Science of Yoga

for practitioners – it’s self-evident

 

Having just completed my first full year of regular yoga practice, I decided to celebrate by reading the book “The Science of Yoga” by William Broad.

Prior to reading the book, I can tell you that yoga has made a huge difference in my life.  Although the evidence suggests decreased metabolism, I’ve lost weight since starting yoga and feel more healthy overall.  This is probably secondary to the other influence yoga has on one’s life such as eating better, being more active in general, and improvement in overall attitude.  My improvement in mood permeates all aspects of my life.

I practice Bikram, also known as ‘hot’ yoga, because it found me.  After trying many styles, this is the one I enjoyed most.  With over 20 million people in the United States practicing any number of yoga styles, it is apparent others have experienced similar benefits!

As for the book, it mostly confirmed what I have experienced but now I learned the science behind the outcomes, without having to pull all the research myself.  It starts out with a little information on the history and evolution of yoga.  It then addresses the scientific evidence of benefits as well as false claims over the years.  Finally, the book ends with evaluation of the more obscure aspects of yoga, such as creativity and the Kundalites.

Without giving the entire book away, there were a few interesting things, in regards to the research, that I found and will take forward to encourage myself to continue my yoga practice and share with my patients if they ask me about yoga benefits.

1.  Yoga appears to slow the biological clock.  This is suggested by the finding that when telomerase activity, the enzyme that adds DNA at the end of chromosomes, is measured it is increased in men who underwent yoga training.

2.  Yoga improves mood.  It’s been shown to increase GABA levels, a neurotransmitter linked to mood.  In a small study in Boston, GABA was measured before and after an hour-long session of yoga and compared it to a control group who read magazines and popular fiction for an hour.  It was found that GABA increased an average of 27% in yoga practitioners and interestingly, those who had practiced the longest demonstrated the greatest rise in GABA levels.

3.  Yoga increases right brain activity.  Iyengar yoga students who practiced for 3 months demonstrated increased activity on the right side of the brain, the side responsible for higher order conscious functioning.

4.  Yoga improves many general health measures.  In a 2010 review article, yoga was shown to improve balance, reduce fatigue, decrease anxiety, cut stress, improve sleep, reduce pain, lower cholesterol, and overall improve measures of quality of life (social lives, family relations, and sex lives).

However, the studies also suggest that yoga is not the perfect exercise as some of the claims, about physical fitness, and certain position’s safety have come into question.

1.  Yoga decreases metabolic rate.  It is not aerobic exercise and in fact in studies show that the VO2 (a measurement of oxygen consumption/aerobic activity) decrease.  This suggests that weight loss is not a key function of yoga.  However, in a study comparing Hatha yoga practitioners, stationary bike riders, and those who did no activity for 4 months found, while bike riders had an increase in aerobic capacity, yogis felt better about themselves and thought they looked better.

2.  Yoga can be dangerous.  Reports exists of nerve damage from extended periods in one position by cutting off blood flow and certain postures such as neck stands, head stands, and shoulder stands have been linked to strokes.  The heat of the Bikram studio also poses some dangers of overstretching.  I’ve experienced directly some of the benefits, but have also pulled a muscle while stretching beyond my limits in the heated room.  Consciously practicing yoga, and being aware of the potential dangers, is one way to reduce these risks.

Overall, I found it to be an interesting and well organized read, going back through the history of yoga and discussing the scientific research on an array of topics organized by topic: health, fitness, mood, sexuality, and creativity along with thoughts regarding the future direction of yoga.

Since yoga has a bit of an on the fringe beginning and yogis were notorious for making false claims and performing magician like acts for a fee, learning about this was enlightening.  While the beginning with the history and the chapters organized by topics I found it easy to sit down and read a chapter at a time.  It wasn’t a book I couldn’t put down because it had natural stopping points.  It’s written from both a practitioner and scientific writers perspective, with only a few places where commentary suggested a bias.  While the evaluation of creativity and the story of the Kundalites may be interesting, I found these areas to be much more abstract and diverge from the truly scientific evaluation of yoga.  This last chapter I found my mind wandering a bit, due to a lack of scientific evidence, but overall appreciated the straight scientific discussion of the literature elsewhere in the book.  Although research has been done over the years on yoga benefits, there are many more areas of research to pursue.

For anyone who practices yoga, you should definitely read this book, but then again you probably already know the benefits from your own experience!

Adjustment of Bikram Sequence for Pregnancy

For Preggers

In general, no postures should be done that compress the heart, diaphragm or abdomen, with backbends avoid pushing hips forward of knees, and separate feet slightly in standing and forward bend poses for balance.  No standing head to knee, separate leg forehead to knee, rabbit, cobra, locus, full locust, or floor bow.  These are substituted with pregnancy safe postures.  In Savasana pregnant women rest on their side and utilize long, deep, slow breathing.

Here’s a compilation of Rajashree’s pregnancy video and review of other Bikram yoga websites for maintaining a Bikram yoga practice during pregnancy safely and with integrity in your current class:

First Breathing Exercise:  Pranayama breathing – does not change, feet together as comfortable as one can, this may be adjusted for balance as the pregnancy progresses.

Posture #1:  Half-Moon/Back Bend – feet opened to hip width distance, during the back bend hips do not go forward beyond your toes.

Posture #2:  Hands to Feet – feet hip distance and grasp back of heels with hands, bringing head between legs.

Posture #3 & #4:  Awkward & Eagle Poses – essentially the same.

Posture #5:  Standing Head to Knee – can be altered by simply raising a bent leg up or taking this time to rest, remember to be considerate of your fellow yogis by standing or sitting still as possible, drink water if you feel you must.

Posture #6-9:  Standing Bow, Balancing Stick, Standing Separate Leg Stretching, & Triangle are all done the same, being aware that balance may be more difficult in the standing bow posture and doing near a wall/balancing bar may be needed.

Posture #10:  Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee – adjusted by bending at the waist and leaning forward only slightly with arms on back, stretching without compression.

Posture #11 & #12: Tree and Toe Stand Posture – no change
.

Posture #13:  Savasana (ie. Dead Body Pose) – initial Savasana is done on back with knees bent before wind removing pose and then remainder is done on the side, alternating sides between the postures.

Posture #14: Wind Removing Pose – each side is done regularly but when both legs are brought up during the first set the legs are pulled to side, around abdomen, on second set the knees are brought up, feet grasped with hands and the soles brought together and knees drop out without any pressure on abdomen.

In between postures in Bikram a sit up is conducted, in pregnancy getting up you simply push yourself up with your arms from the side.

The spine segment of the series is where most of the changes of the original Bikram series are altered to avoid pressure on the abdomen but continuing to strengthen the spine.

Posture #15-18: Cobra, Locust, Full Locust, and Floor Bow are not done.  Instead these are substituted with the following:

Posture #15: Half-fish posture in place of Cobra- lie on back, arms are brought over head and palms placed flat on floor at shoulder by the ears, fingertips pointing down and palms are pushed with the upper body being brought toward the ceiling and top of head placed on floor, arms are brought down to side of body, hands on floor palms facing down, both legs are kept straight on the floor from hips to heels and chest brought toward the ceiling as high as possible.  To release bring hands next to head again, push against the floor and release head.

Posture #16 & 17: Kneeling Locust pose in place of Locust and Full Locust – come on all fours, knees below heels and arms below shoulders, chin up, inhale and lift right leg up as far as goes, then left leg, role forward.  Between these postures, practitioner sits back on heels. Rest on heels during Full Locust and move to side Savasana when the remainder of class moves to Savasana prior to Floor Bow.

Posture #18: Bridge replaces Floor Bow – bend both knees, separate feet hip distance apart and bring to hips, grab heels from side, lift hips off the floor, neck straight and shoulders on the ground, hold.  Push arms and elbows against the floor.  To come out slowly bring hips down and legs down.

Posture #19:  Fixed Firm Pose – the same.

Posture #20:  Half-Tortoise – sit down with knees open, otherwise, no change.

Posture #21 Camel – done without change, just be gentle with pushing your hips forward.

Posture #22:  Bound angle or Cat-Cow can be done in place of Rabbit. Rajashree in her video does Bound Angle – sit and bring soles of the feet together and gently press knees down.
 A Denver yoga studio suggests substituting Cat-Cow – start on all fours, bringing the wrists underneath the shoulders and knees under the hips, head in neutral position.  On an inhale curl the toes under, drop the belly, gaze toward the ceiling working from spine to tailbone, so neck is the last movement.  On the exhale, the feet tops are released to the floor, the spine is rounded, head is dropped, and eyes look toward the navel.  Repeat.

Posture #23:  Head to Knee – adjusted by grasping feet and bending to side, avoiding compression.

Posture #24:  Stretching pose is done as separate leg stretching on first set.  Legs are separated apart as much as possible and toes are grasped, bend knees if necessary.  Second set is completed with Gentle Pose- sit and bring soles together to body, hands on knees, push and lift shoulder up one by one, until both elbows are straight.

Posture #25 Spine Twist – done with a straight leg on the ground.

Posture #26 and final breathing exercise:  Blowing in Firm Pose is the same.
Instead of a final Savasana on the back, her yoga pregnancy video is completed with another breathing exercise.  Sitting in lotus position with relaxed breathing in and out, each to a count of six and between a brief pause, completing this with the rest of your class.

~Namaste

References
Bikram Yoga Website.  (Accessed: August 15, 2011) http://www.bikramyoga.com/Rajashree/rajashree_preg_yoga.php

Choudhury R. Pregnancy Yoga Video.

Bikram, Baby!

Pregnancy and Bikram Yoga

As an obstetrician-gynecologist whose primary mode of exercise and personal well-being has become Bikram yoga, I wondered what was out there in terms of research on Bikram yoga and pregnancy.  There has been so few pregnant women attending the classes I’ve been in; I began to wonder if women just stopped during pregnancy. There are no prenatal Bikram yoga classes, so an entire group of women seemed alienated from the practice.  So, what is there in terms of research pertaining to pregnancy outcomes in Bikram yoga practitioners?  Basically nothing!

Given that fact, one has to extrapolate from physiologic changes in pregnancy and those occurring during the Bikram series to make recommendations. Here’s what I’ve concluded to tell my patients who are Bikram yoga practitioners and want to continue during pregnancy.

A woman has to consider that there are numerous changes that take place to maintain a pregnancy.  Briefly, in the first trimester, basal metabolism begins to increase and ultimately requires an increase by as much as 300kcal/day to support mother and growing fetus, while increased rates of filtration at the level of the kidneys can lead to loss of important nutrients (Weissgerber 2006).  The addition of any exercise requires additional calorie intake to support a growing pregnancy.  Blood volume increases but with greater plasma volume than red blood cell volume, resulting in physiologic anemia.  This makes the transport of oxygen to the mother decrease to some degree.  Systemic vascular resistance decreases, leading to a decrease in blood pressure and this leads to an increased heart rate, which nadirs in the second trimester. Decreased blood pressure can lead to decreased blood flow to some important areas of the body such as brain or placenta potentially.  As uterine size increases there is increased pressure on the venous system that can lead to lower extremity swelling, influences respiratory changes that lead to an increased perception of need to breath, and alters a woman’s center of gravity.  All aspects of exercise tolerance. The hormone relaxin leads to musculoskeletal system changes with softening and relaxation of joints in preparation for childbirth, increasing flexility but also increasing risk of injury.

Research now supports that pregnancy should include a component of exercise, as moderate intensity activity has been shown to be beneficial in healthy women with normal pregnancies.  Key in that statement is HEALTHY women with NORMAL pregnancies.  In 2006, a Cochrane Review found 11 studies, with 472 participants, looking at exercise effects on maternal and newborn outcomes (Kramer 2006).  The conclusion was that exercise improved or maintained fitness, but they ultimately determined that data were “insufficient to conclude that exercise during pregnancy influences maternal and newborn outcomes”.  More recently, a Medscape review article, “The Effect of Exercise During Pregnancy on Maternal Outcomes: Literature Review of Exercise During Pregnancy” (Lewis 2008) identified 40 articles including observational and randomized studies and concluded there were reduced rates of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, gestational diabetes, cesarean section rates, pregnancy symptoms, decreased weight gain, and psychological issues during pregnancy in women who exercised (Morris 2005, Impact 2006).  The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists now recommends that women with low risk pregnancies participate in moderate intensity activity, a minimum of 30 minutes, most days of the week (ACOG Committee Opinion).   This does not apply to anyone deemed a high-risk pregnancy and there are obvious activities that pregnant women should avoid such as anything where impact may occur (ie. football, soccer), falls could be sustained (ie. horseback riding, biking) or significant pressure changes encountered (ie. scuba diving).

So, given the physiologic changes in pregnancy and recommendations for some exercise with pregnancy, how does Bikram Yoga fit into this recommendation and what are some of the concerns?  The 90-minute, 26 posture series, can be intense at times especially given the heat of between 95-105 degrees fahrenheit and 40-60 percent humidity.  However, for practitioners who have been doing the series for a minimum of 6 months regularly, there appears to be no reason it can’t be continued with precautions and modifications.  One should proceed with exercise after approval by one’s personal obstetrician-gynecologist, knowledge of your pregnancy by your Bikram yoga instructor, and at the practitioner’s discretion.  The main concerns that arise with practicing Bikram yoga during pregnancy are what occurs with core body temperature during the series.  This is especially true during early pregnancy when the neural tube (ie. central nervous system) is forming.  An additional concern throughout the pregnancy is uteroplacental blood flow with adequate oxygenation, hydration, and substrates to support a growing fetus.

A core body temperature of greater than 102 degrees fahrenheit for more than 10 minutes has been shown to increase risks of neural tube defects in a developing fetus and in a more developed fetus lead to dehydration and potentially reduced amniotic fluid volume.  This most often occurs during fevers but also can be caused by extremely heavy exercise or prolonged exposure to heat sources such as hot tubs or saunas.  Although there are suggestions that extreme temperatures may increase the risks of gastrointestinal and cardiac defects, the only consistently seen defect are those of the neural tube.  Avoiding excessively increased core body temperatures in the first trimester is one way to reduce the risk of neural tube defects, along with taking supplemental folic acid.

The key question is:  If Bikram yoga or ‘hot’ yoga changes core body temperature to above the 102 degrees fahrenheit level for long enough to cause neural tube defects or dehydration in a developing fetus?

Normal range of oral temperatures for females is 36.5-37.3 celsius (97.7-99.1 fahrenheit), with the lowest temperatures being in the early morning hours and peaking in the late afternoon and early evening.  Therefore, ‘hot’ yoga in the morning would be less likely to increase core body temperatures to a concerning level.  Our bodies are expert at regulating and maintaining our core temperature when the surrounding temperature changes, especially if the body grows accustomed to the heat and humidity.  This is one reason why only women who have been practicing Bikram yoga should even consider continuing. This is not a form of exercise I’d suggest starting during pregnancy.  Studies have shown that individuals become acclimatized to heat, developing increased tolerance in hot and humid conditions in 1 to 3 weeks (Guyton, 2006).  The primary way the body maintains the internal temperature in Bikram yoga is through evaporation in the form of sweat glands and dilation of blood vessels, which helps to cool the body.  However, with increasing humidity thermoregulation can be inhibited by limiting sweat evaporation and heat loss (Guyton 2006) and external cooling, with a cool towel or water may aid with temperature regulation.  Increased blood flow to the skin and expanded skin surface area actually have been shown to increase a pregnant woman’s efficiency with temperature regulation, helping her rid her body of excess heat when compared to non-pregnant women.

Over the course of pregnancy, potentially because of an increasing metabolic rate and body surface area, core temperatures have been shown to decrease.  A small longitudinal study of 15 women (GA 8, 16, 26, 36, and 12, 24, 52 weeks postpartum) found maternal core temperature to be highest in the first trimester with a decrease during pregnancy.  At 8 weeks temperatures averaged 37.1 celsius and decreased to term with the nadir of 36.4 celsius at 12wks postpartum, then stabilized by 24 weeks postpartum (Hartgill 2011).  In a general search on the web and in speaking with my yoga instructors, there are many anecdotal stories of women who continued with Bikram yoga during pregnancy without complications.  Simply because there are reports of women and their infants doing fine when the woman practiced Bikram yoga during her pregnancy, does or does not mean it is necessarily not hazardous.  I’d equate it with women who smoke or drink during pregnancy, there are reports of normal pregnancies in those situations as well.  Even initial studies are needed.  Something as simple as a retrospective review of rates of complications in women continuing Bikram yoga practice while pregnant are lacking.

In trying to find information about core body temperature changes during Bikram yoga, one yoga studio conducted an informal “experiment” by having two pregnant women take their oral temperatures before class, three different times during class and again following class.  Neither saw a noticeable rise in temperature, with one reporting lower temperatures during class than at other times during the day.  During another class this studio took the temperatures of 12 non-pregnant individuals before and immediately following class and noted the highest body temperature recorded of 101.5 with an average post-class temperature of 99.7.  However, considering core body temperature differs from oral temperatures by approximately 0.8 degrees, the highest temperature of 101.5 would be above the recommended maximum of 102 degrees. However, we do not know how this fluctuated during class or how long the temperature was maintained.  Although they do not specify women versus men or the time of day these temperatures were taken.  Some general recommendations, if a woman wanted to continue practicing, would be to go in the morning, ask the instructor where the coolest spot in the room may be, drink plenty of fluids to maintain hydration, take a thermometer to monitor one’s temperature during the sequence as everyone will have a different range, take a squirt bottle with cold water in to provide external cooling if necessary, listen to your body by substituting the postures with appropriate pregnancy postures and by taking breaks to cool down and if it requires leaving the class to cool down, yoga etiquette or not, for your safety, exit quietly.

Another issue of concern is uteroplacental blood flow, dehydration and maintenance of nutrients to the fetus throughout Bikram yoga practice.  With increasing basal metabolism and increased filtration at the kidneys it is important that pregnant women maintain adequate nutrition through diet and supplements.  I’ve heard that a session of Bikram yoga burns 600-800 calories for the average woman, increasing calorie intake and taking appropriate supplements is necessary for women to continue practicing.  Eating before class and taking a snack for immediately after would be encouraged.  Even when not pregnant, going to class hydrated and maintaining hydration throughout class is important.  Supplying additional electrolyte rich fluids can help maintain osmotic pressure intravascularly to prevent further decreased blood pressure.  With further vasodilation for cooling, pregnant women may begin to feel light-headed easier as the blood flow is diverted to the skin.  Fetal hemoglobin will insure the fetus will obtain sufficiently oxygenated blood flow but staying well hydrated and sitting if any indication of feeling light headed would be important for mom.

Some general concerns is that first trimester is very critical to fetal development with organogenesis occurring by the end of the twelfth week of gestation.  Any teratogen will have it’s greatest influence at this critical time.  A difficult aspect is that women often don’t know they are pregnant in the very early weeks and because spontaneous miscarriage rates are greater during the first trimester, the legal climate of obstetrics, and often a fear of the unknown, most physicians would likely recommend avoiding many activities in the first trimester.  Rajashree, Bikram’s wife, states that from the second trimester on you can practice her pregnancy yoga sequence.  I was unable to find a statement from Bikram or Rajashree regarding practicing during the first trimester. Think I’ll send her an email.  However, for myself, the thought of not going to Bikram yoga for twelve weeks, if I were to be pregnant, and the effect it would have on my physical and mental well-being would be worth the theoretical risk as long as precautions mentioned above were taken.  Although as I recall during my first pregnancy, from about 7-12 weeks gestation I have never been as tired or nauseous in my entire life so one may not feel up to going to class anyway.  Because of the hormonal mileau wrecking havoc and the energy requirements of the first trimester, there may be times where fewer classes would be in order, more breaks during the series, or incorporating the pregnancy sequence should prevail.

As the pregnancy progresses and the uterus grows, the change of the center of gravity may lead to imbalance during the yoga series.  Taking this into consideration, positioning oneself near a wall, using a bar during some of the series, or adjusting the series as necessary may be required.  Additionally, the hormone relaxin allows for softening of the joints and increased flexibility.  Keeping this in mind, the heat already improves flexibility so women should be particularly cautious when doing postures as to not overstrain or injure themselves by doing something they wouldn’t normally be capable of doing prior to pregnancy.

So, how does the Bikram yoga pregnancy sequence differ?  First, according to the Bikram Yoga Website and Bikram’s wife Rajashree’s pregnancy video she recommends seeking the advice of a doctor before proceeding with Bikram Yoga (I would agree!).  If medically cleared by a physician, without any high risk pregnancy issues, have been practicing Bikram yoga for a minimum of six months, but preferably a year, and plan to continue Bikram yoga throughout your pregnancy then the following adjustments are recommended.  While Rajashree’s pregnancy video provides an alternative sequence and can be done at home, practicing with your normal class requires a few adjustments.   She notes that from the second trimester on you can practice her pregnancy yoga sequence and it can be practiced in a Bikram Yoga Class, but at the pregnant woman’s discretion.

 

Wishing you health and happiness in your pregnancy. In the end we all want a healthy mom and baby.  Please be certain to seek the advice of your physician to ensure safety during this or any other exercise during pregnancy!

While I am a physician, this article in no way a substitute for someone who knows you well, it an attempt to organize my thoughts for myself and for any patients who may ask me about Bikram in pregnancy.

Namaste.

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REFERENCES:

ACOG committee opinion: exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period.  Number 267, January 2002.  American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.  Int J Gynaecol Obstet.  2002; 77:79-81.

Bikram Yoga Website.  (Accessed: August 15, 2011) http://www.bikramyoga.com/Rajashree/rajashree_preg_yoga.php

Choudhury R. Pregnancy Yoga Video.

Guyton, AC & Hall JE (2006).  Textbook of Medical Physiology.  Philadelphia: Elselvier Saunders.

Hartgill TW, Bergersen TK, Pirhonen J. 2011  Core body temperature and the thermoneutral zone: a longitudinal study of normal human pregnancy.  Acta Phisiol Apr;201(4):467-74.

Impact of physical activity during pregnancy and postpartum on chronic disease risk. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006;38: 989-1006.

Jennings E (2010).  Online posting from Bikram Yoga Decatur.  http://bikramyogadecatur.com/node/430 (Accessed 08.09.11).

Kramer MS, McDonald SW. Aerobic exercise for women during pregnancy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006;(3): CD000180.

Lewis B, Avery M, Jennings E, Sherwood N, Martinson B, Crain L.  The Effect of Exercise During Pregnancy on Maternal Outcomes: Literature Review of Exercise During Pregnancy.  http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/580466_5 (Accessed: August 8, 2011).

Morris SN, Johnson NR. Exercise during pregnancy: a critical appraisal of the literature. J Reprod Med. 2005;50:181-188.

Weissgerber TL, Wolfe LA. Physiological adaptation in early human pregnancy: adaptation to balance maternal-fetal demands. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2006;31:1-11.

Bikram Yoga for ALL!!

 Really!

“Ninety minutes of hell…sooo worth it”, Troy, my yoga teacher at the Tri-Valley Bikram’s Yoga studio, proclaims during class.  Enthusiastically, I inwardly agree while dripping sweat and struggling with the current posture du’jour.  With an ideal temperature of 95-105 degrees and 40-60% humidity, Bikram Yoga (also called “hot” yoga) can indeed feel like hell, especially for the new practitioner and even at times for the few month practitioner – like myself.

Before I go on, a little about Bikram Choudhury, the creator of the ‘hot’ Yoga series.  He began practicing yoga poses at age three with renowned guru Bishnu Gosh, and won numerous championships by age 14.  At the peak of his practice he was doing yoga 16-20 hours daily.  As an avid athlete in his youth he suffered a knee injury at age 18 and was told by physicians he would never walk again.  His guru put him on a strict regimen of rigorous yoga practice, which healed his knee.  When he arrived to the United States, he wished to share yoga with Westerners and reduced the hundreds of yoga postures to a 26 posture series, with two breathing exercises aimed to improve the entire body.

After practicing just over three months, the improvement I’ve noticed in my physical and mental health makes me believe that everyone should be prescribed a regular schedule of Bikram Yoga practice.  Let me tell you how I found myself in this room, why I continue to do this for myself, and why I think everyone should take up this practice.

Just over three months ago I was experiencing sciatic pain that I’d had for two years, since the birth of my first child.  The sciatic pain was becoming unbearable and I needed to find a way to alleviate the pain.  I’m also a doctor and really believe in diet and exercise as the first steps to improving one’s health.  I wanted to avoid relying on pain medications, if I could help it.  So I read and tried stretching, various exercise, and classes at my local gym, without much in the way of improvement of the sciatica.  In searching for options, I came across the story of a woman who had back pain that improved through Bikram yoga and I decided I had nothing to lose, except potentially the pain, and decided to give it a shot.

After reading multiple stories of healing, I decided it was worth the drive to the closest studio open, Bikram Yoga East Bay, and I started attending.  The Tri-Valley is now fortunate enough to have a studio that just opened up in Pleasanton, Tri-Valley Bikram’s Yoga.

Admittedly, walking into the first class, it’s hard to ignore the heat.  By the time you finish the first pranayama (ie. breathing exercise) sweat beads are building on your skin and you start wondering just what you got yourself in to.  All that the instructor asked of me that first class was to do what I could, if I needed a break to sit and try to stay still, and whatever I do, don’t leave the room.  Sounded simple enough but I started to second-guess my choice almost instantly.  How would I endure 90-minutes in this heat doing yoga?  However, I bought an unlimited 10-day intro pass so I was determined to at least try a few times, unless this first class killed me.

By savasana (lying still, “doing nothing” ie. corpse pose) I am feeling light-headed.  As I lie there the ceiling seems to be closing in on me, my breathing became more rapid, and the Beatles line, “I am one-we are one-we are all together” starts to circle through my mind.  I realize I’m getting tunnel vision and I start to think I must be passing out, which doesn’t help the feeling of panic that feels like it is wafting over me.  Before I get the chance to pass out though, it’s time for the next posture and I find my body just starts moving, listening to the instructor’s words and doing the posture as best I can.  One of my teachers now jokes that I was such a mess those first few classes!  Keep that in mind when you go.  That person in the front row of class had to work to get there.

When the end finally arrives and I lie there for final savasana, I find that I somehow feel cleansed, both my mind and my body.  I’m soaked, as though I just jumped in the spa and then sat in a sauna with all my clothes on, but I feel great, and all before 730am.  At this point, I made the promise to come back…

Now fast-forward three-months and it’s become a habit, attending 4-6 times per week since I started.  Only regret is: I wished I started much sooner!   However, as Bikram notes as passed on by his guru, Bishnu Gosh, “It’s never too late, it’s never too bad, and your never too old or too sick to start from scratch once again”.  It’s also called ‘yoga practice’ so some days are better than others.  However, because it is the same 26 postures, from day to day your mind and body are different and you learn to be patient with the process.

I now can’t help but encourage everyone I know to at least give it a shot. Maybe hot yoga isn’t for you but yoga practice of all kinds has been shown to be beneficial for the mind and body.  My mother calls me the, “yoga pusher”.  I’d been talking about it so much that when she last came to visit I encouraged her to come with me.  She is so glad she did and has been going regularly since she started.  Her only complaint, is the same as mine, she wished she started earlier.  Don’t delay!

As for the reason I started in the first place, that sciatic pain…gone!  Still am working on those tight hamstrings but I no longer have the shooting sciatic pain that plagued me.  It didn’t happen immediately and there continues to be difficult classes but with perseverance and commitment, I now believe it can cure pain or at least reduce it. I’d prescribe it for my patients to help with pain and for overall improvement in their life and sense of well-being.  Not to mention helping me to get rid of trailing post-baby fat!

Another Bikram quote is, “sure it’s hard, but which would you rather do: suffer for 90 minutes in a Bikram class, or suffer for 90 years as you live your life without a truly healthy body and without realizing your potential?”.

So is the ninety-minutes of hell worth it?  Absolutely!!

If you live in the Tri-Valley Area:

Bikram Yoga East Bay is located in San Ramon at 3120C Crow Canyon Rd.

Tri-Valley Bikram’s Yoga is located in Pleasanton at  3283 Bernal Avenue, Suite #109.

See their websites for details, class schedule and rates.

 *Be sure to contact your personal physician before beginning this or any exercise program