Before I moved to Portland in June 2016, a friend in Albuquerque introduced me to hot yoga. It wasn’t Bikram yoga and I didn’t understand the postures, but I was determined to keep trying. When I got to Portland, I was pleased to find Bikram Yoga St. Johns in my neighborhood and, although I knew nothing about Bikram yoga, I bought a year membership.
I didn’t get my money’s worth that year. I didn’t attend class regularly, rarely drank enough water, and every pose was "awkward pose." Classes were hard because I would lose my balance and even fall sometimes. I would leave bewildered, embarrassed and dehydrated. But something kept me coming back, and I always felt welcomed with open arms no matter how long I had been away.
This New Year's Eve, I came to the studio for a late night yoga class. I rang in the New Year with Kay, Orlo and the rest of the Bikram St. Johns family, under the blacklight with kombucha. I decided to do the 30-day challenge shortly after that. I came up with a yoga schedule that fit around my work schedule, and I set a goal to do 20 classes in 30 days. I loved seeing the stars by my name accumulate.
I did 18 classes in 30 days and I began to see first-hand the benefits of regular Bikram practice: my balance and eye- hand coordination improved, my chronic back pain and stiffness lessened, and my mood improved. I've been practicing about 10-12 times a month ever since.
I am a Registered Nurse and my job is demanding physically, mentally and emotionally. I also have scoliosis and a leg length difference. I could barely move my shoulder at one point. With regular practice I can now move my shoulder without pain. I didn’t think that was going to be possible.
I didn’t think a lot of things were possible when first started my Bikram practice. I didn’t think I would ever get into Fixed Firm pose (check out my photo above!) or stand on one leg. Now Fixed Firm pose is a favorite of mine and I’m getting closer to Standing Head to Knee every day. I have conquered many challenges in my life and Bikram yoga is a very worthwhile challenge. And I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process.
I will be 70 in January 2019, and I have had back issues most of my life. Last year I was in a lot of pain, almost to the point of not being able to walk. I would need to rest after walking only short distances with my little granddaughter. I was also feeling depressed a lot of the time.
My son and daughter-in-law encouraged me to try hot yoga, which I was sure was not for me. I tried it anyway, mostly so they would leave me alone!
I have now been practicing Bikram yoga 2-3 times per week for about a year. My back pain is nearly gone and my range of motion is incredible. I had a serious balance issue and now, nearly a year later I'm getting my balance back. I know my good balance is going to be even more important as I get older for avoiding slips and falls. As I gain strength and balance, my mood and confidence have also improved.
These days my energy level is very good, even though I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia years ago. I tell all my friends about yoga, and I’m trying to get the ones who could really use it to come to class with me! This little yoga community at Bikram Yoga St. Johns has brought me a new social life full of friendly and amazing people.
I also have osteoarthritis, plantar fasciitis (which is no longer bothering me) and scoliosis. I have spinal stenosis, which used to cause leg and foot pain as well as lower back pain and balance problems. I thought the only alternative was to have surgery, but I certainly don't need that now. Bikram Yoga was the answer.
I can feel my spine is so much better and stronger than before I started at BYSJ. I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone to try Bikram yoga, and I look forward to many years of practice ahead!
I remember, after mentioning to Kay that I’d lost 40 lbs in just over 100 days, her asking “But it’s more than that, it’s the inner transformation, right?” My response was quick, “Absolutely, I just have no other way to sum it all up!” Later, I've been able to clarify my thoughts:
The weight loss, I decided, was a 'superficial yardstick' for the multitude of positive life changes i was experiencing due to my new yoga practice. Essentially, the real transformation was me getting back to me.
Everything kept falling into place, like a domino effect. I was eating healthier & required less sleep. I soon found I had more energy then I knew what to do with. This means I now find time for personal creative endeavors as well as exploring the natural beauty that is just outside our doors.
These past 6 months of yoga have shown me, and I want to tell you: You Already Are That Better Version Yourself! If your intention is set, nothing can stop you from reaching your goals. Pardon the hippie-dippy sentiment, but I did kinda move here from Santa Cruz, CA ;)
My first class was the sliding-scale donation class on a Thursday night last fall. After reading of the many benefits associated with Bikram, I thought it was something I had to try for myself! I approached with a healthy skepticism, and after giving it test-run realized it was everything I was hoping for and more.
Within a week, I was telling friends it was "the best thing I’ve done for myself in a long time.” Within a month, the lower back pain I was suffering from had disappeared.
Savasana (aka Dead Body Pose) is still extremely challenging for me. Patience is a life-long lesson. I believe that learning to be still and relax is one of the best things we can do to maintain balance in this fast-paced world in which we live. Look around- we’re all here for the same reason. As we become better versions of ourselves, we’re better able to serve the community around us- what an amazing gift! P.S. Don’t forget to breathe.
Here's a recipe for one of my healthy meals that keeps me hydrated and energized for practicing 4-5 times per week:
Original Hot Yoga Salad
• your favorite greens mix
• low-fat cottage cheese
• roasted sunflower seeds
• kosher dill pickles
• chili flakes (100% *not* optional!)
"I have always been active and used to run quite a bit, but that took a toll on my knees. When I originally started at Bikram Yoga St. Johns in 2016, I was looking for something to help my joints and lower back issues.
"For me the obvious benefits of regular practice have been decreased knee pain and conditioning for my low back. But more importantly I find that it really helps control my anxiety through the focused breathing. I am very conscious of my breathing in class and I find it transitions to other stressful situations in my life. When I found out I was pregnant I was so thankful that my doctor was so encouraging about continuing to practice throughout pregnancy. There is so much misguided information out there, and Kay has been an amazing resource through this journey.
"When I really started to show, my pesky low back issues started to creep up again and were exacerbated by a trip I had to take for work. I returned home with sciatica and could barely walk without limping. After just a couple of classes, my back improved again and I have had hardly any issues since. It sometimes feels daunting when I am getting ready to go to class at almost 8 months pregnant, but I always feel so good after and know the breathing and focus will help me when its time to welcome my baby to world!"
Update: Bridget gave birth to a healthy baby girl on February 28, 2018! Congratulations to the whole family!!
i"The principle of Ardha-Matsyendrasana and of other spine-twisting asanas is the use of the legs as fulcrums or levers so that the pull of the arms on the two upper corners of the rib box can bring the spinal twist to its maximum potential. The value of the twist is that it exercises, adjusts and rejuvenates the spine, and that it stimulates all the organs of the trunk to better health."
(from "Yoga Postures for Health", compiled from articles in the 1956-59 Self Realization Magazine)
Half Spine Twisting pose improves blood circulation around the spinal nerves, veins and tissues. It increases flexibility of the entire spine and range of motion at the hip joints, helps alleviate back pain caused by lumbago, kyphosis, scoliosis and arthritis. Twisting improves digestion, relieves flatulence and strengthens the abdominal and thigh muscles while providing a tremendous stretch for the illiotibilal (IT) band.
So how come we only do 1 set of this fabulous pose? Bikram might say he ran out of time- but we think it's just so great that only 1 set of it does the job. ;)
How to do:
"I signed up for Bikram yoga after seeing BYSJ's booth at the Farmer's Market in spring of 2016, and the timing could not have been more serendipitous. Deep down I knew I needed to do something to get back into a consistent exercise routine. The very first big difference thing that I noticed after a few weeks of practicing regular Bikram Yoga was the skin on the back of my upper arms/tricep was no longer bumpy (a very common skin thing)- - it was smooth!
Being in the military (at the Oregon Air National Guard in Portland - our F-15 airplanes share the runway with PDX) we have a PT (physical training) test each year. I had found recent years that I 'crammed' for it-- going into 'beast mode' about 6 weeks or so before the test (which comprises of timed situps & pushups-- 1 minute allotted for each-- not to mention waist measurement and a mile & a half run.
In June 2016 (about a month or so of getting into Bikram yoga) I scored the highest PT (physical training) score ever (in my 20+ yrs in the military) with a 96.9 (out of 100). To score Excellent, one must get 90 or above. Fortunately because of my regular yoga practice, i don't have to worry about not passing.
"Cramming at anything in life does not help anybody! I wanted a regular exercise practice that I liked and that give me great benefit and to also be a role model to my kids for a picture of health. Many career military folks lose their dedication to their health and I think it's so important to set the example but, more importantly, to live my best life (like Oprah says.) I was looking primarily for physical benefits; toning & flexibility appealed to me. My high school and college days of track and volleyball are far behind me, and now I have fallen in love w/ Bikram Yoga particularly. It's easy on the joints, non-competitive, and the benefits, as I've learned, are far more than physical: my practice has increased my patience and motivation in other areas of my life.
"The greatest benefits in the last year in particular are: 1) healing a fresh back injury! With physical therapy, I took a short break right after the injury and then got back into it right on time for January 2017's 30-day challenge! I took it very easy and did very little in some postures and it healed me 98%! The other 2% was just time. Today I am 100%. 2) I credit Bikram Yoga for the remarkable healing following an ovarian cyst removal surgery in early October 2017; after 3 days I felt restless and was ready to drive to my doctor's appointment. In each class when it's mentioned that we receive 100% of the benefit for every attempt we do, that really speaks to me. I have learned to really listen to my body since regularly practicing (I aim for 3x/week.)
"I love putting my energy into Bikram yoga. The 5:30am class is great for my work-life balance. When I get home after the early morning class, my husband and 2 kids are just getting up (so I don't miss family time) and I'm still able to get to work on time. I LOVE that our cozy St. Johns neighborhood has its own Bikram Yoga studio and I am proud to be part of it! "
"About seven years ago my friend told me what a deep and awesome yoga series Bikram Yoga was for her; I had heard about Bikram before, but seeing her enthusiasm really sparked my interest. When I finally made the decision to go, I really went because I wanted to heal my spine from a car accident and in general I wanted to develop a more healthy lifestyle.
I hoped to lose body fat, and build muscle and bone strength. I wanted to quit smoking. I knew that if anything would help any combination of these things, it would be reintroducing a yoga practice into my life. I had practiced Ashtanga yoga, years prior to trying Bikram and my car accident, and I was looking to try something new.
My regular practice has helped me achieve all of these goals! I once suffered from three bulging discs in my lumbar spine. My bulging disks often became inflamed in other exercises she tried, and through the warmth of the heat and the progressive backward bending and aligning postures of the Bikram yoga series, I no longer have any bulging discs or discomfort in my back.
"I lost close to 30 lbs that I took on after my car accident and struggled to lose before. I began to have strength and definition in parts of my body that had previously felt static. I also quit smoking. My regular practice has helped me achieve all of the goals I started with, but has moreso helped me realize that by making it an integral part of my life it helps me in many more ways!
"My yoga practice has become my catalyst to overcome whatever it is that I need to work out, literally or figuratively, each day. It's amazing how the same series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises remains consistent, but my experience changes daily based on the external energy I bring in from outside of the hot room.
"Besides the obvious physical benefits, I've also been most grateful for the spiritual, mental, and emotional growth that has come by integrating my Bikram yoga practice into my life. By embracing the uncomfortable obstacles I encounter in the hot room (the heat, my stiffness, distractions, the sweat!) I find I have great strength to take on challenges I meet outside of the hot room. Simply put: practicing this series makes me a better human!
"The thing that continues to amaze me most is the reassurance I gain from the practice that BIG things are possible: that if you apply action, with patience and intention, and the willingness to fail, and try again, that anything is possible.
"I am preparing to go to Bikram's Teacher Training this fall, and I am so excited! By becoming a Bikram Yoga teacher I will be able to inspire and help others heal themselves through this yoga. I want to study and know in depth the science and meaning behind every bit of the dialogue. I want to deepen my personal practice. I want to dedicate myself to Bikram yoga for life. It has improved my life so much for the better and it's time to share it with others!"
"I started Bikram yoga in Grapevine, Texas in June of 2015 with the 30-day challenge. I had herniated my L5 disc in my back and was in physical therapy for 6 months with no real results for the pain. A friend recommended Bikram hot yoga. Though painfully wonderful the first 30 days, the pain subsided and I began to recover.
"In 2016 during a regular physical exam (after I had paused from Bikram yoga for about 9 months) the doctor informed me I had high blood pressure. He wanted to evaluate after 30 days with a recommendation of lower salt intake, weight loss and more exercise. I told him I was going to return to Bikram yoga and see if I could resolve the blood pressure issue. The following results speak for themselves:
"My goals were: Lower Blood pressure (Achieved); Lose Weight 210 lbs (Close!); Heart Beat in lowest level for my age (Achieved); No prescriptions (Achieved); No alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, caffeine (Achieved); Low daily sugar 23g per day; Fun every day! (Achieved)
September 12, 2016
Heart Beat Per Minute 65
--> 30 days later!
Heart Beat Per Minute 51
"When I returned for my follow-up, my doctor was shocked that these results were achieved within 30 days of my September exam. He asked me how I did it. My response was: Bikram hot yoga, 3-4 times a week. Bikram hot yoga has now been added to my normal routine and I am convinced it has cured my ailments and redefined my body, mind and soul! Bikram hot yoga should be a required prescription in our medical system, for the results are stunning and life-long."
These photos were taken on Independence Day. First (the ones where my forehead is nowhere near my knee!) are what my Head to Knee and Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee poses looked like about 1 year ago, when my lower back was in continuous muscle spasm from lifting my baby the wrong way one too many times. The second photos in each pair are what my postures look like now- and also what they looked like just 5 days after my back injury.
I remember the date because I had to miss my good friends' wedding- I could not bear the pain of sitting in the car to get there. I could not pick up my daughter to hold her if she cried. For several days, I lost my independence. I could not cook my food, do my laundry, pick up a bag, open a door, or even stand for over a minute without severe pain.
What could I do? I could come to yoga.
And I did. I came to yoga every day for 5 days. I did very very gentle stretching. In many postures this meant I could only do the very first step or two in setting up the posture. I did not do any sit-ups. Even in the backward bending postures- and I think this part gets overlooked sometimes- I did not "kill myself," as is normally encouraged when practicing with a spine that's feeling a-ok. I got myself to the place where I could tolerate the pain, and I held it and worked my breath. My Cobra pose for example, where the instructions are to get the upper body off the floor until only the belly button is touching? I got my chin off the floor a little. Yeah. And that was my posture. It hurt! But I could breathe.
And when I let it go, I felt a wash of relaxation across my back, like my back was exhaling.
I wanted to share these images with you because I hope they will drive home the point our teachers are always making in class: when you're in pain you need to do less of a posture, you need to take it easy, sometimes you even need to skip a posture- and all of that is perfect. Especially for those of us who started this yoga without a specific physical limitation or pain, it can be difficult to translate what "doing less" means when we find ourselves practicing with an injury. These photos (the first in each pair) are an example of what it looks like to "do less."
Notice that I didn't change a thing about the form or technique of the pose- I simply started slow and did step 1, then (maybe) step 2, etc, and stopped as soon as I needed to in the sequence. I did not concern myself with how my posture looked or felt before my injury, I just focused on what I could do right then. Since I've practiced through injury before, I knew this was the way.
This yoga is meant for healing as well as for prevention of injury- depending on our goal, we need to practice in an appropriate way.
I always see injuries as a gift and an opportunity to learn. Because practicing to heal injury means honing the invaluable skill of understanding and attending to my body's signals. Too much pain? Back off. Feels all right? Go for it, little by little. Too exhausted to go on? Lie down as long as you need to and enjoy the benefits of the hot, humid room. This skill can only serve me and it will never ever hurt me.
If you are hurting, there is only one thing you must do to start healing: come to class! Bikram yoga works amazingly for not only chronic conditions but acute injuries as well. Do not stay home and wait until you feel better- coming to yoga will help you feel better.
Using Bikram yoga for healing means coming more often and doing less.
For me, one of the hardest parts of being in debilitating pain was the loss of independence. I needed others to help me do things I wanted to do for myself. So I took the one thing I could do and the one thing I knew I had to do, and I changed everything around. That's my story, but it isn't unique. It is no more than cause and effect, action and reaction. The results can be replicated by you.
If you simply commit to caring for yourself during injury by practicing in a therapeutic way, Bikram yoga is sure to help you restore the independence of pain-free (or at the very least, pain-reduced!) living. And that is something worth celebrating!
After focusing on the lower back with Cobra, the upper back with Locust and the middle back with Full Locust pose, our Spine Strengthening Series concludes by tying it all together with a Bow! A Bow pose, that is: Dhanurasana. ;)
In Bow pose, we practice keeping a good tight grip on the feet while kicking the legs up and back to move the total spine into a backward bend- against the force of gravity! Sounds purty impressive, doesn't it? It sure is, and here's why:
Bending your spine backwards using your strength counter-balances the many forward-bending positions you put your body in throughout the day. This helps to straighten out your spine, which improves posture and relieves or prevents back pain. Holding your feet from outside while you kick causes the rib cage to open, improving pigeonchest and permitting maximum expansion of lungs and increased oxygen intake. Balancing on a stretched-out belly while compressing the back improves function of the intestines, liver, kidneys, and spleen.
But that's not all: Back-bending revitalizes the spinal nerves by increasing circulation along the spine. Bow pose strengthens abdominal muscles, upper arms, thighs and hips while developing flexibility of the scapula, latissimus dorsi, deltoid, and trapezius muscles. Improved posture, pain prevention and relief, strength, flexibility- all that in just 20 seconds at a time. Not too shabby, eh?
TIP: "What if I Can't Get My Feet??"
If you are unable to grab both of your feet (yet!) that is perfectly normal. It might be a stiff knee, back or shoulder that's limiting you. Simply keep coming and trying the right way- your body will open up in time! Here's how to start:
Bikram Yoga St. Johns' studio owner, yoga-doer and life-lover, Kay D.