Friday, January 21, 2011

Got a Secret, Can You Keep It?

My home studio recently did away with the practice of not publishing teachers' schedules. When we'd get calls asking, "Who's teaching the 5:30 today?" we used to respond with, "We don't have a fixed teacher schedule, but we do have a 5:30 class." One evening, a regular even handed me a schedule card and asked me to cross out the times a particular teacher taught. Now the schedule is posted online and on the bulletin board in the studio.

I know that most studios make their schedules available and that our studio is just catering to the preferences of its students. Still, I prefer the old system. Sure, that's easy for me to say--I'm a workstudy with access to the schedule. But this new arrangement opens the door to favoritism, attachment, and avoidance. In my pre-workstudy days, I remember asking for teacher times regularly. Sometimes I, too, wanted to dodge a pushier teacher in favor of a more Kumbaya class. They'd never tell me, though, and eventually I had to let go of the need to know. Now the pushier teachers are some of my favorites!

We form attachments so readily--to class times, teachers, spots in the room--and the perpetual quest for control can become pretty exhausting. Meanwhile, it's surprisingly liberating to surrender to these externalities and focus instead on managing our reactions. Easier said than done? You betcha!

Sure, there are probably some teachers with whom we connect more than others--specific teachers we find particularly inspiring. But every teacher has something to offer, even if its just a test of our patience!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Always Be Prepared

I love rules. Numbered lists of rules. And structure. Consistency, even at the expense of variety. In other styles of yoga, classes vary, postures vary, and modifications rule the day. Not so in Bikram. The postures don't change, your body changes. And s-l-o-w-l-y, your mind learns to let go of micromanaging and multitasking, if only for 90 minutes.

A friend and occasional Bikram toe-dipper asked me to write the definitive guide to class preparation--to spell out the lecture I gave her and other willing participants before their first class. Write a list of Bikram rules? Yes, please!

So, for those of you who missed the bus, Bikram Yoga is a 90-minute beginner-level series of 26 classical hatha yoga postures (including two breathing exercises) practiced in a room ideally heated to 105*F/40*C with 50% humidity. Of course it's not easy--where's the fun in that? But it is doable, especially with a little prep, and it leaves you feeling EUPHORIC! Thus, without further ado, here are my guidelines for a fabulous Bikram class.

Before Class

As a beginner, proper hydration is half the battle. During class, your sweat glands will be working overtime to flush out toxins and cool your body. To prevent dehydration, make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day: 1 1/2 - 2 liters, even if you're not thirsty. For those of you not accustomed to this much water, get ready for frequent bathroom breaks! You'll want to stop drinking 1 hour before class to give your body a chance to absorb and digest.

On a related note, it's best to practice on an empty stomach. Not ravenous, mind you, but if you're thinking of eating a falafel sandwich or double cheeseburger 2 hours before class, wait until after. Eating too close to class guarantees an encore during the floor series! Skip the savory treats 3 hours before class, but feel free to enjoy a piece of fruit (perhaps a filling, potassium-rich banana) 1-2 hours prior.

Another comfort factor you have control over (unlike the heat, sweat, or teacher!) is your outfit. As someone who began her practice very out of shape, I understand the urge to cover up in long pants and a baggy t-shirt. If you can rock the teeny bikini, go for it! If you're feeling a bit more modest, that's cool, too. Just know that minimal clothing means less sweat-drenched fabric dangling from your body. It's also important to be able to see your knees in the front mirror when practicing (a locked knee is the foundation of much of the standing series), so above-the-knee shorts are preferable. My favorite women's yogawear brand is Lululemon. Yes, their pieces run $40-$50, but I'm still wearing the same Reverse Groove Shorts I purchased 3 years ago. If you're well-endowed, Moving Comfort makes excellent sports bras. For men, I like Shakti Activewear--similarly priced and durable. Clothing Tip: avoid that shiny biker short material; it's itchy, non-breathable, and it rides up, causing lots of distracting fidgets and adjustments.

Additionally, you'll want to forgo fragrances and lotions in the hot room for two reasons. First: heat magnifies odor, so the whole room will begin to take on the collective scent of its occupants. Second: seemingly absorbed lotions will sneak their way up to your skin's surface, creating a slippery obstacle course to a nice, tight grip. Slick it on after class!

My last bit of pre-class advice is to get enough sleep the night before. Maybe skip the tequila shot contest in favor of a nice cup of tea and an early bedtime. Refreshing!

After Class

If you thought you were done with water for the day, you thought wrong! Drink at least another liter after class, even if you're not thirsty. The body loses a lot of water during class, so replenish, replenish, replenish. You'll also want to replace your electrolytes, which are lost with your sweat. Think bananas, coconut water, tomatoes, and melon.

After my very first Bikram class, I felt both exhilarated and terrified to return. Exhilarated because every cell, tissue, muscle, organ, and gland had been stimulated. I felt so alert and alive--a boundless heap of energy. Terrified because the class was no longer a mystery. I knew exactly what I was in for on day two, including an array excuses to blow it off. Thankfully, I didn't.

As one of my favorite teachers will tell you even before class starts: come back tomorrow. It's the only way to get used to the heat, which for many is the greatest challenge. Consistency will also allow you to zero in on your strengths and weaknesses, and improve your mind-body connection. But don't worry, it never gets easy!              

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Final Countdown

Welcome friends, old and new, to my latest (and hopefully last!) blog. I've been a blog commitment-phobe for many years now, but this time I finally think I've got it right. Bikram Yoga has never left me at a loss for words, and with my plans to attend the Fall 2011 Teacher Training, what better time than now to corral a captive audience.

I started practicing Bikram in the summer of 2007, just after completing my first year of law school. The timing was impeccable, as I had spent the previous year questioning my career goals and gaining plenty of weight. Cut to 3 1/2 years and more than 1,180 classes later, and I am SO ready to teach this yoga!

Even though training is a whopping 8 months away, I am eagerly memorizing dialogue and reciting it ad infinitum to a very patient man. I am daydreaming about electrolyte mix. I am envisioning late night practice sessions with my roommate. Adrenaline is coursing through my veins!

And thus, The Final Countdown begins. A couple of superwomen inspired me to chronicle this exciting time, so let's ride the wave, shall we?