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.

Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvAs the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian on why he'll never bow to critics who habitually circle his work
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
VIDEO
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey outside Mo Nabbach’s M&M Hair Academy in west London before the haircut
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Sport
Vito Mannone fails to keep out Samir Nasri's late strike
sportMan City 2 Sunderland 2: Keeper flaps at Nasri's late leveller, but Black Cat striker's two goals in 10 minutes had already done damage
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
News
peopleRyan Gosling says yes, science says no. Take the A-list facial hair challenge
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
News
Paul Weller, aka the Modfather, performing at last year’s Isle of Wight Festival in Newport
people
Arts & Entertainment
Play It Forward: the DC Record Fair in Washington, US
musicIndependent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads on Record Store Day
Sport
video
News
Supermarkets are running out of Easter Eggs
Deals make eggs cheaper than normal chocolate
Life & Style
Wasp factory: 1.3 million examples of the Vespa scooter have been sold in the last decade
motoringIconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

    £26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

    Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

    £25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

    Senior Infrastructure Consultant

    £50000 - £65000 Per Annum potentially flexible for the right candidate: Clearw...

    Public Sector Audit - Bristol

    £38000 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Do you have experience of ...

    Day In a Page

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

    Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
    Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

    Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

    The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
    Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

    Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

    The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
    Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

    Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

    This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
    10 best smartphones

    10 best smartphones

    With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
    Supersize art

    Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

    The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
    James Dean: Back on the big screen

    James Dean: Back on the big screen

    As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
    Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

    How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

    More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week