About this series: For 2012, I vowed to try a new type of yoga each month and write about it here. This is the first of 12 reviews–keep checking back for more!
Although I have been very happy with my practice at breathe in the past year, I have tried to motivate myself to try new branches of yoga to deepen my commitment to it. The power vinyasa classes at breathe have certainly helped me through some stressful times, got me more in shape, and continually allowed me the chance to just let go when I need to. The classes’ heat, intensity, and rigor have become a staple in my life this past year, and it’s not a habit I intend to break anytime soon.
I had heard of Bikram yoga before. It’s known for being fairly intense and sometimes competitive; from my understanding, Bikram competitions are something of a controversy and may feature in the summer Olympics this year. My only experience actually seeing what goes on in a Bikram class came from watching a documentary called Enlighten Up! (I highly recommend this documentary, if anything just to see the differences amongst yoga’s many disciplines.) The main thing I remember about the bit concerning Bikram yoga was a male instructor who seemed not so much to teach the class as command them. The other thing was that the instructor asked the documentary’s subject to not drink any water until later in the class. Unless I misunderstood this exchange, this seemed to me a weird command (and also highly dangerous!); however, I recognize most instructors would likely not ask this of their students. Add in the fact that classes are heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit with something like 40% humidity tacked on, and the whole thing seems pretty intimidating.
A Bikram studio recently opened this past year in Rochester, and I decided to give it a shot. I’m already used to the heat from the vinyasa classes (which are about 85-90 degrees, though with little to no humidity), so I at least kind of knew what to expect. When I arrived at Bikram Rochester, I was greeted at the door by Aaron, the owner. He asked me if I was new, and when I said yes, he had me sign a waiver.
I admit I skimmed it, but it essentially stated “It’s not our fault if you pass out in class and/or hurt yourself!” I’m sure this would send most people running far away. I suppose if you’re 100% new to yoga, this is probably not the best place to start. I signed the form, and then Aaron told me that I had one goal: not to leave the room. “Even if you want to lie in Savasana [corpse pose] for the whole class, that’s fine” he said, “just don’t leave the room.” The guy was kind of intense. Too late now, I figured. I had already paid for class, so I headed back toward the classroom.
The interior was all wood paneling with a large mirror stretched out along the front of the room. I am not used to mirrors. Part of what got me into doing yoga at breathe was the fact that on their website, I noticed that the pictures of the classroom revealed no mirrors. I remember going to the gym in high school and college and having to stare at myself sweating during my workouts. It was not a pretty sight. I took a spot in the back of the room, and thanks to having incredibly poor eyesight once my glasses are off, the mirror thing wasn’t an issue. I at least could make out the fuzzy outlines of my classmates to clue me in to what I was supposed to be doing. Good enough!
Class began with a breathing exercise, and then we moved into Bikram’s 26 asanas, or postures, each one done twice. To be honest, the heat of the room didn’t feel much different from that of breathe’s classroom, but even during the breathing exercise, I noticed that my skin was already stippled with sweat. We then moved on to our standing series—no sun salutations here! Thankfully, the class allows for plenty of breaks, including water, and the instructor would open the doors every once in a while to let some cool air into the room.
The instructor gave the class directions throughout almost the entire 90 minutes—I mean it. She barely stopped talking, which was on the one hand kind of impressive—like she was some sort of yogi auctioneer—and on the other hand a bit irritating. I’m used to long silences and usually some music, so to hear nothing but talking and other students breathing for an hour and a half was a bit weird.
At one point in the class, we got into Vriksasana, or tree pose, although Bikram yogis perform this pose a bit differently than what I’m used to. For me, this involved a very hasty reshuffling of limbs! This class’s version of Trikonasana (triangle pose) involved a bent knee, rather than straight (we usually refer to this as “side angle pose”), and Bikram also had a slight variation on Utkatasana (awkward pose, a very fitting name for it). The differences didn’t bother me, in the end, but I have to admit I did miss my normal “routine,” loose as it is in Baptiste classes.
I met my “goal” of not leaving the room, so I did feel some satisfaction by the time class ended. I saw a few people go in and out, probably to get some air, and I don’t blame them! It’s a tough workout, and it was honestly a bit tempting to step out for a moment at some points. It didn’t help that the cold bottle of water I brought to class was lukewarm by the time I finished. The intensity that Bikram offers is its main draw, and I can see why. As difficult as it can feel, it’s always incredibly rewarding to make it through over an hour of heat, sweat, and stretching! I think I may try another class in the future to augment my practice, but not to replace what I already do.