Let’s Get Physical! – a few thoughts on Bikram Yoga
As you may or may not know, I am a huge fan of exercising. Whether it’s hitting the weights, a boot camp class, going on a bike ride or hiking, you can almost always count me in to get active. Aside from the obvious health benefits, I just like to feel good- physically and mentally. One of my favorite full body and mind work outs is practicing Bikram yoga. In a word, it is amazing. Whether you enjoy working out but have never considered it or you absolutely hate exercising, I encourage everyone to give it a shot at least once or five times. Whether you’re in shape, out of shape, no matter your age or gender, the benefits of the practice know no bounds.
There are many more credible information sources out there if you’re looking to know what to expect in a Bikram yoga class, but the fact is: if you’re looking for information, you probably aren’t an expert. From one Bikram amateur to another, here is my version of what to expect, how to prepare yourself and why Bikram is awesome.
If you stumbled upon my blog without knowing the first thing about Bikram, it’s 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises that last 90 minutes and are performed in a 105 degree room. If you don’t care, you are now free to roam about the internet.
I first heard about Bikram from a friend who had always been a gymnast with a rather bulky, muscle-y build and was suddenly flaunting the most awesome slender looking body I had ever seen her with. Like most females would do, I asked her how she transformed her body so quickly. As she described it to me, I thought to myself, “That sounds MISERABLE… I hate the heat… Yoga in a sauna? Ew, sweat? This girl is insane. However, her ass looks AWESOME. Ok, I’m in”.
My first Bikram experience was not as awesome as I had hoped it would be, yet also as terrible as I imagined. I felt light-headed, maybe a little like I couldn’t breathe, my clothes were dripping in sweat, and I sucked at it. Although I felt famished and exhausted afterward, I knew I had done my body and mind a huge service, so I went back. I kept hearing people rant and rave about how much better they felt after they had been practicing regularly for a few weeks and I wanted a piece of that. As they promised, I quickly learned how to stay hydrated properly, was able to stretch deeper into the postures and my general stress level had taken a nose dive to almost being nonexistent.
(side note: I have spent more than half of my life dealing with different sorts of anxiety ranging from social anxiety to panic attacks… I have never met a more effective doctor or medication than the hot room.)
If you’re like most people, Bikram sounds a little intimidating. Here are my non-professional, amateur tips to beginners:
1. Hydrate. There is nothing worse than being dehydrated before you get to a Bikram practice. If you know you don’t drink enough water, increase your water intake a few days before and have an electrolyte beverage a few hours before class. If you arrive to class dehydrated, you’re too late. Although Bikram experts will say not to drink water during class as it only fills your stomach and they also encourage you to develop the discipline to abstain from water until class is over, I always bring water. I am fully aware that this is nothing more than giving into a mental weakness but I will overcome it when I feel ready. Point: do what makes you feel comfortable but try your best to stay focused on your practice.
2. Dress appropriately. There is no formula for this, ideal apparel will vary based on personal preference. My primary advice is that you are comfortable in what you are wearing and wont feel inclined to adjust your clothes between every posture. Your ultimate goal is to engage your mind and body in nothing but your practice. While most people prefer to wear the least amount of clothes possible, I prefer to wear yoga pants because I get seriously distracted by sweat dripping down my legs. I am in the minority on this topic.
3. Don’t even bother feeling self-conscious. Perhaps my favorite part about practicing Bikram is that everyone in class goes at their own pace and no one has time to make you feel like you’re being judged. If you like to try new workouts as much as I do, you’ve probably walked into a class or two and felt intimidated by “regulars” who already know what they’re doing. I have been to over 10 Bikram studios in different cities and have yet to feel that way. It’s a very welcoming environment where people are simply focusing on their own performance. I love that.
4. Arrive early. When I haven’t practiced in a while, I like to get to class at least 15 minutes early. First off, I like to have options for where I’ll lay my yoga mat in the studio (sometimes I just need the darkest corner of the room). Secondly, it’s helpful to go into the room a few minutes before class starts, meditate or stretch and let your body adjust to the temperature.
5. Know your limits. If you start feeling dizzy or light-headed, don’t feel bad about taking a knee or laying in Savasna (corpse pose). Most instructors will tell you that your only goal is to stay in the room for your first few classes- listen to them. Even if you spend the majority of your first practice learning how to breathe and survive in the heated room, you will have accomplished more than you would have if you didn’t show up. Everything takes time and the changes you will experience in your body will be worth it. Trust.
6. Have an open mind. This theory applies for all things in life but don’t dismiss it when practicing Bikram. If your first experience isn’t awesome, or you need motivation to try again, check out this post that outlines the many benefits:
You might also want to cruise over to Cincinnati Bikram’s blog and see what they have to say.
With obesity being such a huge epidemic, health “professionals”, trainers and nutritionists are thriving off of publishing information from their perspective about what is the best method for optimal health- usually with some sort of self-interest in mind. Here’s my free advice and it will probably be the best you ever hear: stick to whatever method of health maintenance that works for you and makes you feel the best. You know your own body better than anyone. Furthermore, recognize a salesman when you see one.
If you have any questions, I would be more than happy to answer them in the comments of this post. I’m not an expert but I’ve been around the fitness block and done my share of personal research.
Namaste. (that’s what we say after we kick our own butts.)