I recently purchased a Groupon for a local Bikram Yoga studio. For $30 I get 10 classes. It was a great deal so I bought it on sight, and a friend followed suit.
I was worried about my friend who has a heart condition that is made worse in hot, humid conditions. She regularly passes out on gross summer days. Doing yoga in a 105 degree room seemed ill-advised. A few minutes into the first class she thought she’d have to give up, but she stuck it out and by the time we got to our second class she had acclimated and did much better.
I, however, still dread going. If this wasn’t a group activity, I think I’d give up. It’s not that it’s hard, because it’s not — at least not the yoga part. I’ve done yoga off and on for years, and the 26 poses done in Bikram are not all that challenging — though they are, of course, harder when you’re sweating profusely and dizzy. I have no problem sitting out a posture if I suddenly feel like passing out, and since many of the people in class are other Grouponers, they are also new to class and sitting out many of the poses. The problem with Bikram is that it strikes me as yoga for people who are hyper-competitive. I imagine helicopter parents and people with OCD enjoy it very much. But I don’t find it relaxing in the least.
Most of the time when you do yoga there’s some soothing music, the lights are out, and the teacher is speaking in hushed tones about relaxing, honoring your body, and breathing. At Bikram the lights are on and, at l east in my case, the teachers are yelling about pushing harder, going deeper, and breathing in through your nose and out through your nose. (That’s actually a valuable tip. You see an almost instant difference when you start breathing through your mouth.) The instructor at our second class was a Yogi Drill Sergeant, yelling at people about not leaving the room, and God forbid you should attempt to do anything other than sit or lie down when taking a break. One lady tried to mimic the pose we were doing while she sat on the floor and the instructor’s head nearly blew off. She even called two girls to come talk to her after class because instead of lying completely still at the end of class, one tried to get a drink of water.
Last time I checked, I was paying to be there and I am not in need of a lecture. If I were those girls I would have left and made a point of not returning to one of her classes.
This is not why I go to yoga. I go to yoga to stretch, relax, and build strength. I’ve often gone to yoga on Monday nights to ease back into a gym routine after the weekend. And I don’t think there is a single minute during Bikram when I feel remotely relaxed. The routine is also fixed. You do the same 26 poses every class. I need more variety and challenge than that. At some point the heat becomes the only challenge, and I’m not sure how someone could come back year after year to the same set-in-stone class.
I’m also a little creeped out by the way the instructors look. Practicing with a trainer of any sort that does not have a body you’d want is like going to a hairdresser with bad hair. So far most of the women who seem to practice a lot of Bikram have that scary Madonna look about them. I do not want to look like that and if that’s what regularly practicing Bikram gets you, well, I’m out.