My Ten Favorite Things About Bikram Yoga
As I close in on the finish of my third 60 Day Challenge at Bikram, I wanted to share some of the benefits of the practice, so will post my “Top Ten Favorite Things” list over the next few days. I came to Bikram not by choice, but because I had to stop the Krav Maga training that l loved due to a congenital neck problem that wouldn’t resolve without surgery. I loved Krav, but not enough to operate on my neck. I had been intrigued by the challenge of Bikram, so took a 90 minute class on a Friday afternoon. WOW. I thought I was in good shape, but the heat kicked my ass. I followed the Bikram advice of coming back the next day and haven’t looked back. I have to admit I was a “yoga hater” for many years, thinking of it as “just stretching” and not exercise. One class demolished that belief. It’s not the perfect, only exercise you need to do—additional strength training helps, but it is a great cardio, flexibility and strength workout with mental health benefits I’ve never experienced in 25 years of exercising.
12--Holding standing bow for the whole posture without falling out. That doesn’t happen often for me, but when it does, I feel like I’ve arrived as a yogi. The downside is I’m usually so tanked I botch the other side!
11--The sweaty, detergent-y, bleach-y smell of the towel when you finish the standing series. I’ve made it to the floor, and that wet towel is my best friend. I know that smell well, and it’s a comforting odor. A mélange of me, Bikram, and whatever detergent was on sale at Costco.
10--Flexibility. This is the first thing everyone thinks when you say you’re doing yoga, and consistent practice does help increase it (I can touch my toes now and my posture has improved--when I remember to stand up straight), but that’s not why I do yoga. It may be why I started, but it’s not what keeps me coming back.
9--Core strength. People think yoga is just “stretching,” and it may be on the Type II diabetes drug ads that all seem to show restful, fit, Type II diabetics (not sure who does their casting) but Bikram is about strength first, and it will show you how heavy your body weight is to hold up for 20 seconds. I was in good shape when I started Bikram, but my body fat percentage is down 5% from last year, and I can start to see ab definition where there used to be just belly. If increasing strength is your primary goal, there are better workouts to do than Bikram, but you DO get benefits in the practice.
8--Mental Toughness. You’ve got so many opportunities in every class to challenge yourself and your desire to quit. I hate most of the standing series—in a good way—and think hard about taking a posture off, or half-assing it. Toughing out each one of those postures is a great micro-challenge. Never take off Triangle pose. Never. Then you’ve got the macro-challenge of the heat. When the heat and/or humidity is cranked up (almost every class, although it does vary) just staying in the room is a 90 minute challenge. I must say, the heat can be unpleasant, and over two plus years I’ve never “gotten used to it.” At the same time, I’ve never left the room. Fighting through the postures and the heat gives me a quiet confidence that leaves the hot room and carries through the day.
7--Head rush in camel. That is a great natural high. Oftentimes I’ll get a trance-like state towards the end of class—I’m in the room, but at another level. I’ve had postures in the floor series where I “open” my eyes in the second set and have no recollection of the first—which I just completed. The closest analog I can think of is runner’s high, but without the damage to your knees.
6--The sweat. What shows work better than sweat? Sweating detoxifies your body, so now you can eat all the salmon you want without concerns of heavy metals! It also increases the caloric burn of the workout, and can fight infection (I haven’t taken an antibiotic in years). I’m probably in the lower quartile for yogi flexibility, but in the top 10% of sweaters. Here’s a link to a good article on the benefits of sweating: http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/10-amazing-benefits-sweating-you-didnt-know.html
5--The now, focus and the power of breathing. Maybe that’s more than one lesson, but I find them intertwined and not sure I can separate them. When I’m trying to nail Triangle, it’s all I can do try to execute the elements of the posture. While keeping my breathing calm. There’s no bandwidth for extraneous thoughts—you are totally in the now. That focus has a way of clearing your mind even when you leave class. I’ve found my competitive shooting improves with consistent practice and others have shared benefits with other concentration-intense athletic activities like golf.
4--Improved sleep. Going to sleep is easy, and so is waking up. When I close my eyes, I drift off to sleep in minutes whereas historically I may lie in bed for an hour with my mind racing about events of the day. Getting up, I think I’ve hit the snooze button maybe twice in the last 60 days. Most days I wake up before the alarm. For a while last year I didn’t even set an alarm. I also find I need LESS sleep, but don’t feel drowsy or lethargic during the day. A good discussion of the need for less sleep is included here: http://www.healthandyoga.com/html/news/dworkis_time.aspx
3--I want less, or the death of cravings. That doesn’t mean I ENJOY less, but my cravings have gone away. Especially for alcohol. On a Friday afternoon, historically I would get a burning in the pit of my stomach for beer—and not just one. That is now gone. As a matter of fact, I almost find alcohol repellent. I’ve read of others who have had similar experience with cravings for sweets—not my issue, but my experience is the same. In Bikram, you learn to appreciate the simplest of pleasures—water and air. Cold water. Air to calm your racing heart. That’s all you get in the room, and that’s all you need. So when I leave the hot room, I don’t need as many inputs to be satisfied.
2--The heat. Like rust, it never sleeps. What would be simple at 70 degrees becomes difficult at 110F (they say the room is 104F, but I KNOW it gets hotter than that in some classes.) The heat has no mercy—but it also has no malice. It just is. Heat conditioning has been shown to have dramatic benefits to longevity, athletic performance as well as mental health. Here is a link to a short video from Rhonda Patrick, Ph.D., which discusses hypertherapy in the context of sauna use: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHOlM-wlNjM&nohtml5=False In later discussions she says it seems logical that Bikram yoga would have similar benefits. Also seek out her podcasts that cover this topic in greater detail and describe the mechanism of action, so there’s science at work and not just a placebo effect. I know in my own clinical study (n=me) that I have seen/felt/experienced some of the exact benefits she describes. For example, I’ve seen my running improve in both and endurance and speed, without daily practice. So I don’t enjoy the heat, but I love the benefits it provides.
1--Shit doesn’t bother me. I thought I made up the expression “yoga is medicine,” but then I saw one of the instructors wearing a shirt with that printed on it. Nevertheless, the closest analog I can get to daily yoga practice was my short experience with antidepressants a decade ago. The drugs had a mood calming effect—daily life events that used to cause stress were shrugged off. I find the same with yoga and there are no negative side effects. When the lady in front of me at checkout pulls out her checkbook, then rummages around for a pen, I just shrug it off. That used to send my blood pressure through the roof. The enduring, calming aspect of Bikram is unique to any kind of exercise I’ve ever done—cardio, martial arts, strength training or HIIT. Many workouts give you a euphoric feeling afterwards, but the peace I get from Bikram is lasting. But like any medicine, the dose is important. I found these benefits with daily practice—you’ll see improvement with 3x a week, but it was only when I practiced every day that I got the real benefit. 3x a week is just exercise. 5-7x a week is life changing.
David Cocke | May 10, 2016
I was a combat soldier with the 3-8 Cavalry 1st Cavalry Division deployed overseas in Iraq. During the summer of 2007 I was blown up twice, once in a tank and the other I was in a humvee. I suffered many injuries, but the ones that pertain to this writing would be the lumbar disc disease and the PTSD. After I was retired out of the Army in 2009 I had to live with my injuries and was given several different medication by the VA to combat these issues. Last November I weighed 250lbs and was border line diabetic with high blood pressure and cholesterol. I started to lose a bit of weight and got down to 227lbs in April 2012. I went back to see my VA doctor and she said I still had several problems and do work harder to deal with them. So I got back in the gym and lost 34 pounds to put me at 193lbs, but my back still continued to hurt due to the compression of my L4, L5 and S1 discs. Several friends and family members told me I should try yoga and see if that would help. I began my journey with yoga about 2 weeks ago and did a Friday, Saturday and Sunday class. I was so happy with it I bought a membership. But what really amazed me was that I woke up Monday morning and for the first time in 5 years I didn’t have back pain. So I continued to go to class got down to 188lbs and a 32″ waist. I recently had a VA appointment were I had X-Rays taken of my lower back. My doctor called me the same day and told me I didn’t even need the spinal decompression therapy that I requested because my back was fine. I argued with her for several minutes and finally hung up. Then it hit me and I began to cry, my back was healed by yoga. After 5 years of pain and nothing the VA did made it any better, but just 2 weeks of yoga and my back was made whole again and the nightmares from my experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan were gone. I had finally been able to make peace with it all and have never felt so wonderful in my life. I want to thank all of the great instructors at Bikram for showing me there was something that could be done for my physical and mental pain. I will continue my practice of yoga for the rest of my life and I hope to be able to spread the word about how yoga changed my life in hopes that I might help someone else realize that there is hope.
With Great Respect and Love,
Paul Lidzy | Veteran, US Army | Honor and Courage
Dear Lisa & Steve,
I learned yesterday that my General Practitioner doctor was so impressed with my yoga story and yoga result that she started doing yoga also! And – she’s almost 20 years younger than me! She loves it!
Wishing you and your families (present and future) all the best!
Bikram Yoga has changed my life! Even though I have only been consistently practicing two months, I have noticed a positive change and difference in my life. My overall mental, physical and emotional health has improved. I have a B-12 deficiency (my body does not absorb this vitamin), and I always felt tired. I would sleep a lot of my day away. When I started yoga, I noticed the energy, which I had lacked for about one year now, was suddenly back! Practicing yoga has made me a better daughter, sister, friend, wife and student. Yoga has given me a place where I can challenge my mind and body.
My husband died in June 2009. By the fall I was drinking way too much, every night. I was riding my bike twenty five-miles, five to six times a week, but I still had so much internal anger and stress that all I wanted to do was just stand in a room and scream. I couldn’t find an outlet for all my emotions. I was cleared by my doctor and decided to try Bikram Yoga. During some of the poses the tears would mix with sweat. I couldn’t do camel pose without crying until a few weeks ago. This yoga has changed my life. It has eased the stress and emotions in my life. I now smile and laugh. All these emotions, that I couldn’t control, have lessened. It is still hard at times but without Bikram Yoga I’m not sure I would have been able to cope. Thank you to all the instructors. You all are awesome.
The last four months I have been doing Bikram Yoga has transformed my life. In the past year, I’ve endured a painful knee surgery, a stressful divorce and five kids. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. A friend suggested Bikram Yoga because I had to cut down my running. My knee was giving me problems. I had no idea. It is the cheapest therapy ever. I love having the different instructors. Every day they each bring something different to the class, and I leave re-energized and with a piece of wisdom. I can be feeling terrible, bit it has taught me a new way of thinking and a new way of life. Next for me: the 60-Day Challenge.
After eleven-years of marriage, three cross country moves and three children, my wife and I had lost that common thread that originally bound us together. Through Bikram Yoga, we have found a common interest that we can share together. We’ve finally found an activity that both of us truly enjoy (other than activities centered around our kids), and that we each enjoy doing together. Though our common love of Bikram Yoga, we are able to share our trials and triumphs, become healthier and find productive ways to deal with the many stresses that life throws our way.
Bikram Yoga has taught me the importance of myself. I need to be healthy and happy, so that I will be able to take care of everyone and everything else in my life. Things used to be so out of balance, with my needs coming last. Also in order to do the 60-Day Challenge, I had to learn that my “reasons” that were keeping me from starting, were actually “excuses.” I had to take a look at my life and figure out what was most important, kind of important, and not important at all. I feel so much better physically and emotionally. Looking at myself in the mirror for ninety minutes a day, doing those incredible postures, makes me feel empowered. I am also more at peace with the people around me, and I look forward to continuing my practice! Namaste!
I have only been practicing Bikram Yoga for a short time, but I have already enjoyed a number of benefits. These include improved muscle tone, strength, flexibility and even a bit of weight loss. Although these benefits are significant, I would probably have to say that the greatest thing that Bikram Yoga has done for me is to provide a community of people who are passionate about health and fitness. The instructors and my fellow students have been an extreme help in providing both encouragement and accountability in my pursuits toward improved physical wellbeing. The advantage of such fellowship will most likely be the driving force of my continued practice of Bikram Yoga.
What hasn’t Bikram Yoga done for me? Because of improved overall health, I am now able to take on daily functions that used to be difficult for me. I roll and laugh with life’s event, joys and responsibilities.