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.