By Lynn Jacobsen
I have been practicing yoga in some form on and off since 1997. I started with Iyengar and changed to Hatha when I moved to Phoenix. As I got a "little" older, I found myself sitting out longer and longer portions of class as others were doing head stands and poses I was not comfortable attempting due to neck and frozen shoulder issues. (Yes, those early sports injuries may come back to haunt you some day and I had promised my orthopedic surgeon I would not do any more head stands after a not so beautiful attempt resulted in compressing some discs in my neck.) I quit yoga altogether for a year or so. Then about seven years ago a friend convinced me to go to a Bikram class with her. At first I was going once a week, which felt like the first time every time. Then I decided I should go twice a week and now I feel like a slacker if I don't go at least four or five times a week.
The 26 poses, not particularly easy for someone who has hip flexors and hamstrings made of steel, do not jar me nor do they put unnecessary pressure on my neck and spine. When I miss class for more than three or four days, my muscles get cranky and rebellious. As someone who grew up in the Twiggy era (google her if you are under oh, say, 55 or so) when girls wanted to resemble slouchy models devoid of all muscle tone and who basically looked unhealthy, the stretching and muscle and core strengthening from Bikram yoga has helped me become more aware of and improve my posture. The balancing series also is so important as we get older. People much younger than I am have been amazed I can stand on one foot to put on socks! Imagine if they saw an entire class doing the balancing series!
That being said, one of my favorite poses is my own pre-class savasana. I love to get to class about 10 or 15 minutes early to just lie in the warm room with no demands on my time and no one able to reach me. This small bit of the day that is mine alone is how I trick myself into getting to class. Since I'm basically lazy, if I let myself think of the exertion I'm going to expend or how sweaty I'm going to get in the next 90 minutes or that I'm going to have to do my hair AGAIN, I would talk myself out of coming more often than not.
I also have a couple of postures I like even though they require movement. I love half tortoise just because it is the most exquisite stretch through the arms, shoulders and spine. Call me crazy, but I really like camel, too. The back bend feels so good and the release of the muscles after makes me feel alive. I also like triangle and I am determined that someday it will eventually open up my hips.
I've had two injuries that Bikram yoga has helped. The first one is a frozen shoulder from a skiing injury. When I first started yoga, my arm literally would freeze in place during certain poses. Somehow over time it just quit happening. I still have the frozen shoulder but it is much more manageable than it has been in 25 years. My other injury happened about a year and a half ago when I developed two bulging discs in my lower spine. The hardest part of the injury and recovery was not being able to come to yoga for almost a year. I finally couldn't stay away. No one can say how I hurt myself, but as a result I am much more aware of the dialogue and setting up the poses to avoid hurting myself again. I have to be really careful of the forward bends but other than that, I am close to doing a fairly decent version of most poses again.
My advice to new students is when they say come back tomorrow, come back tomorrow. Don't wait a week like I did. You have a superb built-in support group in your fellow yogis and you'll get used to the heat. And don't eat a hamburger and fries an hour before class! That, you will regret.
My favorite quote is: "Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one." -Dr. Suess