I was never keen on the sound of Bikram yoga. Why on earth would you want to practice yoga in a sweaty, humid room heated to 40°C? It sounded uncomfortable at best. One friend back in London commented on the lingering smell of a carpeted room dripping with other people’s sweat. Another found it so hot and challenging he nicknamed it ‘Death Yoga’. But nevertheless they raved about it.
When I arrived in Sydney my friend Amanda invited me along to her regular class, at a studio close to the shopping district of Oxford Street in Darlinghurst. Despite not feeling great, she motivated herself to go by focusing on how good she would feel afterwards. I was intrigued.
Like most Bikram yoga studios, they were offering a promotion for new members – unlimited classes in 10 days for AUS$17. The doors of the studio are only open for a short period and then once class starts they are locked, though there are several scheduled classes a day. In the Indian tradition, you take your shoes off before entering the venue. Welcoming you at reception is the teacher who will be leading you through the next 90 minutes. They personally greet everyone who comes into their class and make an effort to remember your name. Newcomers are given special attention in class, to ensure you understand the routine and feel comfortable. Well, as comfortable as you can in this unnaturally hot and humid indoor environment, like a sauna or a greenhouse under the sun’s scorching rays.
The class consists of two breathing exercises and 26 postures. It is designed to be a holistic workout, bringing oxygen to every cell in the body, lengthening and strengthening every muscle, and stimulating organs and glands through compressing and stretching movements. The inevitable intense sweating, as you work through the series of balancing, stretching and twisting postures in this hot room, purifies the system by eliminating toxins. The practice is also intended as a meditation, allowing the mind to become calm and centred.
The studio itself is a modern, colourful and calm place with well-appointed changing rooms and a friendly, relaxed vibe. The teachers are clearly passionate about what they do and attend each other’s classes.
After my first class I felt calm, energised and vital in my whole body. My cardiovascular system had been pumping hard, like a gym workout, but combined with the peaceful meditative benefits of yoga.
The feeling is quite addictive, so I was keen to make it a daily practice. I found the early morning classes a great way to start the day. My teacher, Jordan, was entertaining and able to keep up our energy levels and give each of us personal attention when needed. As the classes progressed I found I was able to move further in certain postures than I originally thought possible – a combination of my heated muscles being more flexible than usual and Jordan’s encouragement to push myself more. It felt exhilarating and empowering.
Don’t be surprised if you feel a high level of emotion during or after class. This practice, say the tea is a way to work through issues into a state of calmness, instead of the emotions leaking out during your normal day. Certainly, in my short time of practising Bikram yoga I came to think of it as a panacea for my body and mind.
If Bikram is the ‘love it or hate it’ Marmite of yoga then I am surprised to find myself in the ‘love it’ camp. As it happens, I also love Marmite (sorry, Vegemite-loving Aussies).
Now I’m in New Zealand I’ve been looking up yoga studios in order to continue my practice. After feeling the benefits during my introduction at this gorgeous yoga place in Sydney, I certainly intend to incorporate Bikram yoga into my regular routine.
Next up, read my review of all the world’s top yoga centres for when you’re travelling, here.