Today I am happy to feature a guest post written by Ash Kramer from Doctor Feelgood. Today’s post is part two in Ash’s journey to developing a Bikram Yoga practice. Enjoy!
In part one of this blog series, I took a brief look at how I resisted the allure of Bikram Yoga despite the fact that I worked across the road from a big Bikram studio for months. All those glowing people wandering in and out weren’t enough to sway me but I got there in the end, thank goodness. And I really do mean thank goodness because Bikram Yoga literally changed my life in about three months, but more on that as this series continues.
As I said, I wasn’t all that good at the poses when I first started back in October last year. I suppose that’s not too unusual but I was a particularly poor participant – one of those who simply can’t do some of the postures, as in not even close.
In Eagle (Garurasana), I was the lonely guy at the back of the room hugging myself because crossing my arms and interlacing my fingers just wasn’t going to happen. No way, no how – thanks for that, super-tight shoulders, I really appreciate your input. Standing Head to Knee (Dandayamana-Janushirasana) was another one that didn’t come easy. So much so that I was miles away from being able to even reach down and grab my foot. Thanks to an old back injury, my spine was more locked, lamppost, solid concrete than my standing leg and I had to just grab my knee class after class. Locking out my arms in Half Moon (Ardha-Chandrasana) was also about as likely as me getting a Nobel Prize, unless perhaps they award one for awkward stiffness.
Flexibility obviously wasn’t my strong suit, which was bad enough but in some other postures, my body basically just got in the way. For example, my meaty hamstrings clonked into my calves and just plain stopped me from getting into Fixed Firm (Supta-Vajrasana).
Thanks to some good advice from Anita, one of the instructors at Bikram Yoga Britomart, I didn’t get frustrated with my lack of initial ability. She once asked me: “How long have you spent wrecking your body?” That’s a great question and my answer was: “Decades”.
So logically I couldn’t expect to magically undo the lack of suppleness, all the old injuries or the years of gym work (with almost no stretching). So I elected to trust the process and put in my hours in the hot room, working on millimetres of progress at a time.
I’m glad I did because the physical benefits have been wonderful:
I’m more flexible than ever, especially that least elastic part of all, my spine. This has made a difference in almost every aspect of my life. I started sleeping better than I had in ages because my back didn’t get as tight or uncomfortable during the night, so I could pick a position and stick with it. The old rotator cuff injuries in my shoulder also eased up, and combined with the extra back flexibility, this means that I’m more comfortable in bed when I lie on my side and again, that helps me sleep.
Bending over or reaching for things without tweaks, creaks, twinges and pain also became the norm, which was an amazing feeling after years of being as tight as the proverbial drum. I’m sure that you think that I’m in my seventies based on these descriptions but seriously, I’m not; I’m only 44. However pretending to be an action man of sorts over the years has taken its toll but the good news is that the yoga has worked like some kind of physical time machine, erasing the damage and the years slowly but surely.
Between my less cranky back and shoulders, I was already set for a better night’s sleep but when you throw in an evening Bikram class, that goes a long way to helping me sleep even more deeply. The heat, the exertion and the superbly effective overall de-stress put me into a regular lazy, deep slumber that was entirely new to me.
My vegan diet and general fitness help with my energy levels (I’m a bit hyper at the best of times) but the yoga has taken this to new levels, and that’s effectively boosted my overall quality of life.
Let’s be honest here, the first few weeks of classes were hard work. Sometimes I wondered what on Earth I was thinking with this yoga lark, especially on the nights I’d shuffle back to the Britomart parking garage about five minutes walk away, feeling like a sweaty and ill-dressed zombie, or when I’d stop off at a supermarket on the way home and end up shuffling down the aisles unable to remember what I was there to buy. Call me shattered and you’d be in the ballpark.
Fortunately, those post-class wiped out states didn’t happen for long, and I started to feel good after class. As in really, really good! On Saturdays, after my morning class, I usually headed home via the nearby City Farmer’s Market, where I’d load up on fresh juice, some delicious Kumara (sweet potato) bread with cherry tomatoes and olives, and then I’d head home for a short while before hitting the gym with real intent and serious energy. All in all, I was doing more with my days and feeling on top of the world.
There are also other kinds of energy and vitality beyond the purely physical, but ahem, I’ll say no more about that except to say that I noticed some major improvements in this regard.
For as long as I’ve been into gym and sports, I’ve had to deal with DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). You know that horrible dull aching you get after a hard workout? That’s what I got and I got it in spades.
But since Bikram’s torture chamber has become a regular hangout, the DOMS has turned into a weak, almost blissful shadow of its former self. I also found that I was lifting heavier weights at gym, and putting on muscle quite easily despite training more often.
I’ve already indicated that a few of my old sporting injuries have been eased by the yoga. Given that I’ve battled with fragile tendons and connective tissue all my life (that aforementioned lack of stretching perhaps?), the list of places that have been fixed or improved is seriously impressive:
Tennis elbow both sides
Left Achilles tendon
A few months into my Bikram training, I blew up an old ankle injury by being silly. One weekend morning after class, I sprinted back to my car in a pair of flip-flops (sandals to anyone not originally from South Africa) to make sure that I didn’t get stuck in a post-event Britomart traffic jam because that place can get a little crazy. That little run did my ankle no favours at all and it hurt like mad. However, I just worked around it in class, skipping some postures, taking it easy in others and it healed up quickly, ending up better than it was before.
I also had my right hip go bang, which was probably caused by me being me, and getting way too cocky by pushing hard in a few of the postures. In a brain-blank moment, I decided to take some time off from yoga to let the injury heal, which wasn’t my best idea because it didn’t mend at all. Then when I went back to class and worked around it as best I could, it got better in a hurry. Wow, imagine that.
In addition, I had a warning sign along the way when my old back injury came back with a vengeance. I’ve had a bad case of curvature of the spine since I was a teenager, and I picked up bulged disk along the way, which has left me with a spine that’s less than kosher.
I’ve generally taken care of it with a great deal of core training and being careful but after a few months of yoga, my back was feeling awesome. So of course I slacked off on the core work, which was a terrible mistake, and I paid for it with two weeks of intense pain and very limited movement right in the middle of my long awaited summer holidays. Insert much swearing here! But that was a valuable lesson learned at just the right time. I now know that my body needs to be looked after a certain way, at least at this stage of my yoga, so I kept up the classes as well as the core work, and things have been rosy ever since.
Bikram Yoga is said to work every part of the body from the joints and muscles to the skin and glands and everything in between. I can definitely testify to this because physically, I’ve morphed into a younger, fitter and better man in only a few short months. I even managed to improve at all of the postures, which has further helped my body feel good but I know that I’ve got a long way to go.
It’s plain that the physical benefits have been gigantic but as the Britomart Bikram Yoga website says: “Hot Body, Cool Mind”. So on top of the physical stuff, I also had some amazing mental and emotional results.
More to follow in part three…
Ash Kramer is a vegan health and fitness nut but he’s only slightly annoying despite all that. Bikram Yoga pretty much changed his life and now he can’t shut up about it. He’s a full-time writer and lives in the beautiful Bay of Plenty in the heart of New Zealand’s North Island, which makes him one of the luckiest guys on the planet.