The Art of Bikram Yoga by Jasper intern Annie Brooks

Bikram_yoga It is the same every time. The class is ninety minutes, roughly 105 degrees, 40% humidity. The first half is standing, the second you're on the floor. Your only goal is to stay in the room. This is the spiel that I give to all of my wide eyed, nerve wrecked, first time students.

A Bikram yoga class is a carefully designed series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises. It is a system meant to give you a full body work out "bones to skin, finger tips to the toes". No muscle, tissue, ligament, organ or cell is left untouched. You sweat buckets of impurities, detoxifying the body. For ninety minutes you are asked to keep your eyes on your own two eyes. This in itself can be a challenge for people with low self-esteem. Although each class is the same, the student never returns as the same person. As a teacher I witness the subtle but significant shift in attitude that accompanies the change a student sees in their self. He or she learns to cultivate the powers of their mind through an exploration of the body. He or she becomes the optimal version of themselves. It is so much more than a workout.

Art is defined by a diverse range of human activities and media.  Much like dance, or synchronized swimming, Bikram yogis use their body as a medium. They shape shift, put themselves in postures that seem unnatural, but actually commence a healing process that resets the natural functioning of the body. There is no need for props or straps. Clothes are for courtesy and the mat keeps the floor clean, otherwise it's just you with yourself. Art is expression, and Bikram yoga is the fullest expression of a physical being.

The class allows you to escape the world for an hour and a half, to experience a bit of the sublime, and to land softly on your feet, better prepared to take on the day. At first it can be overwhelmingly intense, and often you feel the urge to give up. Comfort is found in knowing that you are completely safe, and will come out the other side a better person. Although the focus is on the individual, everyone moves together. Students who fall behind can rejoin at any point and plug in to the palpable group energy. It is never easy, but the payoff is monumental. Often I tell my students "mind over the matter", to not let their mind get in the way of their progress. We are furthering the research of the philosophers who toiled over the mind body problem. Humans don't come with a manual, but through this class you come to know every inch of your body and every corner of your mind. In addition to strength, flexibility, and stamina, you gain self-trust, confidence and understanding. Bikram yoga is the art of self-love.

Seasoned practitioners are able to disregard discomfort and through mindfulness convert the agony of stretching into the ecstasy of release. Over time struggle becomes pleasure and the body is able to do things unimaginable. And why would you not want to experience yourself at full range of motion? It's a beautiful thing.

There are two certified Bikram Yoga studios in Columbia. For more information contact (803) 730-8225, or visit