I’ve been messing around with Bikram Yoga recently.  For those not familiar with it, it is a brand of yoga that is done at 105 degrees Farenheit and 40% humidity.  The class is a set of 26 yoga postures, many of which are seriously challenging.  Basically, it’s 90 minutes of sweating from places you didn’t even know you could sweat from, praying for the minute hand on the clock hanging on the wall to hurry up and move faster.

Why subject yourself to such a thing, you ask? As best as I can tell from internet research and reading a few books on the subject, the combination of the heat and specific yoga postures help stretch the muscles and generally open the body, increasing blood flow to organs etc., and several independent sources claim real health benefits. 

(Of course when it comes to disciplines that ‘maintain’ and ‘promote’ health such as yoga, exercise etc. it can be difficult to quantify/measure scientifically.  From my point of view, therefore, independent assessment of the benefits for these kinds of things comes about from participating in the activity and assessing whether you feel like the claims are legitimate.  I can report that my experiences with Bikram Yoga are a resounding ‘there is undoubtedly something going on here’).

Let’s Set the Question of Physical Benefits Aside

But, I want to set aside the question of the physical benefits from something like Bikram Yoga for a moment and delve into the question of potential side benefits.  The creator of this brand of yoga, Bikram Choudhury, a former yoga champion from India who studied for years with some of the great early yoga gurus, while not without controversy, refers to his 105+ degree yoga studios as ‘Bikram’s Torture Studio’.  Now, I want to think about this statement strictly from its merits—meaning let’s talk about this with the assumption that he knows something we don’t in creating his system the way he did and parse what he might have meant by such a reference.

Confidence Post Difficulty

Back when it was a watchable show, years ago, I remember watching a season of ‘The Apprentice’ and being particularly impressed by one candidate.  For those not familiar with it, The Apprentice is a program that follows several job candidates through an extended interview process for a job that pays $250,000 a year with Donald Trump.  The candidate I am referring to was a West Point Military Academy graduate and he held himself with particular poise, maintaining his composure through difficult situations and most impressively, he clearly had a certain measure of confidence.

Close analysis of the kind of experience West Point provides shows that it includes both tactical and strategic study of military theory along with college type subjects such as algebra and physics.  But it also includes a punishing training/survival program including one particular stretch called “hell week”.

Could there be a correlation between going thru a fairly hellish situation, making it thru to the other side,  and subsequent degree of increased confidence?  Could it be that the creator of Bikram Yoga intentionally created a torture chamber of sorts, pushing the participant to their absolute maximum, beyond anything they thought they might be capable of, specifically so that they might make it to the other side only to find newfound confidence? And, does practicing this process on a regular basis add to one’s internal ‘mass’ of confidence?

(Interestingly, I have universally observed, in an easily repeatable experiment, that although during the class itself the looks on the participants faces—including, without question, my own– is one of pure suffering, once in the locker room after the class, the comments consistently are “wow, that was great”, “man that was good!”.  Notably expressions of relief—“thank goodness it’s over”–are absent.  Rather, participants are commenting on how great it was).

Intelligent Design

At the end of the day I don’t know if Bikram was really so plugged in to the human psyche that in addition to designing a yoga system that has physical benefits, he designed it such so as to reshape the confidence of the participant.  My gut tells me that after years of study with some of the top gurus of India and careful, thoughtful development of his system, describing his yoga studios as ‘torture studios’ was intentional and laden with meaning beyond the vernacular use of the term.

If that is in fact so, and the assumptions we’ve made in this post that getting thru a seemingly impossible experience or set of experiences correlates with increased confidence, the implications are that while one would not ordinarily seek out near impossible life experiences to overcome in order to build confidence because, amongst other reasons it is too risky to do so in ‘real life’ situations such as work and family life, Bikram Yoga offers an opportunity for one to pursue increased confidence and to do so in a low-to-no risk environment.

(I should add that this is not me ‘selling’ Bikram Yoga—I myself remain unsure if I will continue to pursue it–I am merely following our train of thought to its logical conclusion).

Either way, pondering whether getting thru near impossible situations successfully correlates with increased confidence is an interesting exercise and I welcome your comments on the matter below.


3 Responses to Getting Thru Hell as a Confidence Builder

  1. [...] written a few times about my experiences with Bikram Yoga.  Recently I noticed a phenomenon in the class amongst those who are new to the practice or those [...]

  2. Well WORDed, Sir.

    I took my first class this morning. It’s definitely different from many other classes/styles/approaches of Yoga.

    And he sure is a mixed bag, himself.

    You make some great points here. Kudos.

    • Nathan Safran says:

      Thanks for the comment Dylan. Definitely finding it to be different than any other approaches. So far I am sticking with it and finding it to be doing good things for me.

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