By Emmy CleavesEmmy Cleaves

Bikram Yoga, sometimes also called “hot yoga,” is a system of a set 26 yoga posture sequence practiced in a room heated to 100+ degrees and lasting 90 minutes.

Bikram Choudhury, under his guru’s guidance and using modern medical measurement techniques, researched and arrived at this specific sequence of postures. The individual asanas are classical hatha yoga. Each classical yoga posture has a specific anatomical, neurological, physiological and psychological effect on the human body. The intelligence of any posture sequence determines the overall benefit of the practice.

Bikram introduced his unique style of yoga in the United States in 1971. During the first 20 years this style was taught only in his Beverly Hills studio, mainly to movie stars and athletes. Bikram was finally persuaded to start a teacher-training program, which opened up the system to national and international exposure. As of 2004 there are hundreds of Bikram Yoga studios throughout the world. In recognition of the unique nature of this posture sequence, the U.S. Trademark Office has issued a Trade Mark registration for Bikram Yoga.

In my 31 years of observation, I have seen that most people taking their first BikramYoga class are suffering from bad body mechanics and postural dysfunction. Each human body has a specific design template. Muscles work in pairs in order for the body to execute any movement or even to maintain an upright posture against the forces of gravity. Any imbalance in the dynamic tension between the posterior or erector muscles and the anterior or flexor muscles will compromise the vertical loading on the weight bearing joints. This creates unnatural wear and tear and ultimately disease and pain.

The first 45 minutes of the Bikram Yoga System consists of standing poses devoted to re-establishing musculo-skeletal balance. If done with sufficient intensity, they create an aerobic benefit as well.

The second half of the class consists of floor postures that address “the great information super highway” – your spine and it’s correct alignment. Most people recognize their spinal problems during their first Bikram Yoga class.

My first Bikram Yoga class was in 1973. For 20 years prior to it, I had taken various yoga classes that had not done much to improve the flexibility of my rather stiff body. I had also suffered a brain aneurysm. A life-threatening event of this nature shatters ones faith and trust in ones body. During my very first Bikram class I immediately recognized the power of the corrective training effect in the systematic and repetitious nature of the practice.

Since 1973 I have continuously practiced and taught Bikram Yoga. It has restored my mental and physical strength and the confidence in my ability to lead a productive life. It has given me the suppleness I had previously considered unattainable. My 31 years of practice have given me glowing health and age has had no effect on my body’s weight, suppleness or energy levels. There are very few things that can disturb the serenity of my spirit and calmness of my mind.

People ask me if I ever get tired of doing the same posture flow. My answer is that the practice is never the same because I am continuously being changed by the practice. The daily practice challenges you on many levels. Concentration and attention are quickly sharpened. Character issues of patience and perseverance come up each time. The practice offers a chance to explore deeper levels of Self and develop awareness of the emotions and thoughts that the postures evoke.

For example, backward bending often initially evokes fear, but you find the courage and strength to do it. As you become an observer of the deeper and sometimes buried manifestations of Self, you come to understand yourself more clearly. You start seeing which reactions to challenges are automatic and habitual and that you can change them. The asana is a path to Self-awareness. The physical becomes spiritual.

One of the most common questions of beginners is “why the heat?” On the simplest level it is because warm muscles are more pliable. The heat also expedites the flow of blood to all the organs of the body, facilitating the reactions that the postures are designed to create. Heat will help the body destroy viruses and bacteria. It strengthens the immune system. There are many cultures in which sweating is part of the healing process. Think of a Bikram class as a sweat lodge experience.

Bikram yoga is physically accessible to people of all ages and conditions. The postures require only normal range of motion available to all, from children to the very aged, provided you are being taught by a certified, qualified Bikram teacher. Beware, however, of the teacher who claims to teach Bikram Yoga but who has altered the strict Bikram regime. By changing the routine the beneficial effects are destroyed; such alterations are much like the difference between a genuine Rolex watch and a $ 20.00 knock-off.

Bishnu Ghosh, Bikram’s guru, said that the root of all chronic illnesses can be traced to stress. He also said that the human body is self-energizing and self-healing and that yoga is the key to this kingdom of health.