Crash Course: Bikram yoga is a 90 minute class that combines two breathing exercises and a series of 26 different poses. The studio temperature is set somewhere around 105 degrees, and the humidity can reach up to 40%. Never been? Imagine doing some of the most intense twisting and stretching you can imagine. Now imagine doing that in the heat and humidity of a tropical greenhouse. Intrigued? I was. The classes at this Dupont Circle studio are challenging, intense, and sure to shake up your yoga practice. Be prepared to sweat…a lot. Click here to see the class schedule.
bring? yoga mat, towel, water bottle
perks? showers, lockers, lounge, free filtered water, mat/towel rental
sweat score? 11 out of 10
how much? intro week is $20
Full disclosure: I was intimidated about trying bikram yoga. Mostly because of the ridiculous heat and humidity involved and my irrational fear that I would pass out/throw up/cry an hour into it. But also because my eight years of yoga practice have largely revolved around studios that offer Baptiste power yoga. Why? Because I know what I’m getting into. Habit is such a funny thing.
I knew that trying bikram would be a great opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and jump into something new. But I’m not going to lie, the uncertainty of what was about to go down in that sauna-turned-studio gave me a few jitters.
According to the studio’s website:
No matter what your level of fitness, you will find Bikram Yoga very challenging. Each posture combines flexibility, strength and balance to work your whole body from your bones to your skin!
Key words I would like to highlight: very. challenging.
The Bikram Yoga Dupont studio is split between two separate floors. The front desk, lounge, and locker rooms are located on the fourth floor. The yoga studio itself takes up the entire second floor. There is no elevator in the building, so be prepared to climb some stairs when you arrive. Look on the bright side and considered this your warm up.
Check in at the front desk, and be sure to let them know if you’re visiting for the first time. The studio offers a new student special: unlimited bikram for one week for $20.
The lounge area is big and has large windows that let in lots of natural light. What struck me immediately was that the air in this room is scented with eucalyptus – a refreshing smack in the face after huffing and puffing stale cubicle air all day long. It was a great mental cue to breathe deep, calm down, and prepare for class.
The women’s locker room is awesome. I have never been to a yoga studio that offered such a comprehensive facility.
The lockers have built-in locks, which is a much better and more secure option than the cubby-hole storage space offered in most studios. The space also has three showers, hair dryers, a drying rack for wet yoga mats, and large mirrors. I’m not going to lie, this locker room is a huge win in my book.
The studio itself is absolutely enormous. It occupies the entire second floor of the building and has big windows on each end. I love that the owners kept the original exposed brick, how cool is that? You can also see in this picture the extensive network of ceiling valves used to spray hot mist into the room during class.
One thing I wasn’t too “hot” on (get it?) was the wall of mirrors. I understand the idea that mirrors allow students to see their poses in action and help them self-correct when needed. But for me, the mirrors were distracting. I’d rather focus on my breath during class instead of the girl by the window in a perfect pretzel. It had the weird effect of making me self conscious about the fact that I was red in the face, sweating all over the place, and doing the wrong pose half of the time.
Also, if you want to wear your shoes while walking from the fourth floor to the second floor studio, be sure to store them in the cubbies by the door.
Intense. That’s the first word that comes to mind after taking this class (other than “hot”).
We began with two rounds of an exercise called pranayama breathing. There was no explanation about what this was or how to do it, but follow along with the person next to you and you’ll be just fine. It involves placing interlocked hands under your chin, breathing in while raising your elbows above your head, and leaning your head way back to exhale. You kind of need to see it to understand, so click here for the video.
After the breathing exercise we moved right into 40 minutes of standing poses. At this point, the misting valves were on full force and it was getting really humid.
In bikram, each of the 26 poses is completed twice. So if you didn’t get it the first time…don’t worry. There’s still time for you to get that leg up there on the second round. This is both a blessing and a curse, so be prepared to encounter moments of deep frustration and pleasant surprise as you move through the poses. If at any time you feel woosey and need to rest, just move into child’s pose and chill out for a bit.
I was continually surprised throughout the class at how hard my heart was beating. Sure, I was trying really hard to keep up and do all the poses, but I never expected to feel like I had just sprinted 800 meters.
After 40 minutes of standing exercises, we moved on to 40 minutes of floor poses. Many of these were followed by periods of rest, so this second part of the class feels a bit less intense than the first.
The class ended with one more breathing exercise that involves short, quick breaths using the abs to pump air in and out. For those with a strong giggle reflex, brace yourself…this looks pretty funny. The instructor will clap to keep the time, so just follow along to the beat. Here’s a video so you know what you’re getting into.
There is no official “end” to the class. After the final breathing exercise, the class moves into savasana and the instructor leaves. At this point, you are free to go. Some folks leave right away, while others choose to hang around for a few minutes. Do whatever feels right for you (but know the longer you take, the longer the line for the shower!).
Carolan is the owner of Bikram Yoga Dupont and teaches multiple classes throughout the week. She has a calming, soothing voice and gives students lots of positive feedback. When she moved from California to DC in 2001, she quickly realized there were no spots to practice her favorite kind of yoga. So, she decided to open her own. Bikram Yoga Dupont has been a go-to spot for DC yogis ever since. From the studio’s website:
The students and the teachers who have lovingly created this community at the studio are my source of inspiration. I feel blessed and grateful to be surrounded by such extraordinary human beings everyday.
Have you tried bikram yoga?