Every long-distance runner will make reference to ‘the wall’… that mental block runners face at 7 miles, 10 miles, 16 miles of a race… that point in time when each joint, muscle, nerve-ending starts shouting at you simultaneously… begging you to just stop running.
Overcoming the wall is what motivates many runners to sign up to that next ‘Run to the Beat’ Half Marathon… or to apply for a place through a charity on the next London Marathon.
But are there any ‘walls’ to face and overcome in Bikram Yoga?
Sure. They’re just different.
With each day of the 30 day Bikram Yoga challenge thus far, I have needed to overcome unique and discomforting challenges. I have expanded on some of these in previous blog entries, and others, I intend to expand on now.
Day 1 – Fri, 26 Aug: Feeling faint. Blurry vision. Muffled and slurred hearing. Tingly, numb sensation on my toes.
Day 2 – Sat, 27 Aug: Muscle soreness from the previous Bikram Yoga session alongside additional soreness from playing badminton with my boyfriend.
Day 3 – Sun, 28 Aug: Feeling particularly hot and short of breath. No matter how much air or however deeply I tried to inhale through my nose, I still felt not enough oxygen was circulating through my respiratory system.
Day 4 – Mon, 29 Aug: Really, really needing the toilet… from the beginning of the 90 minutes class.
Day 5 – Tues, 30 Aug: A tantalizing Bikram Yoga instructor – Andrew
When deciding to participate in the 30 day challenge, I knew each day’s practice would be different. Sleep, food, the day’s events, hydration, mood, stress – all impact how you feel or the extent to which you push yourself in your practice. Some fellow practitioners have said to me that yoga is all about you and your practice… nothing else matters. Whereas, in theory, this should be true – I have yet to reach that spiritual and mental level where I can simply block everything around me out.
Potentially this is a good thing. Knowing that this session would be one of my last late evening sessions before I had the flexibility to attend earlier classes, I was content with the idea that I would take it easy. It had been a while since I attended one of Andrew’s classes, and therefore, I formulated no assumptions about how my next 90 minutes would be.
Surprisingly, Andrew was quite tough… quite regularly adding a few seconds to a 20 second posture, just to see how we would all cope. Quite regularly making you feel as though you were due to undertake just one last push into the depths of a posture, and then he’d add a few more. I didn’t really feel I had the space to slack, or relax, and ended up exerting myself far more than anticipated on my second to last 8pm session. I only felt good for it after I overcame the wall… but there was nothing enjoyable about this session.
Pushing myself so much on day 5 of a 30 day challenge really made me ask myself whether I’d make it to the end.
Day 6 – Wed, 31 Aug: My relationship with the dialogue
I remember attending one of Sindy’s classes a few weeks ago, and she pulled us up on the fact that we were pre-empting her instructions, and fast-tracking into position for the next posture. She asked that we wait for her, stating that Bikram is about developing our listening skills and matching our bodies to the dialogue.
On day 6 of the challenge, I had my first ever session with Helena. As far as first impressions go, she carries a very positive, friendly, kind aura about her… one that makes it quite difficult to criticise her teaching style. Remembering Sindy’s words from before, I made every effort to listen to Helena and adjust my body’s movements to her instructions… however, she missed out on the little details of different postures… when to keep your calf against the floor, if this doesn’t occur naturally, flex your toes, put your chin to your chest, and look through the little triangle between your arms and your thighs… the absence of detailed instructions made me at a loss as to whether to pre-empt the postures and perform what I knew to be true and correct, or whether to listen, and do purely as I was told.
I opted to do as I was told to encourage the dynamic, organic flow between her words and my body. The plus side to this was that my session was fairly relaxed, calm, easy… the down side to this was that I didn’t really push myself; I felt quite demotivated; I felt guilty for feeling demotivated, particularly because Helena is so lovely; and I didn’t really feel as though I improved very much in my practice.
Bikram Yoga isn’t purely physical, though… So maybe having the opportunity to step back from physical exertion to contemplate my practice generally whilst undertaking the postures has a benefit? Hmmm, I don’t know.
Day 7 – Fri, 02 Sept: Your sweat in my face – the wall of disgust
They say you can burn a range of between 900 – 1250 calories, depending on how hard you push, during each Bikram Yoga session. It seems like no surprise considering the amount you sweat in 90 minutes. Over the last 2 years, I have probably taken about 40-50 classes, and I am very well acquainted with daily drenched Lycra bottoms and sports bras… sweat dripping into your ears when doing sit ups between postures… residue make-up stinging your eyes… snorting your own sweat through your nostrils as you do the Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose (Dandayamana-Bibhaktapada-Paschimotthanasana)… or watching driplets of sweat fall onto your towel whilst compressing your forehead forward to the top of your knee, looking at your belly button whilst doing the Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose (Dandayaman-Bibhaktapada-Janushirasana).
One thing I had yet to experience in my Bikram Yoga practice was regular flushes of another person’s sweat. A lovely gentleman on the mat next to me had quite a quick approach to transitioning between postures, which involved flinging his arms between each set of the Eagle Pose (Garurasana); abruptly lifting each arm for the Standing Bow Pose (Dandayamana-Dhanurasana); and shaking off the sweat from his limbs every so often to cool himself. Now this may have made his practice a little less hot, a little less tortuous, a little more relaxing – however, it made my own practice a little bit more disgusting than usual. I hadn’t intended on undertaking a 90 minute shower of a fellow practitioner’s sweat.
Overcoming ‘the wall’ of disgust was my own little victory for this session.
Day 8 – Sat, 03 Sept: Sadly, I don’t understand what hip alignment means
Sindy’s back! 🙂 Observant, thorough, helpful, tough. No matter where you position your mat in the studio, she knows where you are… she knows what you’re doing (and not doing!)… and she will make you better. If only I could understand….
As close to the wall as I could get in an attempt to ‘take it easy’ on day 8 of the challenge, I still had no scope to escape. Under the watchful eyes of Sindy, she noticed when I took my time getting into the Standing Bow Pose (Dandayamana-Dhanurasana) and quickly told me to get straight in there as I had no time to waste. This was fine. She caught me. I understood. And I got straight in to the pose, trembling my way into the posture rather than balancing properly on my locked knee.
The hardest…the Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose (Dandayamana-Bibhaktapada-Janushirasana)… led Sindy to say I need to lift my left hip… when we switched sides, she then said I needed to lift my right hip. Hip-lifting is an interesting phenomenon… I had never really been exposed to the concept before Bikram Yoga… and I’m finding it particularly difficult to get my head around the concept to actually adjust my body to form the correct alignment. In all fairness, I’m still not too sure I understand what the correct alignment is in order for me to emulate it. This wasn’t fine… or rather, isn’t… as I still can’t do this posture properly. If only I could understand what hip alignment means…
Day 9 – Sun, 04 Sept: What a beautiful practice – peace, breathing and Savasana
Coming from quite an athletic background, one of the major selling points of Bikram was the level of physical exertion and fitness I felt practice gave me. Prior to yesterday, I hadn’t ever devoted a session to purely breathing. I’ve always focused on the postures, pushing into certain compressions as much as possible until it hurts, stretching until it stings, often holding my breath until my face turns pink, leaving me to gasp for what feels like non-existent air in a 105 degree Fahrenheit room.
By the end of my practice, I often feel so hot and tired that I can’t wait to finish the second and final breathing exercise, the Blowing in Firm Pose (Kapalbhati in Vajrasana), so that I can say my ‘namaste’ and make an exit out of the room.
Yesterday, however, I focused on my breathing. If I felt I wasn’t breathing regularly and consistently, I stopped pushing. I observed how my breathing changed depending on the posture I was in. Most importantly, I stayed through the final Savasana, up until the next session’s practitioners started pulling out their mats to get ready for the following class.
For the first time, I lay there noticing, within the heat, how my body cooled itself… feeling myself continue to sweat long after completing my final posture… I eased my way out of the studio 15 minutes after its’ end… went into the shower… first cold water, then hot… then cold water, then hot…. feeling my pores close, then open…close, then open.
Putting my jeans on after my shower was much easier… as I felt I was no longer sweating… no longer needing to force my jeans up as per usual against my own stickiness. I felt far more at peace, and really enjoyed this session. I think I have more to learn on how breathing at Bikram can improve your Bikram performance.