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exercise file: bikram yoga (what, how and what to wear)

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exercise file: bikram yoga (what, how and what to wear)

Caitlin Surakitbanharn

yoga, in theory is supposed to be approachable.  it's a practice of stretching, healing, mediating, and strengthening your body and mind in a way that is lower impact than running or weightlifting.  

but then there's Bikram.  you've probably heard of bikram.  it's the yoga that your friends will tell you....omg i tried that once it was SO INTENSE.  it's 90 minutes long, it's done in a room heated to 105 degrees with 40% humidity, it's 26 hard, sweaty poses that never change.  there's no music.  just an instructor, you, the mirror, and the sweltering heat.  and when you meet the people who champion bikram, who swear by it...they're these intense f*cking warrior humans that you feel that's not me.  like Lady Gaga.  it is kind of the furthest thing possible from approachable.

see how she's pulling her tummy in and staring straight ahead at herself in the mirror with SUCH determination?  warrior.  via gaga's instagram.

see how she's pulling her tummy in and staring straight ahead at herself in the mirror with SUCH determination?  warrior.  via gaga's instagram.

i remember my first class.  it was on a HOT summer day in New York in a small studio in SoHo.  i was excited, i love yoga!  i love a good physical challenge and i was excited to try it out.  then i walked in to the room.  Aiyeah!  the heat.  THE SMELL.  i was sweating already.  the instructor started class by reminding us....."this room, this designed to beat you.  but you will beat it today.  let's go."  it was a really hard 90 minutes of my life.  i'd never sweat so much before from every pore of my body.  i was dizzy.  i was hot.  but i did make it.  and after class i was DONE.  my body ached, my head hurt.  oy.  

from that first day, i've gone through bikram in phases.  in new york it was always very expensive, and i was in a different yoga phase then.  i'd go sometimes, or go in spurts when i was feeling in deep need of a cleanse, but not with regularity.  but here in Australia i've been going a lot.  and i wanted to talk about it.  because it shouldn't be so unapproachable or scary.  

so first things first. what is it?  bikram is a modified style of yoga made famous its founder, Bikram back in the 1970's. it is done in a room that's heated up to 105 degrees F with (ideally) 40% humidity.  it's a carpeted room so you don't slip.  you stand on a thin yoga mat and cover it with a towel (to mop that sweat up)  and you face a huge mirror.  there is no music.  just your instructor up on a small box.  it is 26 poses in the same sequence, every time, plus two breathing exercises.  it sounds repetitive but no two classes are every the same.

what is it LIKE when you're in there?  first of all, THE SMELL.  omg the smell for me at first was always the hardest part.  of COURSE studios clean their floors but honestly it's a carpeted floor where people drip insane amounts of sweat on it, and with unrelenting heat.  the smell is NEXT LEVEL.  i always tell newbies... in your first class, you spend the first 10 minutes trying not to vom from the smell, and the other 80 trying not to die.  and that's the truth, especially in your first class.  the heat is something no one will be "ready" for, and it's hard.  you will be dizzy (i still get dizzy), you will be drenched, you will need to sit down (i still need to sit down sometimes), you might feel nauseous.  but the most important thing is to stay in the room and KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN (at all times, no matter what, do not close them).  if you close your eyes, you'll get dizzy and lose balance immediately and it's hard to recover.  you WILL get used to the smell and you won't even notice it after a few times.

so all right all of this sounds awful.  why go at all or why keep it up?  the trick is...when you're finished, when you make it all the way through class and they open the door and that cool air rushes in and you walk out... THAT MOMENT.  that's it.  you feel like you are soaring, life will have amazing clarity.  and when you get that feeling... you'll be addicted.  and soon, that feeling starts coming during class, while you're in poses.  and suddenly life is all happening right there in that studio.  it's a spiritual meditation, and if you give yourself over to it, you will not only change your body but you will change your life.  i've had so many moments in Bikram where things that have been troubling me or plaguing me are on my mind and then suddenly they are SO CLEAR.  and i leave class and take care of it.  Bikram, if you stick with it, can take your life to the next frequency of yourself.  the picture below is me minutes after finishing class.  i'm drained, tired, sweaty...but i'm on top of the world.  

so that's me, post-bikram. sweaty MESS but HAPPY and totally riding that sweaty high!

so that's me, post-bikram. sweaty MESS but HAPPY and totally riding that sweaty high!

what i love about bikram is that it's a very raw form of body and mind exercise.  you stand there in this hot room, staring at yourself the entire time in the mirror, focused, quiet, no distractions.  you're alone with your mind and you have 90 minutes to work on yourself.  it's intense and powerfully transformative.  

AND YES  honestly with my tigers tattooed on my back now...i'm just like..i see them in the mirror when i'm bending over and i just feel their power radiating through me.  it's amazing!

so remember in my waist training - part 2 post, i was talking about pulling my abdominal wall in... and this is where you REALLY learn this trick.  during the practice, the instructor is constantly reminding you...abs in, suck your stomach in, abs in.  and you get used to this and if you practice for long enough you start developing a really tight, pulled-in tummy.  like Erika has (formerly OscarPRGirl... currently new mommy, but full time babe status bikram practicer).

Erika and her tight, pulled in tummy via bikram.  photo via tumblr.

Erika and her tight, pulled in tummy via bikram.  photo via tumblr.

and finally, what do you wear to this sweat fest?  as little as possible.  and i honestly think for a lot of people, this part is the most intimidating... but typically you wear short shorts and a sports bra.  it is the most practical with all that sweat.  but wearing super short shorts and showing your stomach isn't always the easiest for everyone.  one thing to remember is: yoga is a judgement free zone, especially bikram.  i've never felt judged in class, and i know that i have personally never judged someone else's body while in class, no matter what they're wearing.  i always see it as a safe place to try the public workout in a sports bra :-)  lululemon is my usual go-to when going to yoga... i like their sports bras the most (the All Sport Bra is my #1), and below is my usual look.  all sport bra, a pair of bikram shorts they put out a few years ago...and that's it.

so up above are a few options that i personally love.  AND YOU KNOW I LOVE THAT ONE-PIECE ROMPER BODYSUIT THING.  i don't have it but OMG i'm dying for it and i love ANYTHING in one piece format!  but anyways. the key for your bikram look is 1. form fitting 2. sweat wicking material (a cotton t-shirt would be less than ideal) 3. shorts so you can see your knees in the mirror (staring at your knees helps you keep your balance!) 4. a sports bra is honestly best so you can see yourself pulling your abs in. 


  1. the boogie short (roll down) made with full-on-luon in animal swirl deep coal light
  2. the drop it like it's hot leotard in dramatic static
  3. the all sport bra 3 : this is my #1 best of the best sports bra for bikram.
  4. the kanto catch me bra in kanto stripe sapphire blue/black

oh.  and hair in a top knot obviously!  

so as you see - bikram IS intense but it's not unapproachable.  yes, those of us who routinely stand in that room, designed to beat us, and battle through the 90 minutes with bengal tiger strength (it's a bikram thing)....we ARE warriors.  but anyone can do it.  my classes are filled with women my age, dudes in their 60s, super fit yogi looking dudes that also have to sit down in class sometimes too...and everything in between!   anyone can do it, and everyone should.  it's amazing.  

so bottom line: google bikram yoga in your area, sign up for the first week or month (usually at a discounted rate!), and go do it.  bring a towel of your own and a mat (or you can rent a mat from the studio!), bring a big water bottle full of water....and HYDRATE before class too.  don't eat 1 hour before class.  go in there with a positive attitude.  kill it.  bengal tiger strength.