I had already heard plenty of personal testimony about hot yoga before I walked through the doors to Bikram Yoga College of India, Southern Indiana.
One common word popped up among these reviews — intense. So while I tried to approach my first session with an open mind as I imagine a seasoned yogi would do, I have to admit that I was a bit nervous.
Ayana Brown, co-owner of New Albany’s Bikram Yoga College of India, put me at ease by telling me I’d be fine.
“I come from a compassionate side,” said Brown, who was the instructor for that night’s session. “My view is do the best you can and don’t worry about the rest.” Her advice was sage. I did what I felt comfortable doing during the session and while I can confirm that the workout was intense, it’s the best my body has felt in months.
Bikram yoga is a type of yoga involving 26 ordered poses in a 105-degree room.
“I would say it’s the most demanding, entertaining yoga out there,” Brown said.
The heat makes muscles more pliable and less likely to strain or pull. I’ve been telling people that every other time I’ve done non-hot yoga I’ve been a dry noodle. I felt like a cooked one during Bikram yoga.
Don’t be fooled by what you may think about the nature of yoga. It was a cardio workout, and I caught myself surprised a few times at how fast my heart was beating.
And I sweat, probably more than I have in my entire life. Brown said that this helps release the body’s toxins and keeps internal temperature regulated.
Brown named several physical benefits to Bikram yoga — weight loss, increased muscular strength, even bone density repair.
“You name it,” she said. “ … It’s an old natural way to heal your body.”
Sandy Grace, one of the Bikram-certified instructors, said it also helps with mental and emotional stress because it forces you to focus.
“You might come in with a million worries but when you’re in that room they all seem to disappear,” Grace said.
Both Grace and Brown said Bikram yoga has made them the healthiest they’ve ever been.
“It changed my life completely and absolutely,” Brown said. “Besides my son, this is my most favorite thing ever in the world.”
My session had about 10 people, half men and half women, all of varying ages. Most came and relaxed on their mats before the session when they arrived, but I was weary of spending more time in the hot studio than necessary.
We began with breathing exercises for about five minutes. By the time we began the first pose, I was already red and sweating.
The first 11 poses were performed standing, with two sets on each side of the body. I did not feel judged or pressured to match anyone else in the class, and Brown helped me fine-tune my postures in some instances.
I sat down and waited out a set or two on just a few poses. Once we began the floor poses, the class became much easier. By then, I forgot for a few seconds that I was in a 105-degree room.
The session ended and we were invited to lie on our mats to meditate. I stuck around for about five minutes and then left the studio to an immediate sense of 70-degree relief.
Now is probably a good time to mention that I don’t exercise regularly. After the less than five times I tried running this summer, I had to wait about 30 minutes before endorphins kicked in and I didn’t feel like I was dying anymore.
But when I walked out of that Bikram yoga studio, I felt refreshed and energized and just plain great. I am not exaggerating. Even my sinuses felt cleared.
I’ll be honest in saying that while I expected to enjoy the class, I did not expect to feel as good as I felt. Suddenly I understood what Brown and Grace meant when they said they became hooked after their first sessions — despite both vowing immediately after to never do it again.
The intensity of the class is worth the way it makes your body feel.
If you’ve never tried Bikram yoga and you’re in the least bit interested, I urge you to give it a shot just once. I know I’ll be back.
— Elizabeth Beilman is a reporter at the News and Tribune. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
// ELIZABETH BEILMAN
// photos: Tyler Stewart
This article was published in the Jan. 2015 issue of Southern Indiana Fitness Source.