The Bikram yoga studios are hot yoga schools established by Bikram Choudhury. Using his knowledge of Indian culture and Hindu philosophy, he has composed a diverse portfolio of 26 challenging postures and two breathing exercises. Importantly, these movements, or asana, are all performed in a heated room where the temperature is kept at 40 degrees Celsius. The hot temperature is central to the Bikram technique since it helps the body to sweat and naturally cleanse itself of toxins.
The portfolio is designed to improve physical, mental and spiritual health, as well as the many stresses associated with a busy modern life. For many followers, yoga is mainly a system of meditation and spiritual learning aimed at gaining greater control of the mind. For Choudhury and many others, it is primarily a framework for better health and happiness through exercise.
Students of all levels exercise together, working as deep and hard as their personal capacities (strength and flexibility) allows. Mixing the proficiency level of students increases class diversity. This adds to student interaction, promotes learning and fun. The instruction provided at the studio is a hot method (hot, as in temperature hot) because of the heated temperature in the classroom all year-round.
Many students prefer to bring their own personal mats (minimum thickness 6mm). They also bring plenty of water bottles (1.5 litres or more) and a thick towel. Classes extend for a full 90 minutes. It is common for students, both beginners and experienced, to experience some dizziness. During these occasional brief spells, they are encouraged to hydrate and take a rest spell but, importantly, to remain in the room.
Choudhury is a native Indian which is, of course, where the Hindu art was also born. Choudhury himself started practicing the art when he was three years old. He became the youngest ever Indian Yoga champion. He also was a strong competitor in weight lifting until a severe accident badly injured a knee. That crushing accident ended a promising weight lifting career that many believed had Olympic potential. Although it was a blow, Choudhury used it as an opportunity to focus his energy onto yoga.
There are, of course, many separate versions of the ancient art. These include Hatha, Kriya, Kundalini, Ashtanga Vinyasa, Bhakti (the path of devotion), Karma (the path of action), Raja (the path of meditation) as well as Jnana (the path of knowledge). Although the Bikram hot method is an original portfolio of movements and stances, it is largely modeled on the Hatha version. All versions are ultimately based on ancient Hindu philosophies.
Although Hindu philosophies have been practiced for centuries in India, the subcontinent and wider Asia, it is a relatively new discipline for western cultures. The Hindu philosophy was introduced to the USA and Europe during the late 19th century when Swami Vivekananda traveled through those areas to explain the benefits of the technique.