Bikram Yoga: The Guru Behind Hot Yoga Shows the Way to Radiant Health and Personal Fulfillment

Bikram Yoga: The Guru Behind Hot Yoga Shows the Way to Radiant Health and Personal Fulfillment

Bikram Yoga: The Guru Behind Hot Yoga Shows the Way to Radiant Health and Personal Fulfillment

Bikram, the “hot yoga” program, has been heating up the yoga world lately, and its founder probably has something to do with it: The outspoken, dramatic, and always controversial Bikram Choudhury has garnered a lot of attention with his version of hatha yoga that some yogis think unorthodox: In his classes, students are stuck in a room heated to at least 105 degrees doing a structured program of 26 asanas with a sergeant–like instructor––and they love it. Bikram Yoga will emulate that sam

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  1. Scott Meredith "SeeOtter" says:
    196 of 201 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Hot and Spicy, April 4, 2007

    This review is from: Bikram Yoga: The Guru Behind Hot Yoga Shows the Way to Radiant Health and Personal Fulfillment (Hardcover)

    This book is incredibly readable and fun. Bikram’s breezy tone and brash opinions grab your eyes and hold your brain, whether or not you think you have any interest in yoga. Actually this book seems particularly geared to non-practitioners.

    The earlier chapters give historical background on yoga and Bikram’s autobiography. The yoga history is highly slanted to Bikram’s narrow view. Hey it is his book (and he won’t let you forget that, believe me) – he can analyze the murky and heavily disputed history of yoga entirely as he pleases. The autobiographical material is very interesting, both for light on Bikram himself and also his excellent multi-cultural contextual scene-painting. We are learning about India as we go. And we are seeing our own culture strangely refracted, through Bikram’s very perceptive lens. He has a sharp tongue though.

    His basic message is that American culture is great in some ways but that individual Americans are mostly unhappy and messed up, mentally and physically. Fortunately there is a one-size-fits-all cure, a true panacea – Bikram Yoga.

    Things Bikram Dislikes:


    Exercise (running, tennis, aerobics, weights, team sports, … fill-in-the-blank!)

    Other styles and schools of yoga

    Drugs – medical and recreational

    Western medicine in general

    Actually it is strange that he dumps on weight training, because he points out pridefully in another section that his own beloved guru was some kind of weight champion and pioneering promoter of the practice. Whatever.

    He trashes the popular Iyengar style of yoga by sneering at the many mechanical props they use to control or achieve difficult postures. At least Iyengar came in for one full paragraph of dumping, while the extremely influential Ashtanga style is dissed off in less than one sentence as “‘never existed in India” (which is a very odd claim, as the 91-year-old meta-guru of Ashtanga, Sri Patabhi Jois, has lived in Mysore, India his entire life and he learned starting as a young teenager from his own guru right there.) It is also odd that Bikram makes a big deal of his historical claim that there are exactly 84 asanas or postures in traditional yoga. Other respected analysts have come up with 608 or other numbers. Anyway, Bikram made his own sequence by choosing the best 26 out of his classical 84.

    Bikram’s sequence is much shorter than Ashtanga’s Primary Series (not to mention the follow-on 5 additional Ashtanga series), and in practice it is simpler than Iyengar’s posture perfectionism and mechanical molding. So in that sense, it is a good practice for modern conditions (he does teach his full set of 84 postures, to advanced students only).

    His insistence that only his way is the “right way” to do Yoga reminds me of great Chinese masters of Tai Chi and Qi Gong (traditional breathing and stretching practices for energy cultivation). They ALL insist, just like Bikram, that only THEIR personal way is the universal right way. Almost every one of them has this same kind of ego. And every single one of them has students who would swear any oath that this one method is what cured them or enlightened them or conferred whatever benefit. Probably they are all right, in a sense.

    Bikram goes on and on and on about how TOUGH his sequence is, about how, the very arduous postures combined with long hold times combined with the high heat turns the classroom into a Torture Chamber and so forth. But in fact his asana’s are not noticeably more physically or psychically challenging than (for example) the Ashtanga Primary Series, in many cases far less so. And in Iyengar and Ashtanga yoga, asanas are held for extended periods.

    He explains the famous high heat practice room on just a few pages, saying basically (a) it is done to re-create Indian conditions; and (b) it helps loosen up the body. That’s probably fine, but various forms of yoga are traditionally done in Tibet and other cold regions – the high heat is not a fundamental requirement from their point of view. Maybe it does help some people loosen up more quickly.

    A few quibbles:

    - Only one photo per asana is provided, often at an angle that is very unrevealing and unusable for a beginner student’s reference. For example, the photo for Posture #10 (Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose) is at a head-on angle that obscures most of the body. Bikram does say you need to come to the school to learn, so maybe that is done purposely. Anyway, if you want to try the postures you’ll need another book on Bikram to get anywhere.

    - The descriptive text that accompanies each asana’s photo is often not well synched with the single photo. For example, the text for Posture #12 Toe Stand says hold your hands in prayer position (except when steadying yourself for balance on the floor) but the model’s hands in the photo are…

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  2. louienapoli "louieb" says:
    78 of 84 people found the following review helpful
    3.0 out of 5 stars
    Like most sequels . . ., May 8, 2007

    This review is from: Bikram Yoga: The Guru Behind Hot Yoga Shows the Way to Radiant Health and Personal Fulfillment (Hardcover)

    This is not as useful as Bikram’s first book, which goes through all the poses, the breathing, etc. What this book offers is more lore about the poses and about Bikram. If you are a Bikram yoga aficionado, by all means get this book. If not, the first one will do if you’re curious about the sequence of poses, the breathing, and the philosophy.

    Caveat: Bikram asserts that his style of yoga is the only authentic yoga being taught in the west. A casual look at teachers like Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, Desikachar, Swami Sivananda, etc. and, perhaps more importantly, their students, calls Bikram’s assertion into question. Also keep in mind that he has tried to patent and copyright his poses and threatened to sue teachers who tried to teach his sequence without his permission. (See The New York Times, 5-7-07 pg. A21 (“A Big Stretch”)).

    The notion of claiming yoga as one’s property, or of asserting that all other styles are spurious, is inconsistent with the fundamental principles of yoga.

    So–take Bikram with a grain of salt. He’s a good practitioner. His teaching can be beneficial. He’s also a fairly ruthless businessman and self-promoter, and some of what he says is colored by self-interest.

    Bottom line: Bikram’s yoga is worth checking out. Take a class. If you like it, get his first book. Or get the first book and try the poses. Keep what works, and view the spiel with the skepticism it warrants.

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  3. Glutton for books says:
    62 of 69 people found the following review helpful
    3.0 out of 5 stars
    Spiritually Bankrupt Approach to Yoga, January 20, 2008
    This review is from: Bikram Yoga: The Guru Behind Hot Yoga Shows the Way to Radiant Health and Personal Fulfillment (Hardcover)

    I wanted to like this book. I’ve been practicing Bikram yoga for six years, and am a fan of the physical benefits. When I read the reviews, before reading the book, I didn’t understand why people were commenting on the lack of guidance (particularly in photographs) for the beginning series. Bikram already wrote a book (in 2000) on the beginning series, with excellent instructive photographs. This was not meant to be that story. But after reading the book, I understand their confusion. Despite the book advertising to be the story behind Bikram’s creation of his series, more than one-third of the book is a repeat of information from his earlier book, with less clear instructions, accompanied by artistic rather than illustrative photographs of the poses. What information is new to this book, isn’t very helpful for living a yoga life. I thought the book would reveal Bikram’spiritual journey, but the story does not resonate as spiritual. Instead it is very self-centered with a lower-case “s.”

    Supposedly, Bikram designed his series to remedy the sedentary life style in which most Americans are trapped. I confess that I am one of those “most Americans,” from whom a 40-hour week at my desk would be a week with greatly reduced hours. The series of poses does remedy my main kinks, and when I am able to attend classes regularly, I can discern an enhancement to my well being. I believe that there is much truth in Bikram’s statement that yoga repairs the body, whereas other types of exercises age it.

    Unlike teachers graduating from the many fly-by-night yoga certification programs, Bikram instructors can’t give you a bad combination of postures, but I question their education about anatomy. Last summer, I asked a visiting teacher (she was not a new) for advice on how to modify postures due to a swollen foot. She told me that adaptations were not recommended and made me feel foolish for asking. After the class, I was in much worse pain and the swelling increased. She told me I needed to come back and work on it. Naively, I believed her, because I thought that a yoga teacher should know basic warning signs from anatomy better than me. Bikram studios are some of the most expensive places to practice yoga; there should by quality associated with the price. Later, I found out I had a stress facture in a joint and what would have taken four months to heal took more than six. I don’t recommend that absolute beginning students start with Bikram, because so many Bikram teachers tell you to work through all pain, when much pain is a warning sign. I thought the “new information” that the book advertised would be warning signs in the postures, but I could not discern any new information in comparison to that offered by Bikram’s last book.

    I appreciate the merit of copy righting the sequence to insure the quality of instructors, but if Bikram wants to be so controlling then, he should also take responsibility for all the conditions in his syndicated studios. His books say the studio should be around 105. The Bikram studio in DC is often 120 degrees or hotter. There is no mechanism to register complaints about this situation. Heat does loosen the muscles, but the challenge of the class should be getting into to poses and advancing the depth of the posture – not remaining conscious. With studios prone to overheating, the book should offer warning signs about heat strokes and blacking out – I’ve seen people faint in class and I’ve almost done so myself, but again – no helpful information in the book. We already know to drink water before hand.

    I’ve been wondering, why there are some poses in Bikram yoga that the rest of the yoga world calls a different name. Bikram’s tree pose is a “half locust tree” pose for the rest of the yoga world. Bikram’s triangle more closely resembles what the rest of the yoga world calls “revolved side angle pose” than their triangle pose. The only answer he had was that “his triangle” works the body more. At the same time, he claims other yoga systems teach inauthentic poses, which seems to be hypocritical, because he obviously calls poses whatever he wants, rather than names related to their historical roots.

    I was also curious to know how Bikram implements the other elements of yoga in his life, as hatha (physical practice) is only one limb and there are supposed to be four aspects: karma, bhakti, jnana and raja to every school of yoga. Unfortunately, Bikram has no spiritual depth. He no longer practices bhakti yoga, and he openly expresses bigotry towards organized religion throughout his book. He believes Americans have no ethics. While this might be true of some people any where, there are people in this country who believe that their religious communities teach ethics at least as effectively as his ashrams in India (whose ethics teaching he no longer seems to follow any way). Contrary to yoga teachings, he has deep attachment to material goods,…

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