Cameron Conaway thinks Bikram yoga—yes, yoga—is one of the most physically and mentally demanding workouts you can do.
There are plenty of articles and books out there about the history of Bikram yoga, so I won’t go there. It’s a 90-minute series containing twenty-six postures that are all completed inside a 105°F room. Let me just say this: Bikram is as intense as any mixed martial arts workout, and I’ve trained with some of the world’s best. Bikram is for even the toughest and fittest of men.
I’ve met many a dude who scoffs at the thought of incorporating yoga into their training routine. However, I’ve watched Bikram yoga crush muscular men to the point of having to sit down within the first twenty minutes. I’ve watched them be (and have been myself) mentally destroyed from a lack of coordination and kinesthetic awareness. These days, many of us are out-of-touch with our bodies. Bikram is one way to help reclaim the awareness of our physical selves.
Sometimes people confuse hot yoga for Bikram. Bikram is basically a brand—the leader and most intense form—of hot yoga. Participants, even when they breakdown, are encouraged not to leave the class—to at least just sit in the heated room for the full 90 minutes. There’s a McYoga quality to Bikram in that each class goes through the exact same movements—it doesn’t matter if you’re in Bangkok, Thailand, or Charlottesville, Virginia. At first you might want different postures or cooler moves, but if you travel it’s wonderful because you’ll know what to expect. Also, the deeper you get into the Bikram practice, the more the subtleties of technique, of teacher style, and of struggle begin to matter. You won’t be craving hundreds of other techniques because you’ll realize you still aren’t even close to mastering the twenty-six that are offered.
There’s some negative talk about the health dangers of Bikram yoga, and while some of them have merit (anything is dangerous), Bikram is a practice I’d recommend to just about everyone. Here are five reasons why:
- Because of the heated temperature, muscles have a chance to get warmed up and there’s actually less chance of pulling something than in many other forms of unheated yoga.
- Because your heart rate is skyrocketing, you are burning more calories and improving your cardio as well as your flexibility, balance and strength. The cardio element is often lacking in many other forms of yoga.
- The physicality of it (especially in regards to the postural muscles of the back) can help reverse the degradation of our bodies due to the way many of us spend our days sitting.
- The sweating and the tourniquet effect (whereby blood flow is temporarily cutoff to, say, the lower back for a few seconds and then when the pose is released healthy, oxygenated blood rushes to the area) are two ways of internally cleaning the body from the daily toxins accumulated from stress, environmental factors and from just being alive.
- It’s grueling if you push yourself and it’s this aspect of Bikram that I believe has tremendous potential to cultivate mental toughness in other areas of life. If two people (a non-exerciser and a Bikram yoga practitioner) were dealt a bad card and a tremendous amount of stress in their careers or lives, I’d put my money on the fact that the seasoned Bikram yoga person would be the mentally tougher of the two—the one more likely to pull through.
Cameron Conaway, NSCA-CPT, MMACC, NESTA-SNS, is the author of Caged: Memoirs of a Cage-Fighting Poet.
—Photo by Bennie Shapiro