On our way to enrol in lessons at a local boxing gym, my husband and I were distracted by a sign for a yoga studio touting ‘Bikram Method’Hot!’ We never did make it to a boxing class. Instead, we managed to sweat through 90 minutes of yoga postures in a 40°C room. We both felt a little faint partway through, but after sipping some water and lying down for a few minutes, we finished the class. It was exhausting, but so exhilarating that, six years later, we’re still going back.
Why? A Bikram yoga class once a week releases me from the stresses of juggling a full-time job and two young sons, ages four and seven. The tension melts away, my insomnia has disappeared and I’ve reduced chronic pain from tendonitis. My husband, Damir, 46, used to suffer from migraines and back spasms’now he rarely needs medication. We practise postures together at home and, when we can get a sitter, still take a class together.
Bikram hot yoga consists of 26 postures and two breathing exercises. Each posture is repeated twice (you can cover the yoga mat with a towel to absorb the sweat and allow for better traction). Drinking water before and after class prevents dehydration, and water breaks are set at specific times so everyone flows through the moves together. The sauna-like temperatures aim to increase flexibility‘and after 90 minutes, make a change of clothes essential!
This yoga was developed by 63-year-old Bikram Choudhury of India, who still practises what he calls his ‘torture chamber’ approach. Torture describes the class for a first-timer, or anyone who does a session after a big meal. That’s why our instructors Deena Rasky and Norm Greer, owners of Active Yoga, where my husband and I go in Toronto, say not to eat for two hours beforehand, and to hang in for at least three sessions. ‘The third class is where you say, ‘This makes sense to me”or not,’ says Rasky.
The studio is fairly small, so instructors can adjust each participant’s position. I like that all levels are together in one class, so beginners can learn from the advanced. I’ve often asked others in the group for tips on certain postures.
But hot yoga isn’t for everyone. People with rosacea or low blood pressure may find the heat aggravates their condition, explains Rasky, and pregnant women should abstain from certain postures as indicated by the instructor. (I took classes up until my sixth month of pregnancy with relative ease.) Talk to your doctor about what is right for you, especially if you have a heart condition or asthma.
Judging by the regulars at our studio, Bikram yoga attracts equal numbers of men and women in a wide range of ages. Greer says men like it because ‘it isn’t wimpy.’ Some postures may take years to master, and the sweat ensures that you feel like you’ve endured a major workout. My husband would never have considered yoga a viable workout prior to trying Bikram. And I like it because I rediscover my body’s strength and increased flexibility with each class.
Rosalind Stefanac, 39, is the editor of a national journal for pharmacists. She lives in Toronto.
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