OMG. That was the first thing I said to my workmate Ritu in the locker room after the Bikram yoga class last night. I survived! We all survived!
By the second of the 26 poses I was beginning to have my doubts whether I would. Not due to the heat, which at the early part of the class just felt pleasant to me. But due to the pace. No offence to Ulrike, the amazing teacher of the class I attended at Bikram Yoga Vancouver’s Cambie location, but my first impression in the class was of boot camp with a sadistic drill sergeant! The pace was non-stop, with urgings to try harder and push, push, push! Ulrike kept up a constant flow of exhortations and precise, skilled instructions for 90 minutes—an amazing demonstration of expertise and love of yoga.
In spite of my initial misgivings and questioning of the sanity of myself and all those attending the class, I made it through to the end. There were 11 first-timers in the class with me, and probably about 30 students in total. Four of us were from Vancity, and two of my workmates have done Bikram yoga before, while two of us were new. The class was packed, and it just kept getting hotter.
Using stubborn will, I kept up with the pace and did all of the poses, though some in bent knee rather than straight leg form, due to my extreme lack of flexibility. And in some cases I needed to back out of the full version to an easier form due to cramping in my feet at one point, and my calf muscles at another point. The heat did help me go further and deeper into some of the poses than I’ve ever done before. It was satisfying to test myself and be pushed almost to my limits, though what kept me going was the mantra that once this was over I was never taking another Bikram class!
The first half of the class was standing poses, and the second half was seated or supine poses. You would think the second half would be easier, but it was not. By the last 30 minutes, the heat was unbelievable, and it began to resemble a sweat lodge, which is meant to be so hot it forces the participants to be humbled, submit, and lay on the floor crying for release. In the seated part of the Bikram series, there is a short period of savasana between each pose; probably about 15 seconds of resting on one’s back before doing a super-sit-up, turning around, and quickly getting into the next pose. It was during these resting periods that I questioned whether I would be able to keep going. The teacher said something wise at this point, which was that we actually only needed to rest for a few breaths in order to integrate the previous pose and recover in time for the next one. Without anticipating what was coming next, it was truly a moment of relishing rest and being fully in the present. I began to experience emotional release and open-heartedness during the resting phases. And it was incredible how the super-sit-up became a flow of lightness, with no effort at all.
I felt like the previous days of yoga for the Reach Out Challenge had prepared me well for the challenge of the Bikram yoga class. Like training for months for a half-marathon, and then really pushing myself on race day, going at a sub-six-minute pace rather than my fastest training pace of eight-minute kilometres! I don’t know how the other first-timers did it, or whether, like me, they had experience with other yoga forms before taking this class. If not, it would be like trying to run a marathon without any training.
So for me, the class was like a race that was the culmination of many months of work. I wouldn’t want to run a half-marathon 3 times a week, and I don’t think I would ever want to take Bikram classes 3 times a week. I prefer my slow, plodding runs, with moments of grace where I have a great run that takes me by surprise. And slow, contemplative yoga classes, where there is time for deep sensing and inner reflection. But obviously there are many finer athletes than me, in running and in the yoga world, and some people get into doing the class 3 or 5 times a week and no doubt live radiant lives because of it.
Thanks to my friends and family who have pledged 50 cents or a dollar or even two dollars a day for the 30-day Reach Out Challenge. The total pledges is now at $285 dollars! Almost at my goal of $300. If you haven’t done so and would like to sponsor me to raise money for Yoga Outreach, you can use the online donation link. Or phone me at 604.251.6337 or send an email to kyrempel [at] gmail [dot] com. Thanks!