It's officially been a little over two weeks since I began my love affair with Bikram, or hot, yoga. It's something I had wanted to try for a while, and finally bit the bullet and signed up for my first class at Bikram Yoga Fairfax.
When I arrived, I was told that my goal for my first class was to just try to stay in the room. Not exactly what I would have expected to be told before starting a yoga class.
Bikram yoga is a sequence of 26 asanas, or postures, practiced in a room heated to 105 degrees at 40% humidity. Translation: you sweat A LOT. As in, there is sweat everywhere: on your towel, in your eyes, dripping off of your body. Sounds awesome, right?
Each class takes exactly 90 minutes, and is exactly the same each time. Which you would think gets boring, but instead, is challenging in a new way every day.
Since I took my first class, I've gone back each day, with the exception of when I was out of town. Sometimes, I have to wake up at 5:30 in order to fit it in my schedule. If you know me, I don't do that. Well, I didn't do that. Bikram makes me do weird things.
I wanted to take up Bikram not only to increase my fitness (you burn up to 900 calories each 90 minute session) and flexibility, but in order to work stuff out in my head.
I notice a difference in the clarity of my thinking between days that I go to class and days that I do not.
I guess that's the most major thing I've learned from my first two weeks. I wanted to share the top ten things that I've learned with you in case you want to try it out (hint: you should). Here's the top 10:
- Regularly practicing Bikram absolutely produces results beyond fitness. Some that I've noticed include: increase mental clarity, increased confidence (some of the asanas are pretty hard, and it's awesome when you do well in a posture), and increased self-awareness (I mean, you're literally staring at yourself for 90 minutes).
- Sweating that much actually feels really awesome, and is pretty good for you too. Within the first week of my practice, my skin had noticeably cleared up.
- You want to wear as little clothing as possible. I went to my first class in a tank top and leggings. Just wear the sports bra and spandex shorts - no one is judging you, and it feels so much cooler.
- Don't go to class dehydrated. It's miserable. And if you're showing up less than properly hydrated, it's too late to chug the water in class. It goes so much better when you've spent the day drinking lots and lots of water.
- Breathe in and out of your nose like the teacher says, not through your mouth. If you have to breathe through your mouth, you're pushing yourself too hard, and you're most likely distracting everyone else around you.
- It's important to be aware of where you're putting your mat, and to make sure you're not blocking the view of the mirror from those set up behind you. A lot of people arrive early to set up and then go straight into savasana (dead body pose) until the start of class. This means that if you set up directly in front of them, they'll have to go through the first four postures without being able to see themselves, which is important for both focus and improvement.
- Don't talk in the yoga room. Not even whispering. Not even before or after class. It messes with everyone else's zen/concentration.
- Go every day, or at least as much as you can. Obviously, you'll still get the health benefits from Bikram by going 2-3 times a week, but it's about so much more than that. The working on yourself/self realization/etc is best achieved from going every day -- it means that you're giving yourself at least 90 minutes to just focus on you.
- Every person shows up to class because they're working through something - physical, mental, emotional. Even the girl in the front row with six pack abs. Because the fact of the matter is, it's the same 26 postures each time; the only part of the equation that changes is you.
- One of the biggest things that Bikram yoga teaches is how to have your patience beat your ego. With many of the postures, it's so tempting to just keep going to try to get to the "end result," rather than getting each smaller step right before going on to the more difficult complete posture. It requires you to know your body and your limits and to be at peace with the fact that even if you can't do the full posture during that class, one day you will be able to. It's the importance of hard work and patience and humility all at the same time.
I think a lot of us don't think that we have 90 minutes every day to spend on ourselves - our mental, physical, emotional health and well-being. I know because I used to think that too. But our mental, physical, emotional health and well-being affects everything we do - it impacts how we treat others, how we handle situations, and our outlook on life. I think Bikram puts it pretty well:
"They say the most important thing is God, water, wind, family, children, love -- all bull. The most important thing in your life is you."