Last December, I bumped into Natalie (who I later found out is a longtime Karma Yogi at BYSJ) at a Garcia Birthday Band show. She stuck a buddy pass in my hand and told me I should go to yoga. It was a wild night and Natalie seemed like a cool lady, so I decided to check it out. I had no idea what I was getting into! At 65 I had never been to a yoga class. Now I do Bikram yoga every day...
In 7 months of daily practice, here is what Bikram yoga has done for me:
I wanted to share my story especially for other people with fibromyalgia who think there is no answer besides expensive medications with tons of terrible side effects. For me, Bikram yoga gives me relief of my symptoms without all of that other stuff, and it makes my life better in so many other ways too. You've got to give it a try!
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!
“My first Bikram yoga class was in New York City about 16 years ago when a friend invited me to share in her new obsession. One day after work I jumped on the subway and made my way downtown to Chambers Street with just enough time before class to chug a Starbucks latte… I didn’t know anything about this hot yoga! Halfway through the standing series I ran out of the room and threw up in an aptly placed trashcan by the studio door.
“It took me a couple of years to gather the courage to go back, and this time I knew how to better prepare for class. I came hydrated, went to find peace and some relief from the stress NYC provided with unlimited generosity. I walked into class angry, grumpy, tired and walked out of class serene and sweaty: I was hooked!
“For me, Bikram yoga is primarily my mental health medicine. Sure, it keeps me toned and focused on healthy eating, but what it really does is reorganize my energy and keep my brain and body in balanced, optimal working order. One class solves a design problem, another class offers forgiveness or releases sadness, some classes cultivate joy or compassion, or sometimes it’s just the sweat that washes away the day.
“Recently I was surprised to receive physical healing for my body. This is what most people proclaim as their primary benefit! But, because I’ve never had injuries, I didn’t seek yoga to heal my physical body. This past winter (probably from the stress of driving in that dangerous winter weather) I experienced great sciatic pain. The pain disturbed my sleep, distracted my work, and was overall exhausting. During my 30-day-yoga-challenge, I worked through the pain, gently stretched the sciatic nerve, and used the meditation of class to help relax the spasms of muscles surrounding the nerve. The pain has gone away!
This past spring I ‘threw my back out’ from sitting in a 3-day conference. I could hardly move I was in so much pain. I came to yoga every day for a week and each day the pain was reduced and my range of motion was increased.
“What is magical is how Bikram yoga gives me what I need each class. Each day is different. Bikram yoga is unconditional in offerings and I am always finding more ways to appreciate and learn from my practice. As teacher Bill says: “You are your best teacher!” Using Bikram yoga to feel better requires that I listen carefully to how my body speaks to me. I am learning how and when I can be my own healer, or to work in concert with other modalities of healing.
“Here at Bikram Yoga St. Johns, we are all part of a community of positivity and joy! This studio is unlike any other studio I have practiced in. Here we are all equal, all included, we are all working together to be our better self, we are open, vulnerable and strong together. Being part of this community is one of the most special gifts I have received this year and I thank you all for being here with me! See you in the hot room soon.”
BONUS: Charlotte is our cuurent featured artist at the studio! Check out her colorful, joyful prints on your way to the yoga room today...
"I decided to try Bikram yoga because I had recently gone through a challenging time in my life and my good friend, a Bikram yoga instructor, told me that Bikram yoga could help me get through it- emotionally. What she didn't know was that it was going to also dramatically help me physically, too.
My first Bikram yoga class ever was on February 23rd, 2017, at BYSJ. I tried other yoga classes about 10 years ago, but they hurt my back so I didn't continue. (I have a deteriorated disc in my back between L4 and L5 from a construction injury in 1998.)
Until 1998, I had worked in the field in construction as an equipment operator and a foreman. When I injured my back, it forced me out of the trades and I became a project manager. Ever since then, I have tried various treatments to help reduce the pain and increase my back's physical capacity. I did physical therapy, deep massage, chiropractic treatments, acupuncture, back braces, ice packs, hot packs, and lots of pain medication. Through all these years and treatments I don't remember ever sleeping more than a couple hours without flipping from side to side because staying in one position for too long hurt too much and would wake me up.
In 2012, I got in to see a back surgeon, and after performing an MRI, CAT scan, and a discogram, the diagnosis included disc degeneration, arthritis, bone spurs, and bone fractures. It was recommended that I get my L4 and L5 vertebrae fused together, because the disc between them had 0% containment of the dye during the discogram (basically there is no disc there at all!) and the entire area around it showed signs of arthritis setting in. I thought about it for a week, and then decided that I couldn't afford to take off that much work (6 month recover time), so I would go on as long as I could before having the surgery... I got used to living with pain, using plenty of ibuprofen daily to keep it tolerable.
When I went to my first Bikram yoga class, I was nervous and expected it to render me somewhat useless the next day, as many other physical activities could- but to my greatest surprise it did the opposite. During class, I was shocked that I was able to bend my back in every direction without it immediately hurting, and then after class I was waiting for the muscle craps in my lower back to kick-in, but they never came.
I was exhausted from the class, so I laid down on my back in bed expecting to turn over on my side after 15 minutes, and woke up 7 hours later in the same position- without budging an inch all night. This has never happened to me before.
Here is the exact text message that I sent my instructor friend the morning after, at 8:48 am: "OMG- I feel so good! I usually have a hard time sleeping and I toss all night. Last night I slept on my back and didn't even budge once all night! I was worried about the yoga hurting my back and shoulder, but it didn't. I'm planning to go again tonight. ;-). Thank you!!"
I have now attended 55 classes in 3 months and, without exception, I feel better every single time after class then I felt at the beginning of class. I have gone from taking 800 to 1600 mg of Ibuprofen a day, to taking it once or twice a week when I push myself at work or playing volleyball. In the mornings after going to Bikram yoga the night before, I generally wake up without any back pain, and when I skip a couple days without going to yoga I can't wait to go again. It truly has changed my life! I am grateful to my friend and to all the instructors at Bikram Yoga St. Johns for getting me started and creating a wonderful environment take motivates me to make it a regular part of my weekly routine.
There are many other benefits I have noticed from my practice, too. My flexibility has increased in every aspect to levels that I haven't had since high school (30 years ago.) The sweating and exertion makes me drink lots of water and want to eat better and choose healthier foods because that makes yoga easier the next day if I feel better. My cardio and lung capacity is much better. When I play volleyball, I can play almost twice as long now because my cardio and my back are stronger. My body is leaner and healthier-looking from sweating a lot, which flushes toxins and helps my skin.
Most importantly, Bikram yoga makes me want to take better care of myself. It has actually changed my inner motivation to live a healthier life. It is my personal form of meditation. Whatever stresses happen during the day at work, they all disappear when I go to yoga at night, and my mind quiets down and returns to the moment. I always leave the studio feeling peaceful and happy from the inside out. In some ways the major pain relief was just the beginning!"
I started practicing yoga because I was physically and mentally bent out of shape. I needed something to reset my system and I knew I enjoyed doing yoga (but I had never committed to practicing regularly in the past.) I had no idea what I was getting myself into with Bikram yoga!
I ended up really enjoying it, and about 5 months later I completed my 105th class in 100 consecutive days. I have taken over 150 total classes so far, and I have no plans to stop making time for this yoga to be a big part of how I care for myself.
I dislocated my elbow when I was two and have experienced elbow pain ever since. During my first couple classes I felt quite a bit of pain in locust pose, but I kept trying a little bit each time. After a few months of practicing, it dawned on me one day that the pain in my elbow had disappeared! I had been so focused on just doing my best that I don't know what day or class had been the first one without pain. Even outside of yoga, the normal stiffness I felt with a slight change in weather is now gone. With the loss of pain and increased strength I have noticed that I am becoming more confident in locust pose- and in my body’s ability to change.
I feel like I am getting my life and my health back on track, and that is starting with yoga. I have a history of not making time for myself, and dedicating an hour and a half to myself every day has been amazing. No matter how I feel before class physically or emotionally, my body does the yoga (often in better form than my mind expects) and I can feel good about doing something for me. The best part is that it reflects in my daily life outside of class. Practicing yoga helps me to be kind and thoughtful in my interactions with others. I have lost weight and gained muscle, but more importantly I am making time to care for myself and nurture my body.
Another benefit I have found from the yoga is community. Being new to Portland, I have found Bikram Yoga St. Johns a welcoming, comfortable place to practice. I have made several good friends at the studio and brought some friends in to try yoga too. Staff and students are friendly and welcoming to all of us, no matter where we are in our life journey. All of the instructors encourage us to do good for ourselves in our practice and to try and push through mental barriers while connecting to our bodies in a way that keep us at peak performance. I continue to learn new things about myself and about this practice every time I enter the hot room.
I remember that my first class was very difficult, and there were so many things that I was doing wrong. I was telling myself I would never be able to do a certain pose or stretch a certain way. While I still have doubts about my ability to reach great depth in some of the postures, I have surprised myself so much by the improvements I have already made. My competitive streak keeps bringing me back to this practice every day- not to compete with my fellow yogis, but to compete with the self-imposed limitations that I plan to conquer.
“I have had a chronic pain issue in my neck and shoulder for several years, and I am always looking for ways to cope with it that are an alternative to western medicine. When I first tried Bikram yoga, it was so hard and so hot- but I loved it right away. I loved the intensity, the routine, and noticing changes in my strength and flexibility with each class.
“Since beginning to practice about a year and a half ago, my fitness level has improved so that when I am hiking or jogging or playing ultimate frisbee, I feel strong and have great endurance. While my shoulder and neck pain is still around, I notice a dramatic decrease in pain when I can get into the studio 4-5 times a week. I definitely feel like I have a greater body awareness. I understand better how to move, where I hold my stress, and how to let it go.
“When I am practicing Bikram regularly, it spills into other parts of my life: I crave eating healthy food; I am more motivated to do tasks that I sometimes like to procrastinate; I feel more engaged in my life, my relationships, and my community.
“I remember the day I became a Founding Member of BYSJ. I was excited when I saw a studio would be opening nearby and somewhat impulsively just put my credit card number in and clicked ok. After more thought it seemed like a big risk... a studio I had never seen, a community I did not know. I am so glad I made that impulsive move because I could not be happier to be a part of this inclusive, positive, vibrant and welcoming community.”
Bikram Yoga St. Johns' studio owner, yoga-doer and life-lover, Kay D.