Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My First Class of Bikram Yoga

As the title of this blog includes the word 'yoga' I should probably introduce you all to the world of Bikram yoga and tell you about my first class which was nearly 4 years ago. I had been training for my 2nd marathon and my body was in bits.

I was introduced to Bikram yoga by a friend who had done one class and become quite hooked, I had vaguely heard about it and the only thing that had really registered was that it was done in a room that was heated to 105 degrees, it sounded quite ridiculous but intriguing none the less.

I arrived, as nearly all Bikram rookies, in proper sweat pants and a t-shirt, I was slightly amazed at how skimpy the clothing was of some of the other attendees, some in just bikinis. I lay down on my mat with my 2 litre bottle of water and didn't really know what to expect. I must admit at this stage vanity had brought me to a Bikram yoga studio, my friend had informed me that it was a fast track route to weight loss and toning up. 

Bikram yoga is a 90 minute class comprising of 26 postures that are repeated twice, the room is heated to 105 degrees to both protect you from injury and increase flexibility. Bikram's thinking was that this would replicate the climate in India and make it easier for Westerners.

Bikram yoga was invented by Bikram Choudray in 1965, it is a series based on hatha yoga which he had learned since he was a young boy. Bikram yoga is designed to heal your body inside and out, Bikram's theory is that if you heal the body the mind will follow. The series is designed to heal knees, backs, blood pressure, cholesterol amongst pretty much everything else. Some pretty big claims but from my experience and the many testimonials on the web he could just be on to something.

The teacher came in and introduced herself, she was Francesca, who at the time co-owned the studio. She was very tall, lean and glamorous, everything you would wish for and expect from a yoga teacher, she also had incredible energy. She explained to us nubies that the room would get hotter, that we were to take it easy, drink water after the warm up when we wanted but above all we must stay in the room, even if it was in a sweaty, hyperventilating puddle on the floor. Bikram yoga is a dialogue lead class and its very important that you stay with the dialogue and don't try and rush ahead of the teacher. In an ideal class everyone moves together and the energy is amazing.

Half the series is done standing and half on the floor, I had no idea what to expect other than that it was 90 mins long. I had naively thought all the positions would be impossible and everyone would be bending themselves into pretzels. Bikram yoga is as much about strength and stamina as it is about flexibility. The first couple of postures weren't too difficult but the heat was something else, I could barely breathe and within minutes rivers of sweat were dripping off me, this was somehow very cathartic and spurred me on to the next postures.

The third posture in the warm up series is awkward pose, never was a posture more aptly named, award pose is incredibly difficult both mentally and physically and I still struggle with it 4 years later, this is apparently because its the posture I need the most, urgh!

I staggered and grimaced through the standing series, glared daggers at the friend that had bought me, slipped on my mat, felt like running out of the room (still get that feeling when particularly hungover) and generally prayed I was anywhere but in that hot room with the other Bikram nutters.

The beginning of the floor series starts with a 2 minute savanasa, this is 'dead body pose' and never had hard ground felt so good, I had also accidentally placed myself near the door which the teacher kindly opened, the breeze was like angel kisses. The floor series was an exercise in concentration and 'stay in the room' but somehow I managed to get through the whole class, I had had moments of 'this is the most insane thing I've ever done' and 'these people are all nuts, I'm never coming back'. Explaining to Bikram virgins that Bikram yoga is one of the most intense full on work outs imaginable is difficult, as did I, most people think that yoga is a tree huggy, navel gazing pursuit of pierced and dread locked drop outs. Bikram yoga has been described as type A personality yoga. Athletes now combine their training with Bikram yoga and I have never experienced a work out where you heart is pounding but your breath is total measured and controlled.

Somehow though at the end of the class as I lay in the final savanasa, in the dark, with the air cooling around me I felt an amazing euphoric feeling of both peace and accomplishment (not to mention a healthy amount of pounding endorphins). I realised for the first time in years I had been entirely 'present' for 90 minutes. I tend to live my life in the future as in 'what's going to happen next?'. The freedom of being 'present' is quite profound.

Needless to say I returned to Bikram soon after but its only in the last year that my practice has become regular (at least 5 times per week) and that I'm really finally even beginning to get my head round what its really all about.

Bikram yoga for me is the perfect ying to my drinks trade yang, the detoxing effects are wonderfully efficient and the lessons it has taught me in the last year and the noticeable affect it has had on my body speak for themselves. I have never been fitter, less stressed, softer skinned (great side affect of sweating each day) or balanced in all areas of my life. My yoga practice has guided me through some trying times and that 90 minutes of freedom each day frees up so much space in my life for other positive things to flood in.

There are 10 studios in London and over 600 around the world, go to to find a class near you, go on, you won't regret it! The class is the same where ever you go in the world, I have practiced in London, New York, Miami, LA, San Fran, Chicago, Boston, Washington and Tokyo. 

I will write about my adventures in Bikram yoga again including a very special retreat in the South of France which I will be attending for the 2nd year this year

Namaste (the light in me sees the light in you).


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