There are few topics on which if you get me started, it is usually very hard for me to stop. You may even be sorry, you asked me a question.
I have already shared a couple of these in my blog posts – reversing allergies and fixing headache without meds. Here is another of my favorite subject these days – Bikram Yoga. I have been practicing Bikram Yoga now for over two years.
Here is my first year of experience with Bikram Yoga that I wrote down in February 2013.
If this invokes any thoughts or questions, I would love to hear about it.
Our Thursday Night Date
“How about we go check out this place that does Bikram Yoga in Columbia and then we will go out to dinner somewhere there?” I asked Kimberly suggesting this as an activity for our Thursday night date.
“Ok,” She said very agreeably.
On the way there, I told her that for several weeks I had been feeling stiffness in my shoulders and at times in my neck also. I had heard that Bikram Yoga is done in a hot room. I was thinking that may be over the upcoming long weekend for President’s day, it would help limber up my shoulders and neck.
When we got there, the woman at the front desk, Rachel, introduced herself as a Bikram Yoga teacher and gave us a tour of the facility. She told us that we should come in with a yoga mat and three different towels, one for the mat, one for shower and a hand towel. I made up my mind right there and then, and asked Kimberly for her support and company in doing the yoga over the long weekend.
So, How Was the Class?
The next day, Kimberly said that she was not feeling very well, but went with me anyways for moral support. So, I got to experience the first class by myself, while she sat out in the lobby with a book.
As I returned from the class, she looked up from her book and asked, “So, how was the class?”
I blurted out the first thing that came to my mind, “There is a lot of growth opportunity here.”
You see, I had been working out quite regularly, for over 10 year with my trainer, Saleem Udqa. I started with him as I was approaching 50. In fact, both Kimberly and I and even our sons Daniel and Justin have been working out under his guidance at our home. Saleem advocates a very holistic type of regime, strength training, free weights, cardio conditioning, reaction training, TRAX, lot of conditioning, balance, stretching for flexibility and a lot of skills for everyday life. So, I thought I was in a pretty good shape. But it was not easy being in the heated yoga room and doing the poses for full 90 minutes. I had to stop several times, either being out of breath or just too hot and feeling dizzy. I was not even close to getting into many postures. I definitely felt very challenged. So, I told Kimberly I was going to do the yoga every day for one week, taking full advantage of the one week subscription that I had purchased.
On the second or third day, I decided to pick up the two books by Bikram: Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class and Bikram Yoga – The Guru Behind Hot Yoga. The first one is about the postures and the other about his life story and has details about concepts yoga. As I read those two books I was even more intrigued about the Bikram Yoga routine. In the books, Bikram Chaudhary lays out the rationale for his routine. He described how the routine works out every part of the body, both inside and out. And, he described the principle of extension and contraction, to flush out all organs in the body with oxygen rich blood flow and how that is a key to healing. In his books, he also challenges readers to do the routine every day for 60 days and promises that after 60 days, they will be able to do 80% of the postures 80% right.
So, I announced to Kimberly that I was going to put our workout with Saleem on a hold and to do Bikram Yoga every day for 60 days.
Why am I Having Such a Hard Time Simply Bending Backwards?
It took about a week to get used to the heat and a few more days before I started to get through the whole routine without having to take breaks. After a couple of weeks, I could tell what posture was coming next and see in my mind the whole routine. About then I also started having breakthroughs in different postures.
Well into the third week, I still could not even bend backwards for the Camel pose without getting dizzy. Finally, I asked yoga teacher Kat, “Why am I having such a hard time simply bending backwards? It does not seem the Camel pose by itself is such big a deal.” She told me that that experience was very common and I simply needed to push through it. And, lo and behold, that day I “pushed through it” and was able to bend backwards without getting dizzy.
For the Firm Fixed pose, in the beginning I had excruciating pain in my knees. I could not even fully sit between my feet with my butt on the ground. When knees got better, ankles hurt. When ankles got better, quads were too tight and hurt. Each day my body got more and more limber until few days later, I was able to push through and do the full pose.
Learning the Nuances
Starting with the fourth week, Kimberly joined in. By that time, having accompanied me so many times, she had become, according to one teacher, “the most well-known non-yoga student in the studio”. So, now I had someone to talk to in detail about different postures. I had read through the technical details of poses in Bikram’s book. We started comparing where we were with respect to the final expression of the poses. I would also talk to other guys in the locker room to get hints and tips. I noticed that because of me showing up every day I was progressing quite fast and was soon beyond where a lot of guys were who had been doing Bikram Yoga for much longer but not as regularly.
We would also discuss what we would hear from different teachers in their dialogue. Kimberly and I would always talk about and share any nuance we would learn. Heidi would always emphasize breathing. So, we learned how to breathe properly from her. Kat started us off on the fully relaxation during the last Shava asana. So, I started developing a routine to fully take advantage of Shava asana at the end. I started setting my mat right next to the teachers, so it would be easier for them to see me doing things wrong and correct me. I would always take time to thank them for correcting me, so they would feel even more comfortable correcting me. When Bikram Chaudhary was in the area, we went to hear his talk to pick up any further motivation and nuances.
In those beginning months, my yoga practice also seemed very susceptible to who was teaching the class. I would come home, discouraged, wiped out, elated, encouraged or feeling that room was all over the place based on who was teaching. That was in spite of the fact that I found I could always learn something new from every teacher. I even requested a couple of teachers if they could enunciate verbs a little louder. As the time passed, I learned to focus more and more on myself and it became easier to hear and stay in sync with the teachers.
It turned out to be not that easy to do yoga every single day. I was quite busy at the office and was also traveling quite a bit. Once I had a dinner meeting in Crystal City. So, I found a studio in Falls Church for an afternoon class before the meeting. While traveling to Peachtree City, I found a studio in Decatur, GA outside Emory University. I found a hotel room near the studio, did a session from 7:30 to 9pm and then another session starting at 5:30am the next morning.
One day I flew myself back from Fayetteville, NC, did an afternoon conference call, ate a piece of cold Mediterranean pizza while on the call and then ran off to do yoga. With the very first set of postures, as I bent down for Head to Feet pose, I felt like I was going to throw up. After completing the yoga session with great difficulty, I did a forced throw up to purge my stomach. I came home and got sick anyways. I realized that I had been pushing myself way too hard and had probably compromised my immune system – before I even talk about eating pizza right before yoga. I still had one week to go before my 60 days were up. It took me 5 days to heal, after which I did do the last week to complete my 60 day personal challenge.
The Rewards, Proselytizing and Bikram Yoga Lifestyle
After 60 days, it did seem that I was doing about 80% of the postures about 80% right. Right after completing 60 days, I went in for my blood work for cholesterol. That came out really well. LDL was lowest it had been for a while. HDL was highest it had been for a while. My weight was in ideal range, between 162 and 164 lbs. My knee pain had mostly abated. I had started prancing on my toes down the stairs. My sinuses had become very clear. I had lost an inch of my height over the last few years; I got most of that back. My meditation felt deeper and quieter. I noticed that Kimberly’s skin was much more moist and softer than before. She has had very dry skin in the past. She noticed that her varicose veins were disappearing.
After that initial period, Kimberly and I decided that we will just do Bikram as the main form of our physical exercise and discontinue Saleem. I decided that may be this was the way to take my health to the next level and achieve my goal that I set a couple of years ago, “Better health at 60 than at 50.” So, we settled into our routine of yoga 3 times a week.
6 months later, in August, I went in for a complete physical. Everything was still great.
When Boys came home during the summer, we introduced them both to Bikram Yoga. Both seemed to enjoy it and benefited from it. Excited about our new find, we also introduced Bikram friends and family. We personally introduced about half-a-dozen people to Bikram. Out of all those folks, two have taken this up as a regular part of their life.
We took almost 3-week break from Yoga in October when we did Pancha Karma program at the Ayurveda Institute in Albuquerque, NM. During the PK program, while on Kitchuri, i.e., Rice and Lentils, diet, body was too weak to handle the full Bikram routine. In fact, we learned a very gentle form of Yoga at the Institute, they called Ayuer Yoga.
At the beginning of 2013, I decided to do another 30 day challenge and may be even turn that into 60 day challenge, if I was feeling good. After 11 days, I got sick. I think, again, I had been pushing myself hard, both at work and otherwise. So, I backed off for a few days. Another time, my lower back was hurting a little. But against my better judgment, I chose to push through all the postures, including sit ups, which teachers always remind us to skip if there are any issues with the back. That night my whole back froze. It took me four five days to limber it up to get back to normal.
One Year Later
So, on President’s day 2013, a year later, as I write this, where am I?
- Bikram Yoga continues to offer significant potential for growth, in conditioning, balance, flexibility and general health.
- I can do most of the postures quite well. All of these postures can always be done better. Progress happens every time, but mostly in inches and centimeters
- For certain postures, I have yet to achieve anywhere close to full final expression, notably, for Standing Head to Knee and Toe Stand poses.
- I always feel like pushing myself, but lately I have been more conscious of keeping control of my breath. It seems appropriate to back off, if I am losing control of my breath. So, I skip one or both sets of a pose to regain control of my breath and then jump back in.
- Based on above observations, I am thinking of an experiment: just to do only every other pose, so I will have enough energy available to perfect the postures, while maintaining control of my breath. In one session, I will do poses 1, 3, 5… and then next time 2, 4, 6 etc. Once perfected I would start doing all 26 postures together again.
- Although I have much more flexibility and balance than I had a year ago, I don’t feel quite as strong as I used to feel. I have been wondering about experimenting with strength training to supplement yoga.
About 2 to 3 months into Bikram Yoga, I started experiencing ringing in my ears. I don’t know if that was a coincidence. I got the ears checked without any definitive diagnostic or cure. Ayuervedic Institute folks thought it was correlated with high Vata. I would like to heal this.