The Time Has Come
I’ve been waiting to write this article because I wanted to have more breadth of exposure to yoga (and in particular this kind of yoga) before expounding to any degree on this exercise or this particular studio in an article on our web site. I wanted to try another hot yoga / Bikram yoga studio in Houston to be able to compare and contrast experiences. I thought maybe trying other types of yoga might be good, too… nice to have a range of experience before shooting one’s mouth off about something, especially something as trendy and popular as yoga seems to be at the moment.
However, the time has come for me to yap at you about yoga, and it has to be now. Despite the fact that I haven’t gone to any other studios yet. Despite the fact that I haven’t tried any other forms of yoga. It has to be now because this stuff is just too wonderful for me, and the studio where I go now is just so great I can’t bring myself to try another place, even though intellectually I know I should. I mean, if I’m liking and looking forward to exercise this much right now, why should I mess around with that?
Bikram Yoga, or Hot Yoga
Ok, not that I am a yoga historian or anything, but here’s what I’ve gathered. (Insert standard CleverDonkey disclaimer here: feel free to check yer facts elsewheres, as you won’t hurt my feelings). Bikram yoga is not a “traditional” form of yoga, inasmuch as yoga as a discipline is, oh, 5,000 years old, and Bikram, the dude who came up with Bikram yoga, is still alive and holding court in Los Angeles. His philosophy, near as I can make out, is that doing yoga in a heated room gives the body greater pliability and more ability to really achieve something wonderful in the postures. I think there might also be some concept thrown in there about getting toxins out of the body via sweat and that in India, the birthplace of yoga, it’s pretty hot, so you should try and do yoga in an environment more like where yoga was invented and originally practiced.
Bikram himself (full name: Bikram Choudhury), after inventing this type of yoga and presumably getting some folks to really like it, began at some point churning out certified instructors. They go through an intensive training course of some number of weeks where they live on site during the instruction. He also certifies yoga studios, in that they can be “franchises” and authorized to use the Bikram name for their yoga classes. I think there’s even a lawsuit at the moment regarding name licensing against some studios that use the word “Bikram” if they’re not an authorized Bikram franchise. Very zen stuff.
Anyway, onto the yoga itself. It’s a series of 26 particular postures, all of which (to my knowledge) are regular and traditional yoga postures. The trick is the heated room. The place where I go for this stuff (more about that in a moment) heats to about 105 degrees Fahrenheit and the air is fairly humid as well. If this sounds taxing, it can be… but to me it’s really liberating. That may sound an odd word to use, but it’s the word that comes to mind. One of the things I hate about working out is getting to the point of sweating. It always feels like I waste so much of my workout loosening up and heating up my cold muscles and getting through the uncomfortable prickly feeling as my body heats itself up and I start to sweat under my arms and on my forehead.
With this yoga, your body is already warm and you’ve already crossed that barrier…you don’t have to dread the sweat or look forward to it or even worry about it, ’cause it’s already there. You kinda ignore it and just concentrate on the workout itself. Well, you can’t really ignore it, because you’re sweating from your shins and elbows as well as every place you’d normally sweat (well, I do, anyway –but I’m kinda on the right hand side of the sweating bell curve). And for me, who’s one of those people who is ALWAYS COLD ALL THE TIME, it’s freaking excellent to get into that warm room at the end of the day and loosen up and unwind and bliss out and work out and sweat and be tired afterward.
Hot Yoga Here
So, the place where I’ve been doing yoga is called Hot Yoga Here (website: www.hotyogahere.com), and it isn’t really a studio so much as it is a yoga teacher who rents a room and has classes several times a day. The room is in a Hare Krishna temple just outside the North Loop and it isn’t fancy. I actually kind of like that: given that yoga is fairly trendy right about now, the fact that this place is pretty bare bones and not its own stand-alone super-fancy can-I-get-you-a-latte-with-that kinda joint keeps out the gym queen see-and-be-seen West U riff-raff, which is fine by me. Working out, especially in a new discipline, is intimidating enough for me… I don’t really want to have to do it in picture-perfect surroundings with picture-perfect people. Not that there aren’t some pretty fit people at Hot Yoga Here (there are), but there are all types of folks, and no one seems preoccupied with “Look at me everyone, I’m doing yoga”, if that makes sense.
The thing that defines the experience there, however, is the instructor Darla. She’s Bikram certified but her place isn’t a Bikram franchise. She’s extraordinarily experienced and her class is the absolute perfect balance of relaxed enough to put you at ease and structured enough to get you through class. She’s funny and light-hearted and very attentive — she pays attention and knows your particular needs once you become a regular. For instance, I’ve got a herniated disc in my lower back (more on that below), and from my first class she taught me how to modify certain poses to make sure I wasn’t unduly straining my lower back. Even now after a couple months there she regularly checks on me during class and asks if my back is doing okay. That kind of attention is just worth its weight in gold — aside from making you feel like you’re at a place that cares if you’re there (versus a McGym), it’s nice to know she continually checks up and gives you that opportunity to tell her if you’re having a problem with anything.
Well, I’d tried yoga a couple years ago (loved it) but started again a couple months ago after switching orthopedic doctors from my anti-yoga surgeon (his advice: don’t do any type of exercise involving bending or twisting, so yoga was right out, and by the way I’d be a good candidate for expensive surgery) to an orthopedic guy whose advice was basically exercise a lot and that anything low-impact is good (yoga included). Just to give you a little history, in the four years since my disc was damaged, I’d done the following for relief from back pain:
- Lose weight (about 40 lbs, which I’ve kept off in the intervening 3 or so years… that helped some)
- Steroid injections directly into the disc (not my favorite… they increase appetite and give you wacky hot flashes and other bizarro side effects, plus… what am I gonna do, get drugs injected every couple months for the rest of my life??)
- Celebrex (which, when taken, was a wonder drug for the pain, but… again… what am I gonna do, take a drug for the rest of my life? Oh, and there’s a little matter of whether or not it’s really the best idea to take that particular drug).
- Painkillers when needed (this was the worst decision of them all… these guys give me a nasty tendency towards migraine headaches about a month after I stop taking them, even if I only take one or two pills. Nice, hunh?)
So in the months leading up to trying yoga again I’d gotten in a state of near-constant agony with my back. I couldn’t sit in my office chair at work without constantly shifting around in pain. I would wear ThermaCares at work under my work clothes. I laid on heating pillows every night. Because of my experience with the pain pills and the tendency to get headaches if I used them, I wouldn’t touch pain meds of any kind (Advil, Aleve, Tylenol, and Aspirin included), and the Celebrex wasn’t really looking like a great route to take. I figured the hot yoga would help make sure my back didn’t get further strained (and, actually, it was more just dumb luck I found Darla’s studio — I remembered her web address from when she used to have a Studio on Waugh called Yoga Body that my friend Cheryl and I had tried a few years back, and hot yoga was the only kind of yoga I’d ever tried because Cheryl was a big Bikram buff).
I have to say…this stuff is a miracle for me. I go about three times a week, sometimes four. My back feels wonderful. I have so much more strength in the core of my body — I can do normal household tasks that used to cause me a lot of pain: things like loading and unloading the dishwasher, washing my face at the sink, or putting on socks while I’m standing up. I also now have enough strength to do something I never thought I’d do again — swing a golf club!! I haven’t yet made it back out onto a golf course but I went to the driving range today and it was excellent! I had so much strength in my abs and my back, and I would’ve never thought I would ever be able to play golf again. (Not that I was a huge golf player, but Engineerboy and I would go hack around every so often and it was sort of sad to think of losing that after I hurt my back). In general I never even think about my back anymore, other than I always consciously use my abs when I bend over in order to support my back properly. But I never think about how it’s aching, or how much it’s hurting, and that used to be a major part of my mental energy being drained away every day. I know it sounds dorky, but I’ll say it again. It really has been like a miracle for me.
A Quick Note About Hot Yoga
One quick thing… it really is hot. This means two things:
- Make sure you take care of yourself and prepare yourself to work out in the heat. I have wickedly low blood pressure naturally, so I work especially hard on yoga days to put salt into my body, along with potassium. Because I will sweat it all right out. I drink V8, nosh on pretzels, and make sure I have Gatorade during the day and while I’m in class. I also have bananas every single day. I don’t know that everyone needs this, but I do, or the combination of the heat plus my already low blood pressure means that I get a little dizzy. I also eat really blandly on yoga days… nothing spicy or nasty that will come back to haunt you. (I actually find that’s a benefit of yoga for me… it really makes me watch my nutrition as well).
- Not everyone is a big fan of the “work out in the heat” concept. I found this out when I posted something on alt.yoga about Bikram and got a really negative posting in return. I think a lot of folks think it’s nuts. So be prepared if this becomes a thing for you to get a little flak if you tell people about it. Feel free to check with your doctor first (always a good idea) to make sure it’s not a crazy idea for you.
In general, if you’re looking to start yoga you don’t hate the heat, I would at least consider hot yoga. If you’re in the Houston area and the North Loop is convenient for you, I would definitely check out Darla’s place. She’s completely wonderful and I couldn’t recommend the yoga experience there more highly.