Practicing Bikram Hot Yoga with MS
|Two and half years ago, I took my ﬁrst class at BYA. Truthfully, that ﬁrst class wasnʼt all that different from the one I took this morning. Prior to both classes, I walked up the stairs with pangs of nervousness, quietly signed in at the desk and moved quickly to the room in an effort to ensure I had my now favorite spot in the room – the back corner near the windows where I think the teachers canʼt see me very well. During both classes, I listened carefully to the teachersʼ instructions and tried my best.Ten years ago I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. At the time, I was 29-years-old and in the best physical condition of my adult life. For those of you who are unfamiliar, MS is a highly individual degenerative neurological disease. Symptoms vary from person to person and a few of the things believed to worsen symptoms include stress, physical exertion, infection and last but not least (my personal favorite) HEAT! As far as the relationship between MS and Bikram Yoga goes, I have only one comment; Sometimes, something makes you feel worse before it makes you feel better.
When I began classes at BYA, I was taking four different medications. Rx update: 2 down, 2 to go. I was welcomed at the school despite the fact that I was, quite literally, a bundle of toxicity. Iʼm not taking fewer medications because Iʼve been miraculously cured; there is a very simple explanation. I ﬁnd that Camel Pose eases my nerve pain more than the anticonvulsant which was prescribed to me. Our teachers arenʼt kidding when they say the pose you dislike the most is the one your body needs the most.
A quick story…
About a year ago, Jessica stopped me after class and asked how I was feeling. I told her the truth; I felt great. She asked when I last had an MRI. I had one a few months prior and it looked much like the one I had the year before. “No worries, Jessica. Same old story. Just a few small lesions on the old noggin and a monster of a lesion on my spine.” At which point, I asked why she was inquiring about an MRI.
She said, “Oh, Itʼs just that your middle and index ﬁngers are trembling in Standing Bow. I ﬁgured you must have something going on in your spine. I was just wondering.” I responded, “Oh. Okay. See you tomorrow. Thank you, Jessica!” I spent the next two days shaking my head at the exchange. No MRI, No Spinal Tap, No Insanely Expensive Diagnostic Test! She just looked at my trembling ﬁngers in Standing Bow and knew what my neurologist needed a million dollar machine to tell him.
THE END (& just the beginning)!
The only advice Iʼm willing to offer is this. Come to class as often as youʼre able (youʼll be surrounded by beautiful and motivating yogis), try your best (nobody can ask for more) and listen to the teachers (after all, they love each of us just as we are – almost as much as we love them).
General Health – Every Day Practice
When I first came to BYA at the beginning of August 2010, I was just one of the thousands of folks who had purchase a great deal on Groupon. However, once my 20 classes were used up, I was craving for more, and when the 100-day challenge was announced in December, I didn’t need a whole lot of convincing. And as they say, the rest is history—100 days turned into “we’ll see what happens,” which turned into the need to meet the challenge of 365 consecutive days of yoga.
Why did I do it? As a new-ish mom to a then 2-year-old and a 10-year-old, I needed to reclaim myself; I needed to feel I had something that was only mine. That may sound selfish to some, but I’ve discovered that’s one of the beauties of yoga—it’s ok to be selfish; it is only by focusing on yourself that you can improve yourself (mind, body, and spirit) and thus improve the life of those around you. So while I’ve spent over 700 hours away from my family during this year, I can say that every minute in the studio has made me a better mother, wife, human being, outside of it.
This year has also taught me that we need to be patient, listen to our bodies and accept where we are in the present moment. I am just now beginning to realign my body after years of dance training in unnatural body positions. My victories are small, take a long time, but are oh, so worth it in the long run!
I couldn’t have done any of this if it weren’t for two very important groups of people: my family and my BYA family. My children and husband sacrificed a lot but never stopped believing in me, encouraging me, and if necessary, kicking me out the door to make it to class on time. Once I was out that door, I had my teachers and friends at the studio rooting for me. I am so grateful for all the knowledge, experience, and expertise my teachers have shared and their ability to do so in a loving and supportive manner. My BYA family also consists of the best people and most amazing yogis I have met in my life. Your support and encouragement lifted my spirit when I most needed it, and even if we don’t officially know each other, know that your energy in class, a friendly smile before or after, made all the difference.
A final example of the wonderful community we have at BYA is an act of true kindness I experience during my challenge: sometime during the spring, due to a scheduling hick-up, I thought I would miss class and break my streak of consecutive days. As soon as she heard that, one of my yogi friends immediately offered to watch my son so I could take class, despite the fact that she is not particularly fond of little people. The offer, this simple act was so spontaneous, so honest and wonderful, and so perfectly exemplified what a true yogi should be.
–Borislava Q.; Chicago, IL
Healing Sprains/Fractured Bones
Two and a half weeks ago I fell while ice skating. I sustained an intense sprain to my left arm. My chiropratcor took x-rays and although no break was evident he told me to have it x-rayed again in a week or so because if it was a hairline fracture it wouldnt show up until the bones began to knit together again. Also,due to the lack of my ability to turn my arm without a lot of pain it seemed that it might be a break.
The first thing I thought was “darn it, I dont want to miss any yoga classes!” I remembered Jessica saying in one of the classes that a person could still do yoga when injured with modifications. So I asked the chiropractor and he said “No wait at least three days for the swelling to go down.” On the fourth day I went back to yoga and Charles gave me some modifications. I felt great! I went to yoga class for two more days and it kept feeling good. The next three days I skipped class because sleeping was uncomfortable for me and created some pain so I decided I would be better off not going. I went back the ninth day and again I felt great, so much so that I knew that I would have healed much faster if I had not missed the three previous days of classes! By the tenth day I started to notice that with every class I went to the healing and ability to make progressions in the poses had increased exponentially! I can now rotate my arm about 90% ,two days ago I could rotate it about 50% with pain. It’s truly amazing! I read on the internet prior to attending any classes about how people healed themselves with Bikram Yoga, sometimes going twice a day. I thought “that’s intense” but now I want to try it myself because I’m healing so well and it feels good!
–Maureen B.; Chicago, IL
I miss you all terribly! When I was practicing at Bikram Yoga Andersonville a year ago, I was new in town, unemployed, and looking for my next step. You were the first yoga studio I had ever been to! I never felt embarrassed about this. I feel like the teachers saw my eagerness to learn, and embraced the opportunity to teach. After 6 months of regular practice, I found a great new job in Kansas City, MO. I give my practice at BYA an enormous amount of credit for helping me find structure and discipline in my life, for helping me get in touch with myself about what I wanted next, and opening up doors again after so many had closed on me… I really think it gave me my future back. Thank you.
–Andrea; Kansas City, MO
Sleep Regulation, Asthma, Eczema, General Growth
When I first walked into Bikram Yoga Andersonville my expectations were beyond low. I had tried yoga years earlier with my step-mom; I had gotten her a class as a gift not realizing that she would insist I join her. I hated it.
When Gina, a friend going through chemo, asked me to join her for a class at BYA I agreed, thinking it would be one class and I would be done with it and never go back. It wasn’t the heat (I didn’t know it would be hot — surprise!) I dreaded, it was the savasana. Really.
In my experience with my step-mom yoga gave me a burst of energy, made me feel as if I could run a marathon, then asked me to lie down. WTF? During savasanas I fidgeted, shifted, rolled my eyes and continually checked in with the teacher to see if I could PLEASE get up yet. It was painful to lay down doing nothing — I am a busy woman!
I hadn’t heard any of the controversy or hype surrounding Bikram yoga so I was uniquely positioned to really go in with an open mind. I had a lot of fun my first class just seeing if I could do the postures. I kept going back every time Gina asked, mainly out of boredom (business was painfully slow that summer). After a while I started going on my own because something neat was happening; muscles were forming where no exercise had managed to put muscle before.*
Months later I noticed my asthma was gone, then my eczema lessened; I no longer needed medication for either. I noticed my ability to handle stress improve (although that may always be a work in progress) and my ability to control my mood swings became apparent. Then, the cherry-on-top. I started sleeping like a normal human being. I have always had trouble sleeping.** Once I started practicing daily I was falling asleep in a quarter-hour, as opposed to the 2-3 hours of tossing I have lived with for my WHOLE life. I didn’t walk into the studio expecting any of these things so each one was a surprise as it happened, allowing me to remain critical of these improvements. That was a big key for me, I don’t think I would have started this practice if anyone had told me of all these benefits; the ‘crazy cult’ bells would have gone off in my head.
I was able to experience it for myself as a gradual dawning that this practice was something special. I enjoy my savasanas now, not in the, “OMG, finally” way I did when I first started, but in the way you are supposed to, a calming absence of anything (sometimes). I know this is reflective of my mental state now. Maybe I have changed because I have such a great yogi support group, maybe it’s the endorphins I flush my system with daily, maybe it really is that my prana has changed. Truthfully, I don’t care. This works. I can’t wait to discover what other of the extolled benefits will befall me.
* I have what my boyfriend calls a “She-Ra Complex.” It’s the Napoleon complex for women. In my desperate attempt to build muscle I even tried weight-lifting (with the long bar you heft over your shoulders and do squats with) to no avail.
** I could not sleep even as a kid. I would lay in bed patiently waiting for the sun to come up so I could get out of bed without my parents getting mad. My mom tells me she would walk by my bedroom and could hear me talking to myself at all hours of the night.
–Kate C.; Chicago, IL
General Growth, Weight Loss, Health Improvement
I gave myself a gift on my birthday in January 2010: a Bikram yoga class at BYA. I didn’t have any reason to do it, on that day, or even at all, other than I was curious about the heat and mildly interested in yoga after having done some classes with postures from the Ashtanga series. I like trying new things and doing yoga for 90 minutes in a room heated to 105 degrees was pretty new for me. It was, I’d soon realize, the best gift I could have ever given myself.
Put simply, being at BYA is the highlight of my day. I love doing Bikram yoga at BYA because each class is an opportunity to see what’s possible and to see how I can develop. There have been so many ways that the yoga has changed my life. Thanks to Bikram yoga and BYA, I’ve lost about 20 pounds, changed my diet, healed injuries, have minimal asthma symptoms, and lowered my cholesterol. Also, my writing and research for my dissertation is more thoughtful, focused, disciplined, and productive than ever. Finally, I cherish being part of the BYA community; my wonderful teachers and yogi friends support my practice and their practice inspires me every day.
–Tony P., Chicago, IL
Dear Jessica and crew,
I’ve been meaning to write you a quick note for quite some time and decided that today is the day. I don’t know if you would remember me, as I didn’t get to practice Bikram Yoga very long with you. I started in the late spring of 2010 and only was able to practice for a few months. I typically positioned myself in the back and took in everything around me. I had never done anything like Bikram before in my life. I was able to force myself to start coming as often as I could and began to really enjoy the experience. My husband and I moved to Swansea, Wales in September 2010 and to be honest, one of the things I was most worried about was that I was just starting to really enjoy Bikram and was unsure if I would be able to continue in Wales. Upon my arrival to Wales , I searched high and low for Bikram yoga and unfortunately, where we are living there is not any opportunity to practice. I’m hoping that some day soon a studio will pop up!
The real purpose of my letter is to tell you all that whether you realize it or not , you (teachers, students) had a profound impact on my sense of self and movement in the world even in the short time I was there. For the first time in my life, I was not entering a work out and thinking about calorie burning/fat cells/dress sizes/ competition…I was finally able to see my body in a different light and experience the beauty of it as a working machine with so much potential! It was so amazing to walk into a room with people of all different shapes and sizes and be present and accepted. I am someone who has always been an athlete, but never flexible. I remember my anxiety beginning with Bikram as I saw those around me turning, twisting, and contorting their bodies and breathe into positions I knew I couldn’t do. The best part about that is that for the first time in my “workout” life, I didn’t focus on that. You helped me to focus on my body and my breathe and to push myself to where my body could go. I’m not flexible and I believe that I will always struggle with this, but the little speck of movement that I felt in that wonderful room and connection to my body in such a positive way sticks with me to this day.
Because we are in Wales, I don’t know if I will find a Bikram option. I am doing some pilates and yoga currently although I feel like once you have the taste of Bikram, nothing ever tastes as sweet! ( And I only got a little taste- a few months!) I have encouraged my friends and family to take part in Bikram and especially those in Chicago to attend Bikram Yoga Andersonville. My goal is to come back to Chicago in a year when our jobs are finished and start up again at Bikram Yoga Andersonville….hopefully you’ll still have room!
If you have a day where you wonder if what you are doing is worth it or you are questioning yourself, please reflect on this message and know that you have had a deep impact. Your openness, care, understanding, and perspective provides comfort and calmness to all those who are lucky to enter your doors.
Wishing you all the best ,
Meg G; Swansea, Wales