These are some of the trademarks of the L.A.-based Bikram Yoga. Life changing or not, few can argue against the practice’s intensity. Intense heat, intense stretching, intense instruction. (The teacher speaks throughout most of the hour and a half class.) And Lora Gustafson, the new owner of Bikram Missoula, would add that the practice is also intensely purifying.
Indeed, the super high heat makes you super sweaty. Reared an East Coast gal, this was a strong selling point—I was immediately smitten with the sweltering humidity otherwise aberrant in western Montana. And though I have since stepped away from the practice to pursue others, I still appreciate the sequence for sparking what has become an enduring passion for yoga—a passion that Lora hopes this weekend’s Open House will ignite for other Missoulians.
In our interview, Lora chats about her recent move from Phoenix, Saturday’s festivities and other aspects of the unique brand of yoga that has garnered her attention for the last eight years.
New West: How is Bikram Yoga different than other types of yoga one typically finds at a Hatha Yoga studio?
Lora Gustafson: Bikram yoga is practiced in a hot room. It is 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises. It is a beginning yoga that can be practiced safely by almost anyone. You work at your own level. The class is the same sequence ever time so you receive cumulative medical benefit over a shorter period of time.
NW: Why 26 postures?
LG: After years of prescribing specific posture to people in India as yoga therapy, Bikram wanted to find a faster more efficient way to treat more people in one day. Bikram found that the 26 postures in this specific order provided the most medical and therapeutic benefit to anyone doing the class.
Author’s Note: Bikram Choudhury is the founder of the Yoga College of India. Since age 4, Bikram practiced under “renowned physical culturist” Bishnu Ghosh in Calcutta, India. As an adult, he set up successful studios across India and around the world before establishing the “Bikram’s College of India World Headquarters” in Los Angeles. Because aspects of this business are protected under copyright, all Bikram Yoga instructors must be certified by the college to teach. (Bikram’s copyright and trademark claims have been legally and ethically contested by many.)
NW: Why is the room heated to 105 degrees? And is there any way to practice the sequence without a heated room, like at home?
LG: The heat is there for many reasons. The two main reasons are: 1) to keep the muscles warm so you can stretch deeply and safely without ripping, tearing, pulling or straining; and 2) to sweat – the skin is the largest organ of detoxification. Sweating helps purify your body by flushing out toxins. There is more detail about the heat on our website at bikrammissoula.com.
If you want to practice at home I recommend using Bikram’s CD. Practice in a room you can heat up with space heaters. If your bathroom is big enough, it holds heat well and you can also use the shower to add humidity.
NW: All Bikram’s teachers have to complete a three-month training in LA. What was that like? How many people participated?
LG: Teacher training is like having an entire year squeezed into 9 weeks. It was fun, hard, good, bad, exhausting, and very educational. I loved it. My training involved 226 people who are now some of my closest friends.
NW: Bikram Choudhury has gotten flak about making so much money off trademarking his yoga and charging studios for using his name. What is your perspective on this issue? Do you think that this focus on money and name recognition (and ownership within a tradition that dates some 4,000 years) contradicts yogic philosophy?
LG: Bikram makes money from teacher training just like any other yoga. Bikram does not charge the studios a penny for the use of his name, logos, information, or many other materials. There is a large amount of incorrect information about Bikram out that has been generated by people who don’t practice Bikram yoga and who don’t know him.
“Yoga ownership” – Bikram has not claimed to own these 26 postures. He has a copyright on the dialog that Bikram teachers use. It is like protecting a script or a song. I do get upset when I find out a non-Bikram certified instructor is using his dialog. His interest in keeping non-certified instructors from teaching it is about safety and keeping the yoga pure to its lineage.
NW: You recently moved to Missoula from Arizona. What attracted you to this community?
LG: I saw an opportunity to do what I love in a beautiful place.
NW: Can you talk about the upcoming Open House and the infamous 60-day challenge the studio is promoting?
LG: The Open House is an opportunity for people to come in and find out more about Bikram yoga. All of the teachers will be there to answer questions. There will be class at 9am and 4pm. Both classes will be free. It is great way to see if Bikram yoga is for you.
The 60 day challenge is 60 classes in 60 days. It is 60 days to a new mind, new body, and new life.
NW: Is Bikram Yoga appropriate for all levels of asana practitioners? What about folks with injuries — are the heat and sequence safe for people with back or knee pain?
LG: Bikram is a beginning yoga. All levels are always welcome. We have new people and veteran practitioners together in almost every class.
The heat is incredibly healing. Many Bikram students have worked through serious injuries to the spine, shoulder injuries, car accident side effects, and knee surgeries using this series. This is the perfect place for people who are injured to heal and rehabilitate joint and tendon issues. The key is to listen to the instructor, concentrate on form and never worry about depth.
You can find Bikram Missoula at 211 North Higgins Ave, #4C or online at www.bikrammissoula.com. Call 541-9292 with any questions about this weekend’s Open House or about the studio in general.