January is the time when many make New Year’s resolutions, mostly around the theme of dieting, losing weight and signing up for gym memberships or stopping smoking – generally, promising to start the year off healthier after the indulgences of Christmas.
I’ve always been very much into fitness and healthy eating from the age of about 12 (you can read more about my fitness history and lifestyle here), so this blog post isn’t about me starting a new extreme lifestyle change. What it is about, is a new fitness obsession which I started just before New Year’s Eve and which, since then, I have become quickly addicted to: Bikram yoga.
Thanks mainly to founder of Metropolis, Hideout Festival and Unknown Festival, @WilfProphecy, for tweeting about how energised he felt after each class and the amazing physical benefits, I was intrigued. Having done gymnastics when I was younger, I have since then alway incorporating stretching and flexibility moves into my daily workout routine, as I’m aware how important this type of fitness is alongside more intense strength, cardio and resistance training.
After drinking and eating too much over the festive break, on 30th December I went to the Bikram Yoga College of India studio on Church Street, just behind the Arndale Centre and literally a 10 minute walk from our flat – bonus! I was welcomed by the friendly staff and signed up for the Introductory Offer, £20 for 10 consecutive days which, for 90 minutes per class, was a bargain! You are advised to hydrate yourself well about 1-2 hours beforehand and practice on an empty stomach for the most effective performance.
When I first entered the room, the temperature was a shock – you sweat immediately just from the heat. This is essential to the practice of Bikram yoga; since it changes the construction of the body from the inside out, the environment has to be hot to soften it – a warm body is a flexible body! Another key element is that practicing Bikram not only increases your supply of oxygen, but it also teaches you how to USE that oxygen properly.
Throughout the 90 minute lesson in the 40C temperature room, 26 Hatha Yoga postures (asunas) and 2 breathing exercises (pranayamas), with each posture performed in the given order, aimed to stretch and strengthen specific muscles, ligaments and joints – basically, an all-over body workout. I was familiar with quite a few of the moves and having a high level of flexibility, I found it enjoyable but still quite challenging – at one point I felt dizzy and lightheaded but our teacher said this was an initial natural reaction.
The heat and breathing in and out through the nose (rather than the mouth) was the main thing to get used to, as was being encouraged to only take a few sips of water at designated times throughout the class despite sweating profusely. However, on my 2nd class, I began to appreciate the heat of the studio and it actually helped to make it stronger and easier! Not only that but particularly by my 3rd and 4th class this weekend, my body seemed to be able to tolerate the heat much better and I didn’t even need to take a sip in the 90 minutes! However, afterwards, you are advised to double your water intake to 6-8 pints to stay hydrated as you do sweat a hell of a lot!
As well as my usual daily workout, in the 6 days I have participated in 4 classes of Bikram yoga, I feel more energised, strong and as fit than ever. I seem to be more aware of my breathing and posture, plus the sense of calmness and revitalised feeling after a class has stayed with me. I crave the intense heat and feeling of pushing your body to its limits (in a safe, healthy way of course!) and am already looking forward to my next one this week!
Here’s more about why this form of exercise is so bloody good for you: “Bikram Yoga flushes away the waste products, the toxins, from all of the glands and organs of your body. It provides a natural irrigation of the body through the circulatory system, with the help of the respiratory system. It brings nourishment to every cell of your body so that each one can perform its function and keep your body healthy. Bikram Yoga also employs heat to further the cleansing process; when you sweat impurities are flushed out of the body through the skin.”