Hot Yoga Here
1320 W. 34th at Golf St.
Bikram’s Yoga College of India – Houston
2438 South Boulevard
Note: Bikram’s Yoga College of India – Houston also has another Galleria location
Ok, so if you’ve perused some of the articles on this site, you already know I’m a yoga person. And you may have read my review about Hot Yoga Here, the yoga studio I go to here in Houston. And if you’ve read my review, you’ll know I love Hot Yoga Here so much that I have said that I couldn’t even bring myself to go to another studio, even for the purposes of comparison.
The “Other” Yoga Place
However… this past weekend Hot Yoga Here was closed for a planned event and I needed to get my yoga on, so I decided to give the “official” Bikram franchise here in town a try. I’m glad I went so I know what it’s like and know I can go there in a pinch, but I’ll never choose to go there over Darla’s studio at Hot Yoga Here. Below is what I found at Bikram Yoga College of India, Houston — feel free to discount my review because I’m such a die-hard “Hot Yoga Here” girl, but I call ’em like I experienced ’em.
The studio I went to (they have two locations) was in a nice section of West U, and in that regard it was very much what I expected — freestanding building, nicely labeled, good parking, with a decent-sized dressing room and showers. For a first-timer, I could see that it would be less intimidating than Hot Yoga Here, which rents space in a Krishna temple and until you get used to being at the temple for yoga, you do feel a bit out of place.
Is That a Gucci Sports Bra?
Even as a regular hot yoga devotee, however, I felt more out of place at Bikram Yoga College of India than at the Krishna temple: boy, you can tell that this type of yoga started in L.A. The desk in the lobby is under the photographic presence of Bikram Choudhury himself, in a huge poster print of him sitting in lotus position on a (I do not lie) dead tiger skin. Not a very good yoga environment for this vegetarian. Over the doorway to the yoga room another picture looms, of Bikram and (presumably) his wife, sitting at the edge of a beautiful pool — and she’s wearing a swimsuit emblazoned with the name of an Italian design house. That pretty much encapsulated the BYCIH experience for me — yoga’s cool, but especially if you’re gorgeous and in designer clothes.
The people were much different at BYCIH than at HYH. More West U, maybe, I don’t know. I don’t really have anything against West U or people who live there, but… it’s just a different vibe. Hot Yoga Here is this sort of collection of all types of folks — totally in-shape athletes and housewives, women losing weight, guys looking for an intense workout, older folks trying to stay limber — that I lose self-consciousness very quickly. And if you go to HYH you’re not really going to “see and be seen” — what, at a Krishna temple? But BYCIH was much more like being at a Bally’s aerobics class: people who get a charge from working out in front of other people, especially if it’s something trendy and eastern like Yoga. Before class (when folks at HYH usually lay or sit on their rugs meditating or just resting and soaking up the heat), there was much public stretching going on in the BYCIH yoga room. The tiny blonde in front of me did this whole elaborate routine into the mirror complete with stretches, prayer posture poses, and various non-Bikram yoga postures. It was quite the performance.
I don’t even want to think about the microbes… or this guy’s toes
The yoga room itself was nice enough — indirect lighting and good heat (although cooler than I’m used to). I think there were restrooms right off the studio room, which is a convenient touch, but I think may encourage people to get up in the middle of class; there was a lot of movement and people getting up and leaving and coming back when I was there. And three or four people left early, which is almost unheard of at a yoga class! Very odd — I think now it may have been an anomaly. The place was really packed, surprisingly so, and our friend Bruce who goes to their Foutainview location said his Saturday afternoon class was similarly packed with first-timers. Spring Break approaches, I guess.
The yoga room also is carpeted at BYCIH (a Bikram requirement, I believe) vs HYH and even though I thought I might like it, it freaked me out a little bit… I couldn’t help to think about what might be swarming around down there in that warm, moist carpet. I know, they say they clean it regularly, etc, but… *shudder*. Give me antiseptic linoleum any day.
So the room itself was pretty okay, but we were packed in there like little sardines! And most bizarrely, they lined our rugs up in a strict checkboard pattern — so anyone in rows 3 through 5 was lucky if they got to see a knee and the top of their head. They lined us up like this and THEN admonished us to “make sure we could see ourselves in the mirror”. Um, how, when you lined me up behind Buffy the Zen-Slayer? And — okay, I’m going to sound superficial here but I swear I’m not — this extreme close-up with all my fellow Yoga people during class meant that during Triangle a guy’s 1/2″ long toenails were only about 8″ from my face. Now I’m very accepting of people, especially when it comes to body issues, but… I do feel a bit weirded by yellow overgrown toenails so much in what I think of as “my space”. BYCIH was like a European personal-space zone vs a Wyoming type of personal-space zone at Hot Yoga Here.
Concentrate, Meditate, and Suck in Your Gut
The class itself wasn’t bad — the nice thing about Bikram is that it’s basically the same postures all the time, no matter what studio you’re at. So I was able to settle into the class because I already basically knew what I was doing. But it was very much like an aerobics class at a large gym — somebody with a boom mic exhorting me to “push, push, push”. And this sort of L.A. mass production combined with such an ancient and seemingly whole-soul discipline did make for strange bedfellows; being told to “Concentrate, Medidate” just before being told to “Squeeze your glutes” was brain-snappingly funny.
Ignorance is Bliss: Bikram and Liability
The weirdest part about the whole experience for me, though, was that the extent of my intake process at the official Bikram place was to sign a form stating that I held them harmless, even in the case of negligence. Now, this is a pretty standard form for workout places, I think (Darla has one similar at Hot Yoga Here), but… that was it. That was all they wanted to know. They didn’t get a medical history, they didn’t talk to me about physical limitations… nothing. I don’t know if they just assumed by looking at me that I must be in peak physical condition, or if it (more likely) was that at some point Bikram’s organization decided that if they asked people what was wrong with their bodies, then they could be help liable for someone hurting themselves or aggravating an injury. So better to not know and never be sued. I mean, at Hot Yoga Here Darla runs down a whole host of medical conditions — if you have asthma she makes sure you have your inhaler… if you have a bad back or bad knees or bad hips, she shows you how to modify postures and makes sure you’re doing okay during class. It’s like a religion with her to make sure that you don’t aggravate an injury.
But BYCIH was the total opposite… I had to track down the instructor ahead of time and tell him about my bad back and how I don’t always do the forward bends or the sit-ups. He was very sweet about it and okay with it, but… oh my god, I can’t help but think about what if that had been my first time ever doing hot yoga? What if that had been my first class, I’m in a new environment, not comfortable trying out this new weird popular kind of exercise, and just tried to do everything they told me? I could’ve aggravated my back so badly I wouldn’t have been able to walk (because before I found Darla’s studio one bad episode of bending forward COULD really do that kind of stuff to me). What if I’d had an asthma attack during class? I mean, I always have my inhaler with me and I’ve never really had “an attack”, but what would that place have done if they didn’t know what was wrong with me? I was actually deeply disturbed by this lack of personal concern. It may make for smart business for the Bikram organization, but it made for a really impersonal and kind of scary experience for me. I just kept worrying about first-timers not getting any guidance and possibly hurting themselves, kind of like how you worry vicariously for too-young children in a scary movie. You don’t know that it’s not going to damage them, but you don’t know if they’ll be alright, either.
So, Biased Girl, Any Other Thoughts?
On the positive side, they held the postures a long time, and the instructor really did seem to know his stuff. I did get a good workout. But the repetitive script that must be Bikram-required grated on me and made me feel like I was in a yoga factory, just another mass-produced Bikram sausage being churned out. And really, I’m vegetarian. I’ll take my yoga organic and sausage-free.