When I told my yoga teacher friends that I was doing a week-long workshop practicing and learning about Hot Yoga, I might as well have said I was going to drown a sackful of kittens.
Mouths dropped. Eyes widened. One friend recoiled in disgust. Such is the snobbery attached to anyone who practices, or God forbid, even teaches the style of yoga stigmatized by the eponymous Bikram Yoga.
But there is a new breed of Hot Yoga gaining traction in London where classes are compassionate, safe, and rooted in the centuries old traditions of yoga and mediation.
Back in the 1990s, Bikram Yoga studios began to open in the U.K., piggybacking on the back of its massive popularity in North America. The original hot yoga, popularized by the infamous Bikram Choudhury, was a grueling test of both physical and mental endurance as practitioners sweated through a sequence of 26 postures in a stifling room that blowed air heated to 40°C. Like a bootcamp in the desert, it wasn’t uncommon to vomit, faint or in extreme cases, hallucinate.
And the teachers themselves? They liked to shout abuse.
‘Go back. Fall back, way back until your spine hurts like hell. It’s supposed to!’ And my personal favorite: ‘I’m not selling cheesecake, I’m selling pain!’
It’s this kind of harsh, unsafe teaching in an overbearing environment – together with the blizzard of lawsuits accusing Bikram himself of rape – that triggered a backlash against Bikram Yoga. As yoga practitioners sought a more nurturing environment to practice hot yoga and turn inward, Bikram Yoga started to slip into a void.