Friday, February 19, 2010

A Japanese Ham Sandwich

It is hot. I get all sweaty. I wear as little clothing as possible. When I am finished, my body is tired, but also feels strong and revitalized. My mind is calm and peaceful, yet alert and rejuvenated. I do it 3 or 4 times a week. No, it is not that! It is Bikram yoga also known as hot yoga.

Bikram yoga is 90 minutes of Hatha yoga in a room heated to 105 degrees and with 40% humidity. Most people's idea of a hell on earth, huh? A class consists of 26 postures with very long, hard to say Indian names, but with simplified American descriptions like "Japanese ham sandwich." The idea behind it being so hot is that it increases flexibility and decreases the risk of injury and allows a person to rework their body. Think of the analogy of a sword. Cold, it is rigid and inflexible, but heat it up and you have something pliable with which you can work and shape.

The heat and humidity does make you sweat, but that is a good thing. Really. When I am finished, I look like I have been swimming. I have chuckled to myself during class because when I was supposed to be focusing on my breath, I was having visions of a tacky Will Ferrell movie where the props guys had cut corners and used a water hose to simulate sweat ridiculously pouring off. All the sweat is an incredible detoxification through the largest organ in the body...the skin. I leave the room cleaner than when I went in. Can't say I smell better though.

Because over 90 pills went entirely through my system when I tried to commit suicide, detoxing was pretty high on my list. When I first started doing hot yoga, I would feel mentally clearer after each class. I did a challenge where I did 60 classes in 60 days. Unknowingly, it was probably the best thing I could have done to get the residual drugs out of my body. You think I am crazy? We just had a girl in my studio complete 365 classes in 365 days.

She says the same thing that I do. Bikram yoga has transformed my life. It has aided me in recovering from my brain injury physically as well as mentally and encouraged me to adopt a healthier, kinder, gentler perspective towards life and myself.

Muscle tension is a side effect of a brain injury. For the longest time, my hands were clenched like claws. While my writing still looks like chicken scratch, my hands have relaxed. My speech was greatly impaired. I believe this was largely due in part to clenching my jaws. Think Thurston Howell. Oh, Lovey! My jaws have really relaxed, but I am not quite Gilligan yet.

Over the two years I have been doing it since my brain injury, Bikram yoga has greatly helped to improve my balance. At first, with my eyes open, the room would spin. Now, I am steady and can do a mighty impressive impersonation of a flamingo.

The one most crucial thing stressed in yoga is the breath. The class begins and ends with breathing exercises to increase the lung capacity and strengthen the lungs. I am constantly reminded to concentrate on my breath. This is harder than you would think. As a result of my pill popping, I also sustained an "acute lung injury" whatever that means. All I know is that I used to not be able to breathe and talk at the same time. It has greatly helped this, and I don't gasp mid sentence anymore.

Bikram yoga encourages the heart and lungs to be friends and to work together like originally designed. It is proven to increase the oxygen levels in the blood and to improve the circulation which are both something I greatly needed in my recovery.

Anyone can benefit from Bikram yoga. It has been shown to be helpful in aiding sleep, regulating the appetite, stabilizing moods, decreasing stress, reducing and alleviating pain and more. Because of its super detoxification benefits, people doing chemotherapy have found it to be very helpful. Also, because one class burns around 800 calories, it is a great way to keep those weight loss/get fit New Year's resolutions.

So, if you thought yoga was a bunch of flower children, burning incense, relaxing and stretching while chimes play in the background, think again. This is rigorous, physical exercise. It is not pretty, but it is sooo good. When you are finished, you feel like you have accomplished something. You are just not sure what.


  1. Fascinating. Great post.

    Sounds like a super form of Yoga for the rest of us to check out.

  2. I agree with Dr. Albright. Nice name for a Psychologist too. Anyway, would love to hear more about the class; when it is, etc.

  3. This sounds SOOOO good. If I still lived in Arizona I could practice for free... all I'd have to do is go outside :)