Bikram Yoga: The Dictator’s Sport (and 10 reasons I hate it)

…wrecking necks worldwide.

For me, Bikram Yoga is like meat, or an abusive relationship. I know it’s bad for me, but desperate times call for desperate measures and something (in this case exercise) is better than nothing. It’s like when I’m starving and my only option is a steak, I know it’s not what I want and might make me feel kind of gross, but is better than starving. As for Bikram, if you like a trifecta of domanatrix-hippie-military psuedo-exercise, it’s for you! If you don’t like downdog, chatturanga, or spirituality, and don’t mind sweaty buttcracks and banana sacks then sign right up!

So basically, I truly hate Bikram and think it’s fundamentally wrong, but I went because, for the love of god, I want to find yoga in Paris. I went to Bikram Paris- yep I’m giving the name even though it’s not always in my best interest to point fingers.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with Bikram Yoga- it’s a style of yoga founded in the 60’s where you have a sequence of 26 poses over the course of 90 minutes. The first hour is all standing poses, then you spend 30 minutes doing seated poses and the last five minutes in savasana a.k.a corpse pose.

Maybe this is too much of a rant, but I’m about to get specific because I want to share why I loathe it so much. For this, I shall imploy a list.

1. There is NO creativity involved. Anyone could be a Bikram teacher, all you have to do it repeat the same thing over and over, day after day. Sure, I went to French and English classes so being bilingual might be required but other than that it’s autopilot status. Which leads me to…

2. Why does it cost so much then? $25 for one class? Why? For the labor it takes to wash towels and fold mats? Suck it.

3. The fundamental contradiction against yoga: you walk in and there is a photo of the founder, Bikram Choudhury sitting on a tiger pelt, head intact (as seen above). The guy also has a garage full of Bentley’s and has claimed to have taught Madonna, Nixon, Indira Gandhi, Pope John Paul, and the Beatles (in 1959 before they were actually a group…) The guy makes around $10 million per month. Capitalist healing at its finest *cough*Deepak Chopra*cough*.

4. The smell. At this place, the smell changed daily. There’s always the distinct Bikram smell when you walk into the studio (since it’s heated to 105 degrees F) butttt about 30 minutes into class something would waft into the room. Once it smelled like carrot juice, then soup, then teriyaki, then a skunky curry, then ASS.

5. The teachers are so mean. Yes, I understand that, like kids, people need rules and to be pushed in order to exceed which is why we hire trainers and have coaches, so on and so forth, but Bikram teachers are just out of their goddam minds RUDE. They’ve got to be the people who were teased so much in high school they’re still getting their revenge on the world. Kind of strung out on a faux hippie trip. Kind of bug-eyed. Most often wearing man panties.

6. Instructions and improper grammar. In Bikram, the teachers (regardless of location) will aggressively call you out for having your foot in the *wrong* spot or not moving your towel so you don’t eat it into the smelly carpet, but one of my teachers just stood on her podium (they wear microphone headsets at this place) and harrassed people. I get called out a lot because I constantly modify (which they hate). But god forbid you have to pee  (or hide in the bathroom) : “Where are you going!?” … “”Uh the bathroom…(because it smells like f***ing carrots and B.O)” … “Unless you’re going to throw up, stay in the room. And you don’t look like you’re going to throw up. And don’t go downstairs, stay where I can see you,” at which point I decided that I would, in fact, rather throw up than stay in the room, and left. Not before she said “your friend doesn’t need to know about it,” when Annie asked me if I was okay because I was close to passing out from extreme stench. Additionally, they say things that don’t actually makes sense, like, “Put your exactly forehead on your knee,” and “try…more…harder.” They also say stupid things like “DO NOT blink your eyes,” “If you feel like you’re going to blackout, that’s a good thing,” and “You need to do the exact Bikam poses, that’s why you’re here.” The last one was directed at an older, rounder woman on her first day of Bikram who laid down on her mat at one point.

7. Bad positions for your neck. The teachers are always saying to touch your forehead to your knee, not elongate your neck and back like you do in ashtanga. They also do that weirdo breathing exercise at the beginning where you basically roll your neck backwards and forwards and by the end I can barely lower my shoulders. Also, there are like 25 baby savasanas during the last 30 minutes. Why do I have to lay down for 20 seconds right now? Why can’t we just do the next pose? You want to me whip my spine around? I started doing sneaky one-armed pushup transitions in order to protect my spine from curling in difference directions to lay down. It just seems like a counterproductive, non-graceful waste of time.

8. No thigh or butt workout. I mean if we’re trimming the spiritual fat and this is just about exercise, why is there no focus on the butt? Everyone walks around in itty bitty shorts rocking out saddlebags and cellulite (not that there’s anything wrong with that per say) and it’s just like uhhh uhhhhh uhhhhhh I am not sure this kind of yoga permits you to wear that.

9. There is no praise for succeeding in a posture. Just criticism. You know what I love about yoga? When your teachers encourage you to do a posture you’re scared of, show you how, help you, then tell you you did a great job (even if you didn’t) so that you get back on the horse next time. If you tell me I suck, I’m not going to try again DUH.

10. Mirrors: They force you to look at yourself in the mirror, which is sick and I think produces self-loathing and obsession with body image. Reminds me of, who was it, Gwyneth? Who said she ate in front of the mirror. It’s helpful once in a while to see yourself to make sure you’re doing the poses right but mirrors in yoga studios are not needed.

I went 10 times (twice one day, none on Sunday *thanks Jesus*) and by the last day, I modified the crap out of every pose and left early, which was, probably rude and karmically f’ed but I got to the point where I was like, “hmm, I think this might be considered abuse.” I did feel slightly stronger in my core afterwards but I also felt tight and non-energized. The whole thing to me was just weird because of the repetition and all I wanted was my ashtanga poses. Sometimes during the transitions between poses, I would sneak in an ashtanga pose and it would feel so good it was like a nerve-ending party and my back would arch like a cat in (not on) ecstasy. At the end, I would jump up instead of staying for the final Savasana in order to shower and get the hell up out of there. In other places, I like my rest. There, just no.

I had gone in Seattle last year (to the Sweat Box) and had the same experience so I’m not internationally biased. All in all, I swear on my life I will never go to another Bikram class unless someone pays me. Three figures, maybe 4.

If you like it, please tell me why.

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23 thoughts on “Bikram Yoga: The Dictator’s Sport (and 10 reasons I hate it)

  1. Haha this was a fun post – I used to work at a Bikram studio and it was like a cult!

    The teachers weren’t as mean as the ones you’ve had, but they were definitely crazy. They were all were obsessed with sharing stories about when they met Bikram himself. And everyone was pretty sure if you felt like throwing up it was a good sign. Uhhh…right!

    1. Hahaha nuts! So many yoga studios get cult-like pretty fast, especially when they “found” a concept *cough*Jivamukti*cough* but the community they can create when it doesn’t get to that place of negative conformation is so special. Glad you survived!

    2. Yep! I feel the same. I heard one teacher comment, you won’t be so lucky as to die on your mat today. Yeah, that’s a great yogi mindset. They hate ppl leaving Bc one sparks another and another….and they don’t want people walking out Bc it’s nothing more than a competition

  2. I love it. Makes me feel good. It’s also good for putting the ego in it’s place. Sometimes my mind is a little too active – tells me that I should leave the room, it’s too hard, go pee etc etc. This part of my mind has never done me any good. I realized recently that it is not “me” but my ego. The Bikram practice makes that voice in the head, that ego, that part of you that is not really “you: but thinks it is – it makes that your little bitch. Turns the tables on it. That little ego gets a big time beat down in Bikram because the voice will say “you can’t do this, it’s too hot! it’s smells! leave, go enjoy Paris” (I’ve been to that studio too!) but eventually you train it – that voice, your ego, so when it says those things you say “bullshit, I CAN do this, I can go farther, I can stay here and totally concentrate and focus. I can do whatever I set me mind to despite your negative cacophony”. All that transfers to the real world so when I get into a stressful situation, I can tell myself ‘no, don’t worry, you can handle this.”

    So, for that reason – the practice of determination, I enjoy Bikram. But to each his own and I really enjoyed your post. Great prose! Thanks!

    1. Thanks for your input! I definitely applaud anyone who likes it (seems like the majority are men?) and can reap the benefits of practicing Bikram. Very true about the ego- I think that’s why I appreciate the dancerly Ashtanga Vinyasa I do in New York- because it pushes me so hard I am forced to only think about breathing into my muscles, balancing, and listening to my body not my mind, whereas in Bikram I don’t feel challenged, just belittled and…well..hot haha. There are always two sides to the coin though, thanks again for the feedback!

  3. Woah, I can see where your coming from. I have experienced some disgusting yoga rooms. However, Bikram Yoga works. Not just anyone can be a teacher. When you take enough classes and you have a brand new teacher or a seasoned teacher, what a difference, even though they are teaching the same class, it’s an amazing experience. I think you are keeping it real and these are all actually things a studio could fix, shut the teachers up from too much chatter, make them practice more, and cleaner fresher studios. But you post is true for the most part, but kinda like a half truth.

  4. Haha, great article Kayla. I will say that I do practice Bikram but I am far from getting into any of that spiritual mumbo jumbo. I had a hip injury that wasn’t fixed after 2 years of Pilates so I decided to give Birkam a go. I hated my first class! the smell, the wet carpet, the sweat (luckily I didn’t have teachers like you)- but it did help my hip. it takes me a good 3 or 4 classes to get back into it and only after 15 do i really enjoy it again. I do see where you are coming from though! Good article

    1. P.S I have heard terrible things about Bikram himself and don’t like the fact he benefits so much and that the teachers love him so much!

    2. Thanks Steph! That’s great it helped your hip, I can definitely see how it would be a good recovery activity. I’m not into the spiritual side, but I do appreciate the option to listen to my body and do what feels good instead of what is prescribed. Hope your hip is better!

  5. I mix in Bikram yoga as it is difficult for all the reasons you stated and then some. I’ve never left a Bikram class feeling like I wasted my time. My body benefits from the class, all the rest is just mind chatter.

    1. I hear you. It’s true that it is challenging and it does work your body, I just don’t feel like the poses are good for alignment, nor spirit for that matter. I like leaving yoga feeling invigorated and I often left Bikram feeling ill at ease, but to each their own!

  6. people with sense of entitlement and half baked knowledge would never learn…the writer of this article is not just ignorant, selfish but feeding an agenda..

    bikram yoga works and has helped millions changed lives for better. it has created a buzz of hot yoga in the western world –its hard, challenging but the right yoga because of postures done correctly and in the right sequence…
    people come from other yoga methods, practiced in diluted postures but can’t survive bikram for 20 mins…then they blame yoga …

    its just an orchestrated effort to demoralize from doing bikram since it works.

    1. 1. This is my opinion. You are entitled to yours and me to mine.
      2. Feeding into what agenda? This is a recount of my personal experience, not a movement.
      3. At no point in this post do I discount that Bikram has benefits for some people.
      4. You last sentence doesn’t even make sense. If it worked why would I demoralize it?
      5. Don’t tell me I have half-baked knowledge when you come into my world and make big assumptions and contradictions about who I am, where I’ve been, and what I know. Your words are clearly a reflection of your own myopic view and general lack of knowledge of the simple fact that not all yoga is created equal nor are all bodies. If you actually read my article, or had it translated into your first language, you might understand that I was dissecting what *I* don’t like about it. I didn’t say it should be eradicated from the face of the earth. Open your eyes and open your mind.

      1. Kayla,
        you are nothing but an angry paid basher. keep your opinion to yourself. When you broadcast them in public, you incriminate yourself to counter opinions and you have no right to do that…

        Nobody twisted your arm to go practice Bikram, you didn’t like the class then find something else to do. Instead you went 10 times , mocked the discipline, wasted every one’s time including yours and now using the power of pen and internet to spread your toxic words.

        hurting necks?? you are not even qualified to talk about yoga postures –stick to the the things you know..these postures are thousand of years old and have helped millions…thanks to Bikram who has spent his life protecting the right way of doing.

        people like you do core power or other forms of diluted yoga which are nothing but different flavors of yogurt and not yoga…
        go light some candles, invite your angry friends and worship your ego. for the sake of humanity, stay out of Bikram.

      2. Bardas,

        You know absolutely nothing about me, nor the kind of yoga I practice or my knowledge of the different styles, the sutras, none of it. You don’t know what I do, who my friends are, or who I am.

        Do not tell me I am not qualified to make statements about my own experience. Do not tell me what kind of yoga I do or do not do, nor what I can or cannot do. Do not dare tell me that my experiences are not valid.

        I will go ahead and say what I want about Bikram because I simply don’t like it and I don’t think it’s helpful for everyone. I’m not paid (perhaps you are paid to defend it?) and that insinuation is distasteful. I don’t know where you grew up, but in the US we say what we want, how we want, when we want. Likewise, you are entitled to say what you want, however shallow and futile it may be, and perhaps if you read the above comments you would see the rational conversations this sparked. It’s people like you, those who feel the need to bulldoze others with their opinions, that the world needs less of. Your chauvinistic behavior may be accepted in other parts of the world but not here. Lastly, your comments indicate anything but someone who deems himself a yoga practitioner, so thank you for proving my point about Bikram!

        You’re an internet troll and a disgrace to yoga communities everywhere. BYE.

  7. I completely agree with this article, I come from practising Vinyasa and Ashtanga and Bikram seems like a cult-like atmosphere. The instructors LOVE Bikram and they all act like drill sergeants. That is not the purpose of yoga, at all!!! I have been practising for yoga for years and I’ve noticed that these little drill sergeants don’t teach you how to breathe, nor how to actually do the poses, those strange breathing exercises cannot be good for the neck. I noticed while I was adjusting my hands and rounding my back and trying to do Prana, mind you in midst of the putrid stench. The instructors did not appreciate the fact I was breathing or doing my postures the way I know how, the proper way. I was chastised for standing on my mat during triangle pose, I even emailed a former complaint to the studio, I am on class 3 and I come out of there extremely angry. This has never happened to me with yoga before!

    I refuse to stand on the germ-infested thing they have as carpeting. I was told that if I did not do the triangles correctly I had to leave, all because off the mat and looking the mirror (yoga uses no mirrors! Where there mirrors 5,000 years ago in India? F*king H*ll!) Therefore, I refused to do the triangle postures, because I was not allowed on my mat. By then I was so stressed out and p*ssed off, because I could not practice to benefit my body, at the end I was crying because of the way I was treated, not because I was intimidated, but because I was p*ssed off and upset I could not give that pseudo instructor a piece of my mind. All the instructors go on and on about: “Bikram says this,” “Bikram says that.” I know a woman who studied under Bikram, and she herself, told me he’s insane and she’s right!

  8. Thank you for your comment Lilith! I couldn’t agree more, particularly about what the poses do to your neck. Every time I left I was in physical pain and I was emotionally upset from being berated by a stranger in a speedo. That’s crazy they told you to leave if you weren’t doing triangle “their way.” That always got to me. I just felt like screaming “don’t tell me what to do with my own body!” And god forbid you take child’s pose or leave the room because they so dramatically antagonize you. Anyways, thanks for sharing you experience. I can’t imagine studying under Bikram, hopefully your friend wasn’t one of the women he assaulted. That man needs some consequences for his actions (and his ego)!

  9. I was searching for others who hated Bikram Yoga when they first began and I had to click on this for the title, given I consider myself of the lefty-socialist persuasion. I was pretty shocked by the method of teaching, I only began this past week and the teachers really are like drill sergeants. But as an intermediate beginner who fell in love with and did Iyengar my first 3 months, and then moved, Bikram is definitely offering me something I need. It’s a chance for me to practice my form and rapidly gain strength and balance. The mirrors also help, as someone who always avoids the mirrors in yoga and has posture problems, being forced to check myself out and see what proper alignment should look like is something I hope will make a lasting change.

    I’ve moved to a city where flow yoga is the predominant kind which is pretty frustrating for me. I feel that I don’t have the experience or proper form to take a typical flow class and the majority of teachers don’t put any emphasis on technique at all. I’ve resolved to take a few months of Bikram, despite disliking so many aspects of the practice. (“Lock your knee”, really?? That’s such an irresponsible way to say it and can lead to serious injury if people are hyper-extending rather than activating the quad.) I just hope by the end I haven’t joined the cult myself! Just joking, it’s too bad such a morally bankrupt person as Bikram is profiting so much off of yoga. Actually makes me feel better not to be going to a “real” accredited studio.

    1. Hi Erin! I’m so glad to hear examples where Bikram DOES serve a purpose! I’m not the type to believe there isn’t good in things I don’t agree with. I absolutely agree with you that a lot of flow teachers don’t actually spend enough (or any) time on form which can lead to injury (happened to me! Poor chatturanga=death to one’s shoulders). Goes to show the responsibility that comes with teaching anything physical.

      Have you read this yet? http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/24/us/cracks-show-in-bikram-yoga-empire-amid-claims-of-rape-and-assault.html

  10. This article really hit the nail on the head for me. I love Ashtanga yoga so much but got tempted by an intro offer at a bikram studio and I don’t like it at all. I miss the flow and the energy of Ashtanga. Bikram feels stilted in comparison. The smell is appalling. The heat is so oppressive all I can think about is how badly I want to leave the room.
    Luckily my teacher is lovely though!

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