Bikram Yoga

Bikram Yoga Guy

I finally took advice that was given to me long ago while running cross-country track back during my Hunter College days.  I wanted to run my races faster and my coach at the time suggested that I take up yoga.  Well, 25 years later, I finally took his advice and began my very first yoga class just recently.  But this wasn’t any ordinary yoga; it was Bikram Yoga.  In Bikram Yoga, your body is subjected to 26 difficult postures for 90 minutes while in a room heated to 105 degrees.  The heat is intended to soften up all the muscles in the body to make it that much easier and quicker to assume all the postures without injury.

Being a runner for the past 29 years with a tight body and very little flexibility, I knew that my first yoga class would not be a walk in the park.  Regardless, since I’m a long-distance runner with four marathons under my belt and a high threshold for pain, I figured that I can go the distance and finish an entire 90-minute session, pain and all.

Just moments before class began, I looked around and noticed a sea of about 30 women in hot, sweaty form-fitting outfits all around me.  “Boy, I think I’m gonna like this class”, I thought to myself.  As the instructor began the session by telling everyone to assume the first posture and describing in detail exactly what to do, everyone like clockwork mimicked her every command.  I followed her first command with this cocky thought: this is no big deal.  After all, celebrities like Ashton Kutcher, Lady Gaga, Charles Barkley, Madonna and David Beckham all are practitioners of this kind of yoga.

Boy, was I wrong!  About 10 minutes into the 90-minute session, parts of me were being stretched, bent, and twisted in ways that seemed to defy the laws of nature, or so I thought.  The instructor, you see, while we were being stretched in very unnatural and painful ways taking on such poses as the Awkward Pose and the Twisted Spine pose, explained how going beyond what we thought was possible would make us stronger, more flexible, and healthier.  According to Wikipedia, Bikram Yoga “…stimulates and restores health to every muscle, joint, and organ of the body” by making the blood flood in a more efficient way to all areas of the body.  It’s a yoga that’s so thorough and deep-reaching inside the human body that it purports to even stretch the lungs for a greater oxygen capacity.

After about 15 minutes into our session, our yoga instructor excitedly uttered the phrase, “Okay, party time!”.  Contrary to what you may think, there was no party to be had from these words; this was just her perverted way of giving us just enough free time to take a swig of water from our water bottles, and nothing more.  If this was party time, then going back to hell was only moments away.

As time went on during the class and as I tried desperately to stretch my requested body parts in unfathomable ways by following the instructor’s sadistic requests, my mind at times became borderline delirious as the blood rushed through out.  My pain threshold was tested to its limits, but ultimately it weathered the storm and helped me get through the full 90-minute torture-fest.  During the ordeal, I sweated like a pig.  But it was a good sweat; a sweat that made me feel in no uncertain terms like a new man.  For a moment, as I looked at my stomach in the mirror, I even thought I saw a 6-pack emerge underneath all that belly fat.

In the last 15-20 minutes of class, the instructor told us to assume the Shavasana Pose on several occasions where we simply had to lie flat on our backs and do nothing at all except breathe.  This word comes from the ancient Sanskrit meaning “Dead Man’s Pose”.  At this point, I looked forward to playing a dead man as much as possible.

I felt like I almost died during my first Bikram class.  But since you are obviously reading this blog entry, I am still alive…. and well…. and feeling great.

After completing my first class, the old adage came to mind: whatever doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.  This class made me feel stronger, more flexible, healthier and even more spiritual.  I am a new man because of Bikram Yoga.

Polar Bear Plunge

As I get older and more daring in life, things that I once thought were crazy are crazy no more.  One of these things was being a participant in the 2012 Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge, held on the first day of every new year.  Last year I participated in my first plunge and had a great experience, but I did it alone that day.  This time I invited members of my running club.  There were nine of us who were willing to anoint our bodies into the icy-cold goodness of the Atlantic Ocean.  As insane  and traumatic as this may sound, it is important to describe what one goes through during the entire process of entering the water and becoming a Polar Bear.

At exactly 1:00PM, the “race” into the ocean officially begins.  With equal amounts of fear, trepidation and excitement, I, along with hundreds of other people throughout the New York area begin a mad dash straight towards the ocean.  In the midst of this frantic run, there are hundreds of spectators, cameramen and photographers taking pictures of everyone.  Finally, I make it into the ocean.  My feet feel the cold first, feeling like a jolt of icy-cold energy about to begin its rapid ascent through my entire body.  For some reason, a huge smile forms on my face and this is happening to everyone else around me.  Instead of becoming fearful, everyone begins to become giddy from the freezing sensation we are all experiencing.  The icy-cold sensation becomes a drug, and we want more of it.

The absolute, overwhelming and encompassing feeling of coldness around every part of my body awakens my brain and makes me think about the meaning of life at a level that I’ve never felt before.  It is at this moment that I have an epiphany about life itself.  I am on top of the World.

On a physical level, consider drinking a strong cup of Starbucks coffee; now multiply that ten-fold and that is how awake you feel when submerged in 40-degree water.

After going through the above experience and my epiphany the whole of two minutes, I make sure that I totally submerge myself, head and all, underwater, for this is the only way one can be a true Polar Bear.  After doing this deed, both of my feet feel numb, so I SLOWLY start heading back towards the shore.  If anything, the one difficult part of the whole Polar Bear experience is the freezing of the feet.  Since your feet are extremities and have a lot of capillaries, the coldness one feels there can be quite discomforting.  According to the Polar Bear Club Rules, you have to enter, get completely submerged, then immediately leave the water.  This rule was no problem for me to follow.

After making it out of the water alive and well, I find my friends and we joyfully high-five one another.  We each get certificates stating that we “Did it!”, thereby making our admittance into the Polar Bear Club official.

I am now a certified Polar Bear!

P.S.  According to the Polar Bear Club website, no one has ever died from doing a plunge.


From left: Mark, Courtney, Steve, Me, Darin and Katie.