Dress for sweat in a Bikram beginner class.
Bikram is the best-known hot yoga -- classes take place in a studio heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit with 60 percent humidity. It's a definite opportunity to break a sweat in your calming yoga practice -- you have 90 minutes to soldier through in that tropical heat as you work the poses. Fortunately for beginners, the standard Bikram sequence of poses is all elementary Hatha yoga.
The Asana Sequence
A Bikram class consists of 26 poses and two breathing exercises, repeated at least twice without a break. The Bikram yoga site explains that the sequence is organized to flood muscles in oxygenated blood, restoring optimum energy, and then stretch muscles, ligaments and tendons. Heat increases the stretch and the sweat, so you go more deeply into the pose and eliminate more toxins through your pores. Yogis in Bikram class wear as little as possible in order to sweat freely and air-cool just as freely. You begin with Pranayama breathing while standing and progress through 11 standing poses, from Half Moon to Eagle to Standing Bow, Triangle and Tree. Once you're down on the mat for Savasana, you remain for Cobra, Locust, Half Tortoise, Camel, Rabbit, Spine-Twisting pose and more. Familiarity with basic Hatha yoga will help you find your balance faster in your first Bikram classes.
Acclimate and Hydrate
The main game for beginners is heat tolerance. If you haven't been living deep in the equatorial rain forest, you will need to acclimate to triple-digit temperatures that make 90 minutes seem like -- well, 90 minutes. Let the instructor know if it is your first class, which may earn you the cool spot near the door or window. Sit through the sequences, if that's all you can manage, and just pay close attention to the flow and the details of perfecting a pose. Go Bikram-lite, at least on day one. Hold poses for less than the maximum time and take a break if you need to -- as long as you stay in the room, your body is learning to tolerate the heat. Drink water before class and bring a liter of water to class -- dehydration is not part of the practice.
The Bikram sequence, from the simplest side bend to the most convoluted pretzel pose, is designed to work every muscle and all the systems of the body. Half Moon pose, an easy arc to right and left while standing with arms extended to the ceiling, tones and tightens waist, hips, abs, glutes and thighs as it stretches arms, shoulders and upper back. Seated Spine-Twisting pose rotates your spine from neck to tailbone, increasing flexibility and boosting circulation to the nerves, veins and tissues of the spine as it promotes calm. Although the entire sequence is basic poses, the nonstop pace and room temperature add a level of challenge. Constant effort to perfect form and focus intensifies the benefits and builds stamina. Bikram advanced sequences are reserved for teacher-trainees and very experienced students.
Inversions and Precautions
Don't plan on doing any Headstands in Bikram class. The basic poses don't include inversions like Headstand, Shoulder Stand, Handstand, Plow, or Feathered Peacock pose. Bikram Choudhury, the founder of the Bikram system, believes that beginners aren't strong enough to do inversions safely and that some benefits of those poses are offered in his other 26 poses. Regular practitioners who achieve mastery of the sequence are occasionally invited to join an advanced class where inversions are included. Inversions temporarily reduce overall blood pressure, although they can increase cranial blood pressure. The more upended you are, the more blood flows to your head, so a Downward-Facing Dog creates less pressure than a Shoulder Stand. In extreme heat, even mild inversions -- like Rabbit pose and Standing Separate Leg Stretch -- could be problematic for people with glaucoma, high blood pressure and other medical conditions. Play it safe before jumping into hot yoga and check with your doctor first.