Photo by: Denisse Cotes
My first experience with hot Yoga was some four months ago. I had been practising Vinyassa Yoga, weekly with a client when my cousin suggested I try a Bikram class. I really didn’t know what to expect. I was surprised I could do almost all of the poses and was in awe of those students who could do the sequences so gracefully! The heat was overwhelming- it is true, you really do sweat buckets.
Bikram Yoga was developed by Bikram Choudhury who began practicing yoga at the age of four. Bikram Yoga combines a 26 posture sequence which is practised in a heated room. The heat makes the body more flexible and supple – when you sweat impurities are flushed out of the body through the skin. Bikram and Yoga in general are fantastic for the body – Yoga teaches you not only how to breathe properly but also has several health benefits. Recent Scientific studies into Yoga have found that it is beneficial for a wide range of problems from lower back pain to mental health issues.
The second time I attempted hot Yoga was in a class where the room was heated to 38 degrees. The difference between hot yoga and Bikram is the style of Yoga practiced. Bikram Yoga is developed from Hatha Yoga whilst other hot styles of Yoga incorporate different methodologies. The hot Yoga class I was doing the second time round was Vinyassa or flow yoga which incorporated many of the poses used in Bikram. Having not been to a Vinyassa class regularly, for a while I was really struggling with the poses. Before the class I was told to rest if I couldn’t do anything which is the key to building up to be an elegant hot yoga practitioner. It’s not easy watching other yoga goers do all the poses when you can’t manage the tree pose! I was disheartened the first class went so well! The point though of Yoga is that it is a personal experience, you are at the class to develop and learn at your pace. The root of the word Yoga is the “Yug’ which means to join together. The word yoga literally means union and implies that the individual is united with the Universe. Yoga is the path of witnessing inner states in order to find happiness within – by entering a state of freedom, pure consciousness and enlightenment, also known as samadhi.
The almost military style of Bikram won’t appeal to everyone and being in a small heated room with thirty other people sweating it out isn’t a lot of people’s idea of fun but hot Yoga or more specifically Bikram Yoga is an experience. When I walked out of my first Bikram Yoga class I was buzzing and floated through the day. Samadhi? Perhaps not – but on the path – maybe!
According to Georg Fuernstein ‘we are all philosophers’. Fuerstein is a German Indiologist specializing in Yoga who has authored over 30 books on Mysticism, Yoga, Tantra, and Hinduism. He believed that we all ask the essential questions who am I? From where do I come? and what must I do?
Abraham Maslow a Western philosopher developed the Hierarchy of Needs Model. In this model he believed our goal was self – actualisation. By meeting basic needs such as the needs for food, shelter and the need to belong we work our way up the pyramid to more developed needs. This person-centred approach to behavioural studies has much in common with Georg Feurnstein’s idea that we all ask the same questions.
In the West the word philosophy comes from the Latin ‘Philo’ or Love and ‘Sophia’ meaning wisdom. It’s combined meaning is the ‘love of wisdom’. Metaphysics is concerned with the ultimate structure of reality. Typical questions asked in epistemology are does life have meaning? Does God Exist? and How does one event cause another?
Where the Western approach to Philosophy is based on the scientific rational model the East relies more on personal insight, intuition and spiritual discipline alongside rational argument. Whereas in Western ways of thinking we have a linear view of the universe and history based on Christian philosophy, the Eastern view of the universe is cyclical. Whilst Westerner’s are outer-world dependent Easterners believe that there is an interconnectedness between all things. For Easterner’s their beliefs are religious and social systems as well as philosophies. Feurnstein states, ‘ The main difference between Eastern and Western thought is that Eastern philosophy has retained links with psychology and mysticism where as western thought has concentrated on abstracting only those claims that be examined on the basis of reason and evidence.’
Although the West is becoming more ‘Eastern’ in flavour by incorporating Eastern ideas into Western philosophy as Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs Model demonstrates (Maslow’s belief that people strive toward self-actualisation is very similar to the Eastern notion of Samadhi or Englightenment). Western philosophy or ‘love of wisdom’ is still rooted in a Judeo-Christian linear view of the world and history and a rational, scientific, reasonable evidence based outlook on life. Bikram revolutionises the way we look at ourselves and the way we treat our bodies by allowing us to involve mysticism in our lives. Perhaps a step towards a union? East and West? – Maybe.