Bikram Yoga for our health and fitness

Drew Sheets, Opinion Editor

Yoga has been practiced in India for at least 5,000 years. Its basic principles involve gaining flexibility and strength by breathing properly and controlling your body through a series of movements and postures. Since I’ve been an athlete all my life, Yoga sounded like a basic workout, boy was I in for a surprise.

Bikram Choudhury was born in 1946, started practicing yoga at age four and by the tender age of 13, had successfully become the Yoga Champion of India. He would hold the title for three years before suffering a knee injury that had his doctors predicting he would never walk again. After six months of extensive Yoga training, Bikram’s knee was completely healed, making him the first case that would scientifically prove Yoga’s immense healing abilities.

During this experience, Choudhury developed a 26-posture series that would cure athletes and non-athletes alike of chronic joint, bone and muscle pain. He designed the series to be practiced in a room heated to 105 degrees. Bikram Yoga has been proven to improve respiratory, digestive, mental and organ health and reduce stress.

Bikram Yoga of Santa Rosa is a great place to start; Rebecca Pennington, the owner, caters to all experience levels. Eight years ago, Rebecca suffered chronic knee pain and was told by her doctor to quit her passions of playing soccer and rock climbing because it would lead her to need surgical repair and suffer more pain. So she opted for Bikram Yoga. Similarly to Bikram’s story, six months later she was not only healed and back to playing soccer and rock climbing, she also discovered a new range of flexibility and greater strength. Bikram Yoga has since turned into her passion.

Sadie Gray, a member at Bikram Yoga of Santa Rosa, attributes the practice to curing her depression. “It is a renewing experience; it benefits every cell in your body,” she said. When asked if 90 minutes of intense stretching in a 105 degree room gave her a good workout Sadie said, “Show up early and bring two towels. I drink two 20 oz. bottles of water and when I’m done I’ve sweat through both of my towels. You should wear as little clothing as possible.”

With that advice, I decided to give it a shot. Bright colors and pictures of Yoga students filled the wall space and Yoga attire hung on racks in the pro-shop. I found the environment to be comfortable and relaxing. I purchased five sessions for $25 and a bottle of water for $2 more. I changed and found a spot in the workout room, laid down my mat and started doing some light stretching to warm up. The first thing I realized was that I was already warm. They were not kidding about it being 105 degrees.

After about 10 minutes, Pennington, who is also one of the instructors, came in to begin the class. The first posture is a deep breathing exercise where you clench your hands together under your chin and inhale while leaning as far back as you can while pushing your hips and elbows forward. All your weight is on your heels as you slowly exhale, leaning forward and raising your elbows to the ceiling, knuckles clenched, and fastened to the bottom of your chin. I did the first set and felt sweat rolling down my forehead. Twenty-five minutes later I noticed my shirt was drenched in sweat. At that point Pennington told the class it was OK to get some water and that we were done warming up.

Most of the next hour was a blur. I don’t remember any of the postures specifically, but each one seemed more demanding than the last. At about the 45-minute mark, I felt extremely light headed and thought I might pass out. I had to stop and take a couple minutes to catch my breath, no kidding. It felt like 115 degrees. I might have been breathing razorblades or lit matches–my lungs were on fire.

About an hour went by before I went temporarily blind and my head felt like it was going to explode. It only lasted about five seconds before light faded back in and I began to recognize shapes and figures. Pennington’s words: “work hard to your ability,” came pounding through my ears as the walls of the room expanded and contracted with each breath.

The entire workout lasted 90 minutes and the final posture, known as Savasana, required that I lie on my back and relax my entire body while focusing on nothing other than breathing. As easy as it sounds, I found it extremely difficult. After 90 minutes of stretching in a 40 by 30-foot room heated to 105 degrees, the only thing I wanted to do was find breathable air.

Pennington credits Bikram with changing her life and she loves the opportunity to help change others’ for the better. “Bikram compliments almost every other sport there is. Whether its tennis, baseball, swimming, soccer or running,” Pennington said.
This is a great workout for anyone with the heart and dedication to improve their overall health. I have no doubt that practicing Bikram Yoga will help anyone make healthier life decisions, and lead to better overall health.

Bikram Yoga of Santa Rosa is located at 522 Wilson St. Santa Rosa. They offer five classes every weekday and two classes on Sat. and Sun. If you are recovering from an injury or just want to improve your overall athletic performance, check them out. But be prepared, this workout is not for the faint of heart.