Experiencing Bikram

BikramI consider myself a fitness junkie who will try any workout at least once. However, it took a severe and persistent case of bilateral shin splints, and my orthopedist’s month-long suspension of all of my running and jumping-based exercise, to get me into a Bikram yoga class.

 I had walked past Bikram Yoga NYC, the first studio to offer this style of practice in the city, every day on my way home from work for a year, and contemplated just how unbearable it could be. I imagined fainting from heat exhaustion, feeling nauseous from the stench of sweaty bodies, my limbs twisted into positions I could not escape. But the lack of alternatives, combined with, the studio’s introductory offer of 30 days for $30—typical classes run $25 a pop—compelled me to push away these negative presumptions and give it a try.

Created by acclaimed yogi Bikram Choudhury in the 1970s, Bikram yoga combines 26 hatha yoga poses and two pranayama breathing exercises to create a 90-minute session set in a sweltering, 105-degree room. Each pose in the class builds upon the one before it: the stretching series warms up the body, leading into a set of standing and balancing postures for a cardiovascular challenge, concluding with a mat-based section that works every component of the spine.

I arrived at the studio just before 6 a.m. for the first class of the day. The signature purple flooring and wide, second-floor windows makes a tranquil, meditative space that seemed to glow as the sun rose. A dozen scantily clad yogis of all shapes, sizes and experience levels filled the room, aligning their mats in three rows facing the front mirror and unloading arms full of water bottles. White towels lined each mat to absorb streams of sweat and to prevent slipping mid-posture. The room smelled faintly of tea tree and lavender, thanks to a cleaning solution that masked any sweat-based odor.

As a newcomer to Bikram but not yoga in general, I recognized many of the postures throughout the series, and supportive words from the class instructor helped guide me through unfamiliar territory. My clothes, drenched in sweat, turned two shades darker as I struggled to keep salty drops out of my eyes, ears and mouth. A few bouts of dizziness left me sitting idly on my mat but not fleeing the room. You could hear the squish squish squish as backs were pressed into soaked towels for shavasana, several minutes of total mind and body relaxation at the end of the class. 

Lying there in a puddle of sweat, I was amazed by how much I enjoyed those 90 draining minutes. Thoughts of the outside world evaporated as I focused on making each movement count and felt my body grow increasingly flexible through each pose repetition. I left the studio feeling light, balanced and clear in a way that I knew I would have to relive in the near future.

Originally written for my graduate commentary class

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