26 postures, 42 degrees fahrenheit, 50% humidity, 90 minutes. Sound painful? Well in truth it is, or rather was, but in my four years of practice I've come to love this sweaty and slightly mad form of yoga. It's helped me lose a huge amount of weight (and maintain my current weight), it's healed a long-term injury, it makes me feel healthier and it's a complete switch off helping me manage stress and anxiety issues. My lovely friend, Jaclyn introduced me to this practice at the Bikram Yoga Glasgow studio in January 2013 and I'll be enterally grateful. Four years on and I'm now a member of Kula Hot Yoga & Wellbeing in Clapham Junction and have found a new wave of love for Bikram Yoga. Here I hope to share my story as well as my tips for a great practice plus ideas on what to wear and what beauty products to use. I hope you enjoy....
My First Hot Room Experience...
The first time I entered the hot room for my first ever Bikram class I instantly felt like I was going to pass out. The contrast to the winter Glasgow evening was intense and I instantly started to feel quite overwhelmed. I couldn't understand why my friends were so calm and relaxed and most of the other students were lying on the floor in quite a funny looking position. The teacher (Gayle, who later became one of my favourite teachers) came in about ten minutes later and by this time I was already sweating and I had barely moved. She started the class with an introduction to Bikram and then gently said to 'newbies' that if we felt sick that was normal (alarm bells!!) and just to sit down. I was already sitting and felt really sick so how could this possibly help?! She then asked us to come to standing and do our first breathing exercise - sounded simple enough. Not so....the purpose of the Pranayama Series it to warm the body from the inside out and prepare for class. After two sets I was already starting to drip with sweat. After this we were told not to breathe through our mouths but to try and control breathing purely through our noses....I was panicking now. We then went onto three warmup exercises (Half Moon Pose with Hands to Feet followed by Awkward Pose then Eagle) and were finally allowed to drink some water. After over twenty minutes in the hot room my water was no longer chilled. Then we did the standing series consisting of 8 postures where you are mainly focussing on just balancing, followed by a lovely 'Savasana' rest then onto the floor series and the further 12 postures. By the end I was soaking wet as if I'd had a shower, feeling dizzy and wishing I could just transport myself home without much movement. An hour later however and I started to feel really great - my skin was glowing, I felt fit and I slept like I never had before...
Getting the Bikram Bug...
I battled through my next three classes, inspired by the great sleep and positive feelings I was getting. By class five I was totally hooked and actually started to enjoy it - I'd experienced the 'Bikram Breakthrough'! In typical fashion, I researched and read lots about the practice, got tips on the postures and how to really flourish during the session. I started to recognise the series and really engage with what the teacher was telling me, furthermore I was seeing a huge change in my shape and weight which was making me feel great. Eighteen months on and with a practice of at lest three times a week I had lost over 45 pounds, toned up and totally transformed my silhouette. Even as a child, I had chunky thighs and a big tummy and now that had all changed. The uneven skin tone on my arms had gone and my no-makeup face no longer scared me. I was eating better, sleeping better and much more able to cope with stress. Bikram Yoga Glasgow is a great studio run by Stephen Clarke and his team. There's a real sense of community and the chill out room with complimentary tea for after class was such a great reliever. I was moving to London so had to give up my Glasgow membership (with huge sadness) but went armed with some recommendations of studios to try, determined to maintain my practice.
Moving to London...
The first hot yoga studio I tried was close to my office in central London. It wasn't even nearly as nice as Glasgow and the community definitely wasn't there but I persevered and kept going for a few months. I gave up after four months as I just wasn't enjoying it and took up running instead. I started to question whether it was the practice I loved or just my old studio....After completing a half marathon I was sore and craving hot yoga again so had a search closer to my home and found The Hot Spot in Parsons Green. This was a fantastic studio with lovely staff and great teachers and I really enjoyed my practice again. However, I was going through consultations to diagnose a long-term stomach issue and couldn't keep up with eating enough to sustain my practice and found I was feeling really lethargic and struggling with it. Bikram always says you have to listen to your body so I gave up my membership after six months before I was heading to NYC with work for a month. I went to a couple of hot yoga classes in New York as more of a relaxant than a workout but wasn't able to work as hard as I would have liked. I must say though, I loved The Hot Spot and would certainly recommend it if you live or work in the area. Mellissa and her team are all lovely and I still miss Alan's cheery face congratulating me after every practice!
Discovering Kula Wellbeing...
In January of this year I made it my new year's resolution to find a form exercise I could get back into, whether that be other forms of yoga, pilates or barre. I used Mind & Body and tried a few places on a trial period then discovered Kula Hot Yoga & Wellbeing and haven't looked back. It's all I could want in one studio; regular Bikram classes in a well-managed studio, other cooler yogas including Vinasya which I enjoyed in Mexico plus they have physiotherapy, nutrition advice, massage and meditation. There's a great sense of community and the teachers are so lovely and encouraging but make you want to work really hard. My practice is better than it's ever been and I think it's because I've now come full circle and discovered a form of exercise that really works for me in an environment that inspires and relaxes me. I feel really settled and am finding that instead of prohibiting my practice with my stomach issues, my practice is now relieving them....that's thanks to one of the amazing teachers showing me how to work through any pain I had. I have to say the studio and the teachers are a really important component for me when feeling happy with my practice. Kula has great temperature control system so it keeps hot without overheating which is key to a happy session. The studio is immaculate, has lovely chill out areas and changing rooms but the stafff and teachers are so incredible. They are always on hand for questions and really supportive.
My Tips for hot yogis
If this blog post has inspired you to give Bikram a try, or you're a yogi wanting to get more out of your practice then here's my top tips. These are curated from my teachers, fellow yogis and what has worked for me over the years.
- Prepare your body for class. Two key things here are fuel and hydration. I tend to practice in the evening so I spend the day fuelling my body with good fats and nutritional food that will last me throughout this hardcore session. Ensure you don't eat for three hours before class though as any food lying in your stomach will make you feel sick, especially in the compression postures. Secondly, hydrate all day. You have to drink at least 2 litres of water throughout the day to prepare yourself for Bikram yoga. My tip is to do this gradually by drinking little but often throughout the day. A glass of coconut water with lunch is a good idea as this is a very efficient way to hydrate. Avoid tea and coffee two hours beforehand too.
- Wear the right gear. I've put some images of my choices below for you. My tips for girls is to wear shorts or cropped leggings and a sports bra. The less clothes the better since it's hot hot hot. Whilst I was a little aghast at a teacher telling me to remove my tank and wear only a sports bra, I now know how this helps. You need to both see and feel your stomach for many of the postures. Make sure you buy clothing that is sweat wicking and has really good stretch too. My final tip in this area is avoid makeup at all costs - it'll only run off and sting your eyes like mad! I even remove my moisturiser just before going to the studio as I find it hurts my eyes when mixed with the sweat and makes my skin too slippy for the balancing postures. Gross I know but it's a good tip!
- Listen in class. Seems obvious but with time you'll get to know the postures and positioning but your practice will never progress unless you listen to the dialogue of the teacher. I get something new from each persona teaching me because I listen intently to their words and often find new way to better manage my postures. Secondly, Bikram is a moving meditation so if you go with the flow of the class you'll help your fellow yogis. Also, avoid distractions and keep movement minimal to the dialogue. Leave your hair, outfit and towel and take the time between each posture to compose and get ready for the next one.
- Enjoy the heat, it's your friend. I find the heat relaxes my muscles and the sweat supports me moving into postures so embrace it and enjoy it! If you're feeling hot or sick then sit out a posture and breathe deeply through your nose to get your heart rate back down. Try to keep going and embrace the heat and you'll feel even more benefits.
- Use your savasana! Don't fiddle with your towel or adjust your outfit or hair, get into that savasana. It's designed to be included in the series to rest the body and reset your heart, so get into it as soon as the teacher instructs and stay! The last savasana at the end of class is a great way to recoup your body and take in all the goodness your pratice has given you so stay here as long as you can...you'll feel the benefit afterwards.
- Hydrate and relax after class. You need to replenish the water your body has sweated out so ensure you drink plenty before bedtime. I like to go home from class in lounge wear (see below for my favourites) then enjoy a really lovely hot shower and skincare regime.
- Practice Often. I go at least three times per week but four or five if I can. The more you practice the better you'll feel. The great thing about Bikram is it's the same 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises each time. There's postures I've become really good at now (Half Moon, Triangle, Cobra, Bow), others I'm getting better at, and even some I'm really not good at. Each day I find little adjustments and improvements which feels fantastic and will only continue with regular practice.
My Bikram Kit
On the Mat
I hope you've enjoyed my post about Bikram Yoga. It's something I've wanted to write about for a while and I hope you get as inspired reading this as much as I did reading other bloggers reviews when I started out my journey. If you have any comments, please leave them below and if you wish, you can subscribe in the box at the foot of the page to be informed when a new blog post is live.
Thank you and Namaste!