Rewind my life by about three years to the first Bikram class I ever took part in, and you’ll find my mother and me in a suburb of Vancouver, keen and eager to try the craze. No strangers to yoga, including regular “hot yoga” classes, we figured it would be a perfect Tuesday night mother/daughter bonding activity.
Boy, were we wrong.
Barely a third of the way into class, I was fighting the urge to vomit, whilst sweating even from my shins and knuckles. How could thirty minutes of standing in simple poses and breathing be such a cardiovascular exercise? I could have sworn I was at an above-average fitness level, yet I could feel my heartbeat bursting through my ears! My rising stress levels were not alleviated when the five-foot tall, shaved head, incredibly ripped, middle-aged granola of an instructor shouted at a girl in her early teens for leaving the room. I spent the remainder of the class alternating between kneeling and begging myself not to pass out, and mentally battling myself through feeble attempts at poses that I usually found simple. Needless to say, my first Bikram experience was my last for a long time.
Fast forward to early September of this year, when my boyfriend gave me a two-week warning that we were jetting off to Ibiza for the closing weekend. I had been looking for a reason to sport my stunning Brazilian-bottomed Vitamin A bikinis (seeing as they had sat stagnant throughout the summer in London), but a quick try-on pointed out the liberties I had taken over the previous few months. As I’m not a fan of fad diets, one of my extremely persistent friends back in Vancouver swore up and down that my only option was Bikram.
Needing some extra persuasion to suit up in my skimpiest of Lululemons and hit the sweaty mat, I first hit Google to read up. In theory, everything made sense to me. Each pose is designed to restrict blood flow to a specific area. This causes the heart to pump an excess of blood, which can then flood into the targeted joints, muscles and organs during extension, or release. This new blood will be able to supply fresh oxygen and nutrients to an area that may be overlooked during routine workouts. Many of the set 26 poses during a Bikram practice also focus on massaging the lymphatic system, which is essentially the blood’s filtration process. This massaging is said to assist in drainage of infections and toxins. (Given the aforementioned “liberties” I took this summer I was sure I was in need of some “toxin drainage.”) Stretching and toning the entire body, combined with the manipulation of blood flow to provide a cardiovascular workout? I was sold.
(Ok, truth be told, it was because the Wikipedia page told me that Jennifer Aniston and Demi Moore were regular practitioners, and each of them at more than 40 years old could pull off a Brazilian bottom without a problem.)
Here we go again…
I mentally prepared myself, hydrated like a mad woman for the 24 hours prior to my class, and woke up early enough to eat a light breakfast with an emphasis on natural sugars. I even skipped my customary cup of coffee for an herbal tea to avoid the caffeine. I was as ready as I could be for the twenty days of unlimited Bikrams I was about to sign up for.
Although the class was a challenge, preparing myself for ninety minutes of mental and physical torture was a bit of an exaggeration. I did end up kneeling for the second attempt at a couple of the back bends (which had brought on vertigo), and consumed my entire one-liter bottle of water during practice. But I survived, and was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t as horrible as I’d remembered.
Classes two and three were even easier than that initial class. There were no longer any surprises. I squeezed class four into an evening, and if avoidable I won’t take one during peak times again: too many bodies raised the room temperature even further, and it’s hard to get in the “zone” when the token sweaty guy keeps stepping on your towel.
Now at the end of my trial, I am completely hooked. My energy levels are bursting, and coffee is now only a treat in my diet as opposed to a necessity. My skin has a healthier glow than usual. My clothes are fitting me differently, and every inch of my body just seems to have tightened up. There is no doubt that my digestive system is working in better function as well! And even though I usually suffer from exercise-induced asthma, it hasn’t given me any trouble. My favorite benefit is that during this time I’ve become so aware of what I was putting in my body. I’m no longer sneaking a Tuesday night glass of wine or opting for a second helping during dinner, because I didn’t want to spoil my practice the following day.
So there you have it: I am now a Bikram lover.
My advice to Bikram virgins would be to heed the advice of hydration and proper eating before and after your classes. But most importantly, go in with an open and modest mind; even the most fit and flexible will find it a challenge, so be prepared to pace yourself. Remember that yoga is called “practice” so listen to your body and don’t expect perfection. Which, by the way, will be looking and feeling killer after you give Bikram a real chance!