By Chris Schmidt
In August of 2012, a girlfriend invited me to "Free Friend Friday" at the Bikram Yoga AZ Old Town Scottsdale studio. I had taken a class earlier in the year at a different studio after hearing about it on a local radio station, but never returned for one reason or another. My friend's enthusiasm for the practice was contagious, however, so I figured I'd try it again. Something clicked. Maybe it was the energy emanating from the other yoga practitioners around me, or maybe it was the caring, helpful instructors. But I felt like I belonged.
A few days later, I signed up for a month-long package and I've never looked back. In January of this year, I participated in a 30-day challenge conducted by the studio and, following 40 days of uninterrupted daily practice, I dropped my gym membership and made BY my go-to discipline for all things physical fitness (in addition to a few hikes thrown in). But, it is so much more than that. It has become a way of life, an extension of who I am.
When I first started, I figured the yoga would be a great way to improve my flexibility, which was pretty non-existent to begin with. But once I regularly began attending class and listening to the instructors' dialogue, I learned about all of the different benefits BY offers-from regulating the sleep-wake cycle to managing migraine headaches, warding off arthritis, helping with depression and anxiety and maintaining a healthy digestive track (to name a few). And then, when I personally began reaping the benefits of my own practice, it became a no-brainer.
I've written several blogs and articles about the practice of BY and what it has done for me personally. I'm a walking Bikram Yoga advertisement. When the instructors talk about the benefits of BY during their dialogue, they could be describing me. I have scoliosis, high cholesterol, osteopenia (the precursor to osteoporosis), IBS, migraine headaches, anxiety, mild depression, insomnia and asthma (for starters). Since practicing Bikram Yoga, the curvature in my spine is less pronounced, my cholesterol level has been maintained without medication, my bone density has increased and my digestive issues have been nearly eliminated (no pun intended). I can honestly say that my overall health has improved dramatically.
I believe that BY has literally given me a new lease on life. Physically, I've become more toned and flexible, and my energy and stamina have improved significantly. Mentally, I've used the 90 minutes of moving meditation to work through emotional issues, as well as calm my racing thoughts. Not only have I discovered that I'm stronger than I ever believed possible (both physically and mentally), but I believe BY saved me from an emotional breakdown after a traumatic family event earlier this year. I was able to step into the hot room each day and leave my burdens at the door and, for that hour and a half, I found unconditional acceptance.
I recall one day, when I entered the studio after a particularly challenging morning. One of the instructors immediately saw the tear stains on my face, wrapped me in a hug and whispered in my ear, "The great thing is that in there, everyone will think it's just sweat." And beyond the physical, mental and emotional benefits, I've also made friendships with some wonderful yogis who I'm blessed to share the hot room with. It truly doesn't get any better than that.
The other day one of my friends asked me what my favorite Bikram Yoga pose is. I have three of them. One, Bow Pulling Pose, because when everything comes together in the posture-from my balance to my concentration to the form-I feel very feminine and sexy, a powerful combination. Two, Triangle Pose, because I feel incredibly strong. And three, Cobra Pose, because I used to dread it until I was able to achieve final expression. This taught me that practice, along with discipline, really works.
The biggest piece of advice I would give a new student is not to take yourself too seriously. BY is a practice, not a perfect. This is something I need to remind myself every day. If you want to receive the full benefits of BY, it's important to allow yourself to be broken and vulnerable each time you step into the hot room. This way the BY can build you back up and teach you what you're there to learn that day. It's true what our instructors tell us: our bodies are different each time we practice. Oh, and I would also tell the new student to come back. Speaking from experience, I sometimes struggle with the love-hate relationship I have with the discipline. But I promise, you will not regret it.
If I could submit a quote to be read by my favorite teacher (and this is whoever happens to be teaching when I attend class) in final Savasana, it would be this one by C.S. Lewis: You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. Bikram Yoga is the catalyst to keep us young ... so that we can.