Shiva’s most vain offspring within the yoga family tree—and younger Brother to the more spiritually inclined Vinyasa, Ashtanga and Hatha—is a sweaty lil’ bugger named Bikram. His siblings are almost snobby in their dislike for their mirror obsessed toddler brother. Most accounts of the notorious seventy-year-old Founder Bikram Choudhury paint a picture of a severely flawed man, unapologetically materialistic and incurably misogynistic. While I harbour no affection for the man, I do love hot yoga.
For me the yoga mat is a magic carpet. When I am present with the class and giving maximum effort, I can fly to truly wonderful and exciting places, places I had never imagined. All my stored rigidness, defensiveness and anxiety drip and shake from my arms and legs, as I breathe at my edge. As the yoga transforms the yogi’s body from gouda to marble it also melts away the ego, creating energy to strengthen the better person emerge from within, from a diaspora of the soul.
Life in Focus
Repetitive Bikram Yoga uses the exact same twenty-six poses in each class, and the class is in a hot as hell room—105F or 40C. The heat is supposed to loosen your muscles beyond their flexibility so you can get a deeper stretch. It also adds the benefit of a detoxifying shower from within your body. To cope with the often intense stress of exercise in heat, you are taught, early in your practice, to breathe.
To connect to this breath gives a distraction from the Cirque de Soleil type contortions that my forty-two year old body has no business attempting. Breathing through my nose brings calm as I balance on one leg, with hamstrings and tendons as tight as cello strings. Focusing on the breath silences the con man in my mind, whose salesmanship of complaints and blame try, unsuccessfully, to keep me from the progress I need, and crave, in class and out.
Great for World Peace
Sweating with thirty half naked strangers in a small room at the end of a dark alley in Fulham is enlightening. One area of yoga I love is the way your mood, vibe and focus impact, detract or inspire the room in general. There are good and bad classes, but when it is good and everyone is building each other up with their intentions, I can really feel it and it makes it easier. What if the world was like that all the time?
As a bon vivant in my mid 20’s living in San Francisco, California, I had packed on about fifty pounds of excess corpus, one cheeseburger, and beer at a time. My girlfriend, and future wife, encouraged me to go with her to this hot trendy yoga. Begrudgingly I went, and after 90 days of almost daily practice, and a strict adherence to the South Beach Diet, I walked out of the studio at my previous fighting weight.
Clothes and the world fit me better. I could not have done it without my girlfriend or hot yoga teachers. As your relationship with yourself improves, so does your relationship with others. Today as I do the camel pose, slinging my back to meet my heels from a kneeling position, I’ll be opening my shoulders and heart towards the sky. All the fear and judgment and jealousy will fly out of my chest leaving me lighter for the day ahead.
If everyone in the world did yoga, it would seriously never occur to anyone to build a bomb or gun or have a fight. It would feel very bizarre. It is very bizarre if you think of it.
Make Time for Health, or Make Time for Sickness
Over a long lifetime, I believe human beings are to be assigned a certain amount of physical discomfort or downright pain. Most of the time this discomfort is foisted upon us involuntarily in the form of bad backs, pneumonia, hip surgery and the like. Hot yoga will be painful and uncomfortable at times, but you will be in charge and your back won’t hurt, you’ll be sick less and you won’t need that hip surgery.
When my Father was my age he would inject his waist fat or upper thigh with insulin harvested from a pig. He was two years away from his first heart attack, and a battle with heart disease that ended up killing him in his sixty-sixth year. I often think that if he had jumped into a yoga studio, how many different choices he would have made, how much more happiness he could have received from life, and how he could possibly be dancing at his grandchildrens’ weddings, twenty years from now.
Take this statement for what it is worth because the Communications School at my Alma Mater, The University of Missouri, virtually ignores biology and pharmacology studies. I dare say, though, we could dramatically cut our reliance on pills with their disturbing costs and side effects, if everyone on the planet did hot yoga. Four months ago I had aggressive pain in my left shoulder and was convinced I needed a surgery. Today I have no pain.
See, Taste, Smell, Feel Better
With all the stale air out of your lungs and stale thoughts out of your head, as you lay in a puddle of your own sweat in the final Savasana (Corpse Pose) you feel relief that class is complete and you also feel like you may vomit—especially during the first couple of months.
However, leaving class, the cool air feels like a hit of 100% oxygen and cool water tastes like a glass of champagne after winning the America’s Cup. The cool shower feels like a baptism in Eden’s waterfall. The rest of the day I feel a bliss and clarity. I’m a better Husband, Dad, Friend, and Writer.
—Photo Credit: Kevin Fleming