Let the battle begin!
Honestly, I don’t think there should be a battle on this topic. The bottom line is there are health benefits with practicing both bikram and hatha yoga. They are however, quite different and it is important to understand those differences before you decide to step on the mat for the first time or even if you have been doing hatha for some time and are wondering if you should branch out and try something new.
Bikram yoga (commonly known as ‘hot’ yoga’) was designed by Bikram Choudhury, fairly recently, I guess that is obvious since you need a very hot room to practice. Yes, the room must be 105 degrees F and around 40% humidity for the true bikram experience. The classes are very structured, using the same 26 pose sequencing over 90 minutes, for a very predictable, but easy to follow class.
The idea behind Bikram is the heat, delivered from the outside, will cause the muscles, ligaments, blood vessels and tendons to be more pliable – allowing for deeper stretching of the muscles and more movement through the joints. Clearly, the 105 degree temperature is also designed to make you sweat. Bikram enthusiasts believe that the heat will increase metabolism promoting quicker fat burn and weight loss. The excessive sweating from yoga in a 105 degree room is thought to help the body release built up toxins.
Since the practice of Bikram is relatively new, there is little to no evidence that any of these biophysical claims are real. In fact, many of them are scientifically unsound. However, if you love a predictable yoga routine, the heat, and a good sweat, then Bikram may be just right for you. Just remember to drink lots, and lots, and lots, of water to keep from drying up!
Here is why I choose to practice hatha over Bikram or any other form of yoga.
- It has been practiced for a VERY long time–dating back to the 15th century!
- All I need is my mat and I can practice ANYWHERE! My mat goes with me everywhere I go! On a beautiful spring morning you may see me practicing in the park; when I travel you may find me dropping into a warrior pose as I am waiting on a flight. After all, there is no better time to practice than the present. Plus, hatha allows me to be creative and vary my practice, which helps avoid yoga burnout. Varying the practice also keeps my mind active and drawn to the present! My mind can’t wander if I am in 1/2 moon and don’t know where the next asana is going to take me!
- I don’t tolerate the heat well, I prefer a warm room, but anything over 90 degrees and I am DONE!
- I do yoga to reduce stress. Spending 90 minutes doing intense yoga in extreme heat DOES NOT promote stress reduction for my body and mind! Combining breath with movement in a comfortable atmosphere does that beautifully. After a hatha class, I leave the mat feeling at peace with myself which makes coping with outside stressors much easier.
- To keep my body lean and toned. Hatha warms the body from the core and not from the outside. The heat generated from the work that I am doing on the mat allows my muscles, ligaments and tendons to lengthen and stretch naturally and safely, creating beautiful long and lean muscle structure without overextending, resulting in injury. Plus, external heat plays no significant role in my bodies metabolism. The heat generated internally from working my body and controlling my breath is what will impact how much energy it uses or stores.
- To keep my internal organs healthy. I twist my torso a lot (depending upon the class) in hatha. This motion stimulates my internal organs, which may improve the health of the GI tract, liver, and kidneys and ultimately my bodies ability to eliminate toxins. Body detoxification (whatever that really means) occurs through the liver and kidneys, not through the skin via the pores and sweat glands. I do sweat A LOT in my hatha practice and that does feel good! Some days it feels REALLY, REALLY good! Why? I am clearing out my glands and pores and ridding my body of excess fluid – not because my body is losing toxins.
In my opinion, practicing hatha (I practice hatha flow) on a consistent basis (5-6 days each week) has done way more for my body and mind than any other exercise program I have done, and trust me I have done them all!
It has been 6 years since I started practicing yoga regularly and every day I learn something new about my body – how it can move, what it likes and doesn’t, how strong the mind/body connection is, and much, much, more! Would Bikram do the same for me? No. Would it for you? Maybe.
If you like the heat, give Bikram a try! If you love it, GREAT! Drink lots of water, and keep it up!
If you don’t, or think you might not, then come and see me or take a hatha class at a local studio! If you have done both and have an opinion on this topic, I would love to hear from you!