In the beginning the hardest part is getting there. Then after awhile the hardest part is not getting there.
The first month you will feel sore, weak, uncomfortable and miserably hot. This is all part of the practice — to test yourself, to push beyond what you think you can do and surrender to the elements (105 degree room). It’s hard and most people quit within the first week, if not sooner. Some even run out during their first class.
My advice: Stay. Stay at all costs. An instructor once said: “It’s normal to feel crazy and crazy to feel normal.” This isn’t supposed to be easy. But you can and will surprise yourself if you don’t give up.
Bikram isn’t to be confused with other yoga practices and their flowery music, chants and incense. This is intense, but the payoff is too. I started with something called “The 30 Day Challenge,” which is yoga every day for 30 days. If you miss a day, you’re out. Think of it as yoga boot camp. Not easy, but I have to admit if it wasn’t for the challenge aspect I may not have made it. I was determined to complete it.
But then something magical happened. After the challenge ended I realized I didn’t want to stop. I kept going every day. My body went from aching all the time to feeling stronger. My posture changed and when faced with stressful situations (crowded subway, work conflict, whatever) I was able to channel the energy in a different way. Calmer, more clear, centered.
This is not to say there are moments, many, that I don’t want to go. It’s a huge time commitment, 90 minutes. But that feeling always changes after I’m done. The post-practice euphoria is wonderful. I sleep better as a result.
After going consistently for five months I altered my practice from seven days a week to five, and when I’m on vacation or away I don’t worry about missing it. You can’t be too rigid, but you do need to remember it’s a discipline and it’s up to you to decide how much or little you are going to devote. It gives back what you give it, and the rewards of a regular practice are endless. It’s also for you. So the more you go, the better you’re being to yourself.
Bikram is pretty global so you can find studios all over the world. I found two while vacationing in Prague and it was fun practicing in a different language. This is not a cult, not a religion, just a way of life. My body changed, my temperament changed, and now when I enter the studio instead of recoiling at the heat, I allow it to envelope me like a big hug.
I used to be a runner, but the wear and tear on my knees forced me to cut back. I still run occasionally, and bike, but this has helped heal past injuries and improve my overall core strength. I’m not flexible and even after a year I can’t do many of the poses. That’s okay though. The beauty of the practice is you do what you can and still receive the benefits regardless. Over time your flexibility will change, even if only a fraction of an inch, and you will find yourself doing stretches in your daily life. I sit in front of a computer all day and it has helped my lower back considerably. The older I get the more I appreciate (and am humbled by) the Bikram practice.
I would encourage anyone to try it, no matter how young or old, fat or thin, heat adverse or even having never exercised at all. Fear of the unknown keeps many of us from trying new things, seemingly scary things, because everyone is afraid to fail or look silly. Whatever initial reservations you may have about Bikram, just know that you are not alone. Everyone has them. But believe me when I say this is a deeply personal practice that is entirely for and about you. For everything you give to others in life, to your job, to your relationships, family, you name it, this is for you, and you deserve it.