One student’s sweaty journey to Zen
Several styles of yoga have gained popularity in our health-conscious society, but few are as intense and strenuous as Bikram yoga.
Yogiraj Bikram Choudhury, founder of the Yoga College of India and Bikram yoga, has practiced yoga since the age of four. After suffering a severe knee injury from weight lifting, Choudhury retired from the sport and began practicing yoga professionally. Six months later, Choudhury, with the help of his nationally-renown teacher, Bishnu Ghosh, came to realize that yoga can cure chronic physical ailments. Bikram decided to teach his curative methods of yoga to other enthusiasts, and thus, Bikram yoga began.
Bikram yoga is conducted in a heated 105 degree room with 40 percent humidity. Twenty-six poses are performed, and two breathing exercises begin and end the 90-minute session. Each pose is a challenge based on one’s personal abilities. The heat is designed to relax muscles while warming the body’s core. It makes stretching easier while ridding the body of toxins, pain and stress. Bikram yoga is designed to restore health to all systems of the body. As strength and flexibility increase, stress is reduced which revitalizes the mind. A student must attend a second session within 24 hours for the body to experience the full benefits of Bikram yoga. When I heard about this unique form of exercise, I decided to embark on a yoga journey to heal lower back pain.
Sweating it Out
As I arrive at the Yoga College of India, I notice both males and females of various ages and body types here to participate. Many students have the same exasperated look; either excitement or dread awaits us inside. With towels in one hand and yoga mats in the other, we head to experience Bikram’s Therapeutic Hatha/Raja yoga. Before entering the classroom, I watch as students from the session that has just ended walk out the door with sweat dripping from every inch of their partially dressed bodies. They guzzle water as if they are on the verge of severe dehydration and move in an exhausted trance-like state. Noticing my apprehension, the instructor approaches my tensed body and places a hand on my shoulder to calm my nerves. He wishes me good luck and gives me some advice, “Do not be a superstar — don’t try to push your body beyond its capacity, and whatever you do, do not leave the room.”
By this point, I am nervous and my heart is racing. The instructor grabs my hand and leads me to the door. As it slowly opens, the heat immediately engulfs me. The room is packed with 30 or 40 people who are deep in relaxation mode. They do not care about the heat; I do. The heat and the humidity are stifling. The session is difficult beyond belief; uncomfortable to the point of insanity. Sweat drips from every part of my body, and within 10 minutes, I am totally drenched. It feels so unnatural and I have to convince myself to stay in the room throughout the entire 90-minute session. The instructor’s advice echoes in my head and I try not to be a “superstar” when the heat becomes almost unbearable. I concentrate on the progression of steps and remind myself that when a pose is too difficult to perform, just attempting it is benefiting my body. Finally, the first session came to a merciful end.
Staying the Course
After two sessions, I hated Bikram yoga. It was exhausting and made my body feel like mush. However, I convinced myself to finish the 10 sessions I had purchased. Over time, I noticed improvement. I felt rejuvenated; my body stretched and lengthened and I actually felt compelled to stand up straight. I appreciated how the progress came naturally. I even started to become acclimated to the heat. Finally, at some point, it became relaxing instead of stifling which made a huge difference in how I felt. I stopped hating the class and began to appreciate how far I could push my body. Soon, my mind was at ease and eventually the pain in my lower back dissolved. As I walked out the door of my last session, saturated in sweat and tears, I felt powerful.
Start Your Journey to Zen
What makes Bikram yoga difficult is the heat. During your first sessions, you may have feelings of nausea and dizziness while trying to complete the 26 different poses. The instructors will explain how to perform each pose. They are cautious about overexertion as they encourage you to work every muscle, tendon, joint, ligament, internal organ, and gland in your body. The classes are filled with students of all levels, beginner to advanced, so don’t feel compelled to keep up with classmates. Just focus on yourself, pushing your body a little further. Soon, just like me, you will be focused on positive accomplishments and enjoying many benefits of Bikram yoga.