Tuesday, February 22, 2011

60 days of Bikram Yoga: heaven or hell?

Amy, a Big Sky Yoga Retreat alumna, journeyed to hell and back did the Bikram 60 day challenge last spring. And here's what she had to say about it. Thanks Amy for sharing your experience, and a big Congrats on your yoga achievement.

I did the 60 day Bikram yoga challenge last spring. I have been doing yoga for years, and discovered Bikram about six years ago. I have always loved yoga and the peace and flexibility it brought me, but Bikram was a whole different cup of tea. Not only do you get the traditional benefits of yoga, but you also get the bonus of an amazing cardio workout. At first, I was doubtful...spend 90 minutes in a room with 20 other people that is heated to 99 degrees? (editor's note: we had about 60 people in class here in London. I'm guessing that makes the room even hotter?!) No thanks! But it's one of those things that you have to go into with an open mind, and all they ask is that you try and that you stay in the room. After the first class, I was hooked. It's intense, for sure. You sweat like you never knew it was possible to sweat. But the heat and humidity let you go farther in postures and help your body to really open up. The 'yoga high' afterward is amazing, and you can sense changes in your body after just one class. It's a physically hard class, but I found that much of the struggle was overcoming the mental challenges: focusing on being in the room rather than on what you have to do after class, and trying not to think about how HOT it is in there, and keeping out the thoughts that say, 'I can't do this today'.

I did Bikram for several years, sometimes a few times a week, sometimes not for several weeks in between classes. It seemed to be just what I needed to complement my other workouts. I remember the instructors congratulating people in class on being almost done with their 60 day challenge, and I remember thinking, No thanks. You'd have to be crazy to want to do THAT much Bikram yoga!

But over the years, my joints started aching after some of the grueling workouts I was putting myself through, and I was tired of having sore muscles and being so worn out from my workouts. Then I read an article in Oprah magazine by a woman who had done the 60 day challenge because she was overweight and having health issues. It inspired me, and made me think: I would like to know what my body would feel like after all that yoga. My husband had also run an ironman triathlon several years before, and I was envious of his having set a goal and accomplished it. I wanted the 60 day challenge to be my ironman.

The Bikram yoga 60 day challenge is going to class six days of the week for ten weeks; you get one day off a week to rest. It's a big time commitment: the class is 90 minutes, plus prep and travel time. After I finished, I was glad to have more time in my schedule. That freedom was welcome, but I do miss the classes. Here are my key takeaways:

  • Bikram yoga really taught me to be in the moment. The poses take focus and concentration and if you aren't concentrating, you'll know right away (like when you fall out of a balance pose). There was nothing else to think about except balancing on my toes or whatever the task was at hand. Yes, my mind still wandered, it's a work in progress, but I am grateful for that ongoing lesson on being in the moment.
  • Bikram yoga shows very tangible results. There were postures I couldn't hold even the beginning set up for, and by the end of the challenge, I was holding the full expression for the full amount of time. It's an amazing feeling.
  • I felt much more grounded and relaxed. The heated room is wonderful when it's freezing cold outside, and the way my body would let go of stress during class helped with many aspects outside the studio.
  • The sense of community. The Bikram instructors are amazing. They truly care about the students, and want them to get the most out of their experience. Everyone was so supportive of those of us who were doing the challenge. The energy in the room is powerful, and stays with you the rest of the day.
  • Anybody can do it. It doesn't matter how much you weigh or what shape you're in...everybody can do it and everybody can benefit.
If you haven't tried Bikram yoga, you don't know what you're missing. It does take a small leap of faith and an open mind to go to that first class. You might be intimidated, but as you look around the room at the strong and flexible people who can hold the poses, you realize that they were once in their first class too...and you will be inspired. Namaste.

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