I’ve mentioned previously in another one of my blogs for HYS that Bikram as a yoga method has its naysayers. When I’m asked what yoga I prefer, and the person asking me is clearly not a fan of Bikram, I’ve heard reasons such as the heat (fair enough, sometimes most classes I curse the heat, but I keep coming back); Bikram himself (we’ve all read the articles: My view is that my practise is very, very far removed from anything I’ve read about Bikram the person) to a preoccupation with mirrors (which is just plain silly. If you don’t like the mirrors, don’t stand at the front!).
When people ask me why I keep going back (12 years and counting since my first class…) it’s because of the uncomfortableness. This is not a word as such, but this is the word I want to use to describe why Bikram works for me.
I am an exercise junkie to the point that I’m so addicted to exercise-induced endorphins that I once qualified as a subject to take part in a piece of research on the psychology of exercise addiction. Running, weight lifting, cycling, swimming (and on it goes… Everything, basically) all make me feel that kind of SHOUTY, fist-pumpy great where you feel invincible, accomplished and strong.
Bikram yoga too gives me this feeling, but it also allows me to stray into territories in my mind that do not give me this feeling. Quite the opposite. Bikram allows me to go into a place within my head that isn’t all that fun. Most teachers tell us to expect an upsurge of emotion in Camel, and I’m not sure how many people experience that, but for me, this upsurge is overwhelming.
Let me explain. I have a tendency to ruminate. I go over and over tricky conversations I’ve had, or the fact I argued with my partner or even slow walkers who are the scourge of my existence. I don’t hold grudges as such, but all too easily do I over-think things that I know are stupid and inconsequential. Rumination is different from reflection: A study in the most recent issue of the journal ‘Personality & Individual Differences’ found that daily rumination (going over things a number of times) without reflection (thinking about why things happen and how to handle it; the meaning of life kind of stuff) was negatively associated with feelings of well-being on a daily basis.
When I ease myself into Camel pose, breathe out and relax into this incredible backbend, there is an instant purging of my stagnant rumination. Anything I’ve been endlessly replaying in my head sort is invisibly projectile-vomited out of my body through my ribcage as I open up my heart. Yes, this is hard to believe. But it’s true. As soon as I sit down (I am the slowest person exiting Camel posture) and roll into savasana, it’s like nothing matters anymore. There is a wonderful sense of emptiness where previously, the rumination rumbled.
This feeling is so overwhelming at times, it has made me cry. I don’t sob loudly (hi, we are in Britain) but I have endured many a post-Camel savasana trying to cry quietly. I do feel a bit stupid (obviously: The Britain bit again), but another piece of science has come to my aid to help me accept my emotional response: In ‘New Ideas in Psychology’, a recent study found that weeping has a soothing effect on us, has positive effects on our health and social interaction overall by inducing empathy.
This is what keeps me coming back. This area of uncomfortableness. I am still learning how to shift from unproductive rumination to more productive, positive reflection and I think it’s a process I’ll still be learning in many, many years to come. Bikram yoga is my learning aid. It’s a place where I can’t avoid dealing with the uncomfortableness, but where the uncomfortableness is dealt with in a way I can handle.
It’s not all weeping and invisible vomiting of emotions. I can – and frequently – do feel joyful after Camel pose, and almost unfailing feel calm, relaxed and slightly less tightly coiled after both 60- and 90-minute HYS classes (as for Yoga Nidra, just carry me out in a bucket already).
But I have yet to find a way that consistently deals with my uncomfortableness as constructively as a hot yoga class. This is what keeps me coming back. I can find the elation and starry-eyed endorphin rush elsewhere (and also in the hot room!) but only in the hot room can I find balance.
Yogi since 2005, Alex has practised hot yoga in studios across Europe and the USA, but Hot Yoga Society is her favourite!