“Ninety minutes of hell…sooo worth it”, Troy, my yoga teacher at the Tri-Valley Bikram’s Yoga studio, proclaims during class. Enthusiastically, I inwardly agree while dripping sweat and struggling with the current posture du’jour. With an ideal temperature of 95-105 degrees and 40-60% humidity, Bikram Yoga (also called “hot” yoga) can indeed feel like hell, especially for the new practitioner and even at times for the few month practitioner – like myself.
Before I go on, a little about Bikram Choudhury, the creator of the ‘hot’ Yoga series. He began practicing yoga poses at age three with renowned guru Bishnu Gosh, and won numerous championships by age 14. At the peak of his practice he was doing yoga 16-20 hours daily. As an avid athlete in his youth he suffered a knee injury at age 18 and was told by physicians he would never walk again. His guru put him on a strict regimen of rigorous yoga practice, which healed his knee. When he arrived to the United States, he wished to share yoga with Westerners and reduced the hundreds of yoga postures to a 26 posture series, with two breathing exercises aimed to improve the entire body.
After practicing just over three months, the improvement I’ve noticed in my physical and mental health makes me believe that everyone should be prescribed a regular schedule of Bikram Yoga practice. Let me tell you how I found myself in this room, why I continue to do this for myself, and why I think everyone should take up this practice.
Just over three months ago I was experiencing sciatic pain that I’d had for two years, since the birth of my first child. The sciatic pain was becoming unbearable and I needed to find a way to alleviate the pain. I’m also a doctor and really believe in diet and exercise as the first steps to improving one’s health. I wanted to avoid relying on pain medications, if I could help it. So I read and tried stretching, various exercise, and classes at my local gym, without much in the way of improvement of the sciatica. In searching for options, I came across the story of a woman who had back pain that improved through Bikram yoga and I decided I had nothing to lose, except potentially the pain, and decided to give it a shot.
After reading multiple stories of healing, I decided it was worth the drive to the closest studio open, Bikram Yoga East Bay, and I started attending. The Tri-Valley is now fortunate enough to have a studio that just opened up in Pleasanton, Tri-Valley Bikram’s Yoga.
Admittedly, walking into the first class, it’s hard to ignore the heat. By the time you finish the first pranayama (ie. breathing exercise) sweat beads are building on your skin and you start wondering just what you got yourself in to. All that the instructor asked of me that first class was to do what I could, if I needed a break to sit and try to stay still, and whatever I do, don’t leave the room. Sounded simple enough but I started to second-guess my choice almost instantly. How would I endure 90-minutes in this heat doing yoga? However, I bought an unlimited 10-day intro pass so I was determined to at least try a few times, unless this first class killed me.
By savasana (lying still, “doing nothing” ie. corpse pose) I am feeling light-headed. As I lie there the ceiling seems to be closing in on me, my breathing became more rapid, and the Beatles line, “I am one-we are one-we are all together” starts to circle through my mind. I realize I’m getting tunnel vision and I start to think I must be passing out, which doesn’t help the feeling of panic that feels like it is wafting over me. Before I get the chance to pass out though, it’s time for the next posture and I find my body just starts moving, listening to the instructor’s words and doing the posture as best I can. One of my teachers now jokes that I was such a mess those first few classes! Keep that in mind when you go. That person in the front row of class had to work to get there.
When the end finally arrives and I lie there for final savasana, I find that I somehow feel cleansed, both my mind and my body. I’m soaked, as though I just jumped in the spa and then sat in a sauna with all my clothes on, but I feel great, and all before 730am. At this point, I made the promise to come back…
Now fast-forward three-months and it’s become a habit, attending 4-6 times per week since I started. Only regret is: I wished I started much sooner! However, as Bikram notes as passed on by his guru, Bishnu Gosh, “It’s never too late, it’s never too bad, and your never too old or too sick to start from scratch once again”. It’s also called ‘yoga practice’ so some days are better than others. However, because it is the same 26 postures, from day to day your mind and body are different and you learn to be patient with the process.
I now can’t help but encourage everyone I know to at least give it a shot. Maybe hot yoga isn’t for you but yoga practice of all kinds has been shown to be beneficial for the mind and body. My mother calls me the, “yoga pusher”. I’d been talking about it so much that when she last came to visit I encouraged her to come with me. She is so glad she did and has been going regularly since she started. Her only complaint, is the same as mine, she wished she started earlier. Don’t delay!
As for the reason I started in the first place, that sciatic pain…gone! Still am working on those tight hamstrings but I no longer have the shooting sciatic pain that plagued me. It didn’t happen immediately and there continues to be difficult classes but with perseverance and commitment, I now believe it can cure pain or at least reduce it. I’d prescribe it for my patients to help with pain and for overall improvement in their life and sense of well-being. Not to mention helping me to get rid of trailing post-baby fat!
Another Bikram quote is, “sure it’s hard, but which would you rather do: suffer for 90 minutes in a Bikram class, or suffer for 90 years as you live your life without a truly healthy body and without realizing your potential?”.
So is the ninety-minutes of hell worth it? Absolutely!!
If you live in the Tri-Valley Area:
Bikram Yoga East Bay is located in San Ramon at 3120C Crow Canyon Rd.
Tri-Valley Bikram’s Yoga is located in Pleasanton at 3283 Bernal Avenue, Suite #109.
See their websites for details, class schedule and rates.
*Be sure to contact your personal physician before beginning this or any exercise program