Ninety minutes, 105-degree heat, 40 percent humidity, and the same 26 postures every class: It may not sound like something you'd voluntarily sign up for, but Bikram Yoga devotees will tell you that this routine is the best thing they can do for both their mind and their body. Bikram is a type of yoga founded by instructor Bikram Choudhury in the 1970s, now practiced at hundreds of studios around the United States and the world. What sets it apart from other forms of yoga are its two very specific tenants -- a hot, humid studio (often referred to as "the torture chamber") and its never-changing sequence of poses.
According to Bikram's Yoga College of India, the practice's official headquarters located in Los Angeles, Bikram's 26 postures "systematically work every part of the body, to give all the internal organs, all the veins, all the ligaments, and all the muscles everything they need to maintain optimum health and maximum function." [Source: Bikram Yoga] Doing the sequence in a heated room keeps muscles loose and flexible, and encourages students to sweat out impurities during class. (Bikram is also known as "hot yoga," but not all hot yoga classes follow the Bikram sequence or are taught by certified Bikram instructors.)
Many Bikram teachers and students will attest to the practice's potential to build strength, alleviate chronic pain or injuries, and improve both physical and mental health. But it is also an intense, and somewhat controversial, method: Dizziness and weakness during or after class are not uncommon, and doctors may advise against Bikram for people who have heart disease or other existing health conditions, or women who are pregnant. [Source: Laskowski] Whether you're thinking about trying Bikram for the first time or you already attend class regularly, it's important to be aware of both the benefits and the risks.