Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Zen Master Mollie: Bikram Yoga

I have a confession to make: I’m doing yoga. And not just any yoga, Bikram yoga!!! (The hot kind.)

Don’t worry, I’m not giving up on running by any means. I’m just taking a little break to cross train a bit and try new things. Things like yoga…

People always assume that I’m a “yoga person” (much like people assume that I’m a vegetarian…and that I’m a stable relationship kind of girl…and that I’m much older than I am...But in the words of my mama, You know when you assume you make an 'ass' out of 'you' and 'me'! Or…in the less appropriate words of Travis Dane…well, just watch this).

Anywhoozle, my point is that contrary to common assumption, I hate yoga. And it’s not that I just had one bad experience. I’ve tried it three times. In three different contexts. So I am very comfortable saying that I’ve given it a fair shot and it’s just not for me.

But then a running friend raved about a place in Dupont that had a $20 unlimited intro week deal. And as we all know, I am a compulsive volunteer…thus, yesterday morning I found myself rolling out before 6 am to go do some Bikram.

I expected the worst. I hate hot weather (Bikram is done at 105*), and I just told you that I hate yoga (Bikram classes are 90 minutes long). So why did I think Bikram was a good idea? I can’t even answer that one…

But to my surprise, it wasn’t that bad! Seriously, it really wasn’t. It was hot, but not in a hit-you-in-the-face, humid-can’t-breathe sort of way (I’ve been to Africa, I know what that particular brand of heat feels like).

And the part I hate most about traditional yoga is the slowness of it – you get in a pose…Ok now hold it…and hold it…and feel the stretch…and really feel it…doesn’t that feel great? No. No it does not. It stretches and hurts!

In contrast, Bikram is more about strength and balance than straight-up stretching. Each class is a series of 26 poses and 2 breathing exercises. You do a pose, then take a break. Then do it again. Then you move on to the next one. The instructor talks you through the whole thing, and the 90 minutes actually passes rather quickly. And even though it’s early, non-cardio in the mornings really isn’t that bad.

By the end you’re dripping sweat, but it’s not any worse than a hard workout in August. And one of the benefits of going early in the morning is that the class isn’t full, so it’s not like other sweaty people are getting all up in my personal space.

As far as Bikram’s benefits to runners, I’m up in the air on that one. There seems to be two schools of thought. Half the people out there think that yoga is beneficial to runners, great for injury prevention. The other half point to studies that show no connection between injury and stretching (actually, they show that athletes who stretch a lot may get injured more), and warn that overstretching can actually cause injury.

Personally, I just think that you have to be careful – don’t over do it in Bikram (remember, the heat makes your muscles bendier than usual, so even if you’re not feeling a super-huge stretch, you’re probably getting one).

As for me, I’m now onto Bikram Week Day 2 – so far so good. I haven't died, torn myself in two, or passed out in class or on the way home. It’s 10:15 am, and I’m feeling surprisingly Zen, despite the fact that Massachusetts just took a big step towards ruining domestic politics. (Thank God I was well into my second cup of coffee before I looked at the front page this morning! Sorry - don't be offended. I try to keep Eat, Run, Read as apolitical as possible…and you must admit that for a DCist I’ve done a pretty good job!)