Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Newfound Passion....Bikram Yoga

I have found a new love in my life...Bikram Yoga. For those who don't know, Bikram Yoga is a 90 minute long series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises, each preformed twice. This series is done in a 105 degree room, kept around 50% humidity. Does that sound miserable to you? Well, I'm not going to lie, it is. 105 degrees is freaking hot. You pour sweat, get dizzy, mentally curse your teacher and would do anything to just get out of the heat. However, once the 90 minutes is over and you've stepped out of the hot room (what Bikram Choudhury himself calls the "torture chamber"), you can't deny just how amazing you feel. Plus the benefits of practicing this form of yoga are numerous.

Benefits of Bikram Yoga

• Tones and strengthens all major muscle groups down to the bone
• Increases balance, strength, and flexibility
• Builds cardiovascular strength & respiratory balance
• Promotes weight loss (the general consensus states that one class burns around 700 - 800 calories)
• Strengthens and restores all systems of the body
• Reduces the risk of sports injury and accelerates recovery time
• Heavy sweating helps detoxify the body
• Increases concentration and focus power
• Improves productivity & energy level
• Reduces the effects of stress
• Makes your skin glow
• Brings all systems into perfect balance, mind, body, and soul

With benefits like those, how could you not want to try it? :)  Anyhoo, my journey with Bikram began when I bought a Groupon to the Bikram Yoga Lexington studio for a month of unlimited practice for only $30. After a little bit of Internet research, I convinced my sister, Lindsay, to go with me and we went to our first class on March 8th. Man oh man. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. When the teacher tells you at the beginning of your first Bikram class that your only goal for the 90 minutes is to just manage to stay in the room, you know you're in trouble. LOL.

I managed to preform the different asanas for about half of the class and spent the other half sitting on my mat and towel, dripping sweat. Poor Lindsay just laid on her mat for about 80% of the class with her eyes closed, looking like she was about to die. However, about 10 minutes after class ended, we both noticed we felt wonderful and, surprisingly, invigorated. We came back the very next day and it was remarkable how much we both improved and how much more of the class we were able to complete, even after a mere 24 hours.

We've been attending Bikram yoga classes together for over 2 weeks now and I have already started to see some benefits. I have always had extremely dry skin and needed to apply lotion several times a day. Since practicing Bikram, I've noticed that my skin is much softer and far less flaky. I'm now only applying lotion once a day, in the morning after I shower. I've also noticed my posture is improving. The 2nd half of a Bikram yoga class is spent on the floor, doing different spine strengthening and stretching poses. I can tell these are really paying off and are reshaping my spine. I'm normally terrible about slouching while sitting and standing, but I'm beginning to notice that my back is beginning to ache when I'm NOT standing up straight now.

However, last night during my "regular" weekly yoga class, I noticed the my most remarkable improvement to date. When we went into our first downward-facing dog of the night, my heels sunk right into the ground. I was blown away. I've been practicing yoga for several months now and my super tight hamstrings have always been an issue for me. In downward-facing dog, my heels always hovered about 2-3 inches off the ground, no matter how much I stretched and pushed back my hips. We did several more down dogs throughout the class and each time, heels on the ground. I even tried another out on the living room rug when I got home just to make sure. Yep, still happening. I'm super impressed that just 2 weeks of Bikram yoga has helped loosen up my hamstrings so much.

Downward-Facing heels now look like this. Haha.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding Bikram yoga and it's founder, Bikram Choudhury, such as the fact that he patents and franchises his brand of yoga, his type of yoga doesn't focus on enough on the spiritual aspect of the practice, etc... I for sure do not agree with all of Bikram's principles (I'll save that for another post), but I can assure anyone who is looking for an intense workout that makes you feel amazing afterwards...Bikram yoga is where it's at.