FITNESS // BIKRAM YOGA

bikram yoga - standing head to knee - meg biram

bikram yoga - meg biram - fitness - yogajanushirasana, standing head to knee pose

Thanks for all the great feedback about my new fitness column last week! I will also be doing fitness product posts, but today I wanted to right into Bikram Yoga.

I do want to mention before I get into this post that I did read the Vanity Fair article about the founder of Bikram, and of course I think that is horrible and unacceptable however, I don’t think it should reflect on the Bikram studios, their owners and teachers.

So I’m just going to tell you up front that I love Bikram yoga. A lot of people get scared away from Bikram because of the heat — the studios are all supposed to be 105 degrees for the entire class. But the heat is what I love. I am the type of person who is always cold. I’m always wearing one more layer than every one else, or a sweatshirt when everyone is in a t-shirt. I’m like my mother, and Twyla Tharp — always cold. So I’m constantly seeking out heat. A sauna, yes please! Super hot shower every day, yes yes yes. Crank the heat up in the winter, unfortunately for my husband.

FYI, I talk about two local DC studios a bit in detail, but there are some great general Bikram tips at the end of the post, so feel free to jump down to those if I’m boring you with specifics.

I started doing Bikram when I first moved to the DC area three years ago. I started going to Bikram Fairfax because I scored a Groupon, it was the closest yoga place to where I lived, and I always wanted to try Bikram. The first few times the heat was pretty intense but they just tell you, if all you can do is lie down and stay in the room, that’s all they ask of your first time — or any time you come. But I got used to the heat pretty quickly and after the first few times it didn’t phase me as much. Although I do think at Bikram Faifax they must have had it right at 105 the entire time because it seemed hotter than the studio I go to now, but who knows.

There are always things you will and won’t like about any yoga or exercise studio. At Bikram Fairfax I did like the actual space. It was a giant open room, with mirrors along 2 walls. A simple studio, no giant shrines to religious figures that I remember (that always weirds me out a little), with showers (although it seems like there are never enough showers), and cubbies for your stuff, and they had a shop section in the lobby. Overall usually plenty of room except the hallway to the actual studio was where the shelving was, the doors to the changing rooms and the water fountain, so that hallway is always crammed. Note to anyone designing a yoga studio — more showers, more space in the changing room.

Unfortunately due to our one-car situation (my husband drove it to work everyday) I could only go at night an on the weekends — basically when everyone and their mom goes. I hate going to any yoga on a week night because it is usually uncomfortably packed. I don’t care if I’m 2 inches from my best friend. I don’t want to be 2 inches from anyone, especially when everyone is sweating buckets. So I prefer to go to yoga mid-morning, lunch or early afternoon. I’ve found that most classes between 9-4 are never at max capacity. So the one major drawback to Bikram Fairfax is that is was always super crowded — good for the owners, bad for everyone else. But that was the only thing I didn’t like about the studio.

My three favorite things about this particular studio were first, the ease of parking. Until I moved to DC I had no idea the parking situation would have so much impact on almost everything I do here. Second, there was on teacher I loved in particular. She was a middle-aged Asian lady with a very thick accent that I found so soothing. Like I could almost tune it out more easily and get in the zone due to her accent. My favorite thing about that Bikram studio — they gave out freezing cold lavender wash rags at the end of class to put over your face during your final savasana (also shavasana). It. Is. Divine. I remember dreaming of that ice cold lavender wash cloth through the last few poses. So listen up Bikram studios — take some advice from Bikram Fairfax — ice cold lavender wash cloths. People will stay in savasana longer, I promise.

Many of my workout routines are done in cycles. I did CrossFit for a certain amount of time, I went to Maya Yoga for a chunk of time, I trained for a half marathon for a few months, I took adult ballet classes for two months, etc. I like to switch things up, and for me it also has a lot to do with location. When I lived in Kansas City there wasn’t as much to choose from, but everything was a lot easier to get to and park. In DC there are a ton of options that don’t seem very far away, but getting to them can be challenging at certain times of day. And just like Bikram Fairfax, the early morning and night classes are usually packed.

I go to Bikram Dupont because it’s the closest to where I live. There’s only one other Bikram studio near me, and they have carpet… ew. Mega ew. I probably sweat the least out of everyone in a Bikram class and it is still a shit ton of sweat. Carpet just shouldn’t be allowed in any hot yoga studio. I go during the day or to the 4pm class during the week, and any of the weekend times are never fully packed (woohoo!).

The actual studio of Bikram Dupont is on the 2nd floor, and the office and changing room are on the 4th floor. So you get a bit of a quad workout going up and down the stairs. They are smart because they will lock the door to top floor, so basically you can’t be late. I must say, this tactic has worked wonders for me being on time. Unfortunately I have missed it once or twice because I couldn’t find a parking spot fast enough and I couldn’t get in. There is plenty of space for changing, I’ve never had a problem getting a locker, and since I’m almost always there 15 minutes before class I get a prime spot in front of a mirror, but that’s not too hard if you go during the day.

Personally I find it much easier to concentrate on my poses if I’m in front of the mirror. I can focus on myself and less on someone wobbling next to me throwing off my balance. I’ve only been to a few classes in the morning around 9am, and I think my body just doesn’t like to workout before 11. I love getting my workouts over with in the morning, but they are never my best workouts. Noon or 4pm are always better for me. My body is ready to move by that point. And at 4pm, I’ve already been sitting at my desk all day, so I’m really excited to stretch out.

I really like Bikram Dupont. The people are all really nice, it’s clean, there are multiple places to fill up your water bottle and they will even do it for you during class if they can see you are running low, and I especially love it when they have fresh pineapple cut up after class, which they do about 30% of the time. It’s the perfect treat after a hot session of Bikram.

tree stand - bikram yoga - meg birampadangustasana, toe stand pose

Bikram yoga is always the same. 26 poses, 2 breathing exercises, 105 degrees, and always 90 minutes. I find the more I go, the more I love it and the more I want to go.

Because Bikram is so hot, I do suggest not trying to push yourself too hard in the poses. I haven’t seriously hurt myself yet, but I did try to go too far back into camel once, and definitely knew I pushed myself too far immediately. I felt some lower back pain for a week and took the week off to let it heal. Also, they tell you to breathe in and out through your nose to keep your breath calm. Sometimes when I am doing hard poses and really challenging myself to stay in them, afterward I feel a little light headed and I end up taking a big breath in through my mouth to calm down. It’s all about the breath. Any time you feel either dizzy or light headed you should just stop, lie down, and focus on your breathing and you will be fine. Now that I’ve done it long enough I rarely have to do this, but sometimes I will sit out one pose if I feel like I need to calm down a bit.

Even though I love it, I do like to take a break from Bikram, and do other types of yoga and workouts, and then come back to it for a few months. If you’ve never been to Bikram, here are some of my tips if you’re planning to try it.

Dhanurasana - bow pose - bikram yoga - meg biramdhanurasana, bow pose

MEG’S BIKRAM TIPS:

1. Do not eat anything within 2 hours before class, I’d even say 3 hours, but if you are starving 2-3 hours before class eat something light, non-spicy, non-chocolatey. Granola or something. I ate a chocolate protein bar 2 hours before class recently and it definitely was not enough time.

2. Drink a ton of water before and after class. Not too much right before, but throughout the day make sure you are getting enough water.

3. I wouldn’t very much drink alcohol the day before. Trust me on this.

4. Bring a full change of clothing. Every inch of what you are wearing will be wet. Soaking sopping wet with your sweat. You won’t want to go anywhere in any piece of what you were wearing during class. Even if it’s just from your car to your house.

5. Bring a plastic bag to put your sweaty clothes in so your entire gym bag doesn’t start smelling.

6. Let your clothes and towels air dry before you throw them in your hamper or wash them immediately.

7. Bring a towel for your mat, and a small one to wipe your face/eyes from time to time. I have this mat towel and this hand towel, but people bring all types of towels. Seriously, you will need towels.

8. I don’t recommend wearing long pants. To the knee is fine, but all the way to the ankle, no. Way too hot.

9. Bring a water bottle. No question about this, you will need to drink water afterward and usually a little during class. I chug mine after class and fill it up again before I leave for the way home.

10. If you want to go every day or every other day and you don’t do your laundry that often (I don’t) you’ll want to have 2 sets of towels that you take. After two classes I’ll throw all of my yoga stuff in the washer together.

11. A few other things I keep in yoga bag:

  • Chapstick. I pretty much always have chapstick on me at all times.
  • Mat Cleaner. I should probably use it more than I do though… (or you can just use it at home).
  • Qtips. Sweat basically goes everywhere when you are bending upside down, and I can’t stand water in my ears.
  • Kleenex. The heat will loosen everything up, I don’t think I need to go into specifics here…

12. Do not forget a hair tie. Do not. Forget.

13. I like to wear a soft headband.

14. I don’t recommend wearing lots of makeup (if any at all). It will come off in 5 minutes. Definitely no mascara unless it’s waterproof.

Okay, your turn — tell me your thoughts on Bikram. Have you tried it? Did you like it? Hate it?

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Photos by Yvonne Rock