Enter any Bikram studio in the world and you'll swear you're in the movie Groundhog Day: No matter where you are, the heat will be cranked up to a blistering 105 degrees, you'll spend 90 minutes sweating through the same 26 poses and two breathing exercises, and your teacher will sound like an incarnation of Bikram Choudhury, the esteemed yogi who founded the discipline. Despite these similarities, however, a handful of studios have found ways to stand out in the rapidly expanding market of hot-yoga classes. Here, our top 10 places to practice Bikram across the country:
Bikram's Yoga College of India World Headquarters
There are only 34 classes each week at this studio, which serves as the headquarters for Bikram's Yoga College of India. When Bikram Choudhury and his wife (and fellow instructor), Rajashree, aren't spreading their practice overseas, you'll find them here. Schedules are subject to change, but Bikram teaches Saturday mornings at 10 (call Friday night to confirm). Arrive early to warm your muscles in the steam room—when you enter the heated practice room, it may actually feel cool.
Bikram Yoga NYC
New York City
This New York yoga powerhouse has four Manhattan locations—each of which delivers more than 200 classes a week. The Upper East Side outpost, which features two full walls of windows, is the newest, but most celebrities head to the midtown studio, on the fringes of Times Square, to do their bending, twisting, and sweating. Lady Gaga comes here for group classes and private instruction when she's in town, as do major Broadway players like Laura Linney, who recently ducked in between performances of Time Stands Still.
Bikram Yoga Chicago
Many Bikram studios offer cramped quarters, but not these two spacious Chicago locations, which are housed in historic buildings in the city's hippest neighborhoods and feature yoga rooms with wood and rubber floors. The Wicker Park space is a brick-and-timber loft with a 4,000-square-foot lobby, and the practice and changing areas are similarly super-sized. The Lincoln Park outpost is a converted century-old movie theater. The South Loop spot, which opens in February 2011, occupies Dearborn Station, a restored railroad depot built in 1885.
Pure Bikram Yoga
512-499-0490 Pure is a fitting name for this chain: Bikram Yoga emphasizes clean and clear instruction (and poses), but these three studios—including one downtown, another in Westlake, and a just-opened spot in Cedar Park—have gone above and beyond by hiring a director of teacher development who ensures consistency among the 22 instructors and gives regular feedback on how to lead a class, including body language and demonstration. You'll find 118 expertly led classes each week in the four practice spaces (there are two rooms downtown), which can hold 50 to 70 students.
Bikram Yoga East Harlem
New York City
The sisters who founded this studio in 2008 aren't newcomers to the burgeoning neighborhood—they grew up across the street in the Taft housing projects—and aim to make the studio a touchstone of the community. So far it's working: Students at the 40 weekly classes are greeted by name, a public art gallery occupies the top floor of the space, child care is offered on-site, and studio extras include regular workshops on yoga-inspired topics like Ayurveda and herbs, as well as a room for Thai and Swedish massage.
Bikram Yoga San Antonio
The 79 sessions a week include a handful of Spanish-language Bikram classes and students of every shape, size, and age. The locations also vary in scope and feel, from a cozy boutique-size outpost to the 4,100-square-foot flagship studio.
Bikram Hot Yoga Houston
The team behind this studio knows that a rigorous sweat session doesn't need to smell like one: Both locations have carpets that are regularly steam-cleaned with special enzymes and high-tech air purifiers that circulate air all day and night. Seventy-nine classes are offered each week at the West University branch and the brand-new location near Houston's famed Galleria shopping district.
Bikram Yoga Orlando
If a little competition fuels your inner fire, train here. The studio, known for encouraging picture-perfect poses, has produced yogis who rank at the national level of the Bikram Yoga Competition. Use the studio's two mirrored walls to see how your poses measure up against the masters'.
Bikram Yoga Green Valley
The region's talent is conspicuously on display at this studio, located just 10 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip: Classes are taught by showgirls and models. Mirrors line two and a half walls, making it easier to check out your poses—and your classmates.
Bikram Yoga San Diego
When Jim Kallett, a Choudhury disciple, opened the space in 1998, it was the only Bikram school in San Diego. Now the 7,000-square-foot mega-studio, which can hold 100 pupils per class, is a hot spot for students and instructors hailing from all around Southern California. The practice area has super-sanitary carpeting and mirrors on three walls to help students see—and realign—poses from all angles.