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Bikram Yoga and the Vata Dosha

Posted by gck Thursday, January 5, 2012


When people learn of hot yoga, usually they hear of Bikram Yoga, a system of yoga developed by Bikram Choudhury. He’s a controversial figure, with people criticizing the safety of his yoga and how he copyrighted his yoga sequence (and has been aggressive about pursuing violators). He was probably the one who got the whole hot yoga craze going. Now you can find all sorts of styles of yoga in a hot room. Next to Bikram, the hot yoga style you’ll probably hear of the most is “power,” “vinyasa,” or “flow” yoga.

In Ayurveda, an Indian form of alternative medicine, there exists the concept of doshas. The doshas are types or principles that the body contains. They are vata (air), pitta (fire), and kapha (earth). People tend to have one or more primary doshas that voice themselves more prominently, but there is also the idea of dosha imbalances, where one (not necessarily a primary) voices itself excessively to ill effect.

Now, bear with me here. I am not an expert on Ayurveda, nor am I necessarily a believer in it. However, to me, doshas serve as yet another way of categorization, like Myers-Briggs types. And it suits the points I want to make, so I’m going to go with it.


My primary dosha is clearly pitta. My normal operating mode is go-go-go and I am goal-oriented. Challenges excite me. My schedule is frequently overbooked. I can be irritable and impatient. And since I carry plenty of heat inside myself, I do not deal well with external heat. When I first approached hot yoga, I was convinced that it would be difficult and wrong for me because of the heat. Well, it definitely was difficult. But it actually clicked with me remarkably well. Eventually, someone pointed out to me that hot yoga was a primarily Type A thing because it fed the fire, and then it made sense. Heat might make my body suffer, but a fiery practice makes pitta thrive. It was also pointed out that generally what you need most is what you want to do the least. For me, yoga-wise, that is restorative yoga. It’s slow, it’s full of long stretches, and it’s not really a workout.

Yeah, okay. But I need a workout.

Bikram Yoga was the first hot yoga class I tried. The second was power yoga, and I hated it. I didn’t have the arm strength to hold downward dog for very long without wanting to die, and I always had sweat dripping in my eyes when my head was inverted. But over time, I built up that strength, ignored the sweat, and learned to love the flow of power yoga. It got to the point where that was pretty much all I did.

When I did my 30 Day Yoga Challenge last March, I used a coupon for a month of unlimited classes at a Bikram Yoga studio nearby. Because of that and the good availability of classes, I ended up doing a lot more Bikram classes than usual that month. During this time, I noticed a persistent trend: I was never excited to go to class, but I almost always left with a great feeling. Not excited to go to class? Not that surprising. Bikram Yoga is kind of boring. It’s always the exact same class. 26 postures, most of them repeated twice. The teacher’s dialogue stays pretty consistent. It’s long: always 90 minutes.


It’s been a lot of months since then, and I just started another month unlimited at that Bikram studio. This time, after another few classes that felt the same way, I pieced the puzzle together. Like restorative yoga, Bikram Yoga is another thing that I don’t want to do but benefit greatly from. But rather than balancing out the pitta (which it definitely does not do), it balances out my secondary dosha, vata.

Vata is the ether, the wind, the air. Characteristics include creativity, excitement, anxiety, movement, etc. When unbalanced, vata needs grounding. And that’s why Bikram Yoga is so good for me sometimes. The regularity of the routine itself is grounding, and in addition to that, there’s the entire standing series. Tree pose. Locked knees. Holding poses for a period of time instead of moving with the next breath. Everything about Bikram Yoga feels solid and stable.

Maybe one of these days I’ll be more successful about going to restorative yoga classes. But at least now, I know I’m doing myself good by going to Bikram Yoga on days where my mind won’t stop running in every direction it can find.

1 Responses to Bikram Yoga and the Vata Dosha

  1. I have no clue about these vatas, but yes, I've tried yoga. Many forms of it. There is this Artistic Yoga by Bharat Thakur which I totally enjoyed doing. Always excited to go to the class and felt refreshed after it too. And then there was this traditional old school Patanjali yoga taught by the teacher back in my home town which was awesome too.
    But recently after having hired a personal yoga instructor, I've noticed that I was not excited in the least in the class, and would always find reasons to bunk them. Turns out he was not really concentrating on the energies in me, something like the vatas, now that I think of.
    Bikram yoga and Iyengar yoga are what I want to try next, to see if I will love any of them as much as I did with Artistic Yoga.


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