Hot and humid: Introducing Bikram yoga

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

It's not supposed to be competitive, but fans hope for Olympic glory. Matthew Bell reports from the national championships

Flamingos may find it relaxing, but for most of us, standing on one leg isn't much of a tonic. Unless, that is, you're a follower of Bikram yoga, in which case it's the first step to fitness, flexibility and finding inner peace.

That was the message at yesterday's National Yoga Asana Championships, held in the carpeted fug of a central London hotel. Now in its 10th year, the annual competition drew 26 female and nine male entrants, and, for the first time, a youth division, all battling it out to be crowned Britain's bendiest yoga bunny.

Normally considered a form of relaxation, yoga as competition may seem like a contradiction in terms. But as with diving or gymnastics, there's more than one way to flail a limb. In Bikram yoga, named after its creator, Bikram Choudhury, the temperature is cranked up to 30C, the idea being that a hot and humid environment improves joint relaxation. For the competition, each entrant is allowed three minutes in which to strike seven postures, of which five are mandatory, and two are chosen by the individual.

Obviously, the first requirement is to be able to contort yourself into position. So, how hard is it? Just before she goes on stage, Bridgett Ann Goddard takes me through a few moves. "Legs apart, arms out, lean, and head up!" There's a lot to take in, but suddenly we're doing "the triangle". "And, touch your toes!" It's tempting to topple over, except that dozens of Lycra-clad men and women are cheering me on. "Whoop! Way to go!" I hear through an armpit. It may be competitive, but this is a very friendly sport.

Once you've mastered the triangle – what then? "Judges award points for grace, style, accuracy, precision, strength – there's a whole rubric they're following," explains Lorraine Bell, one of the organisers. The competition takes place in front of an X Factor-style panel of judges and an audience of 400 guests, each paying £15.

Competitive yoga is growing in popularity, and Ms Bell hopes it could one day become an Olympic sport. Why? "Yoga is very popular," she says. "More so than curling. Why is curling an Olympic sport? There are more people who have a knowledge and understanding of yoga, who make it part of their lives, every week, every day. I think it would be nice for them to see another place for it to go. Not everyone is competitive and certainly lots of types of yoga are not, but there will be some people who will want to compete. This is just another avenue."

An astonishing number of competitors discovered yoga because of health problems. Ky Ha, 32, is one. A former yoga world champion, he took up yoga 10 years ago, after suffering knee pain. "I was doing a lot of running, and I'd been in a lot of car accidents," he says. "The running was really hard on my joints. A friend said practising yoga would really help me out, and it did."

Most moving is the story of Ayesha Nauth, 37, who suffers from chronic rheumatoid arthritis. Last year, she came third. "From the age of 22, I was quite debilitated," she says. "I was at home being looked after by my mum because I couldn't do anything at all. I got a bit better through taking medication, and started working in the City, but it was really stressful, and the stress was inflaming it even more. A friend of mine recommended Bikram because the heat and the humidity would help my joints. After a few sessions, I noticed a big difference. Now, when I stop practising my joints really seize up. I can't even turn the handle of a door."

But why do it competitively? "My doctor told me I would be in a wheelchair by the end of my twenties. Since doing Bikram, I don't even use a walking stick any more. So my teacher said I should do it to inspire others, and to show you don't have to go into hospital all the time. It has completely changed my life."

It's certainly not for everyone, and the chances of it becoming an Olympic sport are, everyone admits, pretty slight. But maybe the flamingos are on to something.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

    £22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

    Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

    Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

    Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

    £70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

    Day In a Page

    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions
    Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

    Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

    Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
    General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

    All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

    The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
    How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

    How Etsy became a crafty little earner

    The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
    Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

    King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

    Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
    Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

    Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

    The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
    Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

    Don't fear the artichoke

    Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
    11 best men's socks

    11 best men's socks

    Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
    Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

    Paul Scholes column

    Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
    Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
    London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

    Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

    Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
    Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

    Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

    Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
    Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

    Khorasan is back in Syria

    America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story