Monday, March 29, 2010

Please leave your shoes (and your modesty) at the door

Have you remembered your (large) towel?  Are you wearing little and lightweight clothing?  Have you brought your own water bottle?  Oh, no?  Well, don't worry; we have a refrigerator chock full of Zico, now in environmentally friendly tetra-packs!  It's like yoga's Gatorade.  Grab your mat, head into the hot-room, and calm your mind in anticipation of sweating out a few gallons of water.

If any of this sounds vaguely familiar, then perhaps you, too, have experienced the unique experience that is Bikram yoga.  My first experience came just a few short hours ago.  Recently, I decided to give yoga a second chance, especially since I haven't been able to run and my new bike is still in transit.  (I dismissed yoga the first time around as ineffective.  That was before I learned how to calm the hell down.)  My gym offers a few yoga classes throughout the week, and I have been going to some of the 7 a.m. "gentle" yogas, unsure of where I stood technique-wise or even whether this stretching/breathing/focusing thing could work for me.  The early classes have been pretty good as far as getting a handle on the basics, but they were far from challenging for someone who is already fairly flexible.

A few days ago, I was talking with a woman at my gym following a sub-par bike workout, and she mentioned that there is a Bikram yoga studio only a few towns away.  Now, I had actually been playing with the idea of looking more into this whole "hot yoga" thing.  Learning there was a studio mere miles away provided the impetus I needed to take that first step.  So today, I showed up wearing running shorts and an Old Navy tank top and signed my name to their Bikram yoga release form.

I did my homework.  I knew the classes take place in rooms heated to around 105 degrees F.  I knew to drink plenty of fluids all day, and I hadn't eaten for three hours prior.  I was prepared to sweat like a maniac; I was prepared to stretch like a maniac; I was even prepared to breathe deeply.  And so for 90 minutes, I did all of those things.  But I also completely forgot about everything that wasn't directly related to keeping my balance or remembering to breathe.  It was the strangest combination of relaxing and heated hell.

Sweat poured from my, well, pores, I guess.  When you first walk into the room, the heat isn't overwhelming.  It embraces you while it gradually insinuates itself into your body.  Even just lying on your mat waiting for class to start, finding your center, you begin to perspire.  When the yoga instructor walked in and directed us to stand to begin, I could feel my sweat beginning to mass.  And then possibly ten minutes into our Warm Up (!), I looked down and saw that my thighs were beading sweat that was already letting gravity have its way with it.  For a minute, I freaked.  While a totally natural and healthy cooling mechanism, sweat is still kind of gross, still slightly embarrassing.  Then I slyly glanced around and saw that everyone else was in the exact same boat.  Hands clasped together, arms above our heads, chests out, breathing deeply, as deeply as you can and then just a little bit more, we were all already sweating.  And this was the warm-up.

Needless to say, the poses became more intense with more complicated names.  Standing on one leg in a 105-degree room, trying to hold your other leg at 90 degrees with your clasped hands in front of you ("So your legs look like a perfect 'L'!"), you become acutely aware of your body.  You have no choice but to focus on your positioning and breathing if you want to keep your balance and not cramp up.  With yoga, it is all about total awareness of your body and your placement in the present.  You are in this world, but not of it.  As it was though, I know my limitations and with about 20 minutes left of the class, I was starting to bottom out.  My heart was pounding furiously from the relentless heat and the sustained poses.

I am proud of doing as much as I did though.  I don't know the names of most of the poses, besides the most basic: triangle, tree, sphinx.  Like they say too, the best part really is when the class is over.  Walking out of that literal sauna into the cool entry room was the best part of my day.  I toweled off and drove home, singing along with the radio and feeling all kinds of accomplished.  Dare I say, relaxed, even.  Hopefully, I can convince my body to go back.  It seems like my sort of yoga: intense and athletic but with a big focus on breathing and placement.

So that is my account of my first experience with Bikram yoga.  Any other stories out there?  Yoga or otherwise...  Everyone loves stories!  Hopefully I will have a running update soon, but for now, my knee is still not cooperating.  Who knows, maybe all of this will help.  Either way, enjoy your Tuesdays, and thanks for humoring me once more.  Peace.


Roberta said...

Hello Caroline; How are you? Your story, your openess, your journey are an inspiration to me. My son, Matthew, was diagonsed with ALL the begining of his senior year in high school. He is treated in Boston through the JIMMY FUND CLINIC
He is in a two year treatment program that sounds very different from yours which I'm finding confusing. Thankfully he will be done in early November of this year. That's it for now; thank-you for sharing your story and I pray for your complete recovery. Sincerely, Roberta

April Capil said...

I do Bikram too!! I love it because each class gives you an opportunity to go farther than you did before, just like climbing the same climb over and over...