On the agenda for New Mexico: meeting a distant relative ain Albuquerque, rafting the Taos Box section of the Rio Grande in Taos, and visiting the Georgia O'Keefe museum, getting massages, and, finally, trying the hottest of hot yoga, Bikram, in Santa Fe.
I do not remember much about the studio or the instructor, only that the intensity and swiftness of the her voice made me giggle. She did not stop talking, and the cueing and instruction edged on the side of demanding and bossy.
Yet, the way she spoke was nothing to take personally. The tone and timing of her words reminded me of the way any good coach speaks - deliberately, demanding respect, with heaps of passion, a teeny, barely noticeable touch of compassion, and the expectation and pure belief that we, her students, were capable of and would, absolutely, on this day, give our best, if it was the last thing she did. As one who thrives on good coaching, I was intrigued.
Then we arrived at Svasana, final relaxation. "Take as much time as you need," the instructor told us as she began to leave the room. What?! Did she really just invite us to take the most challenging of all yoga poses on our own, unguided?!
In other words, this all-important pose was not included in the 90-minute practice. The instructor would not warmly, softly, whisper to us to wiggle our fingers and toes to come out of it. We, the student, were given the grand responsibility of lying down, closing our eyes, and letting it all soak in. To me, this was the most challenging part of the entire practice.
Tara and I turned to each other and giggled - no, we laughed, out loud. I'm not sure why, exactly. Perhaps it was at the absurdity of what we just experienced, or the disbelief that the instructor was abandoning us when we most needed her. We were dripping wet, even our hair, as if we had just took a swim in the Rio Grande. The room had floor-to-ceiling mirrors on three walls. Students wore bathing suits. And now we had to lie quietly without the comfort of being told how long?! I could barely contain myself.
As the teacher began to close the door behind her, she shot us a how-dare-you glare. Obviously, it was quiet time. I think we skipped Svasana, or popped right out of it after 30 seconds of holding our breath, trying to muffle our laughter. Fearful of cascading into a fit of uncontrollable hysterics, we quickly gathered our items and ran from the studio as fast as we could, with wide eyes and wonderment.
Coming from an Ashtanga and power yoga background, we were most certainly perplexed by Bikram. Where were the vinyasas? The one-breath, dynamic movements? My emotions ran high and low. But most of all, I was impressed. Quite simply, the 104 degrees, 40 percent humidity, 90-minute class of 26 postures held for 30-60 seconds and repeated twice (except for one final posture) with two pranayama exercises made me feel good.
Pittsburgh, PA, September 2009 - Four months later, when I returned to Pittsburgh for the first semester of my final year of graduate school, I found the nearest Bikram studio, located in the Strip District, two miles from my apartment. I bought a monthly unlimited pass and began biking to the 6:30-8 a.m. class five days per week.
After my first class, the fire-like feeling that had been burning in the middle of my spine and inhibiting any flexion for the past year (because of surfing) completely diminished and never returned.
After two weeks, my body adjusted to the heat, and I was able to stand up during the entire standing series. Within those two weeks, my joints loosened, my tight muscles relaxed, and I felt cleansed and free in movement. Bikram transformed me physically, but mostly, it changed the way of my mind.
Yes, the Bikram series remains the same. It seems mundane, boring even, but this sameness provided me with a solid rock, a foundation, during a time of constant traveling and moving, of uncertainty about the future and a deeply imbedded sense that I was not heading down the right path.
Specifically, I was living between Pittsburgh, South Carolina and Southern California. I had traveled to Costa Rica, Honduras and the Dominican Republic during those two years. I was in a graduate program that I questioned every week - one week, I nearly dropped out to study with my Anusara yoga teacher in Encinitas, Calif. Instead, I stayed in school and read the Anusara teacher training manual, all the while practicing Bikram five days a week and continuing to explore which yoga teaching path I wanted to take.
In addition to the sameness that the 26 Bikram postures provided, the way in which we held the postures gave me a sense of grounding. The first half of the class is done standing, with timed holds, something that sharpened my focus and concentration, giving me a single gazing point, forcing the settling of the ever-fluctuating thoughts that seemed to constantly scatter haphazardly in all directions in my mind.
With the timed holds came a powerful sense of ujayi breath. To this day, when I know what is coming in a yoga practice, I find that my breath radiates, deepens and becomes fully alive. In Bikram, I found freedom in this knowing, not falling into future thinking, something that my mind tends toward. The security of the practice, like that of my current Ashtanga practice, allowed me to delve into the breath in a way that transcended the importance of the asanas or what was to come. Like they say in Bikram, it became a 90-minute breathing practice in a way that no other yoga class, except traditional Ashtanga, had provided.
This is not to say that Bikram is the number one, best type of yoga for breathing - instead, it is a class that can take your ujayi breathing to a new level. Once that new level of breathing is reached, it can be applied to all other yoga classes. For instance, when my mind jumps to the future in a free-form vinyasa class or while I'm alone on my mat creating sequences, I can more quickly move toward Dharana, a return to the present, the current breath, the here-and-now, thanks to the way Bikram so powerfully established this specific limb of yoga within the practice, and, subsequently, within my personal practice.
With that said, the breathing paired with the heat elevated the practice for me. Without the heat, the postures would not feel as, well, exciting, or, better yet, effective. Enough said.
Thus, for the next two years, I was a devout Bikram student still delving into other yoga practices, trying to find the right path as the yoga instructor that I wanted to become.
Post-Graduate School and Post-Bikram - I graduated with a master's in 2010, and upon completion of my degree, I continued moving, literally, from place to place. My Bikram practice became less and less, only because I was not always living near a Bikram studio. In 2011, when I moved for good far from a studio, I drove 75 minutes once a month to attend a Bikram class. In 2012, when Eric and I were traveling through New Zealand, we found a studio in Chirstchurch, and Eric joined me for his first ever yoga class in a studio. Even there, in the Southern Hemisphere, the class was the same - intense yet comforting, demanding yet forgiving, and oh-so-grounding, exactly what I needed as we lived as transients in our camper van for three months.
While my big take-aways from a consistent Bikram practice were Dharana (the act of calming the monkey mind); a sense of freedom found within the sameness; and an establishment of ujayi breathing, there are lots of other small, life-changing, practice-enhancing, beneficial elements of the practice.
Injured shoulder, wrist, elbow or neck (no chaturangas or inversions)? Bikram.
Achey knees? Bikram.
New or Full Moon (Ashtanga does not practice on these days)? Bikram.
Pregnant or menstruating (with an already-established hot yoga practice)? Bikram.
New to yoga? Bikram. An old yogi? Bikram.
One who finds it difficult to rest in Svasana without being told to do so? Bikram.
These were just some of my experiences. Click here to read about more benefits of Bikram Yoga.
Currently, even though the full, traditional Bikram practice is not part of my daily practice, some of the postures are, and when I travel to a big a city, the first thing I search for is a Bikram studio. Moreover, as a yoga instructor and a mother, I'm not sure I would practice Bikram as much as I did in my single days with no children. For where I am now in my life, the early morning hours are when I find not only the time to do my own personal practice but also the inspiration to create classes for my students. Bikram Yoga, though, remains near and dear to my heart and has helped shape me as a student and instructor. For all the reasons described in this post, I am beyond happy and grateful that the studio where I teach, LPS Strength & Meditation, will host it's first Bikram class tonight, July 6. To find out what Bikram can do for you, join instructor Amy Morris at 6 p.m. every Wednesday in July!