Be prepared to wear as little as possible in a Bikram yoga class.
When you're trying to find a yoga class, the choice of styles can be overwhelming. The distinction between Vinyasa Flow and Ashtanga can seem subtle at best, and it's easy to get hot-yoga gurus Bikram Choudhury and Baron Baptiste confused. While both styles are hatha-based and take place in heated rooms, the sequencing and variety of postures differ greatly.
The founder of Bikram yoga is the flamboyant Bikram Choudhury, a Calcutta native who won the National India Yoga Championship at the age of 13. As a young man, Choudhury practiced yoga for up to six hours daily. Today, headquartered in Beverly Hills, Choudhury is a Hollywood icon with A-list devotees and studios all over the world. He standardized his sequence of postures with the goal of training as many instructors as possible to teach as many students as possible.
Baron Baptiste, who runs the Power Yoga Institutes in Boston and Philadelphia, is the son of Baptiste yoga founder Walt Baptiste. His vigorous Vinyasa Flow classes draw from his own varied practice and incorporate elements of Bikram, Ashtanga, Raja and Iyengar yoga. Baptiste teaches eight-day yoga bootcamps at retreats worldwide. He believes in intuitive asana sequencing with a focus on what he calls "spiritual psychology," and encourages participants to trust their own intuition and listen to their bodies while practicing.
Bikram himself refers to his heated studios as "torture chambers," and devotees of his method who have studied with the guru can expect to be yelled at. This yoga drill sergeant and the licensed teachers at his franchises lead students through a set sequence of 26 postures and two breathing exercises in each class. Many of the postures are standard hatha asanas, such as Triangle, Tree and Cobra. More challenging poses include Toe Stand, in which you balance your seated body weight on the ball of one foot, and Locust pose, in which you lie on your stomach and lift your legs and hips high off the ground.
Meditation is a central component of Baptiste classes, in which practitioners are encouraged to tap into their creativity, build self-confidence and protect their joints. If Bikram classes are torture chambers, Baptiste classes are group therapy, with self-awareness being the ultimate goal of asana practice. If you've taken a hatha-based class before, you'll probably be familiar with Downward-Facing Dog and Sun Salutations. Sequencing depends on the teacher, and teachers may modify their classes depending on the needs of a specific group of students.