Alternative titles for this post included “Yog-yogan-na” (my fellow Pinoys would get this) or “Kicking Ass-anas” (credit due to my friend Oren). But I decided to keep it simple. I figure that the more hits this post gets because of the title will only help spread my not-so-new found love for the century old practice of yoga. And finally, after three years of going to yoga on and off – I finally GET IT.
For those unfamiliar with bikram yoga, it is a sequence consisting of 26 yoga poses in 90 minutes done in 102 degrees and 40% humidity. First-timers are told that being able to remain in the room is a feat in itself. Actually getting through the 26 yoga poses is entirely different story. For me, the journey has been stop and start. I joked around with my yoga teachers that I was the studio’s prodigal daughter, returning to yoga after 2,3, sometimes 5-month sabbaticals at a time. This was not good. So, I made the decision last December to once and for all, rise to the Bikram challenge of doing for 30 straight days non-stop. I read somewhere that if you can do something for 15 days straight, then you’ve ingrained practice into a habit. So I was thinking 30 days would do the trick two-fold. But a 30-day commitment was crazy, in my mind. First, I had a full-time business to run, two kids under the age of 7 and a mom to take care of , plus a household to manage. This feat required tremendous support from my family who missed me dearly (I hope!) for 2 hours everyday while I disappeared to make the trek to Berkeley. But somehow, I did it! Despite having three weddings to cover, Christmas, New Years and my 10-year anniversary – I didn’t miss a single day. Pat on the back to me! I’ve never felt prouder of myself. So if someone like me can do the 30-day challenge, you definitely can too.
What I learned:
1. Yoga is great for mental focus.
My first few ventures into bikram yoga was always a physical challenge. I would constantly see yoga fairies, or feel ill to the point of almost passing out. I have low blood pressure and I always made this an excuse to sit out the Camel pose, and sometimes Rabbit and Standing Head to Knee. After doing one straight week of yoga, I had a breakthrough and actually did all 26 yoga poses. But then, I got lazy. The physical challenge was still there but now my mind wasn’t. As long as I went through the motions with my classmates, I could blend in. I’d let my eyes wander. Or…as a crazy MADD (mom with ADD, I kid you not), my mind would wander. I’d be making grocery lists in my head, recalling a client conversation the previous day, or get distracted by tattoos or cleavage (yes, women look too!) One day, I decided to just focus on myself. And let this be my 90 minutes of indulgence where no one else mattered but me. It was a huge step to give myself this permission and embrace the time as my own. After I did that, I felt my mind empty itself and go free.
2. Yoga teaches forgiveness.
Yes, you heard it right. Forgiveness. One thing that a yoga teacher said that really stuck with me is “Define perfection as your day’s personal best.” I tend to be very hard on myself. But as another teacher said. Do your best. And move on. What’s done is done. LET GO. This adage can be applied to so many situations.
3. Yoga taught me to enjoy the journey.
The 30-day challenge is done and over, but I still continue my practice a minimum 3x a week. There really is *no* end point. There’s always going to be some new challenge or a new pose to conquer. Every day is different. All we can do is savor the moment as it’s happening. There’s no planning for the future, because life will invariably throw you a few curve balls your way. I feel crickety and cranky when I neglect the practice, and feel tiggery and balanced when I come home from yoga. I may hate waking up at 5:30 and hauling my ass out of bed while my hubby is sleeping comfortably. But never once have I regretted going.
3. Yoga makes you look hot.
Not just sweaty hot, but sexy hot. Yes, I appeal to your sense of vanity. I haven’t stepped on a scale since I finished the yoga challenge. And I suspect that I may have even gained weight but that it’s probably muscle mass. BUT I have dropped a dress size. Woo hoo! So while I know yoga might not be the best exercise for weight loss – it does make you TIGHT. And I like that! I often look at the women in my class and they look ageless. And their skin? Beautiful! Forget botox…yoga is the real fountain of youth.
And the biggest benefit for me has been my sleep. I’ve had chronic insomnia since I was in high school. When I was pregnant and a new mom, I would sleep maybe 2-3 hours a night. Nowadays, I only need 5-6 hours a night, but it’s always very restful and very good quality sleep. Yoga Rocks (me to sleep!)
And for the benefit of my Bay area friends, my “yelpish” review of my favorite studios:
Bikram Yoga Fremont – This is where I got my start in Bikram Yoga. Classes get fairly packed here especially on weekends and in the evenings but the vibe is homey and friendly. I love the fact that it’s the only studio I’ve been to that has a rubber-type flooring that doesn’t get stinky. Definitely one of the better smelling and well ventilated bikram studios that I’ve seen.
Ayuh Yoga in Union City – I credit this studio and their owner Brian with teaching me the proper form of the asanas. The studio had opened a month before I moved to Oakland and I totally regret that it didn’t open sooner cuz I could’ve totally become addicted to this place. The feeling of community and fellowship thrives at this yoga space -you just feel the love. The space is much smaller, and therefore the classes are a bit more intimate. This studio does not claim to teach “Bikram Yoga” TM per se but hot yoga. While some bikram die-hards may scoff at this, it did help me in the beginning to have a less hot room, because I could focus on proper form, instead of just surviving the heat. Another big plus is that they offer other forms of yoga (Ashtanga and Hatha) as well as fitness classes including Zumba, Kettle Bells. My favorite class was the Hour of Power by Azra. She is simply amazing! Definitely worth checking out for a cross-training yoga experience.
Yoga College of India, Oakland – This yoga studio is centrally located on Santa Clara and Grand Avenue in Oakland. The room is very long and narrow which is great because almost everyone can have a view of theirselves in the mirror. It’s also less hot than most Bikram yoga studios, which is a matter of preference. One memorable experience is one of the yoga instructors gave each us quick foot massages during the lying series.
Funky Door Yoga Berkeley – Where I currently practice bikram, Funky Door is a bikram dream come true — is very clean and has good amenities, including a shower and a full locker room, and towels and mats available to rent. While it’s probably the most corporate of the studios I’ve been to, the Berkeley vibe is alive and well. Classes do tend to get crowded here, and finding a spot during their high traffic hours can be a challenge. I was also pleasantly surprised to receive a handwritten note in the mail from the owner Karima welcoming to the studio! What I love most about it is the free parking, the great staff and teachers, and the number of classes to chose from.
So if you think you can survive the heat, the funky human smells and are ready for a life-changing experience, try bikram yoga! It’s so worth it. Trust me…it took me three years to figure it out when all I really needed was 30 days.
The photos above are taken from a session I did with the awesome teachers of Bikram Fremont Yoga. Visit their Facebook page here.