By Melissa Luyben
Our time here on Earth is precious. Setting aside moments for self-care and exercise is critical and, yet, can be so challenging. When we do decide to give ourselves the gift of exercise, we want to make sure it really counts. Practicing the traditional 90-minute beginning Bikram yoga class is the most transformational workout experience for your body and mind. I know this is a bold statement; however, I’ve experienced it for myself, and witnessed countless people become the best version of themselves because of the beginning Bikram yoga class. Make no mistake, squeezing in a 60-minute class on a day when your schedule is packed can be a real blessing—any time you can move your body is a real celebration. I’m just saying the benefits from a 90-minute class are unparalleled. This article explores the reasons why attending a 90-minute Bikram class will radically change your life.
Bikram yoga is a sequence of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises practiced in a heated room (about 105 degrees, 50% humidity). Every aspect of this class has been carefully designed and timed, down to the second. There is nothing about Bikram’s beginning yoga class that is haphazard. The breath work and poses are designed to scientifically warm and stretch muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the order in which they should be stretched. What’s beautiful about this process is that practicing the exercises in their exact order drastically lowers the chances for injury and provides a platform for great healing to happen in your body. Each pose has a function and flows into the next. For example, Pranayama Standing Deep Breathing floods the bloodstream with oxygen and, also, opens and expands the lungs to their maximum capacity. After completing this breathing exercise, you are ready to breathe easier, circulation has increased throughout your body, and your muscles are ready for action. Right from the beginning, the mind also benefits from the practice of Pranayama. The breathing exercise redirects the focus of the mind from the busyness of life and connects the brain to both your body and breath. Most of the time, we are in our heads thinking nonstop (that darned monkey mind). Pranayama invites us into the present moment and grounds us into our bodies.
The Bikram 90-minute class gives you the opportunity to practice each pose twice, except for Spine Twist, which is done once. It also allows for the prescribed time in each posture, whereas in the hour format, this is modified. This offers you the great benefit of exploring and diagnosing your body during the first set (“Wow! I feel great in my shoulders today!” Or maybe “oh, boy, my hamstrings are tight!” Or even “my lower back really hurts and I’m going to lovingly concentrate on this area today.”) During the second set, there is the potential to go further into the pose and, if done properly, lead to the maximum benefits of the posture. The repetition of each posture also increases flexibility and stamina and, in my humble opinion, allows you to continually let go of what you think you know about your body and the posture, and hear and learn something different each class.
There are several key teaching techniques that promote learning, meditation, and a deeper understanding of the postures during the 90-minute class. Because the teacher is not practicing with you, he or she is able to watch you practice and give individual corrections. A student may not even be aware that their alignment is off or that a specific movement could be done more efficiently. Teachers can shine the light of awareness on their students’ practice and correct their postures in a quick and accurate manner, versus in a 60-minute—or other modified—class where the pace doesn’t allow for much individual attention or additional dialogue.
Another powerful teaching technique is that, in a traditional Bikram yoga class, there is no music. The class is considered a moving meditation. The teacher’s voice guides the students’ bodies and the student just has to listen. You get the opportunity to jump out of the constant stream of thinking (something we are all programmed to do) and concentrate fully on breathing and being present in your body. Eckhart Tolle, in the book Stillness Speaks, stated, “Feel the aliveness in your body. That anchors you in the now.” The whole class is committed to helping you feel your body and stay present with your experience. Whether that means you gracefully move into standing bow today, struggle to get your hips low in triangle, or even realize that you should have drank more water the night before. Everything you experience in class is bringing you valuable information about yourself and where you are at this moment, and this strengthens your awareness.
Another gift of the 90-minute class is the opportunity to practice stillness. You not only practice stillness in between asanas but, even during the pose, there is a beautiful balance of ease and effort that creates a meditative state. During the last half hour of class, Savasana (dead-body pose) is cumulatively practiced for 11 minutes (2 minutes during the transition from the standing-to-floor series, 20 seconds in between each pose, and 2 more minutes at the end of class). Those 11 minutes of conscious relaxation can have a tremendous effect on your well-being. Science has proven, in over thousands of studies, that even just a few minutes of meditation a day can reduce stress, decrease inflammation, and promote emotional well-being. A 90-minute class can, actually, save you time in the long-run because it improves information processing and decision-making! You will be moving through life with more grace and confidence. Just by showing up to class, you are already guaranteed time to practice meditation!
Committing to the 90-minute class is a BIG deal! As we move through life and our busy schedules, taking time for ourselves will only re-energize, rejuvenate, and heal us so that we may be happier and more effective out in the world. The 90-minute Bikram yoga class can have a magical effect on your body and mind. As Bishnu Gosh said, “Yoga maintains youth long. It keeps the body full of vitality. The yogi never becomes old. Yogis achieve supernatural power.” Come take class and feel the transformation happen!