Clearing the Mind at 105F: What Bikram Yoga Does For Me
A couple of times a week I pack my mat and head to Bikram Yoga Pasadena, a studio on Colorado Boulevard that has been around for 15 years. Following the commands of an instructor, I stretch and twist in a way that I would not have thought possible only a few months back — all at a temperature of 105F and a humidity of 40%, the studio settings prescribed for this type of hot yoga. The practice, make no mistake, is not about ohming. It’s a 90-minute work-out. And a hard one, too.
Created by an L.A. transplant from Calcutta, Bikram Choudhury, Bikram Yoga consists of a fixed series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises that originated in Hatha Yoga. The exercises begin with Standing Deep Breathing or Pranayama; they end with Blowing in Firm Pose or Kapalbhati in Vajrasana. (I’d love to post pictures of me doing the poses, but Mr. Choudhury looks better.) According to Choudhury, the special order of the poses ensures that the bloodstream can transport oxygen to every organ and cell in the body. The high temperature renders the muscles and ligaments more flexible, which, in turn, leads to deeper stretches and helps prevent injury. Needless to say, everyone is sweating profusely. (Choudhury calls Bikram studios torture chambers for a reason.)
When I first started yoga last August — my wife, Ursula, had been bugging me for three years to go try it — the practice seemed daunting. Learning to master the postures takes dedication and a mindset that emphasizes progress over perfection. Nevertheless, I have been hooked ever since that first session, and I now see Bikram Yoga as the ideal supplement to my regular gym workouts.
The rewards of the program? Every Bikram enthusiast has his or her own answer: diminished back pain and head aches, lower cholesterol levels, a good-bye to arthritis. I get two things out of yoga. My range of motion has increased significantly, and my ability to focus has become sharper and more enduring. Concentrating on my breathing, on moving through the poses and on the stillness in between, helps me find a calmness that can be rare in my profession. Over the past few months, thanks to regular practice, I have learned to take that quiet mind with me when I leave the studio and head for my office.
by Kevin J. Moore