I have never really embraced yoga before, as it never satisfied my cardio craving. When I got a hamstring overuse injury last year, I knew I had to change something in my routine to maintain muscle mobility if I wanted to keep putting a lot of miles on my feet. Now yoga in a 100 degree room, that sounded like something more up my alley.
Bikram yoga was developed by Bikram Choudhury, and brought to the United States in 1971. Bikram yoga is a 90 minute routine of 26 postures, the first half of which are in standing and the second half are on the floor. Yoga studios claims that a regular yoga practice has many health benefits: eliminates toxins, improves spine flexibility and health, lubricates joints, stretches and tones muscles, etc. etc.
I have been attending Bikram yoga classes at studio in the Bay Area called Funky Door Yoga and let me tell you, it is appropriately named. As soon as you walk in the door there is a smell that is just hard to describe other than saying it is a combination of humidity and funk.
I dragged a friend along to my first Bikram yoga class, and as the instructors say the first class is to just get use to the heat. I found myself pouring in sweat in just a few minutes, and I had barely done anything. It was easy to follow the verbal instructions and keep up with the poses. I have never had good flexibility, made worse by all the running, so I did have to modify some of the poses, but part of the allure of Bikram is you can easily measure progress with the poses as they are the same each time. I found the standing poses to be quite do-able, and each pose is performed twice. I was pleasantly surprised that there was a lot of Shavasana, or corpse pose, with the series of floor poses. Even just laying on the ground in over 100 degree heat makes you feel like you have done something. Since I have some experience exercising in extreme heat I was able to make it through the class without problem (although my friend was not as lucky). I must have sweat out a few liters of fluid which felt cleansing and rejuvenating.
Each time I have gone, the poses have become a bit easier so perhaps there has already been some flexibility improvement. And after class, I just feel fantastic.
I do appreciate that the instructors do not push people to stretch more than their bodies are capable of which can lead to injury. I also appreciate that people can sit out poses or leave the room as need be. Taking this into consideration, people need to be aware of their own bodies and respect what they are and are not capable of doing to avoid injury. I have treated a few patients with yoga injures, but none so far from Bikram.
Bikram is definitely not for everyone, and I can think of a few friends that might shoot me if I dragged them to a class. But for those that can tolerate the heat I think Bikram is a good addition to any training program, as it does work on maintaining flexibility. For the endurance athlete, maintaining flexibility can enable one to train harder and longer with decreased risk of injury. I do plan on keeping Bikram in my routine.