After a couple of weeks thinking about the idea it, and listening to people who said that it would simply “change my life”, on Friday I went to my first ‘class on Friday at the London Bridge Studios of Hot Bikram Yoga (HBY). Since we cancelled our membership of our local gym some 2-3 months ago (not enough variety of classes and too little time to go to the ones that we’d wanted to go to), I was at a bit of a loss as to cross-training opportunities. I needed something to fill the gap that was once taken up approx 1-2 times-a-week of Body Balance (BB) classes (t’ai chi, yoga and pilates, 60 minutes set to music, with choreography changing every 3 months).
HBY is also in a sense a franchise built on a thousands-of-years-old practice of hatha yoga. It has been tailored specifically to be performed in a consistently ‘hot’ environment – the rooms are heated to 105 degrees F and the classes last 90 minutes in duration, within which students undertake a series of 26 postures (for full list, see here). The benefits of this routine are said to to “systematically move fresh, oxygenated blood to one hundred percent of your body, to each organ and fibre, restoring all systems to healthy working order, just as Nature intended. Proper weight, muscle tone, vibrant good health, and a sense of well being will automatically follow“.
So what was it like?
I went for a Friday 12:15 slot, using some accumulated flex-time to take the afternoon off. There are number of London venues for this franchise and I chose the London Bridge site as it was closest from work. It was just along from the new More London complex where the Mayor’s offices were. As I had no idea about the set-up, I arrived around 20 minutes before. The administration was very straightforward and I bought a lock so to put my bag in the storage in the changing rooms. It contrasts from a gym in that the yoga centre is there purely for hosting yoga classes. There was one studio running back-to-back sessions with a 15-minute changeover throughout the day. You had to take your shoes off at the door and put them to one side, so immediately you felt like the hustle and bustle of the outside world was being left at the entrance. The changing rooms were quite small, but to be honest there was no reason to linger inside because there was an adequate waiting area outside with comfy seats. You are supposed to check in 15 minutes before the class start time so that anyone on the wait-list can attend the class for ‘no-shows’.
The clue is in the “hot” aspect of HBY. Being in a room that is heated to over 40 degrees C (basically like a sauna) – and then doing exercises in close proximity with a class of other people doing the very same is going to generate a lot of additional heat. I was warned; there will be sweat. For those people that are uncomfortable with not wearing much clothing in the close proximity of others, this may have been a problem. The guys basically wore either gym shorts or swimming trunks; the women wore gym clothing or swimming costumes. It wasn’t a fashion shoot; the people there are from all walks of life; al ages; the mix was approx 2/3 women to 1/3 men. Its not dissimilar to being in a sauna except you don’t generally balance on one leg in a sauna. I took a towel in to cover the yoga mat to provide stability, and also to catch the dripping sweat.
Going into the class
From the waiting area there was a small corridor adjoining the yoga classroom where people were already waiting to go in. Whereas there was talking in the outside area, in this room I could see that we were preparing mentally to get into the zone – people were polite, courteous, but not talking to each other. There were no mobiles. People just ready to get in – carrying their water with them (approx 0.5-1.5l water recommended to be sipped during the class, but not during the first 30 minutes).
I knew that the mats were specifically already ordered in the room but when I entered, I found the lights slightly dimmed; the air being hot and dry (sauna like); there being lots of mirrors (not unlike a gym class room); but the distance between mats on every side was approx 5-10 cm maximum. It was going to be cosy! I had spoken to the girl on my right; and gave a brief nod to the girl on my right. I took up position in the third row – the first row being reserved for ‘experienced’ yogis. I figured I’d be up there by the second or third class.
The instructor came in and stood somewhere behind a pillar which was a bit annoying because initially I could only hear here and not see her, although I pretty much followed everyone else around me and saw in the mirrors. Embarrassingly she said “oh I think there’s only one person in the room [of approx 40 people] that hasn’t done it before, where is Stephen?” – to which I stood and acknowledged myself. She was very nice though and told me that the key objective was to survive in the heat of the room for the 90 minutes. If I wanted to ‘sit’ out of any of the moves then it was better to do this rather than to leave the room and upset the ambience for the other members of the class. Fair enough. I’d done yoga-type stuff before so this shouldn’t be a problem.
There is no music in HBY (compared to BB) – so I was wondering how the silence gap would be filled for a full 90 minutes. I needn’t have worried – the instructors’ voice pretty much filled that space for most of the time and it was very helpful to just tune into what she was saying and do whatever it was she instructed. The first exercise was breathing – which took me at a bit of a surprise because in a relatively small room, having 40 people inhale loudly in unison and exhale similarly was quite powerful and unnerving. The specific move is designed to open up the lungs and really draw in a huge amount of fresh oxygen, which is the first part of the whole series of subsequent events.
I must admit that the sequence of postures on reflection all blended into each other but I was able to do most of them. Looking around the room, some were also better than others at postures and I was surprised that I was better than some of these so-called more experienced people. That said, the girl to my right was only on her second class so perhaps not everyone is uber-yogi. There was one guy at the front that was incredibly flexible – at one point he knelt on his knees then lent back and was basically touching the floor with the back of his head, at ease. That is insane. Maybe I’ll do that by week four.
I’ve covered endurance runs of many hours before but have never done a 90 minute class before. I found being in the heated environment ok although there were times where if you moved too suddenly you needed to be aware of not being off balance or getting dizzy. You need to hydrate beforehand and eat beforehand (although not too close to the start of the class). My 0.5l water was not enough for the whole class, so will be upping this next time.
By the end of the class I’d had enough and was glad when it was time to return to the changing room, shower all that sweat off, and change back into some clothes and return to some normality. I did feel cleansed mentally and physically though and was impressed at the feeling in my core and around my head and shoulders. I spoke to a few of the other class members in the entrance area – they all seemed nice and we exchanged stories about how we came to be here and how it might help with other activities.
Will I do it again?
I’ve signed up to a 20 day deal which at £18 in total would be a bargain for just one 90 minute class. I have however decided to heed their advice and see what the impact would be if I made it part of a normal routine. The Studio has an iPhone app which makes it incredibly easy to browse the timetable, check availability and book subsequent classes, so I have now found myself signed up to the next class Monday 0700-0830. After the Friday afternoon class I found myself quite sleepy, so I am hoping that a first-thing-in-the-morning session will conversely energise me for the day. If it doesn’t then I’ll need to prop up my eyes with coffee beans!
I would be interested to hear other peoples’ experiences of Hot Bikram Yoga!
- Light on Yoga; Light on Life ~ Bikram, and Iyengar, Yoga (bikramyogamusings.com)
- Tuesday Groovesday: Vinyasa and Bikram (beachybrunette.com)
- Hot.. Steamy… Sweaty… Love affair. (sweatdaily.wordpress.com)
- A Bloke’s Guide to Bikram Yoga. ~ Nick Evans (elephantjournal.com)
- Bikram Yoga Habanero Pepper Butt (mybikramyogalife.wordpress.com)
- The Day I Was Barred from Bikram Yoga. ~ Nick Evans (elephantjournal.com)