Tuesday, March 30th, 2010...6:09 AM

Bikram Yoga is So HOT!

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I am forever looking for interesting activities to recommend to my clients to complement the work we do in the Libra Fitness gym. Helping people find activities that they enjoy can be challenging. So, this year, I am making it a point to explore some of the unique options available, but I don’t have time to try them all! So, I was excited to hear that my friend-and incredibly funny writer-Mary Jo Pehl had tried Bikram yoga. She was more than happy to write a piece for the Libra Fitness blog about it.

by Mary Jo Pehl

I am miserable: I am sweating, in great discomfort, and contorted beyond what I ever thought possible for myself, and what’s more, I’ve paid for the privilege. I love Bikram yoga.

I’d been wanting to start some sort of regular yoga routine. I bike and walk and use the elliptical regularly, and while I’d dabbled in yoga here and there, my mat was gathering dust. Yoga always ended up on my giant wish list, somewhere between “fly to moon” and “become super model.” Then I picked up “O” Magazine for a long flight, and read Paige Williams story.

She might have very well been talking about me. I too am a woman of size, and while I bravely attempt all manner of other activities, there’s something about yoga that’s daunting. Part of it is that it takes sooooo long! Most yoga classes run from 75-90 minutes. I want an efficient yoga class runs about, oh, five minutes so I can check it off my to-do list. Which pretty much defeats one of the main points of yoga.

A few weeks later, I was hanging out in the lobby of our apartment building while some work was being done in our unit, and I began chatting with the women in the leasing office. The two of them were about midway through the Bikram 60 day challenge: participants attend a 90-minute class every day for sixty days. They raved. They talked about how difficult it was, how wonderful it was, and how many things had shifted for them, not just physically but emotionally and psychically.

Also known as “the original hot yoga,” Bikram is a series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises practiced in a very hot climate-controlled room set to 105 °F and 50% humidity. Bikram is said to be incredibly therapeutic for the knees, hips, back, diabetes, high/low blood pressure, weight loss, and more.

Inching forward on my curiosity, I went online and read about a local Bikram studio: BYD Austin. Two things made me decide to try it: one was an unlimited monthly pass for $39. The second? In describing what one could expect in a class, and noting that it can strenuous, it also stated that if all you can do in the first class is sit there, that’s still an accomplishment.

Now, if there’s one thing I know I can do, it’s sit!

So I bought my pass and dug out the yoga mat and damn if I didn’t get myself to that first class! Sometimes, ya know, that first step is the hardest. I was about a half hour early and unrolled my mat in the hot, dry room and waited. As the room filled up, it was fascinating to see the sorts of people: all sorts of body types in all sorts of skin-exposing – and thus cool and comfortable – dress.

And I was dripping with perspiration and exhausted a mere sixty seconds into the warm up!  And that’s how Birkram is: deceptively simple. But when you attempt to execute the exercises and breathe properly and hold poses, well, therein lies the challenge. I made it through that first class, and I was both exhausted and refreshed. Yeah, I did have to sit some (that went very well, thank you!) But it was a fantastic feeling to have completed the class. My head seemed clearer; I had that great high you have after working out; and I felt calmer yet energized.

And I went back. Though I’m somewhat irregular in attending because of a busy travel schedule, I go back-though it would be so easy to not go. It’s difficult: I hate it, I love it. That’s one of the many paradoxes of the whole thing. For instance, I’ve realized that no matter how fit and trim someone might appear, no one is able to do all the poses all the time. The last person in the world you’d think would be able stand on one foot and crouch down manages just fine (yes, that would be me, thank you very much!). The person you think will be able to execute all the poses handily without even sweating has to sit for a while. I’ve talked to several people practicing Bikram, and they will tell you that one day you’re able to execute all the poses, the next day, not so much.  It is about striving to do so.

Everyone in the class faces the same way, toward a mirror. “Don’t watch your neighbor! Make eye contact with yourself!” the instructor calls out. So I do. Now, I hate watching myself in the mirror when I workout. I am often self-conscious about the way I look, and having to regard myself for 90 minutes in my unflattering workout gear and sweating worst, well, it’s a little dispiriting. But I obeyed. The focus helps me balance, and after the course of several classes, I feel considerably less judgmental about myself. I see that everyone in the class is struggling with something, a metaphor for life if there ever was one.

I am now going on my ninth class over the past three weeks. Now, I am not a “bandwagon” kind of gal. I’m suspicious of trends, and yet, as a friend puts it, “You gotta wonder -  can a million lemmings be wrong?”

But Bikram is one of those things where a lot of people may just be onto something. For me it is not just in the workout. It is allowing myself to be somewhere for 90 minutes, to simply be present. I am also surprised that I push myself. I want to attempt each pose, even though I’m exhausted and sweating. There might just be something to this thing.

About the Author:

Mary Jo Pehl is a writer/performer who tours with a live comedy show called Cinematic Titanic, and who produces and hosts “People Saying Things – Live” the first Saturday of each month at Café Caffeine in Austin, TX. You may also recognize her from her days with Mystery Science Theater 3000.



  • Pamela Krumvieda
    May 20th, 2011 at 8:02 AM

    I just finished the book “Just Do It” about a couple who endeavor to have sex for 100 days straight. Bikram yoga is front and center as a tool for them to get in shape and stay limber for their sexathon journey. The book is funny, honest, tender and informative about the role of sex in marriage.

  • I heard about that book. I had no idea about the Bikram connection. My husband and I ARE doing the Bikram together. Hmmm…

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