December 10, 2004
Health and Fitness: Bikram Yoga - Hot Stuff
By Carina Snowden (ApexYoga.com)
Even though the world population has shifted from mainly rural to mainly urban in the last decade, there are still lots of folks like me who live in the sticks. Doing things like taking a yoga class becomes a different thing in our case from driving to the neighborhood gym. Since I live 40 miles from the nearest town large enough for yoga studios, when I decided to take a class, I was more interested in the schedule than I was the type of yoga. I couldn't afford to be picky if I preferred not to wait around for a couple hours after getting off work. So I looked in the phone book, and didn't pay attention to anything but the schedule. There it was: M-W-F at 4:00. Perfect. I don't know what rock I'd been living under, but the word "Bikram" writ large across the ad in the yellow pages didn't trigger the term 'hot yoga' in my mind, and that left me in for a big surprise.
I showed up with a comfy pair of sweatpants and a long- sleeved t-shirt. As the woman at the desk was giving me a little orientation information - explaining that the room was heated to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit - I realized that my concept of yoga clothes weren't going to work here. Apparently, I wasn't the first to make this error. Susie told me they had loaners. Now, it's been a while since the last time I wore hot-pants, so when she handed me the little scrap of shorts, I thought, "No way." She said, "Trust me, you'll fit right in."
As she continued with the orientation information, I began to feel I was being given a series of warnings. "We encourage our students not to push too hard during your first time in class. All we ask is that you do your best to stay in the room for the whole session." Huh? Was this yoga? I'd seen pictures, and I was pretty sure I wasn't going to be able to balance on one leg and hold the other one above my head on my first attempt - but I had also felt pretty sure I could stretch and bend for the next hour and half with out feeling desperate to run out of the room.
Her next suggestion: "OK, I see you brought a bottle of water. That's good, but you'll be tempted to drink a lot, and I recommend you just drink sips - not too much at a time." Hmm. What was I getting into here? It sounded like I was facing some kind of ordeal - not what I had in mind at all since I was thinking of yoga as a peaceful, low- impact way just to stretch and keep my aging body flexible and strong.
Once I was dressed in the little bit of shorts, I opened the door to the yoga studio and was met with a rush of hot, stultifying air. Oh goody. I walked to an open space, spread my mat, lay on my back, and understood exactly what she meant by asking me to at least stay in the room. I was already dripping sweat, and we hadn't even begun the class.
After an hour and a half and going twice through the 26 postures, I was indeed still in the studio. The instructor had created a non-competitive and supportive experience, completely guiding us to go to our personal limit, yet not by engaging in struggle. I was exhilarated. When class was done, I lay on my mat with my eyes closed. I felt peaceful and yet energized in the still very hot room, and I knew I'd be back for more.
Carina Snowden, writer and nutrition specialist, contributes to ApexYoga.com. The Yoga Newsletter the leading yoga resource on-line. Visit ApexYoaga.com to find more articles by Carina.