Heat Wave; Bikram Yoga Practitioners Are Hot - but Not Bothered
By ALLAN STEIN
For Living Well, Patriot Ledger March 31, 2005
Pam Parker credits Bikram yoga for saving her life. After her second recurrence of breast cancer, which doctors said she had only a 2 percent chance of living through, she tossed away her successful career and sought out yoga. Nearly nine years ago, Parker, 44, was a typical "stressed-out" Silicon Valley professional with bad posture. She worked 16-hour days as the co-founder of a large equestrian footwear company.
"My very smart husband walked me out of the doctor's office and into the yoga studio. I've been here ever since," said Parker, who credits Bikram yoga with helping her to make a full recovery. Practiced in a 100-degree Farenheit studio, Bikram yoga is known as a healing yoga. The series consists of 26 postures done over a 90- minute period. Each movement, or pose, helps to strengthen the body, repair injuries, restore health and promote well-being.
"The doctors are still having trouble figuring out why yoga works," Parker said. She practiced Bikram yoga throughout her chemotherapy and radiation treatments. A resident of Dedham and native of California, Parker, along with her husband, Steven Liggett, just opened their fourth Yo-Be studio, Bikram Yoga Quincy at 1555 Hancock St., Quincy. Other locations are in Framingham, Reno and Sparks, Nev. Parker, who has practiced yoga for more than eight years, is a certified Bikram yoga instructor. She was inspired to start the business after Bikram yoga helped her through the cancer treatments.
"I was the only person in my support group who didn't lose my hair because I was detoxifying every day," Parker said.
With roots in hatha yoga, Bikram yoga was created to heal. Bikram Choudhury, a life-long yoga practitioner in Beverly Hills and founder of the Yoga College of India, developed Bikram yoga after he was injured in a weightlifting accident. The healing benefits he discovered have attracted many practitioners to this yoga form. "The whole concept is 'let's take all the things that Americans do to themselves and reverse it,'" Parker said.
"One of the reasons we use heat is it helps to detoxify the body. Moist heat is better for your joints." With the heart working to hold each pose 10 to 60 seconds, Bikram also provides cardiovascular benefits, she said. By heating up the yoga studio, Bikram instructors are able to replicate the hot climate of India, where yoga originated 4,000 years ago. Choudhury is so committed to the healing focus of the Bikram yoga series that no one is allowed to become a certified instructor until he or she has passed an intensive 16-week training session, Parker said.
Accompanying lifestyle changes, including stress reduction, increased body awareness, sense of acceptance and appreciation for relaxation, further enhance the physical benefits of regular Bikram practice.
While there are many forms of yoga and more than 800 yoga postures, Bikram yoga isolates 26 "medicinal" postures. "Most of us have had back problems. I don't know of anybody over the age of 20 who doesn't. So we do a lot of back stretching," Parker said.
"A lot of people use Bikram yoga for healing. We see a lot of people coming here because their chiropractor sent them. We've had people come off of their medications. That's what happens with yoga. It's powerful stuff."
Students are advised not to eat for at least two hours before a yoga class to allow their digestive system to cleanse and work freely. They also are encouraged to drink lots of water and to bring bottled water with them. After a session they can take a shower to cool down. Parker said students should also drink plenty of fluids containing electrolytes that are rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium. A hot yoga session tends to deplete the body of these natural salts that are necessary for regulating organ function. Wearing the right types of clothing in a heated studio is also important. Men usually wear a swim suit or jogging shorts.
Women usually wear shorts or capris and a yoga/athletic top. T- shirts are optional. A large towel and yoga mat - all available for rent or purchase at the studio - are also required for yoga sessions. "Some people after class get an amazing burst of energy," Parker said. Kate Chapman of Quincy emerged from her first yoga session drenched in sweat but feeling no pain.
"It went really well," she said. "The hardest part for me was the heat. I've done yoga classes before, but not with the heat." Chapman, a mother of two, said 15 years ago her goal was simply to remain fit. "Now, it's for balance and mental state."
The different postures work to improve every vital system of the body - endocrine, respiratory, cardiovascular, digestive and emotional - and reshape the skeletal system to its natural alignment. Restoring a healthy balance among these systems is considered the key to reducing or eliminating pain and a host of chronic ailments like stress, anxiety, lower back pain, hypertension, diabetes and depression, Parker said. "Yoga is a marriage between the heart and the lungs. The more lung capacity you have, the longer you're going to live," said Parker, who has seen people "coming in on crutches and walking out" without them.
Liggett, 52, like Parker, was a high-powered corporate executive. He worked at Reebok in Canton. Golfing and running were his hobbies. He began studying yoga to improve his golf game and to ease the chronic pain caused by daily long-distance running. "I was a runner for 30 years. I got into yoga because I was having so many problems with my body, because of running. My knees hurt. I had aching tendon problems. So I got into yoga for therapeutic reasons. What happened is it offered a lot more," Liggett said. The evidence seems to point more and more in favor of yoga as an effective promoter of health.
One recent study at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston found that patients who did yoga reported falling asleep faster and experienced fewer sleep disruptions that often accompany cancer treatment. More than 100 students have signed up for classes at the 3,000-square-foot Quincy center since it opened. Parker, a certified Bikram yoga instructor, said she can't imagine going back to her old life as a corporate executive. "I wake up every morning and I help people. I couldn't say that in my other jobs," Parker said.
For more information on Bikram's Yoga College of India, go to www.bikramyoga.com. For more information about Yo-Be go to www.yogaquincy.com