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bikram yoga, health, lifestyle

i’m hooked on bikram yoga

Some­time last spring, my buddy Chris called to ask if I was inter­ested in going with him to a bikram yoga class. He had gone to the class for a few days and thought that I would enjoy it as well. Wait…isn’t that the yoga that’s done in a hot room? Does Chris remem­ber that I am a polar bear from Michi­gan, and annu­ally pon­der my deci­sion to live in hot and humid DC? I’m always up for a chal­lenge, so I agreed to go and signed up for a one-week intro pack­age at Bikram Yoga Riverdale Park, in Riverdale Park, MD.

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I was told to come to the stu­dio well hydrated and with an open mind. I think that I did bet­ter with the hydra­tion part than the open mind. Nev­er­the­less, I went four days dur­ing the intro week. After a week, in spite of aver­sion to heat, I was sur­prised by how much I liked Bikram. Unfor­tu­nately, I didn’t go to the stu­dio con­sis­tently. I intro­duced Carla to Bikram at the begin­ning of the sum­mer. We went together for a lit­tle while, but travel and other things (life) kept us from going with any reg­u­lar­ity. Around the same time, early sum­mer last year, I bought a road bike and really got into cycling. My bur­geon­ing inter­est in cycling will be the focus of a sep­a­rate post — com­ing soon.

Fast for­ward to the 2014 Christ­mas hol­i­day season.While I have been going to the gym inter­mit­tently, Carla and I were dis­cussing our desire to get back on track with fit­ness, and not wait to make it a goal/resolution for 2015It didn’t take long for us to agree on going back to Bikram Yoga Riverdale Park. We absolutely love the stu­dio, the owner, Kendra, and all of the instruc­tors. A lot of peo­ple take on 30-, 60-, or 90-day Bikram chal­lenges. We didn’t have that stretch of time to com­mit, Carla had an extended break from tap­ing The Chew, so we opted for a hol­i­day chal­lenge. We chal­lenged each other to do Bikram yoga every­day while Carla was home. That trans­lated to 15 straight days — includ­ing classes on Christ­mas, New Years’s Eve, and New Year’s Day.

What is it like to prac­tice Bikram?

Most peo­ple know Bikram as ‘hot yoga. Peo­ple ask “Is it hot in the room?” Uh…yeah!

105degrees

I don’t care how much you like warm weather, there’s noth­ing that really pre­pares you for 90 min­utes of yoga in a room north of 100 degrees. The first cou­ple of days are really tough. You might feel light-headed, short of breath, dizzy, nau­seous, or all of the above. It’s intense. You very likely will be ask­ing your­self, “What the hell am I doing in here?”

The key is to stick with it. It is not uncom­mon for new stu­dents to take a knee, sit or lay down on the mat. For what it’s worth, even peo­ple who prac­tice Bikram yoga reg­u­larly can feel nau­seous or dizzy, and will stop dur­ing the class. There is no shame, and you have to lis­ten to and respect your body. That said, there’s a dif­fer­ence between legit­i­mate reac­tions to the heat and exer­cise, and sim­ply quit­ting because it’s tough, Don’t get me wrong, Bikram may not be for every­one, but most peo­ple can make it through a class or two.

As for the prac­tice, the 90-minute class is divided into a series of 26 pos­tures — each per­formed twice, except #25. That’s it. No mat­ter how expe­ri­enced, every­one does the same pos­tures. I like that part of Bikram. When you first start out, you set up in the back of the stu­dio so that you can see the pos­tures demon­strated by more expe­ri­ence prac­ti­tion­ers. I think it’s impor­tant here to note the use of the word prac­tice. I don’t think that you ever per­fect Bikram, you practice…and practice…and prac­tice again.The stand­ing pos­tures typ­i­cally take up a lit­tle more than half of the class. It may be an even split, but it always feels like the bal­anc­ing pos­tures (#1 — 12) take longer, and most peo­ple love reach­ing the seated pos­tures. Here is a chart that details each of the pos­tures. The chart is miss­ing the open­ing stand­ing deep breath­ing (Pranayama Series) exercise.

click the image to enlarge

Here is another pos­ture graphic.

26-bikram-poses

 

What you need for class

  • A yoga mat. (Most stu­dios rent mats. Bikram Yoga Riverdale Park cur­rently charges $2). I recently picked up a thick mat by Man­duka
  • Towel(s) — You will sweat your ass off in Bikram. A lot of peo­ple bring two tow­els. I bring one towel for my mat, and another to wipe my face or hands. I picked up a quick dry­ing towel for my by Gaiam. Most stu­dios also rent towels.
  • Water — It’s best if you have water in insu­lated a bot­tle or ther­mos. I have an insu­lated Camel­Bak bot­tle and a Hydro Flask ther­mos. Cold water in a plas­tic bot­tle will be warm by the end of class. I would sug­gest elec­trolyte water, or pick­ing up elec­trolyte tablets to add to your water. I picked up tablets by Nuun for cycling, and use them every­day in my water bot­tles for Bikram.
  • Shorts and Top/Tank (top optional for men) — Most women wear tights and tanks. Most men wear shorts and no shirt. I wear a com­pres­sion shirt.

What to expect

Con­trary to the beau­ti­ful pos­ture graphic above, this may very well be you dur­ing the first week or two.

bikramwhy

It’s really not that bad.

As I was told before com­ing to my first class, it’s also impor­tant to be well-hydrated. What does that mean? Try to drink at a liter or more before class. I would highly dis­cour­age you from eat­ing any­thing sub­stan­tial within 2–3 hours before class. I usu­ally nib­ble on some almonds on the way to class. I may eat an apple or banana about an hour

If you decide to take up Bikram, you really need to do sev­eral classes in a row to get accus­tomed to the heat and the pos­tures. Ini­tially, your arms and legs will be shak­ing like leaves in the wind. After a while, you  will start to build strength, flex­i­bil­ity, and bal­ance. Even with that, I can­not say that it gets “eas­ier.” Again, because the pos­tures don’t change, your pro­gres­sion is com­pletely depen­dent on reach­ing that “Oh! My! God!” point of resis­tance and push just a lit­tle more. After about a week, I found that I barely focused on the heat, and turned my atten­tion to doing the pos­tures cor­rectly, and bet­ter. Oh…you will also be told to breathe in and out of your nose, not your mouth. This will be tough at first, but it’s much bet­ter than tak­ing in big gulps of hot air.  You will get dizzy. Trust me. One thing that I’ve noticed is a bit of towel burn on my knees and the tops of my feet. You might con­sider bring­ing an extra small microfiber towel to put under your knees for pos­tures #19–22 in the first chart, 20–23 in the second.

It’s’ worth men­tion­ing that there is an eti­quette in the stu­dio. As I men­tioned ear­lier, if you’re new or inex­pe­ri­enced, set up in back of the stu­dio. Try to get to the stu­dio about 15 min­utes before the class. This affords you time to get changed (if needed), and set up your mat and get some time in the heat before class begins. Be mind­ful of where you set up your mat. Try not to set up directly in front of another per­son. You want, and need, to see your­self in the mir­ror to check your pos­tures. It’s not cool to delib­er­ately or mind­lessly block some­one who had already set up their mat. Enter and leave the stu­dio qui­etly. Most peo­ple are try­ing to get cen­tered before the class, and relax after­ward. It’s quite dis­turb­ing (read: annoy­ing) for peo­ple to make a lot of noise or talk. The instruc­tors will tell you when it’s time for the first water break, which is not really a break, but a brief moment to get a sip from your bot­tle. Don’t gulp the water. It might upset your stom­ach to take in too much of that cold water. After that ini­tial break,  you can take quick sips of water between pos­tures. Try not to make too much noise when get­ting water, par­tic­u­larly loud “Ahh­hhh!” sounds. Finally, there’s no talk­ing dur­ing class. You may grunt and groan a bit, but “Whew!” “Ok!” and other talk­ing is dis­cour­aged. You will be doing a num­ber of crunches and twists of your body. Peo­ple may fart. Get over it.

 

I’m hooked on Bikram

So, our 15-day hol­i­day chal­lenge has now reached 22 straight days. I will likely con­tinue prac­tic­ing Birkam every­day until I reach 30 straight days. After that, I plan to go four days a week (Tues­day, Thurs­day, Sat­ur­day and Sun­day). I’m hooked!

Peo­ple have asked how I feel. After three weeks, I can def­i­nitely see an improve­ment in my flex­i­bil­ity. I broke my right ankle years ago, and have expe­ri­enced chronic pain, bone spurs, and very lim­ited range of motion. Since doing Bikram, my ankle is much more flex­i­ble, and the day-to-day pain has decreased.  I have also noticed that I feel much more calm and relaxed out­side of class. Addi­tion­ally, I’ve lost about 12 pounds, and am eat­ing much bet­ter. The last thing that you want to do is going into a Bikram class with junk in your belly or body. In spite of my gen­eral dis­like of being hot, I have embraced the 105 degrees of the stu­dio. Or, maybe I’ve just stopped wor­ry­ing about some­thing that I can’t control.

If you’re in the DC area, please let me know if you’re inter­ested in try­ing Bikram yoga. I would love for you to join me at Bikram Yoga Riverdale Park. The stu­dio cur­rently has a great intro offer. If that loca­tion doesn’t work for you, there are a num­ber of stu­dios in the area. If you live out­side of the DC/Baltimore metro area, let me know if you try Bikram in your home­town, and please share your experience(s).

Ques­tions?

Did I miss anything?Do you have ques­tions? Please feel free to ask in the com­ments. I am happy to share as much as I can, or try to direct you to peo­ple who can help you.

Namasté

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