Bikram yogis perform an intense, 26-posture series in a room heated to about 105 degrees with elevated humidity. Founder Bikram Choudhury has said he incorporated the heat component both to replicate the climate of his native India and to facilitate the body's ability to stretch and cleanse itself through sweat. Despite the harsh conditions, Bikram -- as he’s called by students -- considers his beginner series appropriate for yogis in any condition and of any age. Check with your doctor before beginning Bikram yoga if you are pregnant or have a chronic illness or other health concern.
Like most styles of hatha yoga, Bikram yoga requires you to stretch and stress your muscles beyond their accustomed limits. Yogis attempt to hold one-legged standing postures such as Standing Head-to-Knee and Standing Bow, for example, for up to 60 seconds at a time -- a maneuver that requires you to contract the quadriceps muscle of your standing leg continuously. Poses such as Hands to Feet Pose and Separate Leg Stretching Pose induce a deep stretch in the hamstrings, and the back-strengthening series -- Cobra, Half Locust, Full Locust and Bow -- stresses the muscles that support your spine. If your muscles are tight and unaccustomed to such exertion, you can expect to feel sore for a few days afterward. Bikram instructors often say the best remedy for a sore body is more yoga, but a pain reliever, ice pack or warm bath can help, as well.
You will sweat a lot in a Bikram yoga class. Bikram teachers stress the importance of keeping yourself well hydrated before and after class; if you fail to do so you may notice symptoms of dehydration such as headache, constipation and lightheadedness. To avoid dehydration, drink plenty of liquids up to two hours before class, sip water between postures during class -- but wait until after Eagle Pose, when your instructor gives the OK -- and rehydrate generously after class. Beverages that contain electrolytes, such as sports drinks or coconut water, can be especially helpful.
If weight control is among your goals, regular practice may help. A study published in the March 2013 issue of "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" found "modestly decreased body fat" in young adults who practiced Bikram three times a week for eight weeks. You can also pay extra attention to the compression poses in the Bikram series, such as Rabbit and Standing Separate Leg Head-to-Knee; they are intended to stimulate the thyroid and parathyroid glands, fine-tuning your metabolism and potentially aiding weight loss.
Bikram yogis sometimes joke about having "yoga brain" immediately after class, a short-lived condition in which you're still so relaxed and possibly "blissed-out" from practice that it's difficult to perform complex mental processes like doing math in your head. You may experience prolonged sweating or fatigue after a particularly hard class. Beneficial effects of continued practice include improved flexibility, better digestion, higher energy levels, better sleep and enhanced mood, according to Bikram theory.