Monday, May 30, 2011

Bikram yoga: a love/hate story

When my brother was in grade school, he attempted nearly every sport out there to help control the constant bursts of energy that coursed through him. As a couch potato and anti-athlete, I watched with disdain, often escaping to the car to read my latest book while he exerted himself needlessly.

His basketball phase was particularly disturbing. When he had the ball, he’d run across the court with the most evil, horrifying look on his face. It was the stuff nightmares were made of. The look said “don’t mess with me or I will literally snap your head off.” The Basketball Face would haunt me for years to come. I’ve never seen him make it again, but very recently it reared its ugly head… in me.

Shortly after The Big Move, the battery on my scale died. I’m not overly fond of the thing and don’t use it often, but I do like to use it to keep myself in check now and then. As soon as I knew it was out of commission and it would be at least three trips to the store before I remembered to buy a battery because I know myself, I just started eating whatever I felt like and “trying” to get “a walk or jog” in every day.

When I finally replaced the battery, I smugly stood on it and thought to myself that everything was fine. Except apparently I’m not good at moderation without the scale because I gained eight pounds in a couple of weeks. As I leave my twenties behind (sob!) I know that these little binges will only get harder to bounce back from. No, this would take more than a walk on the beach. This would take serious measures.

And that’s how I finally talked myself into trying Bikram yoga. I’d been morbidly curious for years. For anyone confused, Bikram yoga is a system developed by an Indian guy named Bikram Choudhury that involves 90 minutes of practice in a room heated to 105-110 degrees. It always sounded like torture to me but my single experience with hot yoga last summer made me realize how amazing it feels to sweat out all the junk in your system and leave feeling refreshed and purified. The day I learned of my impressive weight gain, I looked online and found a studio near my home that offered an introductory price of 10 classes for $20… but it was only good for 14 days. If that didn’t force me to get into shape, nothing would.

In Idaho, I’d do yoga every Saturday for 60 minutes, the last 10 of which were spent in Savasana, which is resting lying down on your back. The whole time, my sweet instructor Liz would coax us through gentle poses and encourage us to only do what we could. Bikram yoga is far from Liz yoga. The moment the instructor walked through the door and called us up to our feet, we were posing and we were posing hard. Aside from one glorious 60 second break in Corpse pose halfway through, there’s no resting in Bikram. Each pose is done twice and every muscle in your body is stretched and begging for mercy.

Bikram yoga starts and ends with some really crazy breathing designed to get your system ready to have the crap shocked out of it. There are some poses I’d done before, like Chair and Triangle, and some I hadn’t, like attempting to place my head on my knee. You hold each pose for a painful 60 seconds the first set and 30 seconds the second set, the instructor talking the whole time and correcting you if so much as a pinky finger is out of place. It forces you to clear your mind because you literally can’t think of anything else or you will fall over.

After surviving my first class, I felt both terrible and amazing. I was sore and dehydrated and I wasn’t sure I’d ever go back. People told me I was crazy and I did question my own sanity. I mean, seriously, there had to be an easier way to lose a few pounds than balancing on a toe in a room that literally could be hot as hell. But I went back two days later and I did it again. And again. It never got easier, but I started to really look forward to it. A few times, I even made myself walk the 2.5 miles home after the class was over to get some extra cardio.

I started my new job and Mr. W needs the car for his work, so it got trickier to get to Bikram yoga. On the last day of my two week pass, I knew I had to go and use it one last time to get my money’s worth since I hadn’t quite taken the ten classes (really, ten Bikram classes in 14 days IS crazy). So after working for nine hours, I took the water taxi and the bus to the studio for the 6:30 class. I was tired, hungry and really didn’t think I’d survive.

To my complete surprise, I rocked it. I was able to tune out the rest of the world and focus on the poses, the stretching, the breathing and everything yoga is supposed to be about. I did crazy bends my tight hamstrings can normally only dream of, bent all the way back for Fixed Firm Pose and came into full Camel Pose which never happens. Finally seeing the results of my classes motivated me and I pushed myself even harder.

During Eagle Pose, as I crossed my left leg over my wobbly right and clasped my hands together, balancing, I checked the mirror as instructed to check my form. The look on my face caught me off guard and sent me toppling out of the pose. It was the Basketball Face plastered across my normally happy mug. I didn’t understand it when I’d seen it on my brother 18 years ago, but I sure as hell understood it that day. It wasn’t a look of “don’t mess with me or I will snap your head off.” It was a look that meant, “I am focusing and powering through this physically challenging time. My muscles are killing me, but I will continue and I will power through it. This is me realizing I can do anything. Also, don’t mess with me.”

I finished strong that day and to my great surprise, I left feeling fantastic and actually thinking maybe I will attempt Bikram yoga again one day. I expected to simply be relieved that it was over—and I was!—but also accomplished and proud of myself. If only I’d realized when I was younger that I am actually fully capable of whatever I set my mind to, maybe I would’ve moved my ass then and I wouldn’t have chronically tight hamstrings that are such a hindrance to my yoga now. Live and learn.

Moral of the story? Bikram yoga isn’t so bad, but it does take mental commitment and more water than you think you possibly need. Also, we’re so much stronger than we know. All of us. Whether it’s Bikram yoga or anything else we want to do, we really can and I wish we’d realize it more often.

Three pounds down, five to go…


Angie said...

Oh hey, so that's where my 8 pounds went! ;) (I weighed in 8 pounds down yesterday!)

That's awesome that you've found something you enjoy so much. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right activity, but I think there is a right activity (or two or three or fifteen) for everyone. Personally, I hate hot yoga. But I also can't handle hot tubs, saunas, or too hot of showers, so clearly heat just isn't my thing. :)

JD said...

Attagirl!! I applaud your stick-to-it-ness with something that would most likely kill me before even attempting the first pose. I'm definitely no hothouse flower, even less heat tolerant as I near the end of my 30's. I wonder if you kept at it throughout your 30's, perhaps your personal thermostat will function better later when your hormones start pulling shenanigans, as mine are just beginning to. You always inspire me!

Stevie said...

I loooooove Bikram yoga. It is such a crazy challenge, but I love how I feel afterward. I don't go much anymore because it gets really pricey, but I would like to start going at least once a week again.

JessicaLee said...

Bikram is crazy expensive! The $20 deal was awesome and I wish I'd made it to all 10 classes. Stevie, the last time I went was the day after our night out... I really needed to sweat out all that wine and yummy mac and cheese. ;) Angie, take your damn 8 pounds back!

Anonymous said...

You rock! I've still to attempt that bad-boy of a practise...and I've definitely put on a couple of kilos since I stopped training for my 100km trek. Time to find a special deal like you did, I think! ;)

Anonymous said...

Soemtimes you find strength you've had inside all just needed to remember it was within you! I think you've found it this past year and nothing can stop you. Big hugs!
MOM who can not figure out how to do this posting here! LOL

M&M said...

It's so great you have found something that will challenge you and benefit you mentally and physically as well! I've only done Hatha yoga which is the first baby step of yoga but even that is so relaxing and one day I hope to be able to get into those crazy poses!

Your story reminded me of this time last year when I did my first was a painful and exhausting experience but felt oddly amazing afterward and now I do races all the time. It is so important to keep pushing ourselves farther than we think we can go. So glad you found your nitche! and at $20 or 10 can't beat that!

Adam said...

I liked your story... up until this bit

"I left feeling fantastic and actually thinking maybe I will attempt Bikram yoga again one day"

You can't just stop after 14 days you're meant to keep doing it forever! I hope you keep going because you'll find the health benefits keep increasing as you keep doing it.

JessicaLee said...

Adam, if they want me to go forever, they're welcome to make it much more affordable than hundreds of dollars per month! :)

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