“These people are nuts,” I thought, when I first heard about Bikram yoga.
Little did I know that I’d be doing it myself a couple of years later, desperate for anything that would make me feel like I was living rather than dying.
Cancer. That’s what drove me to try anything—even Bikram. I’d found a lump, had it biopsied, had gotten the terrible news, and now several days later, cancer was all I could think of day and night, night and day. 24/7? Hell, no. More like 48/7.
Bikram is tough—the heat, the poses. All classes are for beginners, but just getting through the heat definitely takes some kind of strength of character—or in my case, absolute end-of-the-rope desperation.
The poses are challenging, but to their credit, they’re only as challenging as you decide to make them. They’re beginner level or advanced level—all the same poses—depending on how hard you elect to push yourself.
I pushed myself as if my life depended on those poses, because they did. My mental and emotional well-being decimated by cancer, Bikram made me focus. Each 90-minute class was a vacation—being forced to get through that heat, to truly listen to the instructors (as they teach by a technique known as “operational command,” which means you have to listen!) —made me not think about cancer. What a relief! As treacherous as those 90 minutes were, they were also a refuge, a respite from contemplating the myriad decisions I needed to make and from ruminating over my grim situation. I’m not so good at meditation (even worse then), so the classes forced me into laser focus.
In those 90 minutes, body, mind, and soul were simultaneously pummeled into submission. As my body became strong, balanced, flexible, and focused, so did the rest.
As a blogger of HappinessBetweenTails.WordPress.com, a novelist, and a former journalist, it’s no surprise that I love anything and everything to do with books. “Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class,” written by Bikram Choudhury with Bonnie Jones Reynolds, helped speed the process. It’s just the best! Everything I could want in such a book without wasting a lot of ink and paper, and a reader’s time. It engages, it explains the background, it explains the because. Then it gets to the 26 poses, each with their own succinct background and because. Those magical 26 poses. Designed to address every single part of the body, “head to toes, bones to skin,” as Bikram extols.
There’re a lot of pictures for each pose, some modeled by people who were known by most everyone back in the 1970s. Picture Dick of the Smothers Brothers in what was then referred to as a ‘European-style bathing suit’ doing yoga before everyone was a yogi.
Thank goodness for the non-celebs in it too. They illustrate how women and men, oldsters and youngsters, huge and petite, can all do this yoga. Simple, direct, straightforward, and best of all, inspiring.
Who first inspired me to try yoga? My Grandmother, Julia, from Argentina. She took up yoga in her 70s and taught me, by her example, that moderation, common sense, and yoga, all do wonders. At that time, my yoga came out of a book, “Richard Hittleman’s Yoga: 28-Day Exercise Plan.” The wonderful book was already long out of print, as it still is. (Fortunately, it can easily be found at the library or for purchase.)
So, beyond this generalized call for body/mind/soul fitness, my wish is to encourage people to try the 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises, commonly known as Bikram Hot Yoga, the original hot yoga. It’s an amazing practice of joining heat with time-tested, precise, whole-body dialog that addresses every fitness level in the same class.
Hope to see you on your mat.