I am a certified type A personality – high energy, constantly moving – a multi-tasker, who despite the occasional setback, is very optimistic about life in general. I am also a runner, or was, until last February when I found something that surpassed even that endorphin high we runners crave so much. The epiphany? Bikram Yoga, a seemingly unlikely replacement for the cardio workout I had incorporated into my daily life for the past 20 years. Yoga? Come on, that’s for granola eating, Birkenstock wearing vegans, who wouldn’t know an endorphin high if it hit them on the head. How wrong I was.
Introduced to the United States in the early 1970’s, the yoga practice was suggested to me through a good friend, who is also a runner and had been preaching the benefits of Bikram for some months before I actually set foot in the door. The fundamentals of Bikram are the same 26 postures in the same sequence every class; breathing and heat – a Bikram studio is hot…very hot. The temperature hovers around 105 degrees, with 40 percent humidity and is an essential element for this type of yoga. Breathing in and out through your nose takes some getting use to, but it is an effective way to control your discomfort with the heat and regulate your heart rate. I have come to love the heat, it is absolutely necessary to achieving the length in limbs needed to do the postures, but when I first walked into the class I turned to Lucas, the instructor, and said ‘There is no way I am staying in this heat for 90 minutes…no sir.’ Not only did I finish the class, but when I staggered out the door I felt so cleansed afterwards I couldn’t wait to go again. That was a year ago.
There are a handful of locations in the Boston area, including Back Bay and Harvard Square, but the classes I attend are held in a little gem of a studio on Hancock Street in Quincy, where I have come to understand and embrace all its benefits. Bikram is not just a workout, although the physical demand is great. It is about connecting your mind and body for 90 minutes, a time that includes meditation, focus, hard work and a respite from the bombardment of information that has become an integral part of our daily lives.
You sweat – a lot – and the detoxification is addictive. Bikram benefits range from the obvious-improvement in flexibility, balance and an increase in strength and muscle control, to the not so obvious – it has been proven to help with depression, and many practitioners believe it wards off arthritis and controls stress levels. My experience has seen improvement in focus, flexibility, significantly lessened joint pain, and emotion regulation. (My two kids will attest to that.) Hydration and nutrient replacement are key to practicing this kind of yoga, as your body sweats out not only water but potassium, sodium and other electrolytes.
I have pretty much given up running and try to take classes at least four times a week. When I travel, I google the area to find the Bikram studios nearby as I have become reliant on how good these classes makes me feel. I am still that certified type A, but with a stronger, focused, and more balanced perspective on how I run around like a maniac.
(Photography and video by Shannon Hawkins)