It’s lockdown here in the UK and I am on Day 18 of a 30 Day Bikram Challenge at home which surprises me no end. I didn’t believe that I could do Bikram without a heated studio. Well, Ruth: Yes, you can. And that right there, is a demonstration of what I will love about Bikram yoga. It makes me feel that I can do anything.
I have one class a week on zoom with my lovely Bikram teacher and it is amazing. The minute she begins to recite the script, I get a total rush. It is familiar, comforting, and full of resonance. For the other six days of the week, it’s just me, by myself in front of a mirror because of course, Bikram is not Bikram without a mirror.
I have practised along on YouTube to various teachers on there, but it is just not as effective for me. There is a different energy to a pre-recorded class than a live-streaming one so if I can’t have a live zoom class I have discovered that I am happy practising the 26 postures by myself. Before lockdown, I did Bikram four or five times a week for four years so as I go through the poses I hear the script in my head, my body knows what to do (like a robot), and that’s good enough for me.
I put together a playlist of songs that resonate with hot (sweaty) day memories and some of the songs have a strong beat so that it easy to count through the standing sequence which I find much harder without heat. I know this isn’t traditional but I am all about whatever works. Standing head-to-knee pose is always hard every single time, and without the heat to relax the muscles, it is harder still. Straight after that pose when I pull my foot over my head in standing-pulling-bow pose I imagine that I can hear my bones creaking and cracking. Bikram is hard. Hard but good and when practising alone, music really helps.
It took a few days to get to know my playlist but now it is really nice to know that by the time Beyonce’s Superpower comes on I should be either on the floor in savasana, or I soon will be. Beyonce tells me that I am mid-way through my workout after finishing the standing sequence, ready to begin the floor sequence. Some days it doesn’t work like that as I may have been really going for it, and other days it may have been a struggle and I am already on the floor, but it is a nice guide and a win-win. If I end up lying on the floor for longer, that is because I need it. And, if I am not, then it is because I have amazed myself by holding some of the poses as long as I can.
The 26 asanas in the Bikram sequence systematically exercises each muscle in the body so I get a full body workout in a way that no other exercise has even come close. And, believe me I have tried other exercise regimes. When I worked at Lancaster University, I swam every morning before work. In Oxford: T’ai chi and cycling. In France, I cycled 16 miles daily. In Switzerland: cycling, swimming, and the gym. In the UK, I have done plenty of weights and running, and for a while, about six years ago, I had a personal trainer, and honestly, the only bit I enjoyed was when he rolled on top of me at the end of a session. Last year during the first lockdown I did HIIT pilates and only went back because the teacher was so much fun. I think I know myself well enough now to know that nothing works for me quite like yoga and more specifically, Bikram yoga.
Before I discovered Bikram, I mainly did yoga for relaxation and balance purposes and thought I had to do other stuff to keep fit. Even Bikram himself lifted weights to build strength. So, to begin with I thought it was the heat of Bikram that did it for me, but with this latest Bikram challenge, I find it is the sequence of stretching out each muscle in my body whilst building strength in a way that takes me on a mentally fulfilling journey too. As, I’ve said before, yoga is home. I discovered it when I was nine-years old and I have been in love with it ever since. Though the only thing I miss are inversions so I often do a headstand or handstand at the end.
These days I am practising Bikram on a fluffy rug on top of my yoga mat which I leave out all the time so that I don’t have to roll it up and down. Some days I do the sequence in my pyjamas, other days in my yoga pants and doing it in my bedroom reminds me of all those years ago when I just got on the floor at my parents house with the Hong Kong Book of Kung Fu yoga, aka, the Sivananda New Book of Yoga, as my guide. There was no Internet, no streaming, no sexy outfits, no yoga mats, no heat, no mirrors, and no music. It was just me in whatever I was wearing.
This old but new approach to Bikram is doing it for me. I miss the heat and my buddies, but I don’t miss the two and half hours it took out of my day to go to and from the studio with clothes and towels and shower stuff to get my Bikram fix. It seems simpler now just to dive on the floor and do it whenever I can fit it in or feel like it between the rest of the lockdown day. Life, lately, is fluid in a way that I don’t remember experiencing for years and years, not since I was a kid on a hot summer day in which I had all day to do everything and nothing in. The day stretched on endlessly and I didn’t judge whether it was good or bad, it just was.
At the start of the very first lockdown of March last year, I felt like I was in limbo waiting for life to start again, but now I see that life is going on right here, right under my nose. I get insights into the lives of the people I love. I experience their days of schooling and work in a way I never could have done had it not been for lockdown. I get to see what lovely people they are and I share and experience things with them that never would have happened were we still in our daily leave-the-house-routine, and I am so very grateful for this extra loveliness.
I always use this quotation when I talk about yoga because it is true. Yoga helps me situate myself in the present moment so that I can take right action which in this case equates to seeing, appreciating, loving and living the richness of lockdown life just as it is. There is no need to wish it to be any different because things will change soon enough, they always do.
And then there’s this quotation too:
Life, love, and Bikram, sometimes hard but always good. The practice of yoga creates a space in which I endure and feel cured as I surrender to the joy in which everything feels possible.