Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Sweat and Meditate

by dfhnyc (writer), New York, March 09, 2007

Last summer, a friend invited me to accompany her to her yoga studio, Bikram Yoga NYC (, in Manhattan. I was a little skeptical since I had tried yoga in the past and never really got into it, but I went with an open mind. When we got there, we were greeted by a waft of very warm, stuffy air and the sweet smell of sweat. She had warned me about this, so I was not completely unprepared.

This type of yoga, unlike others, is done in a room heated to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, though it can feel much hotter than that depending on the ambient weather and the number of people in the room. This style was developed by Bikram Choudhury, who began practicing yoga at the age of four under Bishnu Ghosh, the younger brother of Paramahansa Yogananda, who wrote The Autobiography of a Yogi. The class lasts for 90 minutes. The teacher sits or stands at the front of the room and speaks the Bikram dialogue, telling you what to do. He or she doesn't actually do the class, but instead guides you through the set of 26 poses.

You start off with 2 sets of the Pranayama breathing, which is intended to open up the lungs and maximize lung capacity. After the breathing exercises, the standing series begins: half moon, backward bending, forward stretching, awkward pose, eagle, standing head to knee, standing bow, balancing stick, separate leg stretching, triangle, separate leg head to knee, tree pose, and toe stand. Each pose is done twice, and held for 1 min during the first set and 30s for the second set. As you hold the pose, the instructor gives you pointers on how to improve the pose and often tells you the medical benefits (of which there are many) associated with each. Different poses are meant to boost metabolism, cleanse the lymph nodes, align the spine, etc.

Once the standing series is complete, the real class begins -- the body is warmed up and the spine/floor exercises commence. But not before a two minute savasana during which you lie on your mat and rest. These are among the two most serene moments in the class. You are instructed to keep your eyes open -- a task that is harder than you might think after an hour has lapsed in the hot and humid room -- and clear your mind.

Following savasana, the floor postures begin with wind removing pose, which is supposed to open up your hip bones and cleanse the colon. You basically hold each leg, first separately, and then together, up to your chest to constrict blood flow and then release, such that blood now rushes in to these parts. This is the key to the medical benefits of the practice. The floor series continues with cobra, locust (which is particularly good for carpal tunnel), full locust, bow, fixed firm pose, half tortoise, camel, rabbit, separate leg stretching, forward stretching, and spine twisting. The transition between each posture is punctuated by a brief (sometimes too brief) savasana and then a sit-up.

As you go along, the teachers emphasize making minute changes while you hold each pose, and especially, as you go into the second set. You are taught not to dwell on mistakes and to be patient -- to apply "the big yoga eraser" to anything that may have happened previously. Often the teacher will pinpoint a student whose posture looks like that of a true yogi and then ask him or her how long it took them to achieve that. More often than not, the answer is years.

The class ends with a 5 min savasana, which is considered to be the most important posture in the class. The teacher turns off the light, opens the door slightly to let in the much welcomed breeze and says, "Namaste."

By the time you get up to leave, you not only feel refreshed and at peace, but also like you just got an amazing workout. During many of the postures, you are working against gravity, and your heart is racing not to mention that you're sweating buckets. (In the locker rooms, there are plastic bags for you to put your sweat-drench clothes in.)

I have now been practicing Bikram Yoga for about 8 months. I try to go at least a couple of times a week. I have noticed much improvement in my knees, which I injured while running a marathon. Skepticism aside, I now look forward to going as much as I can. For anyone looking to try something new, I recommend this yoga. Everyone I've taken has loved it.

In addition to its regular schedule, the studio carries a therapeutic class for people with injuries, a women's only class, a maternity class, and a community outreach class which people can take at a reduced rate.

About the Writer

dfhnyc is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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