Day 1 – 6 Preparing for the Bikram Yoga Challenge

Hot yoga 1

The first few days of the Bikram yoga challenge is always about finding your rhythm in the practice. Best time to do it (which does move around a bit depending upon what else is happening in my life), and frequency (if you are doing more than one class a day).   Here are my tips…

TIP 1 – Play with the times to know your energetic best and worst

I have always preferred morning sessions. However, life is not that simple, so I have often practiced at the end of the day.

Know where you energetically feel your best and your worst. When you get closer to the finish line of your 30 days, you will need to pace your energy. Don’t be a hero – play smart and know when to give it 85% or even less, if it helps you over the line.

TIP 2 – Bring on the torture early – do a double in the first 10 days

I am not even going to act shocked and horrified that someone would do such a thing. I have not met one Bikram yogi who has NOT done a double in their practice. We all like to pretend we don’t, but most of us who are regulars, will have done at least 10 sets of doubles over the years of our practice.  Probably more.

And in a 30 day challenge, at some point, unless your world is absolutely perfectly organized, you will miss a day. Power to you, if you don’t miss a day, (and I might add, a teensy bit of envy from me).

So…..I always try to do a double session (2 sessions in one day, sometimes back to back) at least once in that first week. Because:

  1. The shock of the double early on is enough to make you think twice about missing a day, and having to do that again.
  2. It might help you ‘get ahead of the curve’, so you have one up your sleeve for that day towards the middle or the end, where you just can’t be shagged to go.

Tip 3 – Drink water, before, during and after class

For me, keeping hydrated during my challenge looks like this:

  • Beforethe day before – increase normal daily intake by about 1 litre before bedtime, the morning before – ½ litre;
  • During3 water breaks – about ¾ litre across the 3 breaks (once after Garudasana, once as you move from the standing to floor series, and one more after Ustrasana)
  • After – steady consumption for 2 hours of about 1 liter, then back to the before routine.

Please note – this is in addition to your normal water intake (which should be 2 – 3 litres a day right?). This extra drinking of water is one of the side benefits of Bikram, it requires focus and discipline, folks, because most of us don’t drink enough water anyway.

I can hear the shrieks from devotees.  What do you mean, drink water during a class?

Again, I state for the record – I am a bikram yoga advocate. But just as I also dive, and know its risks and rewards, so too, must I know about those associated with practicing Bikram yoga.

The most significant personal test you will face over your 30 day Bikram yoga challenge is remaining well hydrated, for ordinary life and for the yoga.

Just as the heat has the power to amplify the benefits of the yoga we do in the room, the heat also poses some of the greatest risks for Bikram yoga. You need to understand what happens to your core temperature when you do Bikram yoga (BY).

In 2014/15, The American Council on Exercise (ACE) conducted a study on BY. The hypotheses they were testing was that BY was inherently unsafe due to the heat impact on heart or body. (this is standard scientific testing  – to test the worst case scenario, the null hypthosis).

What they found was that while heart rate fluctuated throughout class depending on the difficulty of the pose being performed, core temperature steadily increased throughout the 90-minute class for both men and women. It increased most significantly after the 60 minute mark.

The average highest core temperature was 103.2 ± 0.78° F for men and 102.0 ± 0.92° F for women, with men having a significantly higher core temperature overall. Of the individuals in this study, one male participant had a core temperature of 104.1° F by the end of the 90-minute class, and seven of the 20 subjects had a core temperature greater than 103° F. Heat illness and heat stroke can occur at 104° F.

Heat illness and heat stroke can occur when our bodies reach temperatures close to and in excess of 104° F.  A Bikram yoga room is heated to 105 degrees. 

Based on the ACE study, the sweating we do in the room is clearly insufficient to cool us down when we are regularly practising Bikram yoga (let alone doing those doubles).

The ACE’s major advice for this significant health issue is to 1 – reduce the duration of the class, 2 – lower the temperature of the room, or 3 – the person hydrate more.

Now this advice flies in the face of those who have swallowed the Bikram ‘bible’ on water consumption, ie., you are not a serious grown up Bikram yogi if you drink water in class. (Given I have seen Bikram drinking water while guiding a practice, can’t work out where this piece of folklore has come from. Maybe he gets a free pass because he is the ‘guru’).

So end of Day 6, I am discussing heat with another Bikram yogi (some days no matter how hard a studio tries, getting that temperature/humidity level right can still be a little hit and miss). The room was so hot and humid, there was water running down the mirrors and not because someone had thrown water at them.   I was thirsty, and it took all my effort not to consume beyond my ¾ litre limit. I say this, and I get a lecture on not drinking in the room, because it is ‘bad’ for the body.

I wait until they are finished their spiel, and suggest she read the ACE article on core body temperatures in BY and their recommendations. I can’t resist and then add, one of their comments was that the view that one should not drink water in the room was, in fact, counterproductive to helping the body cool down.

I don’t think she believed me. And if you too, don’t believe, please read why you should drink water during Bikram class.

Om Shanti…..

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