The 10 Day Bikram Yoga Challenge

jennifer ngan photography

“Your body is the filter for your consciousness.”

Those were the last words uttered as i was laying in my sweat soaked towel, clinging desperately onto my breath as I blinked away what felt like fire in my eyes. 

Backtracking a bit, I signed up for 10 classes in Bikram Yoga, because now that i practice yoga pretty regularly, trying out different forms naturally piqued my interest. Like most things in life, I jumped steadfast into what I thought wouldn’t be too challenging. Just like how I jumped into the Spartacus workout and afterwards needed to throw up. (I suppose it served its purpose).

Despite not knowing what Bikram Yoga really entailed, aside from the heat, i learned it is a style with a uniform 26 poses in a heated room to promote blood flow and calorie burning, i.e. strenuous workout.

My first day stepping into this burning hot 104 deg room, I had some curious side effects, like shortness of breath, the need to bury my face into my towel to avoid the burning in my lungs. The instructor did not demonstrate any of the poses, but he  talked through them while i looked at myself passively in the mirror trying to mimic my neighbors. I tore off my shirt 10 minutes in because I was literally suffocating. There was no need to feel self-conscious. We were all practicing and that’s what mattered.

30 minutes in, I felt like i lost my will to live. I was glistening in sweat, and at one point I thought it looked really cool because I’d never seen my knees sweat. To give you an idea of the waking nightmare I was in, my lungs felt like they were working overtime and the room was spinning. My lips felt numb. Every breath was painful but my intention was to break through the hardship and go with it. 60 minutes in and the floor poses were a bit easier on me, because much of it was stretching. The endurance poses definitely left me feeling like I was just a body held together by the resistance of failure and wrapped in the clothing of disappointment. It made me think, a lot. Too much. All my failures. All the things. 70 minutes in and I felt like a crumbly pile of skin and bones, seasoned by the salt of my own tears.

90 minutes in and we were laying on our mats just recovering from how hard our hearts were working. It made me appreciate how much my body goes through for me, despite my mind telling it to do stuff. I stress myself out at times when I don’t need to but it continues to be good to me. Fighting for me on the edge of sickness, being strong for me in times when I need to pick up cat litter, working efficiently so I don’t have to think too hard. All the negative thoughts subsided, and i was proud of my strength to pull through the whole 90 minutes. I didn’t give up.

Then I went home, and  thought about all the bad things I do to my body like not eating as well as I should. I started to think that maybe I should be healthier, eating only things that cavemen ate, that aren’t processed in any form (paleo). I followed that by looking up a recipe for homemade Clif bars because they exude the lifestyle of health and activity. But going through the recipe, it looked like i had to forage a bunch of oats and seeds, maple syrup, nut butters, dried fruit – all of which does not seem unprocessed. Cavemen didn’t have fancy stuff like maple syrup and nut butters and rice krispies and ovens. They didn’t even have pants. In any case, attempting to make these energy bars would result in little squares of sadness. They would go straight into my trash bin because daily life would be absolutely meaningless. And if I made it, taste and texture would be obscene because who’s got time for measurements.

I pictured my overweight Chinese grand-aunt in Hong Kong selling dim sum looking at me shaking her head and sighing. Then I proceeded to picture Giada de Laurentiis in her brightly lit Italian kitchen rolling out pappardelle by hand and eating all the carbs without abandon. What would she think? I weep.

But as I end this, friends, I know that my life is blessing. Having the option to do Bikram yoga has detoxed my body in many ways. Today was my 3rd class, and I surprisingly held up. I sipped through Emergen-c during mini breaks and i felt that electrolytes were being replenished as I lost them. A couple of hours before the class, I drank lots of water and ate somewhat healthily. During my lunch hour, I went and cardio-ed up with 30 minutes of circuit training followed by more hydration. No caffeine or even tea. Just pure water.

After my 10th class, i will report back. Despite having gone from losing my will to live in the first 30 minutes of class to weeping about food habits, every form of yoga is challenging me in ways I could not have comprehended a year ago. And for that reason alone, I won’t give up on Bikram just yet. I will continue to lay in my sweat drenched towel and let me eyes burn and lungs burn. After all, it’s all in the journey isn’t it?

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