New to the world of yoga? If you've been researching a physical practice with weight-loss potential, the two practices you've heard about are Bikram and Ashtanga. While these two yoga styles absolutely have some similarities, like the 90-minute class time and a predetermined sequence, there are also some undeniable differences.
The Class Structure
In any Bikram class you attend in the world, you will move through 26 poses and two breathing exercises — most times this sequence is repeated twice, and your teacher has strict instructions not to adjust you. Depending on who you talk to, there are four or six series in Ashtanga, but the vast majority of practitioners will take a primary series class, while more advanced yogis will take a secondary series class that includes a ton of inversions, twists, and challenging balancing poses. In Ashtanga, you can expect your teacher to come over at least once to give you a hands-on adjustment and move you deeper into a pose.
Both classes are hot, but the means by which this heat is built is very different. In Bikram, the room itself is the source of the heat. Every Bikram studio is heated to 105 degrees with 40 percent humidity. While some people find the heat debilitating, Bikram enthusiasts love the heat and find the temperature of the room to have cathartic benefits for the body and spirit. In Ashtanga, there's a great emphasis on building your own agni, internal fire. Moving through Sun Salutations builds internal heat and gets your heart pumping. Throughout class, each Vinyasa, a short series of movements that links the sequence together, connects the poses to keep your heart rate up and your body warm and prepped for difficult poses. In short, Ashtanga heats you from the inside out, and Bikram from the outside in.
In a Bikram class, there are short breaks as you transition from pose to pose. With a room so hot, breaks are essential, and sometimes drinking water in the middle of a Bikram is necessary. Oppositely, the vast majority of Ashtanga instructors urge students to hydrate before class. When you sip on water in the middle of practice, it's putting out that internal fire you've worked so hard to build. In an Ashtanga practice, things are always flowing and moving with nonstop movement. During the 90-minute class, the only time you will break is when you take Savasana and rest.
For both practices, you'll need a high-quality mat, but most Bikram students like to bring a large towel along too. When the room is so hot, all that sweat can be problematic for your practice. Make sure you don't slip and slide all over the place and either bring a special yoga towel or a beach towel to class. If you're concerned about the heat, don't be shy about showing skin. Bikram yogis are often wearing sports bras, tiny shorts, and in some cases, even an active bathing-suit top!
The situation is a little different in Ashtanga. Having a hand towel nearby can be helpful if you're concerned about sweating, but you'll want to wear a little bit more clothing – especially when it comes to your pants. You'll want to rock longer pants that help soak up a little of your sweat. These will also come in handy when you move into poses like Crow that require a little skin-on-skin contact.
Both styles offer rigorous physical classes that can give your whole body a killer workout. If you're not sure which of these practices will suit your needs, try both! From here, you can make an informed decision for yourself.