This list — most often attributed to some mythical econ teacher — has been floating around for some time, but it’s worth sharing. So many of these things just never get old or, sadly, fully appreciated.
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.
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 2015. It 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!
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.
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.
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).
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.