Tuesday, May 1, 2012

30 day hot yoga review

I've finished my first 30 days of Bikram yoga a.k.a. "hot yoga" and figured I'd write down my thoughts on it so I can remember how much I once loved it in a few months when I'm ready to quit. I was waxing poetic over dinner one night about how hooked I am on Bikram, and David said "Great! I give it 14 months." Ah, he knows me, and the typical life cycle of my hobbies, so very well. And he may be right, but for now I'm in that sweet new hobby honeymoon period and swearing that it will be different this time around.

I decided I wanted to try yoga when my old fitness regimen just wasn't doing it for me anymore. I knew I needed to shake things up, and yoga is one thing I've never tried before. I emailed the one person I trust most in the world when it comes to yoga, my college roommate Peg, who has practiced yoga for 10 years and teaches it in Connecticut. This is Peg:

She is no joke. In fact, she's kind of famous -- Emily Bazelon {one of my favorite writers} is one of Peg's students and gave her a shout out when reviewing Claire Dederer's Poser for Slate - they are both rock stars, rock stars I tell ya!

Anyway, Peg kindly checked out the links of various yoga studios in my area and provided me with an overview of the various yoga styles:

"First . . . Bikram. A scene. 105-110 degrees and 80% humidity. 99% nakedness. You are sweating from your shins by the third pose." {Actually, it may be 99% nakedness in heathen liberal enclaves like New Haven, but here in the Bible Belt it's 80, 85% nakedness max}.

She went through some other styles too, but honestly, after her Bikram synopsis, how could I seriously consider anything else? - ha! Actually, Bikram won for mundane reasons of time/location convenience, and because I had a couple of friends who attend and were very enthusiastic about it.

Triangle pose:

I went to my first class one evening with my friend Kimberly, who is a serious yogi (I'll try to keep the use of that word to a minimum, I swear). I was overwhelmed by the heat when I first walked into the room, and during the 90 minute class I alternated between four thoughts: (1) it's #%*@ hot in here; (2) I think I'm going to throw up; (3) I think I'm going to pass out; (4) how the heck does she get her body to do that? The teacher, Jamie, told us neophytes to just focus on staying in the room and breathing, and I so wanted to limit my focus as she suggested, but I kept getting distracted by 1-4 above. But I made it through the first class and was determined to force myself to go 3x week during my 30 day trial period no matter what. By the third or fourth class, the heat became a non-issue and my focus turned to my complete incompetence at doing the postures (which I counted as progress).

A perfect standing bow pose:

The teacher stands in front of the room during standing bow and says "the harder you kick, you can stand here forever." Lies! The harder I kick, the more likely I am to take out everyone within a 6 foot radius.

Some of the postures feel like a game of Twister gone horribly wrong, like the spine twisting pose, which the teacher calls out verbatim in accordance with Bikram's instructions: "place your right knee on the floor and bring your right heel to touch the side of your left hip. Now lift the left leg in the air and bring it over the bent right knee and place your left foot to the outside of the right knee. Touch the outside corner of your right knee with your left heel. Bring your right arm up and over to the left, then bring it down on the outside if your left knee. Take hold of your right knee with your right hand, now put your left arm behind your back, palm facing out, and reach all the way around until you can grasp your right thigh. In this way, we begin the twist." WE'RE JUST BEGINNING?!?!

Spine twisting pose:

After that first evening class, I settled into a routine of hitting the Monday and Wednesday 5:30 a.m. class and the Saturday 9:30 a.m. class, as that schedule was the least disruptive for the fam. Now 5:30 a.m. has long been my regular workout time, and at home I could roll out of bed at 5:15 to do a 5:30 run. But to make it to 5:30 yoga I need to get up by 4:40, which seems really early. And looking at it objectively, waking up at 4:40 a.m. to get into my car and drive to a 105 degree room where I will contort myself into uncomfortable positions for 90 minutes seems kind of crazytown. But I kind of like the 5:30 class. It's always small - there have never been more than seven people at the 5:30, and three is not unusual. All skill levels are represented - the only common denominator between us is that we can't make it to class at a less ridiculous hour.

The Saturday 9:30 is a whole different ballgame. It is packed - easily 20+ people, at least 17 of whom have completely ripped hot yoga bodies. These are not the people who will get bored with hot yoga in 14 months and quit, these are the people who will go knock out a quick 5 miler after class. There are a lot of 25 year olds in a lot of lululemon (actually, "a little bit of lululemon" is probably more technically accurate).

Typical Saturday morning hot yoga crowd:

{wait, is that Quentin Tarantino?}

The 3 or 4 of us who don't fit this prototype are easily spottable, as we are the ones with (1) more clothing; (2) more body fat; and (3) more of a confused look in our eyes. I try to just zone out and listen to the teacher, who tells us to focus on ourselves in the mirror and not to compare ourselves to the person next to us, or even to ourselves in a different class -- all that matters is this moment, right now. And that's really about as new agey that Bikram gets. Well, there was that time when the teacher said "once you conquer your fear of camel, you will have more strength, more confidence, more control in all areas of your life" --

Camel pose:

Well, I have conquered my fear of camel, yet my life is pretty much as chaotic as it was the first time I tried camel and threw out my neck, go figure!

As I explained to David, I feel high after a Bikram class. He asked me if I was sure that isn't heatstroke - and it might be, but whatever it is, it has me coming back for more. And Andrea has vouched for the intoxicated post-class feeling - before I started she told me that no matter what song is playing when you leave the hot yoga room after class, you'll think "That's my FAVORITE song!" - and it's true! I've been to 15 classes so far and 15 times they have played my favorite song after class (and all different songs, it's a crazy coincidence!) Plus, the tiniest improvement in a posture feels like a huge victory. It's highly addictive. At least in the first month. As soon as the endorphins wear off I'll probably be on to the next thing, but for now, I'm loving this.

1 comment:

Saundra Cortese said...

I’m glad that, despite the overwhelming experience, you decided to continue with your classes. How do you find it now? For starters, the activity may seem difficult since the poses and stances are quite new to you. But when you get the hang of it, you can totally advance to the more difficult poses that promote better flexibility and balance. [Saundra Cortese]