathing and mind while in the studio, as it is common to experience light-headedness, vertigo and disorientation, especially the first few times.
Background information on this article was provided by: www.bikramyoga.comand “McYoga: A CBS News Special.”