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There’s no denying that yoga has seen a surge in popularity, and it just keeps growing! As our lives are getting busier, we’ve come to realise that we need to be mindful of our psychological and physical wellbeing. For many, yoga is the answer.
But what is yoga? We’ve all heard terms like Iyengar, Bikram, Vinyasa, Kundalini, Hatha, Ashtanga, Kripalu, Jivamukti… the list goes on! But what do they mean?
Yoga is an ancient practice, originally one of the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophical traditions that is said to have begun around 5000 years ago in India. The original Yoga Sutra (believed to have been collated by Indian sage Patanjali) still serves kind of philosophical guidebook for most forms of yoga practised today. Essentially, ‘yoga’ has come to refer to a set of postures performed to set breathing patterns, as well as certain lifestyle choices and spiritual beliefs.
Everyone has different goals and needs. Practices have evolved and diverged since Patanjali’s original Yoga Sutra, and the resultant variety in styles means that yoga is for everyone: people often find different styles have different impacts upon their lives.
A popular practice in Western schools is Hatha Yoga. Hatha means ‘wilful’ or ‘force’ and refers to a set of asanas designed to align skin, muscles and bones, opening the channels of your body so that energy can flow freely. When we talk about Hatha Yoga, we’re referring to yoga that is based on physical practice like Ashtanga and Iyengar.
In keeping with the teachings of Yoga Sutra, emotional and spiritual sensibility remain at the core of yoga practice and many styles focus on mastery over your mind and emotions, as well as advice on spiritual growth. You may have heard of the 8 limbs of yoga, which are:
Western styles primarily engage with asana (postures - the third limb) but many yoga practices encompass at least a little meditation too.
Meditation has been practiced symbiotically with yoga for millennia. The idea is to quiet the mind, thus achieving yoga (or unity). This mental stillness is the result of bringing the mind, body, and senses into balance and once meditation is achieved, we gain new perspectives on the materialistic nature of our lives and begin a journey within ourselves. Some of the many benefits of meditation include better self-awareness, a healthier sense of perspective and heightened understanding of your own emotions.
In a world increasingly plagued by distractions and self-doubt, it’s hardly surprising that more and more individuals are taking up yoga lessons.
Also known as Original Hot Yoga, Bikram Yoga stems from traditional Hatha Yoga techniques and its franchise has developed a cult following.
In the ancient history of yoga, Bikram is an incredibly young style. First developed in the 1970s by four-time Indian yoga champion Bikram Choudhury, its advocates include Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and George Clooney. Choudhury’s idea was to take a long-existing practice and refine it for the modern-day audience.
So, what does it involve? Bikram is typified by 40-degree heat (Celsius!), 26 patented postures and 2 set breathing patterns. A true Bikram session runs for 90 minutes and, no matter the location of your class, is delivered by a Bikram Certified teacher according to a set script.
According to the NHS, yoga is a safe and effective way for individuals to increase their physical activity, especially their strength, flexibility, coordination and balance. Studies have shown that regular practice benefits those with high blood pressure, heart disease, aches and pains – including lower back pain, depression and stress.
One of the best things about yoga is that these rewards can be felt at any age, you can start yoga from childhood all the way into your 70s, and there are classes available for every age group.
But what’s so special about Bikram? The heat adds another dimension to your practice: challenge. This challenge is part of what makes Bikram yoga so special – by persevering and practising in 40 degree heat you’re improving your mental discipline and fortitude. With warmer muscles, you’ll also be able to stretch further than in a cold room, helping you to push yourself more during practice. Finally, the heat makes you sweat A LOT, cleansing your pores as you practice so that you’re left feeling refreshed and detoxified.
Like other styles that focus on breathing patterns, Bikram also boosts your lung capacity.
To get started with yoga, all you really need is your body, your mind, and the motivation. A yoga mat helps though, as does an instructor!
That said, many beginners choose to start hot yoga at home by turning up the central heating and following instructional blogs or video tutorial. This can be the more comfortable option if you are intimidated by the idea of attending a Bikram yoga class but be wary of getting injured. Consider practising in front of a mirror so that you can check your postures and make sure the space is tidy before you practice: reaching meditative state might be tricky when you can see your pile of unwashed laundry in the corner.
It’s always safer to practise Bikram yoga with an expert instructor to avoid injuring yourself, especially if you are just starting out. Bikram is considered more demanding than other styles but there are few measures you can take to make your first session as safe and enjoyable as possible:
It’s essential to learn with a certified Bikram instructor if you want to practice official Bikram yoga. There are a few different avenues you can explore when looking for classes.
Most leisure centres and gyms offer Bikram yoga classes these days and you can usually find at least a few yoga schools in any town (and a whole range of them in a city). The rise in popularity of hot yoga has meant that you can often choose from a range of practices and find a lesson that suits your needs.
Although officially Bikram is a 90-minute demanding session, yoga schools are increasingly offering introductory or beginner Bikram sessions aimed at helping aspiring yogis get their heads around the postures and breathing patterns before diving straight into a full Bikram class. These classes also help you gain a better appreciation of spiritual side of Bikram and the benefits of each posture, setting you on the right path for your yoga journey.
Classes in yoga studios are often weekly or more on and payment is taken on a per session or monthly subscription basis, often with membership fees. Group classes in studios are ideal for meeting kindred spirits and becoming part of your local Bikram community, but learning in a group can be challenging at first as you’re required to work at the pace of the group. For this reason, some yogis prefer to practise Bikram with a private instructor.
Private Bikram yoga sessions are more effective than group classes because they’re more targeted. They’re also easier to fit into your schedule – no need to hurry to yoga practice at rush hour, you can learn in the comfort of your home and decide when and how often you want to meet your instructor. Private yoga instructors will pick up on bad postures, focus in on areas where you’re struggling and help you to make the most of your session time. If you’re nervous about heading straight into a full 90-minute Bikram class, your private instructor can help you to prepare mentally, physically and psychologically.
You can approach local studios to find a private Bikram-certified yoga instructor, or you could look on Superprof. By using Superprof you’ll not only avoid the membership fees or monthly dues typical of traditional yoga schools, but you’ll be able to benefit from a huge choice of instructors too – whether your decision hinges on price, location or methodology. Whatever your age or ability, Superprof is a yoga platform for all who are eager to start practising.
Whether you’re a practised yogi or an absolute novice, aged 26 or 62, browse our pool of Bikram yoga instructors on Superprof today!