Monday, April 8, 2013

Bikram... Finally!

Have you ever experienced something so phenomenal that you didn't know exactly how to put it into words? That is Bikram yoga to me. Yes, it was hot. Yes, it hurt a bit. Yes, I did not want to go at times but made myself anyway. The 90-day challenge I signed up for literally changed my life in so many ways, and I'm really excited to share this experience.

Before I begin, I'd like to admit something. I realize I'm not exactly shy on this blog of mine, I pretty much just let it flow, but there are things I don't talk about sometimes because I don't know how to talk about them. From mid-December to mid-February, I found myself in a well of depression that I didn't fully understand. It was different than any other period of sadness before because I felt as though I just couldn't make myself do hardly anything. The only thing I felt I could do was Bikram yoga. There were 3 family deaths and 2 suicides of people I knew during this time period, and in the middle of that were what I saw as failure after failure after failure - in seemingly every aspect of my life - and for someone who comes from a family of overachievers and pushes herself to be at superhero level in every single thing that she does every single day (Seriously, this was literally my mindset.), each blow seemed debilitating and I felt trapped. Bikram yoga was my medicine, and I came out of that very dark time with so much self-respect, self-love, and healing than I'd ever imagined.

I don't think anyone can forget their first Bikram class! Instructors will say to new students at the end of class, "Congratulations! You'll never have to take your first Bikram yoga class again!" and everyone laughs, but it's true and it's probably the most amazing phrase you'll ever hear. It's pretty brutal, and I don't know how I signed up for the 90-day challenge right after the class ended, but I did. And there I was, the 2nd day of class, wondering what in the hell I'd gotten myself into.

I've done Bikram yoga on a full stomach. I've done it dehydrated. I've done it with a hangover. I've done it sleep-deprived. I've done it with headaches, stomach aches, sinus infections, allergies, and other ailments. I've done it mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. I've done it twice in one day. I've done it to escape my life. I've done it to save my life. I've done it on my birthday. I've done it alone. I've done it with friends. I've even done it with my shirt off! (This is now my preferred method as it's hard to go back to wearing more clothes when you sweat so much.) A 90-day challenge will push you to do whatever you can to make it to class every day. I learned exactly what not to do in the process, but at the same time, I learned a ton about hydration, time management, choices, sacrifices, values, and a ton of other things too many to list.

So, yeah, Bikram yoga is effin hot. 90 glorious minutes. 108-110 degrees. (104 on a good day if the instructor isn't paying attention!) The humidity is about 40-50%. If the class is small, you're super grateful because you can sweat in peace. If it's packed [Think: A tiny room that can barely fit 60 mats, side by side, end to end, with everyone dripping sweat.], just grin and bear it because there. will. be. someone. else's. sweat. on. you. After a while, you don't even know whose sweat belongs to whom. This was a slightly terrifying thought for me at the first experience of random-person-dribble, but I somehow learned to embrace it as though it was our secret handshake as if to say, "Hey, stranger! Nice to see you sweating your balls off! See you tomorrow, pal!" It's an intimate practice in more ways than one. ;) (Side note: My favorite practices are when there is someone in the room who sweats SO MUCH that when we get into tree pose, it sounds like a tiny waterfall is coming from their body. I LOVE IT! I not-secretly-now want to be one of those people one day because it shows that they are working hard and they're really, beautifully hydrated.)

As you may have read before, when I was 18, I herniated my L4/L5 spinal disc. For 9 years, I struggled with a relatively constant pain, some times more worse than others (like the times I could barely walk or sit comfortably or the time I somehow forced myself to crawl to the car to drive myself to the ER), but it became something I was just used to. It was a new normal, this pain I had. I was given strict orders by doctors to not dance or exercise too much to agitate it, even though I was advised to lose weight because that would decrease the pressure on the disc and make the pain lessen. (Catch 22 much?) I wasn't "allowed" to lift more than 15 lbs. at a time. I was advised not to wear high heels. Etc. Etc. Etc. That's all in the past now, thank God, because I believe with my entire being that practicing Bikram yoga healed my spine. There are 26 postures in Bikram that are repeated every single class in the same exact sequence, and most of them are spine bending postures. I have zero doubt in my mind that my body healed itself through these postures. I was told it would probably happen, but I wasn't sure until I came out of those 3 months feeling like I had a brand new back, most likely stronger than it has ever been. This is such a huge victory for me! My almost-decade of pain and struggle - gone. Can you imagine the tears I cried when I realized this? I'm getting emotional just writing about it. Bikram Choudhury developed this specific yoga practice in order to heal the body with the body, and seeing that manifest in real life, in my own body, was literally a dream come true.

My favorite part of Bikram yoga is realizing that it is such a mental exercise, and that your practice translates to the rest of your life. There were days where I wouldn't push myself because I felt insecure that I wasn't very advanced or ashamed that I was the largest person in the room or guilty that I didn't actually want to be there or < insert excuse here >, and I saw that I was feeling those same things about my work or my body or in my relationships. Some days, I left still feeling that way, but mostly, I realized that my body could do the work, it was just my mind that was using whatever excuse to defeat what I was actually doing that was good for me. So, in this time period of quiet darkness and uncertainty, I held fast to this knowledge that everything is actually good, I just needed to refocus my mind. It was a constant exercise, and it went beyond just the practice room.

One morning after a really hard week emotionally, I was in a class and I had a big moment when we were lying on the floor between postures. It was quiet, but I could hear everyone breathing almost harmoniously. It was beautiful, and in that moment, I realized that we were all one person, doing our best, sweating it out - together. They didn't know that insecurities from my childhood that I thought were defeated had somehow resurfaced. They didn't know that a family member had passed away or someone I knew in college took his own life. They didn't know that I had failed in my business in more ways than one. They didn't know that it took everything in me to simply walk in that room because I felt like a failure, isolated and alone, but at some point, it dawned on me that I didn't know anything about any of them either. When I saw us moving together, felt our dynamic energy swirl around the room, and heard our breathing like human versions of crickets chirping, whatever emotional baggage that I'd been carrying seemed to disappear because I was, in fact, not alone and I was, in fact, totally ok. It was liberating and unifying for me/us.

I knew that Bikram yoga was known for developing a community, one that has been made fun of as being "cult-like," but there's really something special about this practice that brings people together. Every practice is different for every person, that's true. It is an individual practice where each person focuses himself/herself solely on himself/herself, that's also true. People of all levels - brand new yogis to National Yoga Championship winners (Yes, they exist!) - are doing their own practices in the same room, true again. Yet somehow, someway, this amazing connection happens. It's one of the most beautiful things I've ever experienced, and I'm so grateful that my life coach, Mark Scherer, challenged me in a class of his where I met PURE Bikram Yoga owners, Jeff and Mardy Chen, and 2 instructors, both named Nora, to meet him one Sunday morning at 9am to sweat, have fun, and just stay in the room.


JEFF C. said...

Anslee, you are a champ! Thank you for sharing.

Gallant said...

Wonderful piece of writing, congrats on a great accomplishment. I too love Bikram but have held off on going because of a herniated disc diagnosis. But I plan to go back this week and just do what I can do. Thanks for the inspiration.

Mardy said...

Anslee - What an inspiring piece! You are amazing - a true yogi!
XOXO, Mardy