What Is the Difference Between Bikram and Hot Yoga?

Bikram is just one style of hot yoga

Woman warming up for yoga class in studio
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Hot yoga can refer to any yoga class done in a heated room. Though there are a few styles hot yoga classes, Bikram Yoga is the original hot yoga and among the best known. Even though some people may use "hot" and "Bikram" interchangeably, the truth is that all Bikram Yoga is hot, but not all hot yoga is Bikram.

Hot Yoga

Hot yoga often tends to be a flowing vinyasa style of practice in which the teacher instructs students in a series of linked poses.

During class, the room is usually maintained at a temperature of 95 to 105 F. As you can imagine, a vigorous yoga session at high temperatures makes the body very warm and induces profuse sweating. The intent is that the heat loosens your muscles and the sweat helps cleanse your body.

Bikram Yoga is just one style of hot yoga. Other popular hot yoga options include the Canadian import Moksha Yoga (known as Modo Yoga in the United States) and CorePower Yoga, a rapidly expanding chain. Many locally-owned and independent yoga studios offer their own style of heated classes as well. 

Tips and Precautions

  • It is essential to have your own yoga mat when doing hot yoga since you will be sweating a lot. Yogitoes Skidless mat towels (or other similar products) are popular hot yoga accessories. These towels are placed over your mat to absorb sweat and improve traction.
  • The sweating you do in hot yoga also means you'll want to choose the right yoga wear. Generally, women and men find that tight-fitting tops and capris or long pants are best to prevent slipping during poses.
  • The actual temperature in a hot yoga class will vary by style and studio. Some can be as hot as 108 F, which makes the 75 F rooms seem almost chilly.
  • The "sweating out the toxins" catchphrase is popular among hot yoga students. The truth is that sweating is not really part of the detoxification system of our bodies, though it can make you feel better in the end.

Bikram Yoga

Bikram Choudhury is a hot yoga innovator and founder of Bikram Yoga. His method is the original style to be set in a hot room. It is a set series of 26 postures, including two pranayama exercises, each of which is performed twice in a single 90-minute class.

Choudhury, who was born in Calcutta, India, in 1946, was a yoga champion in his youth, as was his wife Rajashree. In 1974, Choudhury founded the Yoga College of India in Beverly Hills, California, to teach his method. It soon became one of the most popular styles of yoga asana practiced in the West.

As Bikram's yoga classes began to draw members of the Hollywood elite, he embarked on an increasingly ostentatious lifestyle. He became known for his fleet of sports cars and for wearing expensive jewelry. The successful yoga guru would, however, become embroiled in lawsuits and sexual assault allegations.

Bikram and Copyright

In 2002, Choudhury copyrighted his series of 26 poses done in a hot room.

He has since been involved in a number of legal disputes, both over the unauthorized use of his name and the use of his method under a different name.

Choudhury successfully sued a Los Angeles yoga studio in 2003 for copyright and trademark infringement. He became the defendant in 2004 when he was sued by a San Francisco-based collective of hot yoga teachers. This group had received cease-and-desist letters over their unlicensed use of the Bikram method. The plaintiffs argued that yoga cannot be copyrighted. The parties reached a settlement in 2005 in which Choudhury agreed not to sue them and they agreed not to use the Bikram name.

Choudhury filed another high-profile suit in 2011. This time it was against the New York-based studio Yoga to the People, which offers yoga classes by donation in several U.S. cities. This case was settled in 2012 when Yoga to the People owner Greg Gumucio agreed to stop using Bikram's name and series. Although the case didn't go to trial, it was significant because the U.S. Copyright Office announced that its previously issued copyright of Bikram's series was an error.

Bikram and Sexual Assault

In 2015, the focus of Bikram's legal troubles shifted away from the protection of his yoga method. He became the subject of at least six civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault or rape going back a number of years.

Though the details vary, they indicate a pattern of Choudhury preying on young female yoga students and teachers, often those enrolled in his intensive teacher training program. In early 2016, a Los Angles court ruled in favor of Choudhury's former legal advisor, who said that she was sexually harassed and fired from her position for investigating other women's harassment claims.

Around the same time, Rajashree Choudhury filed for divorce. Bikram also fled the United States. In May 2017, an arrest warrant was issued for him and by November he and his company had filed bankruptcy.

The Implications

The downfall of Choudhury can act as a cautionary tale within the yoga community. The nature of the practice often forms close relationships and some people may choose to take advantage of this.

Bikram studios remain open and many are operated by independent instructors. For this reason, it's important to remember that only the founder has been implicated in wrongdoing in these cases.

A Word From Verywell

Hot yoga is a viable option for many yoga students, though it is considerably more intense than classes offered in cooler rooms. Before taking a class, consider any medical conditions you may have and speak to your doctor about whether it's right for you. 

Source:

Schmidt S. Arrest Warrant Issued for Bikram Choudhury, The Hot-Yoga Guru Accused of Sexual Harassment. The Washington Post. May 26, 2017.

Wolfe N. Founder of Bikram Yoga Declares Bankruptcy After Facing Millions in Legal Judgments. News.com.au. November 15, 2017.

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