B is for Bikram yoga.
This is a lame-o/copout recycled photo from a much earlier post, back when I had a whole four readers. But I could not think of a way to get a photograph that I took myself from my actual class. This one was taken during a publicity photo shoot for the local studio and they sure have used it a LOT in their publicity materials. I'm glad it's of the back of me and not the front, although the release I signed that day allows them to also use several less-flattering poses and photos of me and others that get regularly plastered in the local newspaper and in billboard size all over the studio entrance. I have long since forgotten to notice or be bothered by it. Because of these photos, people in town have the impression that I go to class ALL.THE.TIME. But unfortunately I have not been going much at all in the last six months or more. Things always seem to get in the way. If there's not a legitimate reason because of work or other responsibilities, I have noticed that lately I have come up with too many excuses. And it shows.
Two weeks ago, I started back up again. The studio has changed the time of the Tuesday/Thursday classes to be a half hour later, based on input from people saying they had too hard a time getting home from work in time for class. This has helped me tremendously, as that was exactly the circumstance I often encountered.
Bikram yoga is hot yoga and it is "power" yoga - not the relaxed, flowery, soft thing many think of as yoga. There is no music, just the sound of the instructor's voice. My favorite instructors are sort of drill sergeant-like.
The room temperature is kept up above 100 degrees F, usually around 105-110. The highest I've seen it registered - and this actually gave me some concerns about safety - was 113F, or was it 118? I don't really remember, but I think it was dangerously hot for that one class, although no one keeled over or anything.
I do not like the heat, and I thought I would not be able to do this. My friend Michelle (hi, Michelle!) wanted to try a class a couple of years ago, and whined and cajoled until I agreed to go with her. I told her I would hate it and I was only doing this for her, but I would probably never go back. I nearly expired in the first class. There were other first-timers there, including Michelle, but I was the only one who had to leave the room during class a few times. The heat and exertion made my head feel like it was going to explode, and my heart felt like it was going to come out of my chest. People later told me that they thought, "Well, SHE'LL never be back." Heh. I made a really good impression, apparently.
The next day, Michelle called me. "How are you feeling?"
"A little bit sore, but not bad."
"I hated it."
The two of us, in perfect stereo, then said, "I want to go back." We collapsed in a fit of giggles. The rest, as they say, is history.
It turns out I was kind of a natural. The worst part of the first class is not knowing how much more there is and how much more you can endure. The best advice is to not leave for good. Step outside and get cooled off a little if need be, but even if you have to (and I still do sometimes to this day, depending on what my hormones are doing, maybe what I've eaten or not eaten, and how I'm feeling) kneel down and sit out a pose or two or three - or four - continue to stay in the room, finish the class. Once you've done it once and know what comes next, it makes it much easier the next time.
The first half or more of the class is upright, standing poses, which I find much harder. Once we reach the point of the floor poses, which oddly Bikram classifies as the harder ones, I know I'll be fine and I'll make it through the rest of the class. I now have taken to whispering to a newcomer who is struggling, "It's all downhill from here. We're almost done," when we reach the floor part of the series.
Most important advice that no one gave me ahead of the first class:
- drink copious amounts of water for at least two days prior to the first class
- do not wear cotton. Do not wear long pants or shirts. Wear lycra or some other wicking, stretchy, extremely lightweight fabric. Cover as little of your body as possible. They make teeny-tiny little outfits just for this type of yoga (see the professional instructors partially visible in the above photograph), and at first you think you'll never wear them. You will. Regardless of any issues you have of being self-conscious, your "issues" will be gone after about three classes, along with your modesty. I now wear very skimpy bottoms and a jogbra type of top. Having that extra bare skin on the torso makes a huge difference in being able to sweat and tolerate the heat.
And you do sweat BUCKETS. You will not even believe how much you sweat. In some poses, if the light is just right, you can look down the row at your classmates and see a sheet of "rain" falling. No exaggeration. This is why you must have a towel over your sticky mat in class -- to catch the drips. I use an oversized beach towel, which is solidly DRENCHED at the end of class.
You can read more about Bikram yoga and see the poses modeled here. The pose that I was preparing for at the moment the above photo was shot is No. 22, Ustrasana, Camel Pose. I do NOT look like the model in the photograph of the website when I do that pose. I cannot get down quite that far.
It has changed my body shape, improved my posture (a bit - we still have a long way to go) and has taken away all the pain I had related to my work, making me much stronger and more flexible in the process. When I go to class regularly (even only once or twice a week), I never have to go to the chiropractor. When I don't go to class, I have to get a massage and/or go to the chiro at least once a month because of the stresses and strains on my body from doing the steno, lugging the equipment around, and sitting in substandard chairs most of the time. It also has made me able to tolerate the heat outside class much better, and helps me have fewer headaches. And sleep?! Oh, yeah, baby. There are some other benefits as well, if you know what I mean.
The classes are long (1 1/2 hours) and I have to get to class early in order to get a prime spot on the floor (I like to be closer to the door, where it's a teensy bit cooler) and to acclimate to the heat. So it's a big time commitment. And it's not cheap. But when I figure in the health benefits and subtract the costs of visits to the chiropractor, my homeopathic m.d., and the massage therapist (hi, Michelle, again - heh. Sorry, but it's your own damned fault for getting me to this class in the first place), it is indeed cheap.
The most inspiring people in the class are the much older, much heavier, much-more-out-of-shape people who have come, both men and women. They are very, very stiff, very inflexible, very weak. They often have to use the wall for support, to even stand on one leg for a few seconds. They often cannot bend, they cannot kneel, they cannot lift a foot under their own power. Then about four or six weeks later, they are suddenly standing alone, in the center of the room, they've bought themselves some sexy new yoga clothes, and they are smiling. It happens a LOT, just like that, in my studio. It's so wonderful to see, and it's a true testament to the magic of Bikram.
This post was pre-written and timed to be posted today. I'll be in and out, as I said, this week. Mostly OUT. Catch as catch can!