Retro Throwback: My Bikram Yoga Journey

On Sundays, please enjoy the Retro Throwback where I share my favorite posts from some time ago.

Today I am happy to feature a guest post written by Ash Kramer from Doctor Feelgood. Today’s post is part one in Ash’s journey to developing a Bikram Yoga practice. Enjoy!

My journey to Bikram Yoga was a bit strange. I resisted the idea of hot yoga for months and months despite working right across the road from one of the biggest and best-known Bikram Yoga studios in Auckland, but eventually I got there.


Maybe it’ll make more sense if I tell you a bit about myself. My name is Ashley Kramer – everyone just calls me Ash. I’m originally from Johannesburg, South Africa but moved to New Zealand back in 2000. I’ve been a health and fitness nut for a long, long time, and after spending quite a few years hanging out with one of the best holistic vets in the universe, one thing I’ve figured out is that the best way to reach and maintain optimum health is the holistic way.


I don’t think too many people will argue with the idea that prevention is always better than cure. Sadly, modern Westernashquote2 medicine is way too much like a greedy and slightly shady ambulance crew at the bottom of the cliff, scraping up the problems the best it can. I decided that it was better by far to look after my own health and to avoid that ambulance if at all possible.


What I eat is the first part of the equation I use to stay healthy. I’ve been a vegetarian since 1996, and vegan since 2012. However, I’ve really just tried to avoid too much of the bad stuff long before I went vegetarian.


Unfortunately, food is the element that’s most talked up and misunderstood by people and the media, and it’s also the most abused (by the roller coaster diet industry).


If we forget about food from a weight loss perspective and think about it purely in health terms, it’s easy to see that every single step you take towards eating healthier food leads to a healthier you. Which means that things like eating less processed food, eating more raw food, or cutting back on salt and bad fats have to be great ideas. They’re also relatively easy to implement considering how worthwhile these steps are.


Exercise is the next aspect of health to consider, and it’s a big part of my daily life. I’ve always found physical fitness fun, so I’ve got no hassles getting to gym, or out on a bike or into the sea or whatever. Not everyone feels the same way of course, which is why I reckon that some exercise, any exercise is better than none. So I advise people to do whatever they enjoy, not what the ultra-intense Nordic fitness instructor at the gym tells them to do, because they won’t be listening to her for long. Better a brisk walk three times a week forever than a month or two of boot camp, which is never repeated.


The problem is that even if you get diet and exercise just right, and go so far as to reduce your exposure to toxins (eating more organic food, using green body care and cleaning products etc. etc.) you may still be dealing with one of the biggest causes of health problems – stress. It’s said that stress is the big killer, an unseen assassin that we carry around, dragging it into every area of our lives, and believe me when I say that’s spot on.


stress monkeyAnyone who knows me knows that I was a stress monkey; some would probably say a stress junkie. I’ve tried very hard not to sweat the small things, let alone the big things but I’ve remained prone to stress. Workplace stress, family stress, traffic stress, long line at the coffee shop stress, tax stress – you name it, it’d probably stress me out. I’m very aware of this and it’s been a long-term battle to become more chilled. I’ve tried meditation, relaxation and lots and lots of exercise but nothing really worked. That is, until I discovered Bikram Yoga.


In October 2013, I was working in the middle of downtown Auckland (a lovely little city that’s well worth a visit by the way). One of my work colleagues at the time was a young guy named Shailan who’d been going to the aforementioned Bikram Yoga studio across the road from our offices for ages. He seemed healthy and fit and was a major evangelist for yoga but I wasn’t keen on giving it a try despite his enthusiasm.


You see, I’d previously tried both power yoga and hatha yoga at my local gym but I picked up (or irritated) injuries every time I went through a class. After all the years of weight work, I’m not exactly Captain Flexible, so even with a good warm up, my body didn’t like all that stretching, flexing and contorting.


Also, I was told that the so-called hot yoga was held in a room that was “only” 40 degrees centigrade (104 Fahrenheit). I’m the annoying guy who pours water on the rocks in a sauna until the temperature hits “Surface of the Sun” and everyone leaves, so a mere 40 just seemed just a little feeble. Macho? Who, me?


So I was dismissive and even took pleasure in mocking Shailan occasionally but one day we were chatting about yoga when we should have been working. I pointed out that of all the yoga poses that I didn’t like, the downward facing dog was the worst. He looked blank and said that he had no idea what I was talking about because they didn’t do that pose in Bikram Yoga. My eyes lit up! No down dog? Heck, that was enough to convince me that this yoga actually might be worth a shot.


So I popped along one Saturday morning, and what a revelation it was. It took only the first breathing exercise and half of the short warm-up segment of the introductory class for me to realise that 40 degrees is actually plenty hot, especially when you’re working hard in a full studio with all those sweaty bodies driving the humidity right up. About an hour in while working on the floor series, my contact lenses were literally swimming on the surface of my eyes as the sweat flowed into them like a small stream.


Of course being an exercise freak (and something of a masochist, apparently), I like that kind of thing, so I persisted, which was just as well because frankly, when I first started, I sucked at yoga. I sucked like a vacuum cleaner plugged directly into a power station – i.e. a lot.


Take decades of weightlifting and my awful flexibility, add in a list of general injuries that’d shame an ice hockey team and throw in an old but major spinal injury allied to a serious curvature of the spine, and you get someone who’s more an ancient, creaky oak tree than a young bamboo shoot.


Protecting that back injury for years and years led to spinal flexibility that should be listed in medical textbooks – a new syndrome called “Zero Flexibility”, perhaps? But it took only a few classes for me to see some profound changes, and much to my surprise, the most noticeable weren’t physical.


To be continued soon in part two…


 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. 

Find Ash on Doctor Feelgood, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

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