Why I Love Bikram Yoga

For the last few days, a lot of blog post ideas have been popping up in my head, but most of them have revolved around my own opinions on unpleasant subjects such as the Boston Bombings.    Perhaps some will appreciate these opinions, but I’ve taken a vacation day from work today, so I want to focus this blog post on something positive, and something I’ve grown to love over the last year:   Bikram Yoga.

We live in a fast-paced, densely connected, stressful world where the available options for escape are few and far between.  Even the modern-day vacation typically involves some sort of connectivity to modern electronic communication whether for business or personal reasons.   One might think that, because they’ve chosen to leave their work at home, that they can truly escape; but unless you leave home without your Smartphone, true relaxation is just not possible.   (As a side-note; if you’ve never gone on a vacation Smartphone-free, I encourage you to try it.   As soon as you possibly can.   I promise, you won’t regret it).

I digress.   Back to Bikram Yoga.   Most of us are unable to escape for the number of vacations that our mind and body actually need, given the lives that we live today.   Both financially and from a time availability perspective, it’s simply not realistic.    However, what if you could set up your life, so that regular, strategically-placed mini-escapes could facilitate the meditation, relaxation, and health benefits that a vacation could bring you?   Would you do it?  It is my opinion, that you can.   This is where Bikram Yoga comes in for me.

I started practicing various forms of heated yoga in about 2010.   Back in 2009, I was T-boned by a driver who ran a red light (you’ll never guess why–he was on his cell phone).   Although my vehicle was destroyed, to this day, I’m very grateful that I walked away without a scratch.   Unfortunately, my back has never been the same since.    Following a year of physical therapy, in an attempt to get my life back, I found that heated yoga in various forms of practice, was a phenomenal healer.   In my experience, the heat, combined with the balancing postures and stretching, were able to heal my injury much further than what would have been possible with physical therapy alone.

Last year, however, the back injury resurfaced, and I quickly lost a lot of the progress that I had made in the previous years.   I knew that the best thing to heal me was heated yoga, so I decided to check out the local Bikram Yoga studio, which is conveniently located within walking distance from my house.   I  had never practiced this method of yoga before, so I was not sure what to expect.  Upon walking into the studio, I was greeted with a welcome smile and I immediately could feel the sense of community.   The instructor advised me not to push myself too hard for the 90 minute class, and that if I felt overwhelmed, to simply lie down.   I was also encouraged to come as often as possible within the first couple of weeks, in order to have a realistic way of assessing the benefits.   For that first class, although I was not able to access all of the poses and at some points felt overwhelmed, the second the class was over, I felt immediate benefit.

I tried to attend three times per week for that first “two week” unlimited pass.    Like anything new, it takes time to form a habit–I always tell people that are new to Bikram, to give it a few tries before they decide if they like it.   Much like snowboarding, where you are likely to spend the entire first session on your bum, you can’t assess whether you like it by only attempting once.   You need to give your mind and body more than one chance to adjust to the heat, the postures, and the focus required for 90 minutes.   But I promise you, that in the end, it is entirely worth it.

For those unfamiliar with Bikram Yoga, the classes are the same at studios everywhere:   90 minute sessions, in a room heated between 105 – 110 degrees, and the same 26 postures are practiced, in the same order.   The heat allows your body to both detoxify, and to be able to stretch further than what you would without the heat.  This method of practice was developed by Bikram Choudhury.    Straight from the Bikram Yoga website:  (http://www.bikramyoga.com/BikramYoga/about_bikram_yoga.php):   “It has been proven and experienced by millions that these 26 postures systematically work every part of the body, to give all the internal organs, all the veins, all the ligaments, and all the muscles everything they need to maintain optimum health and maximum function.  Each component takes care of something different in the body, and yet they all work together synergistically, contributing to the success of every other one, and extending its benefits.”

I’m sure this is where the skepticism comes in:   how can I possibly equate a 90-minute “workout” to a vacation?   Believe me, if you haven’t tried it yet, I can understand the skepticism.   As an outsider, I was a skeptic too.   I used to think, “how can this not possibly get boring?”   The same 26 postures.   Every.   Single.   Class.   In the heat.   And, the yoga is challenging–it’s not easy.

So why do I like it so much?    I figured that this type of routine practice would be the last thing I would find so appealing.   But, for some reason, I just keep going back.   It’s like an addiction.    But a healthy one.   Here is what I boil it down to:

1.   Escape.   You can’t bring your Smartphone into a class, and you are encouraged not to leave the room.   Therefore, the class is more of a 90-minute sanctuary.   It’s your time, and nobody else’s.   I equate this to a mini-vacation from the outside world.   (I was a competitive swimmer for fifteen years, and regular escape was probably the number one thing that the swimming pool consistently offered me).

2.   A Consistent Challenge.   Once I increased my practice to three, four times per week, I started to notice dramatic improvements, both in my overall health and well being, and my ability to access the postures and poses.   Even as I improved though, there was always a tangible challenge to be had in every class.   Some days, the challenge is pushing myself to hold a posture better, and longer than before.   On other days, the challenge simply becomes quieting my mind long enough to be in the moment, and remove the stresses from my head.    Even as I write this, I am seeing many parallels to the reasons why I loved competitive swimming.  My current challenge, is that at over five months pregnant, that I must listen to my changing body and not push myself too hard during classes.   I have been practicing the modified Pregnancy series designed by Bikram’s wife, Rajashree Choudhury, and so far I attribute my healthy pregnancy to maintaining consistent practice.  Note:   consult your doctor prior to engaging in any exercise during pregnancy.

3.  A Sense Of Community.   I don’t know how the rest of the world feels, but for me, going to the gym to run on a treadmill just doesn’t cut it.   It makes me feel like a hamster, and it is rather isolating.  Going to a yoga studio, where I see regular faces, encouraging instructors, and overall wonderful people, however, is reason in itself to keep going back.   And, maybe I’m biased, but yogis just seem like happier people!   (Once more this goes in parallel to why I loved swimming for so many years…happy people translate to more happy people, it’s contagious).

4.   It’s Not About Comparing Yourself To Others.   This concept is echoed over and over again by the wonderful instructors that I’ve been grateful to learn from.   Bikram Yoga really is about you.   It’s not about who can hold which posture the longest or who had the “best” class that day.   It’s about meeting your personal challenge, whatever that may be, for the day.  (Again…why I loved swimming).   As illustrated in #2, there will always be a challenge to meet in every class–but what goal do you want to achieve out of today’s class?

5.  Tangible Benefits.  For many people, this should be the first reason to keep going back:   because they notice some sort of benefit to their mind, their body, and their overall health and well-being.   It is true that most people will share with you that they’ve lost substantial weight, reduced their stress, lowered their blood pressure, healed an injury…etc.   The list goes on and on–I’ve even heard some people say that Bikram Yoga has changed their life.   However, I’m a bit more of an idealist when it comes to exercise, the mind, and the body.   To me, the benefits should be a byproduct of the process.   It’s fantastic if something offers a tangible benefit, but if you don’t enjoy the process, eventually, the time investment becomes burdensome.   And for me, this is not the case with Bikram Yoga.   I actually enjoy the process, and the benefits that come with it are just an even more awesome byproduct.

So I may not have convinced you that Bikram Yoga is exactly like a 90-minute mini-vacation, but have I convinced you to try it yet?   I assure you, that the 90-minute classes are a consistent investment into your health and well-being; and if you allow yourself this regular time investment, I promise you that it will be the most rewarding vacation you can ever take.

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