First-time student survives Bikram yoga class
I'm not sure what intimidated me more about the thought of taking a Bikram yoga class: the fact it was 90 minutes long and inside a 105-degree room or the fact I had not worked out in two years.
Bron Gacki, the owner of Bikram Yoga, 2084 N. Commerce St., assured me every class at his studio is beginner-friendly.
"Anyone can do this. We do simple postures in there, nothing too advanced. The only thing that is intimidating for the first timer is the heat," he says.
Gacki opened the Bikram studio three years ago after studying with the founder of the practice, Bikram Choudhury, in Hawaii in 2007. He says Milwaukee is a good fit for his studio.
"People have become very receptive to yoga in Milwaukee. The Midwestern work ethic has really produced some great students," he says.
Bikram yoga is a series of 26 postures, each done twice, in a room that's heated to 105 degrees and with 40 percent humidity.
Hesitant but well-hydrated (drinking enough water prior to the class is key), I showed up at Bikram Yoga for Julie Shannon's noon-time class. I walked in the door and was greeted by a friendly dog, Gigi, and a sign asking me to remove my shoes. I scratched the pooch's head, kicked off my Chucks and looked around nervously.
Both Gacki and Shannon approached me, smiling. We joked about the possibility of my Bikram-induced death. Then I filled out paperwork, releasing the studio of responsibility when I melted into a puddle of butter and Pabst Blue Ribbon a la Wicked-Witch-of-the-West style.
The studio space, which is currently receiving new flooring, is simple and nice. There's a hang out area with comfortable seating and yoga-related periodicals. The studio sells water, coconut water and a few other drinks / snacks. It also rents towels ($1) and mats ($3).
I changed in the locker room, which was extremely clean and well stocked. Students bring their own locks. I liked the signs written in the voice of Mr. T reminding people to pick up after themselves.
After eying up a few other participants, I was relieved to find out I had chosen appropriate Bikram wear. The trick is to wear as little as possible without breaking any laws. That morning, it took me about 20 minutes to find my work-out clothes. I was surprised they weren't just a cheap motel for mothballs or two sizes too small and equally as surprised that I still owned a pair of black athletic shorts, a sports bra and a tank top. In the future, if I could lose a little ego I might lose the tank top, too.
I filled up my water bottle and stepped into the lobby and started to chat with Shannon. She made me feel very comfortable, with a genuinely nice personality and strong eye contact. She told me the first class, for many people, is about adjusting to the heat more than anything else. "Hey, I can adjust to heat," I thought. Maybe I will survive this after all.
"The heat provides an environment where you can sweat, which stimulates detoxification for your body. Also, the heat acts as a catalyst in the changes that occur within your body through a regular Hatha Yoga practice. You get the same benefits, but the changes simply happen more quickly," says Gacki.
Shannon went on to say that it's common for people to feel dizzy, lightheaded or nauseous during the first class while adjusting to the aforementioned heat. But she also said that Bikram yoga would improve my flexibility, balance, focus, outlook and sleeping. This resonated with me. Especially the sleeping part because, after years of being an I-can-snooze-on-a-picket-fence person, insomnia had trapped me in its frustrating fortress.
When I first walked into the room, it felt very, very hot – the kind of heat that would normally send me running for an air-conditioned room with a good book and a cool drink. For a few seconds, I actually thought I couldn't breathe, but I did a few mental exercises – in other words, I told myself to stop freaking out and that if a lizard can breathe in this, so can I.
After about five minutes, I started to adjust to the warmth, just like Shannon said. I still felt like I was stranded in the desert in way too sporty attire, but it was bearable.
And I was already sweating profusely.
The amount of sweat that came from my pores was incredible. Once upon another lifetime, I was an avid runner and I taught Spinning, but never, ever, had I sweat like this. After the Bikram class, my clothes were as wet as if I worked out in a rainstorm.
Bikram works every part of the body by moving oxygenated blood throughout the entire system. Although I was unable to do most of the postures completely, and did my own lazy girl's version, I was pretty happy to make it through the entire class, only stopping twice to sit on my mat and gaze in awe at the amazing people around me.
Watching the other students was one of my favorite parts of the class. (I hope I wasn't too creepy.) I was inspired by the age range and the different body types. I was comforted by those who, like me, struggled or stopped and were awed by the skill, grace and determination of others.
The other remarkable aspect of the experience for me was the role of the instructor. Bikram instructors do not do the practice with the students. Instead he or she never stops talking during the entire 90-minute session. They're like a gentle yogi channeling an auctioneer.
Shannon provided non-stop instruction, using so many words in a very succinct manner, telling the class exactly what their bodies should be doing. The intense instruction is two-fold. It helps students assume the positions properly, and it also forces them to stay in the moment.
Bikram is a mix of exercises that raise and lower your heart rate. So just when you're thinking very un-yoga-ish thoughts because your body's contorted in a way that it's never been before, it's time to lie flat on your back for a spell. Like life, Bikram yoga is a fluctuating series of spurts and rests.
The final minutes of the practice are spent relaxing. It was interesting to realize my heart wasn't pounding insanely, but I was drenched in sweat and felt like I had just experienced something incredibly physical and challenging.
"Be kind to yourself, be kind to others, namaste," were Shannon's final words.
After the class, I was not sure how I felt, other than relieved to be done. I was JELLO-y and sweaty and in a daze. I had forgotten about the intensity of endorphins. I took a shower, put my clothes back on and walked back into the lobby area. Shannon gave me a coconut water and asked me how I was doing.
"I don't know," I said. "I think I feel good, but ask me later."
She told me some people have increased energy after the first class whereas others are very worn out. I found myself to be somewhere in the middle, but definitely in a bit of daze the rest of the day. It was good, though, because my brain, which had been overactive that week, seemed to be finally taking some well-deserved time off.
But the most rewarding result I received from my first Bikram yoga came hours later, when I slept better than I had in months.
Before I left the studio, Shannon and I talked prices. A one-month intro is $35, which allows students to come every day. A once-a-day practice is recommended for new students to get in the groove. Otherwise, classes are $18. A 10-class pack is available for $140; a 20-class pack for $260 or monthly memberships for $150. ($99 a month if students pay the first and last month and a $50 set-up fee up front.)
"The best way to get started is with our Intro Special, which is one month of Yoga for $35. It's a really cheap way to try out a bunch of classes and really sink your teeth into the practice," says Gacki. "If you're ready to feel strong, energized and youthful everyday, please come in and give us a try."
mikayogawear | April 10, 2012 at 1:06 p.m. (report)
Great post! The comment about wearing as little as possible and still being legal made me chuckle. It reminded me of how nervous I was before going to my first bikram yoga class in my surf trunks! I think a lot of people struggle with going to their first bikram or hot yoga class especially if they have heard some horror stories like I had. Good luck on your yoga endeavors! - Ken Mika Yoga Wear
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