Friday 22 June 2012

Student Profile - Doug

Tell us about your very first Bikram Yoga class. When was it and why did you go?
I signed up for a two-week trial in late March of 2012, as I recall, then got a 3-month membership and recently signed up for a year. For the last several years I have been getting ample exercise, but in the winter I was seeking something not only physically demanding and beneficial, but potentially transformative in terms of my overall well-being. I had never done any yoga of any type before, but Bikram had the reputation for being particularly beneficial and particularly challenging, so I thought I would jump into what I perceived to be the deep end of the pool. I found the first class extremely demanding: while (as I remember) I was able to complete the class without skipping any postures, it took everything I had to get through. I remember how unstable my legs turned out to be even just during the initial warm-up series, how my muscles and joints refused to cooperate with the instructor’s guidance, and how much I was dwelling on how miserably hot the room was! But I also remember my first walk home: I felt loose, light, and limber, and had a tranquility of a different quality than I had experienced from other forms of exercise in the past.

How soon did you come back for your second class?
It was perhaps two or three days after my first one.

What are some of the benefits you receive from Bikram Yoga?
Apart from the obvious physical benefits – like improved strength, balance, and endurance – I’ve also experienced an increased capacity for calm, focus, and discipline. I also sleep very well after class, and find myself more capable of being fully present when interacting with others. In my work I spend a lot of time reading and writing for extended periods, and I believe Bikram has improved my perspicacity and mental stamina. Also, I’ve found the culture at Bikram to be very diverse and welcoming – great people!

What keeps you coming back for more?
One of the things I like a lot about Bikram is the regularity of the class. Since I know what’s coming each time, I can pace myself depending on how I’m doing that day, I can time water breaks so that I’m not made uncomfortable during certain poses (I discovered early on that drinking too much before/during cobra-locust-bow series was not a great idea!), and I can monitor my performance and my improvement class to class.
Another thing I’m finding is that over time, while the experience becomes no less challenging, with some consistent attendance it becomes pleasurable not only after – but during – the session: never thought that would happen! 
Finally, one thing I really like is the simplicity of yoga practice. There is no equipment or embellishment, just 26 ways of assuming a space over an hour and a half. If only life outside the studio could be so simple!

What do you find most challenging about practicing Bikram Yoga?
Sometimes I find it challenging not to get frustrated with myself if my body isn’t cooperating on a particular day, or in a certain posture. There are times when I can’t summon quite the strength, balance, or composure that I’d like to have, and sometimes it can be challenging to be charitable to or forgiving of myself in those moments.

What’s your favourite posture? Your most dreaded posture?
I think Bow Pose and Toe Stand are probably my favourites, even though I have a hard time maintaining the balance with them and even though there are others I’m certainly better at. I’m really warming up to Triangle Pose too, which is odd to me because I used to fear it most of all.
Most dreaded posture? I’m not sure I can really answer that, because there is definitely more than one that seems to want to claim that title. Currently, Standing Separate Leg to Knee (and Separate Leg Stretching), the third posture in the Locust sequence (both legs), and Half Tortoise (go figure!) are the ones that make me wish I had chosen a different, less agonizing pastime… y’know, maybe like recreational dental surgery.  :)

Any tips for new people?
In my (limited) experience, I think it’s important to realize at the outset that your first few, or several, classes are likely going to be very uncomfortable and highly demanding. It takes time to get used to the heat, and to build up some strength for these postures even if you begin with a good fitness level. I think consistency is really the key to overcoming the initial intensity of the practice; as soon as I began to come three times a week, things quickly got a lot more manageable and enjoyable.
Another thing I would add is that at the beginning, a lot of my discomfort was the result of not attending to my breathing. As a beginner, you’ll probably be so focused on listening to the instructions and making all kinds of adjustments to your posture that you may forget to breathe in a measured and effective way. Once you learn the forms and aren’t depending as much on the instructor, then you can start to pay more attention to your breathing. I think consistency in attendance is again the real key here.
Finally, I would emphasize the importance not only of hydration but being careful what you eat in the hours leading up to practice. Sometimes I’ve eaten something even three or four hours beforehand that can throw my practice off. Anything that induces bloating can make things especially uncomfortable when you’re doubled over! 

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