This past year, I’ve done my best to try out lots of different flavors of yoga. If you read my post yesterday, you know that a week ago I got to have my very first Bikram yoga experience at Bikram Yoga Cleveland, and trying Bikram was more than just trying out a new flavor; it felt like I had traveled to a whole new country to try out the local cuisine.
I had my advice from fellow yogi friends and the Twitter and Facebook yoga communities (see Confessions of a Bikram Virgin Part 1) and I was ready to take on this hot new world of Bikram. For those of you not familiar with Bikram yoga, it is a 90-minute class that consists of 26 yoga postures conducted in a room heated to 105 degrees! So without further delay, here are my major takeaways from my virgin Bikram trip:
Free Your Mind and The Rest of the Clothes Will Follow. The tips about wearing as little clothing as possible were right on the mark. I wore a pair of clingy shorts and a yoga tank top, which I thought was plenty good. About twenty minutes into class, I wished I was wearing a bikini. When you look around the room, people have on short-shorts, the ladies’ midriffs are exposed, and the men are pretty much shirtless (or will be before the class is over). I believe Bikram yoga goes miles in bringing out a person’s ability to lose their inhibitions. I did a review on K.Deere Haute Yoga Wear (see pic below) a while back and went on the record to say there was no way in hell I would wear those short-shorts and expose my pasty white cottage cheese thighs to the yoga world. Now, I’ll eat my words and say that I would proudly sport my thighs in those pants in any Bikram class. Bye bye, inhibitions. Hello, love of the body!
Kristine, the designer of K. Deer Haute Yoga Wear got a good laugh when I told her I was finally ready for her Bum Bums. She is offering a special discount on her yoga wear to Daily Downward Dog readers. Just enter the discount code DDD15 when you place you order and you’ll receive a 15% discount.
The Man in the Mirror. If Bikram yoga had a theme song – hell, if Bikram yoga even had music playing – I’m thinking it should be “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson. Unlike most yoga studios I attend, in Bikram yoga there are mirrors on the wall, and you are asked to gaze at yourself and look inside. I was in the second row in class and was partially blocked by the person in front of me, so I wasn’t always able to see myself in the mirror. I’m not sure if I’m really digging the whole mirror thing. I like the message of looking into your eyes and smiling, but I’d rather close my eyes and look inside my mind and my body.
We’re going hot, hot, hot! (On second thought, maybe the David Johansen cover version of this song would be a better yoga theme song for Bikram.) I like hot yoga and try to go to a few classes a week at Yoga Bliss Akron in a studio that is set to 85-90 degrees. Each time I walk into the hot room at Yoga Bliss, it feels downright tropical, almost like going to Florida after being in the frigid Ohio winter weather. Ninety degrees is plenty hot; 105 degrees just seems a bit gratuitous. It wasn’t a pleasant hot vacation experience; instead it felt almost oppressing as my lungs started to tighten toward the beginning of class.
I don’t think I’ll ever get over the sight of the sweat I saw pouring off the man in front of me. It was literally flowing off of him like a river forming a huge puddle on his mat, even with a towel. I have to admit, my dream did come a little true in that I didn’t sweat as much as I thought I would. I’m just not a big sweater, probably because I don’t drink enough water, but it was so damn hot in there that the humidity may have been evaporating my sweat before I even started to drip. If I were to take up Bikram, the whole hydrating thing would be one major benefit as it would force me to drink more H20.
Beginners Welcome. Bikram yogis are extremely nice and very welcoming to newbies. When I first walked into the studio, the room was dark, and I went to place my mat in the first open spot I saw. There were two rows of mats forming and mirrors on both walls, and I didn’t know how the class was set up. The woman on the mat next to me asked if I was new, and when she found out I was, I thought it was very cool that she suggested that I move to the back row so I could watch the other students. Then someone else moved so I could put my mat next to Cherie. I got settled in and looked next to me where there was a very serious looking young girl (sans mother) who could not have been more than 10. Wow, I thought, Bikram is really recruiting them young.
The instructor of the class, Danielle Hoffman, had the names of all the new students and called them out so she (and the rest of the class) knew where we were located. I was impressed by the way she remembered our names, kept an eye on us, and gave just the right amount of direction and encouragement to each of us. There are little to no hands on adjustments in Bikram (which I liked), and Danielle was able to provide spot on verbal instructions to get each student in the right alignment.
I have always thought it was kind of weird and a bit showy that Bikram teachers stand on a platform at the front of the class. Now I know that it is absolutely essential that they do so because they have to keep an eye out for anyone that might be ready to pass out!
Danielle did a great job of explaining how to get into the poses and the benefits of each, and we were told to sit down at any time if we got hot or tired. In fact, we were encouraged to stay in the hot room the entire class and just sit if we needed to (not forced to stay, like a few stories I had heard).
The young girl next to me was one of the main reasons I stuck it out through class. I figured that if she could do it, then I better well be able to keep going. Her name was Alex, and it turns out that she was 11 and this was only her third Bikram class. I’m probably going to burn in Bikram hell, but when we talked after class, I made sure to let her know that there were other types of yoga and that she might want to give a few of them a try before she puts all her eggs in the Bikram basket (she assured me she would).
You need to bring a towel, but not just any towel; I’d recommend a NamaSTAY yoga towel. I’m a big fan of having a towel on my yoga mat during hot yoga classes, but I never truly appreciated the importance of it until I practiced in 105 degree heat! NamaSTAY yoga towels have a flap at each end that wraps around the mat to keep it from slipping, and it absorbs the sweat to keep you grounded and stable throughout class. Cherie Greenwald is the inventor of the NamaSTAY yoga towel, and I predict that she will someday become famous in the Bikram/hot yoga community for developing the best hot yoga towel ever! [If you would like more info about NamaSTAY towels and would love a special discount offer, please check out my review.]
You can do this! If you have been practicing Hatha yoga, in my opinion, you can handle the 26 postures that comprise a Bikram class. I had this notion in my mind that it was going to be extremely challenging and that I would collapse in a big sweaty ball on my mat, unable to do half of the postures. Granted, I didn’t get fully into all of the poses, but I was able to do them. Bikram created this practice from Hatha yoga, but there are no inversions, no really intense arm balances, and in my opinion not too much core work. The real genius in this practice is that Bikram put together the 26 poses to work every part of the body and to give all of the internal organs, veins, ligaments, and muscles everything they need to maintain optimum health and maximum function (yeah, I picked that up pretty much verbatim from the brochure). The extreme heat and the twisting and stretching flushes away the toxins, or waste products, of all the glands and organs of the body.
Of course, it takes a great instructor to guide and motivate people through the heat, and Danielle had just the right mix of encouragement and perky enthusiasm to keep the class of over twenty happily sweating and twisting away. My only regret is that I wish I didn’t hold back at the beginning of class. Not knowing what to expect, I did not push myself as hard as I could have because I was concerned about conserving energy. But being a virgin, the class was exploratory for me, and next time I’ll know how far I can take myself.
I’m Only Here for the Savasana! Savasana rocks, and Bikram yogis get that! Towards the second half of class, there is a break for savasana in between almost every pose. It is not only awesome but is a real life-saver towards the end of class when you need that break to catch your breath, let your heart rate slow down, and of course, let the benefits of the previous posture literally bake in!
Every Breath You Take. Breathing is the one thing that I don’t think I was doing properly. I’m a fan of ujjayi breathing where you inhale and exhale out through the nose. This form of breathing keeps the heat inside the body. However, when I put that logic to use, I figured the last thing I wanted to do in a Bikram class was stoke the fires even more. Hell, I was afraid I might combust. So, I was breathing in and out through my mouth, and I have to admit at times it was forced. I must have missed the breathing instruction portion of the class, and like a dork I didn’t ask. It’s pretty quiet in the Bikram room, and I wasn’t sure if questions were welcome. In any case, before I go to another class, I’ll be sure to get the breathing correct. Please leave a comment if you have any tips for me!
Variety is the spice of life. Well, for Bikram, consistency is the way of life. Twenty-six poses, each one repeated twice. Every class, every time. Twenty-six poses, rinse, pause, and repeat. I get the concept, but this yogini needs a little variety to spice up my yoga practice.
The Hills are [not] Alive With the Sound of Music. In case you didn’t pick this up already, there is no music in a Bikram class. No music! I have to admit, I needed the silence so I could concentrate on the instructions, but I would definitely miss the music if I did this practice on a regular basis.
Afterglow. Well, I don’t think I really had one. I will tell you that it took 45 minutes for my face to go from full-on lobster to my normal pasty white freckled glow. I didn’t feel the extreme yoga high, which really bummed me out. Instead, I felt very lethargic and experienced some pain in my lower left back. The brochure for the studio states that this is absolutely normal and is a good sign that your body is cleansing. Being that I attended this class two days after Christmas and had been gorging on big holiday meals, cookies, and wine (which explain the lethargy) – my body needed some well deserved rest after purging the enormous amounts of sugar and toxins I took in over the holidays. The next day I did feel awesome and had a little high, so maybe the Bikram afterglow just took a day to settle in.
I’m not going to go into any of the crazy stuff that Bikram has done recently, primarily because I don’t want to get sued for writing about him! B.C., please take mercy on The Daily Downward Dog – I am just here speaking my truth.
I totally understand why people love Bikram so much. It does feel good to sweat out those toxins, and the practice seems more like an “experience” or better yet, a mash-up of a mental and physical challenge. You go in with a fighting spirit, ready to beat the heat and to let go of the negative chatter in your mind so that you can do some amazing things for your body and your health. When you make it through an entire class, it is a major feeling of accomplishment. Cue: Rocky theme song!
So the big burning question that the Twitter community had for me the next day is whether or not I would attend another Bikram class, and the answer to that is yes.
But, will I fully embrace Bikram and attend regularly? The answer to that question is no. I need the variety, I need the music, and I need to drink a hell of a lot more water! I’ve put another notch on my yoga belt, and I’ve got lots more flavors to try. And, isn’t it cool that we have so many flavors of yoga to try?
Like I mentioned in my previous post, if you have always wanted to try Bikram, I would highly recommend that you give it a try, and if you live in northern Ohio, please make a visit and support Bikram Yoga Cleveland.
Thanks again to Danielle and Bikram Yoga Cleveland for such a great virgin experience and to Cherie and Alex, whose presence helped encourage and lift me through the entire class. The newbies didn’t get any applause at the end of class, but I know we all felt a major sense of accomplishment.
So, how was your first Bikram experience? I would love to hear from you, so please join in the conversation.