Torture, or Just Effective Exercise: Bikram Yoga

It is kind of surprising but then again not really that I have gotten into Bikram Yoga. I generally hate exercise classes, and driving to exercise. Because I am so busy, I did not like doing exercise on someone else’s schedule. Through the years there was only one class I liked so much, I went religiously – a class called Body Pump. My body turned into a lean, mean fighting machine to that class. I enjoyed it and the music was great. It was close to my house as well and the hours were convenient.

Once that class cancelled many years ago (15 or more) I haven’t been back to another one. I bought a treadmill, now gone, an elliptical, now unused, and various other machinery and exercised at home including swimming and bike riding.

I have been on several trips to Spas where I would eagerly participate in Yoga and Pilates classes. I always enjoyed both but never found classes that were convenient.

Although I absolutely LOVE to dance, I tried Jazzercise, Zumba and even ballroom dance lessons, and didn’t stick with any of them.

Several years ago, I wrote an article for the Houston Chronicle about all of the Yoga studios populating Houston neighborhoods. I wrote about one Bikram Yoga studio and was fascinated by the concept. I was anxious to try it, but the studio was geographically and time-wise inconvenient, so I never got there.

This is the concept: You do 46 excruciating poses that provide both stretching, strengthening, and cardio exercise all in one, in a room that is 105 degrees and humid. Sweat pours off you and makes you more limber during the routines. The average session for someone of my weight class burns 1000 calories a session.

Yes, you read that right. 1000 calories a session! Talk about vigorous exercise!

Who wouldn’t want to try that? It seemed like a shortcut to a thinner, harder body. I just love shortcuts by the way.

At any rate, one day while shopping at the local mall about a mile and a half from my home, I saw a neon sign go up for BIKRAM YOGA. I raced to the store front, but it was just a space in construction. It looked a long way from ever opening, so I forgot about it again.

Then I read about it opening in a local newsletter, and I went and actually signed up for the intro plan – a bargain of 30 days unlimited for $49.00. I figured if I made it through a few sessions, it would be worth it.

After the first session, which I barely survived, I wasn’t sure I would ever go back. A few of the women there told me it was addicting, and I smirked. This torture is addicting? I didn’t believe them. Yet something compelled me to put aside my first attempt and try again. And try again. And try again.

The nausea and dizziness went away after the first session. I was able to get through most of the poses by the third time. After that, I felt myself wanting to go daily.

Let me describe a session, in my view: Getting there is still a challenge. The times are very convenient for my summertime schedule, but I can’t eat for two hours prior and I have to be very hydrated. So I have to consciously follow an eating and hydrating schedule to get there.

I go at the last minute, hesitating up to the last second, get there, set my mat and towel up and stay in the cool air conditioning until the very second that class begins. (Others are lying on their mats waiting) I get there, and just somehow do it. At times it feels my head is going to explode – other times I feel so overheated and exhausted, I think I can’t go on. But I do. Halfway through we take a breathing break and this helps. For 90 minutes, I sweat buckets, push myself into unnatural poses, try to remember to breathe on the particularly tough ones, and feel exhaustion setting in ¾ of the way through. Yet I stubbornly finish it out. My body and clothes are soaking wet at the end, my hair looks like I just came out of the pool, dripping wet. My towel is wetter than me, so it is no use in mopping off with it, so I just get my sweaty gross body into the car and head home for a glorious shower. It goes from being torture to just hard work. And I have always liked a challenge and a bit of hard work.

About 12 sessions later, I feel lighter and firmer and I always feel great afterward. It is still tough getting through the sessions though. I can’t do all the poses “all the way” as I am not flexible enough yet (I was told it could take up to six months) but my body is feeling so youthful, I want to go again and again. Yes, it is addicting. Torturously addicting. Like exercising in a steam room. I find myself pushing myself a bit harder each time to progress – and I don’t know where this motivation is coming from! I can now go into postures that I never thought possible. I am almost pretzel-like in my flexibility. This thing works!

Now I am about to go on vacation for almost four weeks and I probably will go back to walking, biking and swimming as I am sure my little beach town doesn’t have Bikram Yoga, and I am worried about starting all over again when I return. Yet I will. It is that good.

It is funny how I intuitively knew when first writing about it that I would somehow connect deeply with this kind of class, even though I dropped so many classes before.

I really must admit, for exercise torture that works and makes you feel great, you can’t beat it.

3 comments

  • Yes, yoga is addicting. The kind of yoga I do does not burn calories the way yours does, but it has had so many benefits that I can’t conceive of ever giving it up.

  • Bonnie Lassin Grant

    I’m impressed, Arlene!! I certainly need something like that in my neck of the woods! Keep it up!!!

  • Congrats for your perserverance. I think you just described a nightmare for someone like me, but I’m glad you grew to love it

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