Sunday, February 06, 2005

The Bikram Challenge

This morning I was invited to join two of my dear friends at a Bikram Yoga class in a nearby town about 15 minutes from my home. For anyone not familiar with Bikram Yoga, it is a fairly regimented form of Hatha Yoga practiced in a room heated to approximately 100 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit (about 37 to 40 degrees Celsius for my European and Canadian readers)! Bikram is supposed to be taught in the same way wherever anyone offers Bikram classes: hot temperatures; lights only turned down at the beginning and end, otherwise a fully lit room throughout the class; and a standard sequence of poses that does not change from class to class. Eyes remain softly open throughout the 90 minutes, even when in a resting state. Within that structure, it's said that a freedom develops to look deeper into oneself and one's practice as it continues along the continuum created by the highly structured and seemingly repetitive method of teaching and practicing.

I honestly felt very challenged by the class, both physically and mentally. The heat in the crowded room was intense; within fifteen minutes I was drenched with sweat, as was the towel covering my sticky yoga mat. Luckily, I had heeded my friends' advice and refrained from eating this morning, having only my Chinese herbs in hot water with honey and milk, and a tall glass of cool water after that. Having once been a Kripalu Yoga teacher (sometimes nicknamed "Cripple-You" Yoga by its detractors), I had an idea what to expect, but have not regularly practiced yoga or attended classes in many years. Yoga tends to be more something that I do in the name of stretching before exercise, rather than a mental/physical discipline in and of itself. That said, the experience was uplifting, exhausting, exhilirating, and challenging. Taking my leave of the studio, I felt light (not light-headed, though!), lubricated (both mentally and physically), and fully awake. While I generally like to sleep late on Sundays, I felt no qualms about having gotten out of bed today for this experience. I feel lucky that I've been getting alot of cardiovascular exercise on an ellipitical cross-trainer these last four weeks, that preparation making it easier for me to have the stamina to make it through the my first Bikram experience with only two or three poses where I opted to rest and catch my breath.

Although Bikram may not become a regular part of my weekly routine for several reasons (one being timing of classes and time itself), I am very grateful for my friend who offered me this very singular experience of my body. The heat was a welcome intensity, and the physical challenge opened not only my joints and connective tissue, but my mind and emotional body as well.

Now for an afternoon of taking in the near-50-degree (10 Celsius) sunny warmth which bathes the land today. Mary returns from a weekend conference in a few hours and I'll share my impressions of the morning with her as I listen to her account of her own interesting and thought-provoking weekend away at Rowe Conference Center in Rowe, Massachusetts (http://www.rowecenter.org).

The dogs await the moment when I put on my shoes and say the magic words. Their waiting is almost over......
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