Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Diary of a Bikram Yoga class

photo courtesy of Bikram Yoga Brisbane

What is Bikram?A form of Hatha Yoga. Series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises practiced in a heated (40.6C ) with a humidity of around 40%. It is a 90 minute class

My first Birkram classI had heard about Bikram yoga from various people who reported various things about the classes: its too hot, the heat makes you want to throw up, don't drink water during the class, drink some water during the class, you will feel amazing, its expensive, its good but i couldn't really get into it. And so on and so forth.
Like many things you approach with preconceived ideas I was nervous about attending my first class. It sounded brutal and I will confess that I wasn't sure how I would go - what if I felt sick and couldn't handle it?
On arrival two things stood out to me: the overwhelming stench of bad body odour and the extreme heat. Fortunately I soon became accustomed to the bad BO and barely noticed it after 5 minutes. I will get to the heat in a minute.
For 20 bucks I could attend as many times as I wanted for 10 days. Most Bikram (and indeed most yoga) places offer some kind of cheap introductory pass. Which is great because after that regular involvement will cost you.
Bikram is Hatha yoga and in layman's terms this is the one that is a series of poses rather than fluid movements where you progress from one pose to another. In Hatha Yoga you hold poses. The heat is intense. You know how it feels when you are close to a fire? Skin feeling like it is almost touching the flames, breathing in you can feel the heat at the back of your throat.
It isn't comfortable. A friendly Bikram goer told me earnestly, "don't worry you get used to the heat." I thought to myself, I hope so because this thing is 90 minutes long.
Going through the poses requires absolute focus. You can't slack off, you can't mentally plan the grocery shopping. Many times I imagined myself leaving. Many times I wondered, how long to go?
The poses themselves are not overly difficult but you are at war with your mind. It is not dissimilar to running when you're not fit except that it is much more difficult to let your mind wander. There is lots of instruction in Bikram which does lack at other Yoga places I have attended. There is an expectation that you attempt to do the pose properly and you will be given guidance if you don't or can't. This probably explains the mirrors. Oh yes you get to watch yourself while you workout which at first I hated but after the first few poses I realised is essential. The mirrors allow you to correct poses: you know how it feels when it looks right. At the end you do some weird-ass breathing exercises and I say weird-ass because seriously you feel like a bit silly.
And then there is the end. You know it is so when the teacher brings their hands together in prayer pose and says, "Namastase." This means, I bow to you. The lights go out and the class is over and as you pick your sweaty (oh yes you do sweat a bucket load) self off the floor and emerge into the world you suddenly feel pretty good. Light, free, happy even.
Make no mistake Bikram yoga is a commitment. Not just because it is 90 minutes long but because you can't be lazy, you can't go through the motions. If that is what you want from your exercise then try Bikram.

A few tips:
Try to be very open-minded
Nobody is watching you - trust me the concentration required means nobody has a chance to be bothered with what you are doing
Follow the instructions - you will be told when to drink, what to think about how to improve.
Drink lots of water before.
Don't even attempt Bikram if you are hungover

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