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|Established||late 20th century|
|Unchanging sequence of postures in a heated room, designed as a rejuvenating exercise to strengthen the entire body, from head to toe.|
Bikram Yoga is a system of yoga that Bikram Choudhury synthesized from traditional hatha yoga techniques and popularized beginning in the early 1970s. All Bikram Yoga Beginning Series classes run for 90 minutes and consist of the same series of 26 postures, including two breathing exercises. Bikram Yoga is a hot yoga style, and is ideally practiced in a room heated to 40 °C (104 °F) with a humidity of 40%. All official Bikram classes are taught by Bikram-certified teachers, who have completed nine weeks of training endorsed by Choudhury. Bikram-certified teachers are taught a standardized dialogue to run the class, but are encouraged to develop their teaching skills the longer they teach. This results in varying deliveries and distinct teaching styles.
Bikram Choudhury, founder of the Bikram Yoga system, is also the founder of the Yoga College of India. Born in Calcutta in 1944, Choudhury began practicing yoga at age four. He claims that he practiced yoga 4–6 hours every day. At the age of thirteen, he claims to have won the National India Yoga Championship. He claims he was undefeated for the following three years and retired as the undisputed All-India National Yoga Champion.
Choudhury later devised the 26 postures sequence and founded Bikram's Yoga College of India. He has also written books and sings.
After practicing Bikram yoga three times per week for eight weeks, a 2013 study of healthy adults found that deadlift strength and flexibility improved, and participants lost a small amount of body fat. However, they found no improvements on cardiovascular measures. The same researcher found that women burned 330 calories and men 460 per 90-minute session, roughly the equivalent of walking briskly at about 3.5 miles per hour for 90 minutes.
There are many different forms of yoga and they can all help in different ways, for example with Bikram Yoga you burn more calories due to the heated environment whereas Warm Yin Yoga is a deeply meditative style of yoga consisting of floor postures which helps with flexibility. Excessive sweating caused by the hot and humid conditions of a Bikram yoga room can result in dehydration. There is also a risk of hyperthermia: overheating of the human body. Symptoms include nausea, dizziness, fainting, and potentially heat stroke. A strong focus on replenishing electrolytes before and after class, combined with listening to one's body and resting during class when necessary, reduces these risks.
Bikram literature claims the benefit of releasing toxins by sweating. This benefit is minimal (less than one percent of the body's toxins), as toxins are primarily released through the digestive tract.
Various conditions such as multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and some cardiac complications can cause unique sensitivities to heat. Those struggling with these conditions are encouraged to check with their doctors before beginning hot yoga. Additionally, those who take medications for depression, nervousness, or insomnia may also wish to check with a doctor to determine if the heat will exacerbate any medical conditions.
According to an article in the Huffington Post, The health benefits of the additional heat are "largely perceptual", because "People think the degree of sweat is the quality of the workout, but that's not reality. It doesn't correlate to burning more calories.". A small study by the American Council of Exercise found "no difference in the increase in core temperature or heart rate between the two 60-minute sessions."
In Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class (First Edition), Choudhury claims he conducted medical studies at the Tokyo University Medical School validating the medical benefits of his 26 postures. During one of the lawsuits, defendants demanded copies of the "medical" studies and Choudhury claimed he could not find them. In Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class (Second Edition), Choudhury removed all references to medical studies.
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One controversial component of Bikram Yoga pertains to the prevalence of Yoga Asana Championships, regionally and nationally. While practitioners of other forms of yoga maintain that competition contradicts the idea of peace and unity, Choudhury contends, "Competition is the foundation for all democratic societies. For without 'Competition', there is no democracy."
In India, where yoga originated, yoga competitions have been around for over a century. Yoga Sports Federation which hosted The 9th Annual Bishnu Charan Ghosh Cup in June 2012 says that yoga competitions inspire both practicing yogis and newcomers to sharpen their skills. Another aim of the Federation is to turn Yoga Asana into a recognized Olympic sport.
Copyright claims on Bikram Yoga
Choudhury has claimed that Bikram Yoga is under copyright and that it could not be taught or presented by anyone whom he had not authorized. Choudhury began making those claims in 2011. In 2011 Choudhury started a lawsuit against Yoga to the People, a competing yoga studio founded by a former student of Choudhury's and with a location near one of the Bikram Yoga studios in New York. Choudhury lost at first instance, and appealed the decision, with the Court of Appeal dismissing his copyright claim over yoga poses in Bikram Yoga.
As a result of that lawsuit, the United States Copyright Office issued a clarification that yoga postures (asanas) could not be copyrighted in the way claimed by Choudhury, and that Yoga to the People and others could continue to freely teach these exercises.
Two lawsuits accusing Choudhury of rape were filed in May 2013, in which a Jane Doe alleges sexual battery, false imprisonment, discrimination, harassment, and other counts in addition to the rape allegation. It describes a cult-like atmosphere where Choudhury's followers help him find young women to assault. "Other persons in defendant Bikram Choudhury's inner circle, were aware of defendant Bikram Choudhury's pattern and practice of causing, inducing or persuading young women to enroll in teacher training classes to become yoga instructors only so he can sexually assault and/or rape them," the lawsuit claims.
The suits paint a cult-like atmosphere at the training camps. Trainees were allegedly told that Choudhury is on the same level as Jesus Christ or the Buddha, that Bikram yoga can cure cancer and that practitioners will be able to live to 100 years old. Trainees were bullied and humiliated as well as praised, the suits say, and Choudhury allegedly gave lectures in which he disparaged gays, Americans and made ethnic slurs. Jane Doe 2 claims that Choudhury recruits volunteers from overseas who are "so in fear of defendant Bikram Choudhury's wrath that they will travel to the US and risk violating immigration laws in order to serve him. Once in the US these volunteers work for little or zero pay. "Their duties include grooming him, massaging him, making his tea, bring[ing] him food and being forced to submit to sexual assaults and rapes against their will," the suit alleges.
Minakshi "Micki"Jafa-Bodden served as Head of Legal and International Affairs from Spring 2011 to March 13, 2013 when she claims she was "abruptly and unlawfully terminated" according to the court documents filed on July 12, 2013 in the Superior Court of California, Los Angeles. But perhaps the more serious matters lie within the 2 years that Jafa-Bodden worked closely with Choudhury, during which she claims she was victim and witness to Choudhury's "severe, ongoing, pervasive and offensive conduct" especially to women, as well as homosexuals, African Americans and basically every other minority. The complaint is the fourth sex-based discrimination/sexual harassment/rape related suit filed this year against Choudhury.
Bikram teacher Sarah Baughn filed a sexual harassment suit in March (just before Jafa-Bodden was fired), and two other unnamed women filed similar suits accusing Choudhury of sexual harassment, intimidation and rape in May. Shea Law Offices and Shegerian & Associates, the attorneys representing Baughn, now represent a total of six women claiming Bikram sexually assaulted and/or raped them. In an April, 2015 CNN interview with Baughn and Bikram, Bikram spoke out for the first time denying the allegations. Bikram went on to say "I have no intention to have sex with any of my students or any women...Sometimes students, they commit suicide. Lots of students of mine, they commit suicide because I will not have sex with them".
In April 2015, the accusations raised larger questions in the yoga community, including an article by the Washington Post "asking whether it's wise to put so much faith in a guru".
August 18, 2015, Petra Starke who was his attorney, President and CEO from 3/2013 to 1/2015 filed a complaint in the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles (A6037-90064). This complaint alleged nine issues including breach of contract, wrongful termination and failure to prevent discrimination and harassment.
The 26 Asanas (postures)
The following are the 26 postures of Bikram Yoga. These are taught in the Beginning Bikram Yoga Class. The sequence is taught by people who have been trained and certified by Bikram Choudhury.
|1||प्राणायाम||Standing Deep Breathing (lit. Breath Extension)||May help prevent respiratory problems|
|2||अर्धचन्द्रासन with पादहस्तासन||Half Moon Pose with Hands To Feet Pose||Strengthens muscles in body's core along with improving flexibility of the spine|
|3||उत्कटासन||Awkward Pose||Helps tone and shape legs while it may relieve arthritis in the legs|
|4||गरुडासन||Eagle Pose||Opens up the 14 largest joints and helps fresh blood move through the reproductive system|
|Standing Head To Knee Pose||Improves the sciatic nerves flexibility and may strengthen hamstrings plus other leg muscles|
|Standing Bow Pose||Helps develop balance while potentially firming upper thighs and the abdominal wall|
|Balancing Stick Pose||Helps send blood to the heart, cleansing the arteries and veins|
|8||दण्डायमन विभक्तपाद पश्चिमोत्तानासन
Daṇḍāyamana Vibhaktapāda Paścimottānāsana
|Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose||Helps stretch and strengthen sciatic nerves and tendons in the legs|
|9||त्रिकोणासन||Triangle Pose||May help alleviate lower back pain and crooked spines while improving muscles and internal organs|
|10||दण्डायमन विभक्तपाद जानुशीर्षासन
Daṇḍāyamana Vibhaktapāda Jānuśīrṣāsana
|Standing Separate Leg Head To Knee Pose||May help regulate metabolism and immune system while trimming the lower body|
|11||ताडासन||Tree Pose||Helps improve posture, balance and flexibility while strengthening oblique muscles|
|Toe Stand Pose||Helps strengthen knees, ankles, and feet while potentially reducing hemorrhoid problems|
|13||शवासन||Corpse Pose||Helps circulation and the blood flows throughout the body to create internal cleansing|
|14||पवनमुक्तासन||Wind Removing Pose||Compresses the digestive system and helps strengthen the arms, abdomen and thighs while improving hip flexibility|
|15||पादहस्तासन||Situp||Helps increase flexibility to stretch the spine and improves circulation of the legs by working the muscles|
|16||भुजङ्गासन||Cobra Pose||Helps strengthen the spine and may relieve pain from scoliosis, arthritis and menstrual disorders while potentially improving the digestive system|
|17||शलभासन||Locust Pose||Similar benefits as Cobra
Helps strengthen the upper spine and legs
|Full Locust Pose||May relieve pain from scoliosis and slipped discs while strengthening the middle spine and increasing elasticity of the rib cage|
|19||धनुरासन||Bow Pose||Helps increase circulation and strength of the spine while revitalizing the spinal nerves and opening up the rib cage to expand lungs|
|20||सुप्तवज्रासन||Fixed Firm Pose (lit. Reclining Thunderbolt Pose)||Helps improve strength and flexibility of the lower spine, knees, hips and ankle joints while increasing circulation that may relieve pain|
|21||अर्धकूर्मासन||Half Tortoise Pose||Helps increase blood flow to the brain and stretches the lower part of the lungs while relieving tension in the neck and shoulders|
|22||उष्ट्रासन||Camel Pose||Stimulates the nervous system and improves flexibility of the spine and neck while stretching the abdominal organs and throat|
|23||शसांगासना||Rabbit Pose||Increases elasticity of the spine and back muscles while potentially helping to alleviate colds or sinus problems and may relieve tension near the neck and shoulders|
|24||जानुशीर्षासन with पश्चिमोत्तानासन||Head To Knee Pose with Back Stretching Pose||May improve digestion and circulation in the bowels while helping the immune system|
|25||अर्धमत्स्येन्द्रासन||Spine Twisting Pose (lit. Half Lord of the Fishes Pose)||Helps improve elasticity of the spine and increases circulation in the spinal nerves while relieving lower back pain|
|Blowing In Firm Pose (lit. Skull Illuminating)||Strengthens the abdominal organs while increasing the elasticity of the lungs and helping improve digestion and circulation|
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