Before you first lay down your mat, before your first pose, before you even step foot in a yoga studio -- you have to decide on a yoga style that matches your intention for practicing in the first place. Both Power yoga and Bikram yoga offer a challenging physical practice, but differ greatly in their approaches. Bikram is always done in a steaming hot room and consists of a set sequence of postures, while Power yoga may be held in a room of moderate or heated temperatures and consists of flowing postures that vary according to an instructor's preferences. Both can help you develop strength, relieve stress and promote flexibility -- but neither is for the faint of heart.
Points of Origin
Bikram Choudhury selected 26 postures from Hatha yoga and created his own practice, known now as Bikram yoga. He claims that these particular postures work every part of the body and, as a whole, give it everything it needs to "maintain optimum health and maximum function." Bikram brought his form of yoga to the United States in 1973. One of the hallmarks of Bikram yoga is the extreme heat of the room in which you practice. Temperatures are 105 degrees Fahrenheit with a humidity of about 40 percent. Power yoga is the westernized version of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga, a form developed by Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India. Beryl Bender Birch and Brian Kest, both of whom studied Ashtanga extensively, simultaneously coined the term "Power" yoga when they started teaching Ashtanga-influenced styles in the late 1980s. They thought the name "Power" would be more appealing and understandable for a Western audience. Baron Baptiste is another well-known practitioner of a style of Power yoga.
Bikram always consists of the same 26 postures including two breathing exercises, while Power yoga may include any number of postures strung together in a challenging manner. A heated room is a must for Bikram, while Power yoga can be done in a temperature of the instructor's choosing. Bikram yoga is trademarked, and to call your teaching "Bikram yoga," you must be certified by an official Bikram Institute approved by Choudhury. Power yoga is not a trademarked name, so you will find that the practice varies widely from teacher to teacher.
Rules, Rules and More Rules
Bikram is a rule-based practice. Official studios must have carpeting, and mirrors on the front wall of the room only. Bright lighting is required throughout class, and no hands-on adjustments are allowed unless they are performed by Choudhury himself. Bikram classes are always 90 minutes long, and the teacher instructs from the front of the room -- never the back. You'll never experience music during a Bikram class. Power yoga doesn't provide strict guidelines. Classes can be any length, and the studio can have any type of flooring, lighting and music. Hands-on adjustments are common in Power yoga.
Posture and Breath
In Power yoga, you'll experience traditional Sun Salutations, Downward-Facing Dog and Warrior poses. Bikram yoga does not feature these familiar poses and does not flow seamlessly from one pose to the next. Poses are held for a specific amount of time and do not flow together. Vinyasa, which refers to the process of breathing and moving from posture to posture, is a hallmark of Power yoga. In Power yoga, you use a flowing, heat-promoting breath called Ujjayi in which you inhale and exhale rhythmically through your nose. Bikram yoga employs different breathing techniques called 80-20 breathing or exhalation breathing, depending on the posture.