The 30-Day Bikram Yoga Challenge

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The yoga gauntlet has been thrown! Can Tamara Pitelen survive 30 day of hot, sweaty Bikram Yoga?

I’m really going to do it. I am really going to commit the next 30 days to the daily practice of yoga in sauna-like conditions.

Why on earth?’ you might justifiably ask. Because I’ve heard that the intense heat that makes Bikram yoga different from the other varieties of yoga is amazing for getting rid of toxins, increasing flexibility faster and getting toned up and slimmed down in double quick time.

Bikram yoga is basically a sequence of 26 traditional Hatha yoga postures that takes 90 minutes but the crucial difference to other types of yoga is that it’s done in a room heated to 41 degrees celsius.

Apparently, the sequence of postures and the heated room will warm and stretch your muscles, ligaments and tendons in the order in which they should be stretched and the heat takes the trauma out of stretching, heals and helps prevent injuries. It also promotes sweating which helps flush toxins from the body.

Which is all very well and good but can I do it every day for 30 days? Will it kill me or make me stronger? I guess we’ll find out… my first class is tonight after work, and yes, I’m a little scared. I’ve done Bikram only one other time in my life, that was 12 years ago and I swore you’d never catch me stepping foot in one of these sauna torture chambers again. Never say never.

Day one: One down, 29 to go.
I won’t lie, it wasn’t pretty. I certainly wasn’t pretty by the end of it – unless you fancy women covered in sweat with mascara and eyeliner running down faces the colour of beetroot.

’Intense’ is one word for the experience, ‘hardcore’ is another and ‘painful and miserable’ could be thrown about as
well. There were a couple of times when I thought I might throw up (especially in the camel pose) or pass out from the heat.

I wasn’t the only one though. There were about 35 of us in the class, packed in like sardines mat to mat and other Bikram beginners were falling about around me like pins at the end of a bowling alley. Those who thought they were about to faint had to just stop and sit for a while… but anyone who sat too long was soon given a bit of a telling off by the teacher who would make an excellent boot camp instructor or drill sergeant. He’s of the ‘get up, don’t be so lazy, this is good for you and you will do it’ school of thought.

I made it to the end but the last half hour was brutal. The words going through my head were, ‘please God, make it stop, please God, make it stop…’. At the end, I could literally wring the sweat out of every stitch of clothing I had on.

Why am I doing it again? Oh yes, because apparently it’ll clear out a load of toxins, get me flexible in super quick time and help lose weight… cling to that thought.

Day three: Tired. Oh so tired.
I’ve got my third Bikram class in about two hours from now. The not so good news is that right now I’m feeling exhausted, nodding off in the office over my keyboard. And it’s only day three! But the good news is that I got through the whole second class yesterday without having to sit out any of the postures. So maybe you do acclimatise to the heat.

It’s still hard going though. And the teacher doesn’t suffer any shenanigans. He told one guy that he was like “a fidgety three year old” and the woman next to me was berated for bringing her mobile phone into class, “we do not bring mobile phones into class! You can live without it for 90 minutes. I lived most of my life quite happily before the invention of mobile phones…” Then, when a man stood up to leave the room because he was finding the heat too much, the teacher said, “Where are you going? Sit back down! Do not leave the room, commit to at least staying in the room for the whole 90 minutes, even if you have to lie down…”

Despite his grumblings, I like this teacher though. He’s clearly passionate about Bikram yoga and he knows what he’s talking about. He’s like Bikram’s version of Dr House. Questionable bedside manner but endearing in a grouchy kind of way.

As far as surviving the class though, here’s a tip. Don’t wear too much. My regular yoga class clothes are too heavy for Bikram. A light-weight singlet t-shirt and shorts is best. Whatever you do, don’t wear tracksuit pants or a heavy baggy t-shirt unless you want to die of heat exhaustion.

And don’t wear white unless you’re happy for everyone to be able to see through your clothes by the end of the class once they’re dripping with sweat.

Day four: Hang in there
I’ve done four classes now and it doesn’t seem any easier. For the last 20 minutes of the class, I am hanging on with the last dregs of my emotional and physical strength. I watched a documentary on telly the other night about the amazing power of the brain and visualisation for managing physical pain so in the really tough moments I’ve been imagining myself encased in a block of ice in the hope that it might make the intense heat more bearable.

No joy so far. Although last night after class, I overheard the teacher tell another new guy ‘not to worry because it does get easier’.

Get’s easier!? I wanted to grab the teacher by the collar and scream “WHEN? In the name of all that’s Holy, WHEN does it get easier?” This other new guy had struggled through the class. He spent most of it just sitting on his mat, sweating profusely. Apparently it was his third class but he’d found this one was much harder than the first two. The teacher told him to persevere for about 10 classes, that’s when it’ll be easier.

Day seven: Breakthrough
I might have turned a corner with this Bikram thing. Ok, maybe not turned a corner exactly but veered off in a corner-like direction… because today’s class was nowhere near the nightmare of hideousness that my first class was just one week ago. Although, that could also be because today’s class was a 9am Saturday class which means it had less than half the number of people in it that you get on a weekday after work class. And when you’ve got a room jam-packed with people standing mat to mat, all red-faced and sweating buckets, they turn the place into even more of a sauna. We had a lovely Australian instructor who gave me some helpful corrections on my postures and mentioned what some postures were good for. For example, one pose is great for weight management and another pose stimulates your thyroid gland. Which has to be a good thing. I picked up a pamphlet from the reception desk today, it’s one of those ‘About Bikram’ things. Apparently, Bikram yoga was created by an Indian man called Bikram Choudhury who started studying yoga at age three. (Age three! I was still stuffing rattles in my mouth and mashing banana into carpets at age three.) By age 13, Bikram was the youngest National India Yoga Champion and he kept the title for three years but at the age of 20 he shattered his knee in an accident and that’s when, with the help of his friend Bishnu Ghosh, he designed a series of postures for rehabilitation. And Bikram yoga was born. The heated room is for warming the muscles and allowing you to work for deeply and safely into the various postures. Heat takes the trauma out of stretching as well as heals and prevents injuries. (All of this description is what I’m reading on the pamphlet). Then comes the really good bit. According to the pamphlet, the regular practice of Bikram will do many great things, these include eliminate toxins, reduce cholesterol, tone and strengthen muscles, strengthen bones, improve flexibility, reduce stress as well as achieve and maintain your proper body weight. This last one is particularly exciting and I’m pretty sure that even after just a week, I can tell that my waist is getting trimmer. I won’t weigh myself till the end of the month so won’t know officially till then but my jeans are definitely looser. So, on we go…

Day eight: Reality slap
Just when I thought I was getting a bit better at this Bikram yoga thing, Bam! I receive a reality slap to the head re my progress that is akin to being rugby tackled by a rhino. Tonight’s eighth class was a return to the almost unbearable hideousness of that first class. Towards the end of the class, it almost feels like you’re on fire on the inside. My heart was pounding, my skin was burning,
I had mascara dripping off my chin, I felt nauseous during camel pose and I was thinking very, very bad thoughts about the teacher. I wasn’t the only one suffering, all around me, people were dropping like flies, but the teacher was relentless, “come on, stand up, you can do this, you’ve been sitting long enough…” he said to whoever paused for a rest. And God help anyone who actually tried to leave the room. Why am I doing this again? Time to re-read that list of benefits.

Day 10: One third of the way
I did my tenth class tonight (break out the aloe vera juice!) and I got my first sense that I might actually enjoy this hot, sweaty, bendy stuff one day. It’s like when I first started running. I was quite a serious runner for a few years there but when I first started, I remember it took about six months of huffing and puffing around the streets near my home and getting my fitness up before I started to enjoy running.

Anyway, according to the official Bikram Yoga website (www.bikramyoga. com), as a beginner, It takes three classes
for your body to understand the proper approach to the posture, and ten classes for your body to begin to work with postures. So, I’ve reached a milestone! However, the website also stated that a beginner should practice Bikram every day for two months. Every day for two months! I don’t know how anyone with a job to hold down or a family to raise could manage 60 days in a row.

Day 25: Home stretch
Just five more days before the challenge is won! Though I probably shouldn’t get too cocky just yet, not until all 30 are done and dusted. So, how do I feel? Really good although no dramatic transformation has taken place however I like to think that all sorts of wonderful stuff is happening on the inside that will soon show on the outside. Having said that, I can handle the heat better now and do most of the 26 Hatha postures better than I did at the start. Some poses I can do quite a lot better but on a couple I’ve seen no improvement at all that I can tell, namely Tree Pose (Tadasana), which is the posture my body just doesn’t want to do.

Finish line! 30 classes down
That’s it then. Did it. Thirty days of Bikram yoga ticked off. Am I bendier? Yes, definitely. In the last two nights I stretched deeper than ever into postures like the forward bend when you try and get the top of your head on the ground – for the first time ever, I did get the crown of my head on the ground.

On a couple of other poses though, I don’t feel I’ve made any progress, namely Tree Pose (Tadasana) and Fixed Firm
Pose (Supta-Vajrasana). It’s my hips. More precisely, it’s what about 20 odd years of running has done to my hips. That is, welded them together tight. It’s going to take a fair bit of work to loosen them up and until I do I can forget any hope of moving on from Tree Pose into an advanced posture like Toe Stand.

However, I’m hooked on Bikram now and enjoy the classes – I definitely couldn’t say that in the first couple of weeks, back then it was just a case of making it through to the end without fainting or crying.

I had hoped for some kind of miraculous physical transformation after 30 classes. I didn’t get that and it was probably unrealistic anyway. I’m stronger, more flexible and a little lighter but the kind of transformation I was hoping for takes months or years of practice. Better get on with it then I guess.

BIKRAM BASICS IN A NUTSHELL

WHAT IS IT? A sequence of 26 Hatha poses done over 90 minutes in a room heated to 41 degrees Celsius.

WHO DEVELOPED IT? Indian man Bikram Choudhury, a National India Yoga Champion who started studying yoga at age three. At the age of 20, Bikram shattered his knee in an accident so, with the help of his friend Bishnu Ghosh, designed a series of postures for rehabilitation. Bikram yoga was born.

WHY THE HOT ROOM? The heated room is for warming the muscles and allowing you to work deeply and safely into the various postures. Heat takes the trauma out of stretching as well as heals and prevents injuries.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF BIKRAM? According to Bikram, the regular practice of this ‘hot yoga’ will do many great things for your mind and body including eliminate toxins, reduce cholesterol, tone and strengthen muscles, strengthen bones, improve flexibility, reduce stress as well as achieve and maintain your proper body wei

TOP TIPS FOR SURVIVING BIKRAM

Wear as little as possible: Leave your body issues at the door because covering up in baggy t-shirts and long sweatpants will make the class 100 times harder. You don’t want that. Light-weight singlets and shorts are best. No one is looking at you, they’re all in their own Bikram bubble.

Early weekend classes are easier:

The more people in the room, the hotter it is so while you’re still a beginner and acclimatising to the heat, go to the quieter classes, like 9am on a Friday or Saturday. The 6pm and 8pm classes on a weekday are the ones often packed to the rafters.

Don’t wipe sweat away: A lot of beginners who aren’t used to the rivers of sweat running down their face and body spend a lot of time wiping it away. Don’t! It’ll make you hotter. Sweat is good. Let the sweat run where it may, it’s the body’s cooling system. By wiping it away, you’re making your body work even harder to create more sweat.

Fidget-free zone: Don’t fidget with your hair, clothes, towel etc. Don’t itch, scratch, rub… it wastes energy, makes you hotter and distracts others from their practice. Keep single- minded focus on doing the poses and between poses keep still and calm, staring straight ahead at yourself in the mirror while listening for the next set of instructions from the teacher.

Don’t drink a lot during the class: It may seem odd but during the class is not the time to drink a lot of water – it could come back up during some of the poses. A few sips are ok but most of your water drinking should be done in the hours before and after the class.

Don’t eat before class: Leave a good two hours between your last meal and your Bikram class.

IN THE UAE, BIKRAM OR HOT YOGA IS HELD AT:

Bikram Yoga Middle East, TECOM, Dubai
A new Bikram studio in TECOM, Dubai. Single class AED 60 and one month unlimited classes, AED 600. Icon Tower, 4th Floor, TECOM, Tel: 04 368 6287 www.bikramyoga-me.com

MMA Fitness Centre, TECOM, Dubai
Hot yoga is held at this multi-discipline fitness centre.
Location, Pacific Bldg. 2nd Level, TECOM, Dubai, UAE, Tel: 04 367 5077 Email: info@mmafitcenter.com
www.mmafitcenter.com

Club Stretch, Satwa and Dubai Marina
Single class AED 70 and one month unlimited classes, AED 700
Bikram Yoga and Pilates studio Al Mina Road, Satwa
(near Capitol Hotel) as well as Dubai Marina. Email: info@clubstretch.ae Tel: 04 345 2131
www.clubstretch.ae

Rawr Bikram Yoga Dubai
Al Sufouh Rd, 713 Concord Tower, Dubai Media City
(same building as Lime Tree Café and Mini Cooper showroom) Tel: 04 4232 808, email info@rawryoga.com www.rawryoga.co

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