Bending in Bikram

I resisted bikram yoga for years.  I had tried it once and found it oppressively hot and even rather disgusting.  All those sweaty, fatty male bodies and their sweaty smells.   But I’m committed to it now.   I’ve even signed up for the 100 day challenge.

Today is day 12. I’ve already noticed a change in my body.  I haven’t lost any weight, but my clothes fit differently.   My jeans are looser.  I feel leaner.

On day one I could hardly stand the sight of myself in the mirror.  My arms looked white, fleshy, flabby, and large.  They are still white and fleshy, but there is a bit more tone in my shoulders.  I don’t know why, since we don’t do any push-ups or arm-balances or sun salutations.  Maybe my sun salutations are helping. I try to start each class with 5 sun salutations to warm up my body.  I can drop into sivasana must faster afterwards, even if the room is crowded and noisy, and I get a better sense of what’s going on in my body as I’m lying there, sensing my spine against the floor.

Sivasana (corpse pose) is not easy for me.  I have a big butt, courtesy of my ancestors, and a slight scoloiosis, so my spine does not rest easily or comfortably on the floor when I’m lying on my back.  I can ease my discomfort if I tuck my shoulder blades under, and if I lengthen out my legs.  If I don’t adjust my bones and buttocks, the pose is painful.  I think of it as the first spine stretch of the day.  I let myself rest heavily on the floor, and let go.  I’ve been practicing this pose for ten years, and it still challenges me.  I think in some way the true test of bikram will be how it changes my sivasana.

Will it become easier for me to lie flat on my back?  Will my spine lie more easily, curve with greater fluidity around my glutious maximus, which I assume is only going to get bigger and harder, as it becomes more muscular?  Will I learn to calm my breathing down more efficiently?  Will I develop a greater ability to relax all the muscles in my body, to let the flesh drop down, off the bones, as it will when I finally die, before rigor mortis?

It probably seems odd to decide that the quality of one’s corpse pose will measure the effectiveness of practice that is meant to restore vitality.  But this makes sense to me because sivansana is the pose in which I am most aware of what my spine normally does, and how it normally feels. And  bikram is all about the spine. My spine is stiff and inflexible.  I can’t go up into wheel, for example, with any kind of grace, not even when I’ve been climbing a lot and my arms are strong, because my spine won’t bend that way.

Yet, after 12 days of half-moon poses and standing back-bends  forward bends (Ardha-Chandrasana and Pada-Hastasana) and standing bow pose (Dandayamana-Dhanurasana), triangle  (Trikanasana) and seated twists ( Ardha-Matsyendrasana) twists, and all the other poses,  I’m starting to loosen up.

For the first ten days, I blacked out every time I moved into camel.  To do this pose, you support your back with your hands facing downwards towards your butt, stick your hips forward, lift your chest, and bend backwards, trying to see the wall and then the floor behind you.  For the past two days, I have been able to bend back without seeing stars.  This is a big accomplishment for me.  It’s hard to breathe in that room, at 90 or 100 degrees.  The secret to staying conscious, in back-bends, is to crunch the glutious maximus down hard.  Then you simply hang back, letting your butt do all the work for you.  The spine is lengthening slowly, slowly unfolding, slowing bending back and opening.

I’m grateful to my teachers for reminding every day that the body will change, but that I must wait for it.  With time, consistent practice, and patience, I will see improvement.   I’m inspired to Nan, my fellow-student and yogi, who is now on her 88th day or something like that.  She says that her body has completely changed, even though she hasn’t lost a lot of weight.  She feels better, stronger, more vibrant.

I’m looking forward to feeling better.  But I’m also doing this because I’m curious.  I just want to see how it changes me psychologically and physically.

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I’m a reporter with the Globe and Mail newspaper in Canada. I want to chat with you about your experience with Bikram yoga. Please drop me a line and I’ll explain more: dbascaramurty at globeandmail dot com. I have to file my story tomorrow so I’d appreciate a quick response. Thanks so much!



[…] with my life in a very long time.   When I signed up to attend 100 bikram yoga classes in 100 days I told myself that I was performing an experiment. I also reasoned that, since I am something of a couch potato,  I would never make it into a studio […]

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