Bikram yoga retreat – The room is heated to 40ºC and it’s full of incredibly sweaty people, many of whom are wearing little more than their underwear. The instructor asks the class to come out of the ‘dead man pose’, or Savasna, and leads the class in a chorus of loud breathing, followed by a series of challenging stretches. Taking part in a Bikram yoga retreat class for the first time is a surreal experience.
Many will agree that it’s not a comfortable environment in which to do anything but lie down, let alone exercise. Side effects for beginners include headaches, dizziness and nausea. And towards the end of the first session, it’s fair to say that you can’t wait to get out and shake off that dreadful feeling of claustrophobia. So why do it?
Created by yoga master Bikram Choudhury, this form of yoga consists of 26 Hatha yoga poses designed to work the whole body in the correct order. As well as making your body sweat out toxins, the heat ensures your muscles are warm and relaxed, making stretching easier and safer – some people find they can stretch further than they thought possible. After a few sessions, the body acclimatises to the heat, making the class enjoyable, energising and, believe it or not, addictive.
What are the Benefits of Bikram Yoga Retreat?
There’s nothing better for the body and mind than plenty of water and a balanced diet. One benefit of Bikram yoga retreat is that it forces you to be mindful of what you eat, when you eat, and how much water you drink on a daily basis. It’s imperative that students are well hydrated before, during and after a class, and that a well-balanced meal is eaten at least one hour before a session. Instructors cannot stress this enough, and class websites offer nutritional guides for those about to embark on their first Bikram experience.
Those who have tried other forms of yoga may be surprised to find that the first half of a Bikram yoga retreat class is, in fact, a cardiovascular workout. It is shocking to find your heart pounding against your chest after performing a series of slow stretches – something that doesn’t happen when the same stretches are done at room temperature – so it’s comforting when the instructor calmly informs you that this is normal.
For a practice that sounds extreme and unnatural, Bikram claims to be something that almost anyone can take part in, whether you are eight, or 80, a ‘yoga virgin’ or ‘yoga bunny’. No one is forced to carry on if they feel they are not able – students are simply encouraged to sit or lie down. All the instructors ask, and constantly repeat, is that you “stay in the room” until the session ends.
Bikram Yoga Retreat, Preventing or Causing Injury?
Heating the Body Externally vs. Heating from within by Warm-up Exercise
Ideally, injury is prevented by enabling the body to heat immediately. The hot room is the warm up. The increased fluidity of movement that develops within the body heated internally by warm-up exercises such as calisthenics and running prior to playing football or the plies at the barre prior to a ballet performance are bypassed in Bikram yoga retreat. Bikram students quickly experience increased suppleness in otherwise stiff joints and muscles. There is a false sense of looseness in both the beginner and experienced yogi. Overstretching muscles by sitting back on knees and lying back in a pose such as suptavarasana (reclining hero) can risk cartilage tears. The full locust pose incorrectly done in an improperly warmed up body can cause neck or shoulder strain.
Weight Loss Yoga vs. Dehydration
The extreme sweaty workout has evolved into weight loss yoga as droplets of perspiration permeate both the air and the sticky mats it is practiced on.
Fat burns when the body is warm. The exercises increase the metabolism so pounds seem to disappear. Without proper preparation prior to class, dehydration is a risk for the novice yogi.
Sweat is a Body Fluid with its Inherent Risk of Disease
Bikram theory is the increased sweating detoxifies the body. Shared body fluids in the case of flying droplets or unclean mats are an unwelcome side effect of hot yoga. Hepatitis B has been found in sweat but that extreme contact isn’t usually present in yoga unless partnering. Moist heat invites fungal infections and athlete’s foot, or prickly heat. Infection of the sweat glands (hidrandenitis suppurativa) can be an unanticipated aspect of Bikram yoga. Germs spread more easily in the warm moist heat.
Breathing Difficulties in Hot Rooms
Those with breathing difficulties such as asthma, COPD, bronchitis, or early influenza, may find shortness of breath a side effect of the hot overheated room. Those with respiratory problems breathe easier in cool air. Obesity can cause breathing difficulties in extreme heat.
Safe Bikram Practice
- Hydrate before class
- Dress in non-binding cotton or natural fabric
- Listen to cues from own body
- Poses can be modified for each body’s potential
- Use footwear in all areas outside yoga room and in showers
- Discuss this type of yoga with health care provider when there is a history of any breathing problem such as COPD, asthma, or an immune deficiency disease
- Do not practice if pregnant
- Don’t take class on a full stomach
- Hydrate after class but not ice water
- Do not compare self to others but to one’s own personal best
- Take a break if there is pain or shortness of breath
- Personal towels and mats are a must
- Maintain a balanced diet
Begin Where You Are
Most practitioners push their bodies slightly beyond what they can do but some attempt to push up to or beyond what their neighbor on the next mat can do, risking injury. With the further incentive of weight loss, the drive to improve may override a warning of a slight pull or pain. Normally, the body gives painful cues of its limits. Hot yoga silences some of those cues. A good teacher watches the students and creates and modifies. Each yoga practitioner must become his/her own best teacher of his/her own body in order to achieve that body’s personal best but not beyond.