Yoga – Have you tried it Hot?

bikram-yoga-never-too-late

Image courtesy of http://maxineclancy.com/

I used to practice Bikram yoga fairly regularly. These days I prefer exercise that’s less hard core and cheaper! I do really like this form of yoga, it worked for me at the time.

Bikram yoga is a very hard core form of exercise…some may say extreme..even dangerous. I will always remember during one session I attended a fellow yogi fainted and banged their head against the wall….they were fine when they came to but it was pretty shocking to see.  If you don’t hydrate properly before class you’re in for a tough session!  Bikram yoga has got mixed reviews…here’s an article I wrote about this form of yoga for a community website whilst I was living in Auckland:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/aucklander/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503372&objectid=11076769

Have you heard of Bikram yoga? Have you ever tried it?

What do you think of it as a form of yoga?  Comments welcome!

Here’s the full article:

The two words ‘hot’ and ‘yoga’ did not initially have me jumping for joy to hit the yoga studio. Instead they conjured up a rather vivid image of me sweating profusely on a yoga mat, trying to contort my body into various positions – and paying money to do so.

I first learned of Bikram yoga more than a year ago and I was sceptical as I didn’t really enjoy the yoga classes that I had attended. Not being very flexible (still struggling to touch my toes), I didn’t see immediate results after attending a few regular yoga classes and that frustrated me.

Upon reflection it’s not a very ‘zen’ approach to take but I hadn’t yet realised that yoga is a journey so I resigned myself to a ‘non yoga fate’ – a future without yoga. I told myself I would never be a yogi because it is for naturally flexible people who eat organic food and are able to contort their body. I left it at that.

I’m so glad that on a gorgeous summer afternoon in a London pub, two slightly intoxicated yogis re-inspired me to hit the yoga studio. They told me they did a type of yoga called Bikram yoga in a heated room – 40 degrees. I thought the alcohol may have got to their head, but during my first Bikram yoga class I discovered they were telling the truth. The challenge during the first class was just to stay in the room. If you can attempt a few poses without toppling over, it’s a bonus.

One Bikram teacher will always stick in my mind. Not only was she a picture of health at 60-something, her inspiring, motivational phrases kept you going in the heat. She would repeatedly tell us ‘leave all your baggage on your yoga mat’ and ‘work it out on your mat.’ So the idea of trying to become fitter, stronger and healthier definitely replaced the initial negative image I had of myself trying to do various poses and failing miserably in the process.

I was walking to a job interview recently in Auckland, having just relocated to this beautiful and friendly city and I passed a Bikram Yoga studio in the Newmarket area. Having now done it in London, then Sydney, I realised I wanted to try it again – I’ve come a long way from the sceptic I was not so long ago.

Bikram yoga is a bit like vegemite really, or if you’re English like myself, it’s a bit like Marmite. You either love it or you don’t (excuse the analogy). Understandably the heat is not for everyone. However, with quite a few Bikram yoga studios in Auckland it is undoubtedly a popular hot and sweaty work-out that will have you sweating from pores you didn’t know existed.

TALKING TO A TEACHER

So I became a bit fascinated by it and decided – as part of my bid to try some writing as well –  to find out a bit more from an expert. I was put onto Jacque Halstead who has been teaching Bikram yoga for five years, currently at East West Bikram Yoga Studios in Auckland. She is a mother of two young children and juggles family life with her yoga career. Fresh-faced and a picture of health, it appears the yoga is working.

I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of Bikram yoga from someone who has been practising for a long time and so Jacque kindly agreed to a chat.

So what is it?

Bikram yoga is a series of 26 postures, 2 breathing exercises, all carried out in 90 minutes, in a heated room of 38-40 degrees. Yes, you did read that correctly, the room is hot, and the yoga is far from easy.

Jacque explains the physical and mental aspects of this type of yoga.

“Physically it’s systematically moving your circulation around, a compression and a release to cleanse the body. It’s a way to work your whole body from the inside out. More importantly is the mental exercise that you get, it’s really to help you focus and relax. If you can learn to relax in class, you can learn to relax anywhere.”

I’m finding there are so many types of yoga out there that it’s hard to know which type to practise. Jacque explains: “All yoga is hatha yoga – and Bikram yoga is a form of hatha yoga, (hatha is the physical form of yoga) but it’s heated. It’s the same postures every time, there is never any variation.”

Bikram yoga has been criticised by some as not being very zen (or meditative) and a recent analogy I heard is Bikram yoga is the ‘McDonald’s of yoga’.

Jacque is aware of people saying this and agrees it’s not for everyone.

“Saying it’s the ‘McDonald’s of yoga, I understand that, Bikram yoga is everywhere. Bikram [Choudhury, the inventor] always said he wasn’t offended by that comparison because he wants that consistency, he wants the same practice everywhere you go.”

As for the view that this yoga lacks zen and peacefulness, Jacque says that although the yoga is intense “you can find your Zen in the heat, by being able to relax and focus through the heat. Once you can do that, you feel like you can do anything. Things that used to stress you out, don’t stress you out so much.”

Jacque lets her new students know it’s hard and that the yoga studio sometimes feels like a ‘torture chamber’.

“But the more you do it the better it gets and it starts to become enjoyable,” she says. “It’s about having that persistence to get to that point.”

Jacque first discovered Bikram yoga in Seattle and has been practising for 8 years. It’s become a lifestyle for her: “It’s something you adopt, like a morning coffee.”

But it wasn’t always that way – she was nervous about it at first.

“One day, 5 or 6 weeks into the training, I went into the room and I realised that I didn’t have the anxiety that I had every class before and I wasn’t nervous about practising. I think it was at that point that I stopped having expectations. Every class is hard for me, every class is a challenge but I don’t expect myself to perform a certain way. It’s the whole letting go and doing what I can on that day and everyday after.”

Benefits

As a teacher of Bikram, Jacque is keen to promote it. “There are so many benefits and for everyone it’s different,” she says. “I think a lot of people at first will go for the physical reasons such as weight loss and flexibility. But the more you practise, it becomes a way to relax and release stress.”

With two young children, she finds it helps her be the best for her family.

“It’s hard to say that I want to take that time to go away and do yoga, you really feel that you should be with your kids, but I notice that if I don’t practise I’m not the best for them. Whereas if I do practise I am the best for my family, it’s the time that you have to take for yourself.”

Jacque debunks the myth I had in my head that yoga is naturally flexible people, who don’t ever have cravings for chocolate and only eat organic food.

“I think it’s better to not be flexible when you go to Bikram yoga , if you’re not so flexible you got to push and you automatically start to build strength.”

She is passionate about seeing people change. “I’ve seen so many people transform.It’s about them, they’ve changed for themselves, it’s inspiring.”

She has also seen how yoga has helped people with illness and also taught Bikram yoga to students in Christchurch during the earthquakes to help students through those difficult times.

It seems it’s not so much about Bikram yoga or the postures, but about everyday people and transformation.

“The object of yoga is not yoga, the object of yoga is the person, the mind and the body,” she says, and yoga can be a way to get there.

I’m inspired. I roll out my dusty yoga matt, put on my deodorant and give Bikram another go.

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