A professional swimmer in my youth, I continued swimming as my main workout, but recently I happened to suffer more and more from scapula issues, which swimming aggravated (since I swim for about 1 hour, about 3K). And my partner suggested that I try Bikram’s yoga for a month.
I was quite skeptical, but decided to try it anyway. To make the long story short after 1 month of doing the yoga for 3 times a week I was sold, and I’ve been doing it on a regular basis for more than 5 months now.
First of all it is a good substitute for swimming as my body is kept in a good shape, and even better, since swimming didn’t exercise all of the muscles and joints, whereas Bikram’s does.
However the main reason why I became a convert is because of the incredible kick I get out of the practice. I love challenge and Bikram’s supplies tons of it on a daily basis and the best part it doesn’t go away, since you can’t get good at it and get comfortable. I mean you can get comfy if you choose not to challenge yourself, but it provides all the things one needs to easily push oneself to the edge in a relatively safe environment. (I’ll talk about safety later).
Getting Jiggy With Bikram’s Yoga
“So what’s it all about”, you ask? Imagine yourself in a studio with mirrors, wearing as little as possible, because the temperature in the room is usually between 100F (38C) and 100F (43C). And the humidity can be anywhere between 30% to 60% and more, depending on how many people are practicing (which can be up to 20-30 people).
The class is 90min long. There are 26 exercises that follow one after another with very short savasana “breaks” in between, during which you are supposed to pretend to be dead and just breath without moving and fidgeting (which is not easy in itself). About half the exercises are standing on one or two feet and another half are in various poses on the floor.
Each time you come to a practice it’s different – if last time something was very easy for you, it could be completely different this time and the other way around. You can never predict how you’d feel doing a specific pose, which helps the “staying uncomfortable” motto.
Some people sweat more than others, in my case I perspire a lot, so when I’m done with the class and I wring my towel, I get probably half a bucket of sweat out of it – imagine that! And during the postures it feels like I’m under shower, because I get trickles of liquid all over my body.
Getting A Kick
So why did I fell in love with this practice? It’s because most of the time, towards the end of the practice, my body gets into a state where I get shivers and tingling sensation all over me, as the energy freely roams through me. It’s like sex, but even better, since it lasts much longer. And I love the sensation. In those moments I can’t help but to be present in my body 100% (as typically my mind always wanders elsewhere).
There is a price to it of course. I only get it when I work really hard. And higher temperature makes it much easier to get to the edge. Once I cross the edge and start feeling the energy tickle my body, it just continues doing so all the way till the end of the class and often even after when I leave the studio.
Now quite often I get challenged very hard at the very beginning, and sometimes I feel being close to fainting (usually in postures where my head is upside down and then going up, getting a huge blood rush out of my head). First, not being sure about how to deal with that and going down to skip a couple of postures, I now started playing with it. I get an insane kick out of it, as my whole body will go into a kind of trembling shock, which since I’m totally present and in control, gives me a tremendous feeling of “high”.
There were a few instances where I crossed some line and my body started going completely numb and shaking. I first had this experience at a “CURA workshop” where my release process involved incessant deep breathing, which triggered the shaking state. And the two times I had this happen to me at Bikram’s Yoga is when it was very hot and I did the opening breathing exercise really hard and long.
The first time I had to leave the practice studio and “recover” outside in a cooler environment, drinking a lot of liquids. It took probably 10 minutes for my body to return to normal. A second time I lied down before I was totally taken over by this state, so I didn’t get into a deep one.
Those are very interesting states my body gets into it, since my hands get really hard and they seem to levitate. I’m still not sure what I’m playing with here, but I had no negative side effects so far. Some people said that I get a huge sub-conscious release through these physical processes, which I can’t comprehend on the normal conscious level.
The Perfect Bikram’s Yoga Teacher
Now there are many different teachers out there. Some like the room to be luke-warm (which I don’t like, since I get no kick at all), others like it hot (perfect for me), and yet others like it too hot, which can be too challenging at times. I’d still go with too challenging, rather than less challenging.
However the most interesting part I found is that I get the best practice when the teacher is annoying. Typically those will talk all the time about soul, universe and their personal life philosophies, rather than just leading a class. Just this morning I had a class and I really really hated the teacher, I just wanted to scream “shut up!” through the first half of the practice, however I really started filling “it” and getting all tingly early quite early. When I get into that state I no longer care what the teacher says, I find myself so much being present in the experience, that I couldn’t care less what’s happening outside.
I usually start laughing, as I’m struggling to do the postures, when in this state. Because it doesn’t matter anymore.
As Wayne Dyer tends to say: “your mother in law is your best friend”. How true. How empowering.
The not so happy side of Bikram’s practice is that some Bikram’s teachers aren’t really concerned with the students’ safety (at least where I’m practicing). It’s very easy to injure yourself if you listen to the teachers who tell you that you must kill yourself and not worry about anything. I’ve developed some sharp lower back pain after pushing myself too much in a few back-bending postures. Luckily, I realized that I have to take care of myself and I simply do certain postures only to a degree that doesn’t affect my back. Once my back gets stronger I’ll be able to push harder in those areas.
Some teachers think that they are safety-aware, but in my experience they often don’t understand where the student is coming from, so they would say something like “don’t collapse into your back”, without realizing that the student doesn’t get what it means (I was that student, and it took me a while to figure it out).
So please be very careful about pushing your limits while practicing Bikram’s and listen very carefully to your body. If unsure, don’t do it. Even if the teacher encourages you to not worry. At the end of the day, it’s you who could get in a big pain, not the teacher. If in doubt don’t do it and ask after the practice (since you can’t really ask questions during the practice), and you’d know better the next time.
That is not to say that all teachers are like that. Some teachers are actually very good at helping the students to be safe, but as the practice goes you can never predict who will be your teacher for the next session, so you can’t just stick with the person you think is safe to work with.