The first time I went to a Bikram Yoga class, I have to admit: I only enjoyed about half of it. It was just so hot. And long. But by the end, I found that not only could I get into poses more completely, but that I actually felt more centered, grounded and, well, zen. So when we had the chance to chat with Laju Choudhury, celebrity yoga instructor of Bikram Yoga and daughter of Bikram Choudhury (although, for the record, we didn’t think it was fair in this interview to get into anything about her father — she is her own person after all and deserves that amount of respect) about her best Bikram tips, I was totally down to get her perspective. I mean, she doesn’t just teach Bikram, she grew up with it.
Just look at her!
These days, Laju also serves as a brand ambassador, yoga teacher/trainer and designer for the Bikram clothing line. And, along with her brother Anurag, represents the second-generation leadership of Bikram Yoga, seeking to introduce it to new audiences with the deep belief in the power of yoga to transform lives. Something we totally dig.
Read on for Laju’s top Bikram tips in this Q&A!
What’s your favorite part about Bikram yoga?
My favorite part of Bikram yoga is that I always leave the class feeling so damn good. It is the only exercise I do. It is the only class I’ve found that energizes me and restores balance within my body. I live a crazy and hectic lifestyle — I travel a lot and have a busy social calendar, so when I need something to ground my mind and body I turn to Bikram Yoga.
Why is the room so darn hot? (And why is it set to specifically 105 degrees, 40 percent humidity?)
Bikram Yoga is focused on a sequence of 26 poses (asana) and two breathing exercises practiced in a room heated to 105°F with a humidity of 40 percent for 90 minutes. We set the humidity at 40 percent because one can breathe comfortably in that temperature and it loosens up your muscles; therefore, you can stretch more safely.
Some people are reluctant to try it because of the heat and humidity. There are two reasons why we practice “hot yoga:” to loosen your body and prevent injuries (like a pulled muscle or torn ligament), and to increase your heart rate, which helps maximize calorie burn and the release of toxins from the body.
Bikram Yoga is designed to restore balance in the body. Some students may feel uneasy during their first few classes; this is due to imbalances in the body. After a few classes, your body will get used to the heat as you find balance.
What advice can you give Bikram first-timers?
We want all students to feel welcome. Many men and women today live fast-paced lives. Everyone can benefit from a 90-minute class that helps relieve stress, restore balance, achieve greater energy, mental clarity and overall health. All it takes is the motivation to begin!
To take full advantage of a Bikram Yoga class, students must keep an open mind and heart. We call this being mindful, or mentally present. Never force your body into a new posture. Remain aware, and your body will tell you when it’s time to progress to the next level of each pose. Remember there is a difference between the sensation of stretching and sharp pain. We always advise students to be patient, take their time, and not to worry about keeping up with other students. You can always ask for the assistance of your instructor.
Finally, it’s very important to hydrate before class. We advise against eating a large meal three hours before class, but it’s imperative to consume water prior to a Bikram class.
How has Bikram yoga changed your life?
Wow … where do I begin? Growing up, I practiced yoga because of my parents. Let’s be honest … no kid wants to do what their parents do! However, throughout my teenage years, I started to take interest in other things such as sports, fashion and travel. My parents never pushed me to do yoga during these years. But somehow, it was always there for me when I needed it.
Growing up, anytime I would feel like I couldn’t sleep due to stress from school, I would go to Bikram. I found that I was sleeping less hours, but deeper and therefore better. We all know when we sleep better, we feel better … so this led to ultimately changing my quality of my life.
In my early 20s, I got more serious with the practice when I started noticing pain in my hips and spine due to having flat feet. I was developing mild scoliosis because of this physical imbalance in my body.
Bikram Yoga helped me restore balance in the physical body. Going to class felt like rolling out my whole body on a foam roller. Slowly working through these physical imbalances helped realign my body and spine. Now my spine is perfectly straight!
Bikram also helped improved my mental strength. Through practicing Bikram yoga, you become aware of your mind. It is one’s mind that tells you that you can’t hold your arms up for 10 more seconds. Your body can handle it! When you are aware of your mind, you can control your body and life experiences — from holding a tough posture longer, to telling yourself not to overeat. With continued practice, you will be in full control of your mind. The union between the body and mind will lead to a happy spirit.
Without Bikram, I don’t think I would be the same person I am today. It balances me. It gives me strength when I need it. The hardest thing in life is acceptance of your strengths and weakness. I am able to acknowledge both of these qualities and learn how to better my life.
Do you practice other kinds of yoga?
No, I do not. My yoga practice is 100 percent Bikram. I found that practicing Bikram improved my athleticism. Bikram restores balance, both physical and mental. I found that in other physical activities, such as soccer, my body was more likely to remain healthy and injury free from practicing Bikram.
Many professional athletes practice Bikram in addition to their sport because of these same benefits.
Do you have a mantra or quote that inspires you? What is it?
There is a poem I live my life by. It is called “The Invitation” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. It is about strength and acceptance.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Yoga is the union between the mind, body and spirit. You can create the union of the body and mind through the practice of yoga. The body and mind make up your spirit. You can realize your spirit with the practice Bikram Yoga.
Have you ever taken a Bikram Yoga or hot yoga class? Did you find that you had not just a workout for your body but for your mind, too? That part about accepting your strengths and weaknesses really resonated with me. —Jenn