In defence of Bikram

Bikram yoga - so-called 'hot yoga' - receives more than its share of criticism for an approach which has been labelled by traditionalists as strident and unspiritual. But London-based Lynne Hanley is among its loyal army of fans.


'As a relative newcomer to yoga, I was seduced by a £10 for 10 days unlimited bikram yoga course and launched myself into it almost on a whim.

BikramHad I known what I was in for, I may well have found the idea way too intimidating, and the prospect of a truly tough work out beyond me (being as I am a sporadic jogger and little else).

But propelled by the idea of doing my body and mind untold benefit, and cushioned by naivety, I found myself confidently handing over my money and grabbing a mat.

My first huge shock was the temperature of the room (see - I knew nothing!!), and my second shock was the number of people already lying serenely on their mats waiting for class to begin. Does no-one have a proper job??

Clearly used to having a handful of beginners in each class, we were told not to overstretch ourselves, and that the main aim of a first session was to focus on controlled breathing and staying in the room.

Overcoming the challenge
We started with some pretty full on breathing exercises and moved into stretches and balances which, after 20 minutes, started to make me light-headed, then queasy and finally outright nauseous.

I wanted to leave the room, get some air and have a drink but was persuaded to sit down, rest and join in again when I could.

After a few minutes, my breathing calmed down - so much for keeping that in control - and I decided that I wasn't going to be defeated and would do what I could.

I went through the remainder of the 90 minute class perhaps not throwing myself into each sequence with such gusto, but treating my body with a little more respect and allowing it to find its own level; both an enlightening and humbling experience.

Staggering out, I congratulated myself for still being able to walk, and determined that I might try the experience again once my body had recovered, if only to "get my money's worth".

Believing that surely I had done enough exercise for at least the next few days, I enquired as to when it would be beneficial for me to return, and couldn't believe that the answer was the next day if possible.

What?? I doubted that I would be able to crawl out of bed the next day, let alone exercise, but again I was wrong.

Coming round

Unbelievably, although I could feel that I had used muscles that had had it pretty easy for some years - they really didn't ache or feel stiff the following day.

Further to that, I found that I wasn't using 101 excuses not to exercise before hauling myself out of the flat and off to my second class.

Knowing what to expect meant that I paced myself and, to my delight, I got through the class without the nausea of my first experience.

I understand that to yoga aficionados, bikram is a somewhat different discipline, but I would argue that to a new comer, if you can handle the heat, it does seem to share many of the core yoga principles.

Acquiring focus

That is, the focus on breathing; the comparison only with yourself (I was so delighted that I didn't feel ill the second time round, that I honestly didn't care that my contortions were crude, ungainly and frequently off balance); and the stillness of the mind.

There is really no room for anything else other than full concentration on what you are asking your body to do, so surely that must be some form of meditation?

Having won me over, I have now signed up for a year, and will continue my practice. Far from being a room full of body beautifuls, I find that it is full of individuals, each of whom are, like me, concentrating intently on their own bodies and their own improvement.

Some days are better than others; yesterday I managed the sit ups that I have never quite previously mastered, but every session is different.

There is a great deal of focus on correct posture - whatever level you are at - and I am reveling in the rise to the challenge, even though I am assured that in many ways, it doesn't get easier!

Being inspired

So, Bikram may be the bad boy of the yoga world but he has inspired me to connect with my body in a way that has really surprised and delighted me.

To be honest, I haven't noticed many outward benefits yet, but I am plugging away at it and find that I am more apt these days to thank my body for what it can do rather than berate it for what it can't.

And that has to be a good thing.'


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