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Bikram Yoga: No Sweat?

This is the first entry in a new series from WSF team member Lindsay Hock. Each month, Lindsay will be trying a new fitness endeavor and blogging about it. Check back in February for round two of her 2012 fitness adventure – boxing.

“You’ll hate it,” warned one blog. “You might will want to die and you definitely will think you’re going to faint,” said another.

“What have I gotten into?” I asked myself, as I researched tips for beginners in Bikram Yoga, a 90-minute, insanely-intense yoga class in a 110-degree room. Sure, I have practiced yoga before, and I would consider myself decently fit. In my former life as a college swimmer, I did some crazy physical things like pushing a 15-passenger van around campus or running hours of stadium steps in August North Carolina heat.

But that was almost a decade ago, and this Bikram Yoga adventure….this seemed serious on a different level. On good days, I am happy to be able to touch my toes. Would I be able to survive this torture-chamber of bending and stretching?

I show up 30 minutes early. Armed with two towels, an inappropriately-large bottle of water and all the self-confidence I could muster, I am feeling pretty good as I sign the waiver and provide an emergency contact number. Waiver? Emergency Contact? My heart skipped a few beats. This was serious.

I file into the room behind a line of lean bodies clothed in expert yoga attire. I’m in a tank top and leggings I wear to clean my bathroom. My gear screams amateur. Still, I got this.

From my research, I know Bikram is a 90-minute series of 26 poses, each done twice. The room is intentionally heated to warm your muscles and allow you to work deeper and safer. The heat also heals, helps prevent injuries and promotes sweating which flushes toxins from your body. This self-imposed discomfort is said to reduce stress, increase blood circulation and improve strength and flexibility. All in all, a great promised return on my investment.

We start with some stretching, some deep breathing. I am visibly sweating (not buckets quite yet, as my roommate lovingly warned would happen), but I can tell the heat is really helping me loosen up. The woman next to me is good – really good – and I know she is slightly annoyed as my stumbling and stuttering through the poses begins to distract her. With my newfound yogi attitude…still, I got this.

Halfway through the class, here come the buckets. Sweat is now pouring down my face, my calves slick and hard to grasp. Had I been on the treadmill, I would have immediately reached for my towel. But not this time. I revel in the sweat, instinctively knowing this is what’s supposed to happen. And you know what? It felt so good.

I won’t say I killed the class. Afterall, having an ego about my performance would be so un-yogi of me. But I survived, even practiced a little better than I expected. Like I was warned, Bikram Yoga is not for the faint-of-heart. This morning, my sore muscles made it difficult to get out of bed, but not enough to discourage me – I signed up for another class for Saturday.

In the end, if you’re yearning for a real challenge, one that will give you a buzz like a rocket-fuel cup of coffee, sign yourself up for some Bikram Yoga. Just be ready to sweat.