Olga Allon is the founder of Hot Bikram Yoga studios. Her studios in Fulham, Balham and London Bridge are firmly established destinations that reflect the ethos of Bikram Yoga, the UK’s fastest growing form of yoga.
Bikram Yoga is a demanding (but highly rewarding!) series of 26 postures and breathing exercises practised in a heated room. Practising Bikram Yoga can help with injuries and weight loss, reduces blood pressure, improves posture, eases back pain and relaxes the body and mind. Each posture in the series requires concentration, patience, determination and self-control, which leads to increased mental clarity and reduced stress.
Bikram is perfect for those who are inflexible (like many runners!) and those who have never tried yoga before.
Catch up with the webchat (below) and follow our Yoga for Runners blog series.
Read the whole forum debate.
Q. How useful is Bikram for preparing the body acclimatise to races in hotter conditions? Jimmy F
A. Bikram yoga is incredibly useful for this purpose. We have many students training for various events in hot conditions including the Marathon des Sables. We cannot mimic the exact conditions, but when you do an intense 90-minute cardiovascular workout in 100 degrees heat and 60 per cent humidity, you are giving yourself a chance to prepare your body for hot conditions. Read James Dean's blog as an example of how Bikram yoga has helped.
Q. I've heard that the heat required for Bikram yoga can allow people to overextend their muscles and ligaments, causing injury. Is this just a scurrilous rumour? I'd love to know the science behind the high temperatures and the impact this has on practising the postures. Alice RW
A. It is possible to injure yourself in a Bikram class, in the same way you can injure yourself doing any form of exercise. My understanding of the science behind it is that heat causes the temporary increase in flexibility by softening the muscle tissues and heightening the elasticity in the muscles and connective tissue.
Consequently, the supporting structures of the body, such as the joints, ligaments, and muscles, experience greater ranges of movement and therefore greater flexibility. Additionally, like other forms of yoga, students use their body weight, body mechanics, and gravity to build strength.
Whether this can then lead to increase risk of injury, is in my opinion, down to whether the individual works in a mindful way. One must work towards feeling a stretchy feeling in a posture but back off from any pain.
Teachers will guide you through simple postures and encourage you to do this - all postures are accessible for beginners with very little flexibility. There are stages to each posture and depending on your flexibility, you will take it to a different stage. The student must listen to their body on any particular day to prevent any injury.
Q. How many sessions per week/month would you have to do to see the benefits or weight loss? Andreia
A. It varies from person to person. The more weight you need to lose, the quicker it will happen. Generally though, I would recommend a minimum of twice a week to see the effects, but the more you come, the more your body will adapt and change.
The key is consistent and regular practice, teamed with healthy eating. You’ll find the more your practice, the more your body will want to fuel with healthy foods as you come out of each class feeling incredibly detoxed and cleansed.
Have a look at my latest blog on nutrition to go hand-in-hand with your Bikram sessions.
You are building lean muscle strength, so you’ll see muscle tone and a changing shape to your body.
Q. I've taken part in a number of Bikram courses. Whilst the physical benefits are apparent, I found that it was mentally quite stress inducing and at times aggressive. This was partly due to the conditions of the practice room (the number of people and how close we were to each other), and partly due to its extreme nature in general. What are your thoughts therefore on the mental benefits of bikram compared to 'dry' yoga? Justine Zimmermann
A. Thanks Justine, this is an interesting one…
Surprisingly, some people prefer busier mat classes. This is due to the high energy and humidity in the room. However, there are always a range of classes on every schedule to give students the choice to come to very quiet classes too.
I think a big part of Bikram yoga is the mental challenge. There is no getting away from the fact that the class and the environment is intense and tough. If you like a challenge, you are coming to the right place.
One also learns to stay focussed and calm in the hot room. When someone is fairly new to Bikram, the focus is certainly on the physical side but after a while, there is normally a shift that allows the students to start to focus on breath. The practice can then become incredibly meditative.
As long as I have my mat space, I love being in a room with however many people, focusing on my practice and my breath and I try to keep a serene face throughout.
Once you start to do that, I think you start to take some lessons learned in the hot room outside of class too, as you learn to stay calm and focused in any situation. Great question and good to discuss!
Q. Is the heat critical for safely performing Bikram? Is it still safe to perform the yoga positions under normal conditions (home, gym, pre-race) as part of a warm-up or warm-down routine or do you think this should be avoided without the heat? Obviously, I understand the full benefits may not be seen nor as quickly, but if careful to avoid pain would you recommend "heat free" Bikram as beneficial? One More Step
A. Thanks for your question. I would not recommend anyone to do this series of postures outside the hot room. There are one or two that can be done safely, which I can run through with you another time, but so much of it is about the hot humid environment and the series of the 26 postures done in sequence. One leads to the next and the heat and humidity is definitely needed to support this.
Having said all that, I do think that if you attend classes and get to know the sequence and understand a bit more about the postures, there are ways that you can start to adapt postures to suit your pre/post running and warm-up routine. You will learn so much about your body in terms of its flexibility and which postures work better for particular parts of your body. It just won't feel quite so good doing it on a cold frosty day outside!
Q. I have been experiencing heavy legs for the last week or so, and cannot put it down to anything. Which yoga asanas will help this? CJM0706
A. That’s a tricky one without seeing you and knowing what your legs have been up to lately! However, most runners need a good old hamstring stretch. I would try sitting down on the floor with your legs bent.
Use your middle and index fingers to hook around your big toes. Start to straighten out your legs until you feel a stretchy feeling in the back of you legs. Keep your arms straight and day-by-day pull your toes. Try to straighten out your legs whilst keeping your shoulders back and spine straight.
Eventually your legs will be completely straight and your heels pop up off the floor. Then, you can bend your elbows, sandwich your chest on your legs and work your head closer and closer to your feet.
That will give you a great hamstring stretch and hopefully help those heavy legs of yours!
Q. I have quite a specific question; during standing separate leg ‘Dandayamana Bibhaktapada Paschimotthanasana’, I often experience pain on the inside of my knees, where my hamstrings insert behind the knee-cap. If I widen my pose, it gets worse; if I maintain a more narrow set up with my legs, I can't feel the stretch and I feel a bit cheated, as it's such a great posture.
Could this be due to running-related tightness in my hamstrings? What's the best way to progress in the pose without worsening the pain in my knee during the posture? Alexandra Rees
A. That’s such a fab posture, it’s great stretch for the back of legs and your spine too. The wider your feet are apart, the easier the posture should be to get your forehead closer to the floor. I would certainly bring your feet closer together to take any pressure off your knees, possibly caused by tight hamstrings.
Keep your feet straight, don't point them inwards - that may help too. With your feet a little closer to the point you feel no pain, you should be grabbing your heels, not the sides of your feet, and start to bend your elbows back to meet your legs. You want to really pull on your heels, to feel a tremendous stretch down back of legs and start to pull your upper body towards your legs and down towards the floor. Let me know how you get along and please do ask a teacher to show you before class if you need any extra help!
Q. I'm not a runner but I wanted to know if Bikram is a good hangover cure. Is that the case? Daniel Salaby
A. Ha ha! Yes, it is! There’s nothing better than sweating it all out. Also, doing Bikram forces you to drink lots of water, further cleaning out your system after a night out. I’d also recommend a natural electrolyte like coconut water to help replenish you. Bikram really does help cure a hangover...or so I have been told!
Q. I sometimes suffer from stress and find yoga very relaxing. Do you think Bikram would be as effective in helping me chill out? Pamela Jones 4
A. Thanks Pamela, do have a look at my response above to Justine. Whilst Bikram yoga can certainly be very relaxing, it can take a while to experience that side of it, not always, but sometimes.
You may need to try a few classes to see what teacher and time of day works for you. The amazing thing about Bikram is that it’s the same sequence every time you come. Very quickly, you get to know the sequence and you won’t have to think about what comes next.
That not only allows you to quickly see changes in your body, but it also allows you to stop thinking about the physical side and start focusing on your breath. The class is always a challenge but it can be incredibly relaxing too. There are regular savasanas (dead body pose) throughout the class where you are encouraged to do nothing and let your body relax completely and re-energise.
Do let me know how you get on.