What Is Bikram Yoga? The Yoga Style That Has Seen Fame & Demise

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*Disclaimer* We firmly condemn Bikram Choudhary and see him for the abuser, r*pist, homophobe, and racist that he is. We stand with the victims and hope that our articles can shed light on the truth.

What is Bikram Yoga?

Bikram Yoga is a popular yoga style, also known as ‘26&2’, ‘Original Hot Yoga (OHY)’ or simply, Hot Yoga. This article will explore what constitutes a Bikram Yoga class and look into why and how variations of the class have come about.

Bikram Choudhury rose to fame by creating a standardized yoga practice that could be replicated in studios worldwide.

His success came with a significant downfall after numerous allegations of sexual assault surfaced in 2013. You can read more about Choudhury and the controversy surrounding him in the yoga world here.

Due to its health claims, Bikram Yoga continues to be practiced. This article will help you to understand its history, plus its potential benefits and risks so that you can know what to expect if you decide to give it a try.

Read on to find out:

  • What is the difference between Bikram Yoga and Hot Yoga?
  • What are the benefits of Bikram Yoga? And potential risks?
  • What is the Bikram Yoga asana sequence?
  • What is the Bikram Yoga Advanced Series?
  • How to prepare for a Bikram Yoga class
  • Important things to know about Bikram Yoga
two people doing bikram yoga in a studio

What is the difference between Bikram Yoga and Hot Yoga?

Bikram Yoga

Bikram Choudhury came to the U.S. from Calcutta in the 1970s. His yoga classes gained popularity in California where his focus on physical fitness drew in Hollywood’s elite looking for the next new workout.

Choudhury studied yoga in Calcutta under his teacher Bishnu Charan Ghosh, the younger brother of Paramahansa Yogananda (author of Autobiography of a Yogi). Ghosh taught a series of 84 postures, from which Choudhury drew from to create his series of 26. This was a choice to make it suitable for beginners when he began teaching in the West.

What is Bikram Yoga?

Bikram Yoga classes consist of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises. Traditionally, it is practiced in a mirrored studio heated to 41 degrees celsius and lasts for 90 minutes. 

Many Bikram Yoga studios decided to distance themselves from the ‘Bikram’ brand after allegations of sexual abuse began to surface around 2013. However, it was common for teachers to want to continue practicing and teaching the sequence as it has proven to be highly beneficial to physical and mental health ailments.

Studios who chose to continue teaching the 26 yoga posture sequence, renamed the classes to remove their association with Bikram Choudhury. So, rather than ‘Bikram Yoga’, classes were called ‘26&2’ or ‘original hot yoga’/ ‘OHY’. It is also often referred to simply as ‘hot yoga’.

Hot Yoga

Hot Yoga is an umbrella term, generally referring to a yoga class in a heated room. It does not necessarily mean a class consisting of Choudhury’s 26 posture sequence, although it can do. 

‘Hot yoga’ can refer to 26&2 classes and OYH classes as well as many other styles of yoga practiced in a heated room. Studios that have the facilities will often advertise hot vinyasa, hot pilates, and more.

a man doing bikram yoga in a studio

What are the benefits of Bikram Yoga?

Now we know what is Bikram Yoga, let’s explore it’s benefits.

  • Heat – this causes you to break a sweat. Sweating is a brilliant way to release toxins and cleanse the skin. You will leave the class with bright eyes and glowing skin, but be sure to rehydrate yourself after! The heat can also be beneficial for people working with injuries and to improve flexibility. Always consult the teacher before class if you are working with any injury!
  • Mirrors – for some people the mirrors may feel a little daunting at first, however, the mirrors can allow you to see your practice and focus deeply on yourself. It can also be beneficial to acknowledge your progress if you are a long-term practitioner.
  • Set sequence – having a set sequence means that you will know what to expect each time you attend class. The regular repetition of this sequence provides the opportunity to quickly build familiarity with each posture.
  • Most hot yoga studios will have shower facilities and hairdryers, so you can enjoy the class and then get yourself ready for a lunch date/ night out with your post-hot yoga glow!
a man wearing orange shorts doing bikram yoga in a studio

What are the potential risks?

Although a hot yoga class is suitable for most people, there are some circumstances where caution should be taken:

  • Heart issues– it is generally advised not to practice a form of hot yoga if you suffer from any heart condition.
  • Dehydration– due to the heat and increased sweat, there can be a risk of dehydration when practicing a form of hot yoga. Certain medical conditions or medications can increase this risk.
  • It is also not advised to practice hot yoga if you know that you may have become dehydrated for any reason, eg. hungover.
  • Pregnancy– generally medical professionals do not advise practicing hot yoga when pregnant. Although many studios will support it. If you choose to do so, it is important to make sure that the teacher is experienced in adjusting the postures for pregnancy. If you are unsure, it may be safest to avoid.
a woman doing a bikram yoga pose outide

What is the Bikram Yoga asana sequence?

Bikram Yoga classes will always follow the same sequence of 26 postures between 2 breathing exercises, one at the start and one at the end of the class.

Each posture and breathing exercise is repeated twice. This sequence will be instructed in the same way at any Bikram Yoga studio all over the world.

  • Standing Deep Breathing Pose – Pranayama (1st breathing exercise)

26 Asanas:

  • 1 & 2: Half Moon Pose with Hands to Feet – Ardha Chandrasana with Pada Hastasana
  • 5. Standing Head to Knee Pose – Dandayamana Janushirasana
  • 6. Standing Bow Pulling Pose – Dandayamana Dhanurasana
  • 7. Balancing Stick Pose – Tuladandasana
  • 8. Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose – Dandayamana Bibhaktapada Paschimottanasana
  • 9. Triangle Pose – Trikonasana
  • 10. Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose – Dandayamana Bibhaktapada Janushirasana
  • 11. Tree Pose – Tadasana
  • 12. Toe Stand Pose – Padangusthasana
  • 14. Wind Removing Pose – Pavanamuktasana
  • 15. Bikram Yoga Sit-up Pose
  • 18. Full Locust Pose – Poorna Salabhasana
  • 20. Fixed Firm Pose – Supta Vajrasana
  • 21. Half Tortoise Pose – Ardha Kurmasana
  • 23. Rabbit Pose – Sasangasana
  • 24 & 25. Head to Knee Pose and Stretching Pose – Janushirasana with Paschimottanasana
  • 26. Spine Twisting Pose – Ardha Matsyendrasana
a woman doing a Bikram yoga pose on a purple mat

What is the Bikram Yoga Advanced Series?

The Bikram Yoga Advanced Series consists of 84 postures, including within it the 26 postures of the Bikram beginners class.

This was the original series of yoga postures that Bikram Choudhury was taught by his teacher, Bishnu Charan Ghosh. It is also known as Ghosh Yoga or the Ghosh Series.

The advanced series is rarely advertised on studio schedules, however, long-term practitioners and teachers may be invited to join classes. Unlike the beginner’s class, each posture is usually practiced just once.

Some of Choudhury’s experienced students went on to create their own yoga systems which appear to be influenced by the ‘advanced’ 84 postures. Esak Garcia runs e84, and Tony Sanchez created Core 84.

How to prepare for a Hot Yoga/ Bikram Yoga class

  • Take class 2-3 hours after eating

It is generally recommended to eat no more than 2-3 hours before a Hot Yoga/ Bikram Yoga class, however, this will be different for each individual. 

  • Hydrate!

Most importantly, make sure to hydrate before and after the class. Adding electrolytes to your water will help your body recover, especially if you sweat heavily. Natural sources of electrolytes are coconut water, watermelon, celery and cucumber.

  • Consider your yoga clothing

Due to heat and inevitably, the sweat, hot yoga is known for its minimal and lycra clothing. This is for practicality and comfort as you may end up having to carry those clothes around in your bag with you for the rest of the day. Pro tip- bring a plastic bag!

  • Bring a towel

Unlike other yoga styles, hot yoga is practiced with a towel covering your yoga mat. Studios will often hire out towels for a fee. This is helpful when carrying a sweaty yoga towel around with you after class is not so convenient. Otherwise, bringing your own towel will save you some money. Some people may prefer to use 2 towels, one for your mat in class, and one to use after showering.

three people doing bikram yoga in a studio

Bikram Choudhary Assault allegations

It is important to be aware of the controversies surrounding Bikram Yoga. There are a large number of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and racial and homophobic discrimination allegations made against Choudhury by his former students and employees. 

The assaults are highlighted in the 2019 Netflix documentary Yogi, Guru, Predator and the 2018 podcast series Bikram by 30for30, ESPN. There is also a wide range of investigative articles covering Choudhury and Bikram Yoga.

Unfortunately, there are a number of prominent yoga figures whose behavior has been found to be deceitful and hurtful to the individuals involved.

Debates continue in the yoga world on whether to renounce practices that were taught by these figures completely, or to evolve the practice, preserving its benefits but distancing itself from those teachers. 

What are your thoughts?

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Amy is a yoga teacher and practitioner based in Brighton.

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