Bikram Yoga and the Martial Artist
by Michelle D. Drake, special guest contributor on April 1st, 2012
100-105 degrees. 80-90% humidity. 20-25 people in a 300 square foot room. These are your conditions. Now work out. If I told you to do that you’d think I was crazy. Guess what, it happens! All over the country… the world even! Yes, America… People gather together to work out in a crazy hot stupid temperatures and conditions.
In a day and age where we live and breathe by our cold air conditioners, there are some foolish folk who willingly walk into a room with temps that soar well over the limits of human tolerance. I am one of those foolish folk. Bikram Yoga or “hot yoga,” without getting into its history or meaning, I will offer a brief explanation as to what goes on in “the torture chamber.” Bikram yoga consists of 26 different poses all designed to work on your balance, strength, breathing and meditation as well as help improve the function(s) of each of your organs. Suffice it to say Mr. Bikram is a genius and I hope to one day fulfill his poses and honor his art!
“What is it about Bikram Yoga that is soooo important to share with us—martial artists and MMA enthusiasts, Michelle?” What a wonderful question and I’m glad you asked! First off, I am a martial artist too. If you haven’t taken the time to read my bio allow me to take this opportunity to bore you with my martial arts experience. I study Taekwondo, Jiu Jitsu and boxing. I started Bikram with the intention of strengthening my knees. Almost two years ago I had both my knees operated on at the same time. A surgery that was supposed to have helped eliminate the pain only increased it ten-fold. I was in bed for almost three months, in excruciating pain.
After several months of rehabbing my knees and physical therapy, I was told by both my physical therapist and orthopedic surgeon that the only thing I’d ever be able to do is walk and with intense pain. I’d never again be able to do any martial art, run or lift weights. I was looking at a life of slow walking, weight gain (which did happen, I gained well over 25 pounds), and overall unhappiness. Thank goodness I’m super stubborn and know more than these two doctors know!! I looked my physical therapist in the eye one day and told him, “I WILL kick again. It’s your job to get me there.” He strongly disagreed so I fired him on the spot and began a slow, long, painful road to my dojang on my own. I walked back into my TKD (Taekwondo) school one year ago. *
Every day, every hour, every minute, I’m in pain. I heard Bikram Yoga was therapeutic and having tried everything else, I decided to take my first class. While visiting my girlfriend, Holly, in Renton, Washington, she took me to my first class. I hated every minute of it. The heat was unbearable, the poses were hard, my head was spinning and my muscles hurt. Later that night at Holly and Cher’s (Holly’s wife) home, I noticed that my knees didn’t throb like they usually do after a hard workout. I could actually move with ease. My head hurt and my detox was very rough but OMG, my knees didn’t hurt! It was then I knew, I had to find a Bikram Yoga studio at home.
It’s been a month since I started down my Bikram path. Some days are harder than others and I have to lie down in “savasana,” or corpse pose— a resting pose were you lie flat on your back and get your heart-rate down and quite frankly, keep from throwing up. Most days, I get through all the poses, albeit modified poses due to lack of strength (still) in my legs and lack of flexibility. I’ve found that since I started Bikram, my muscular endurance has increased a lot, the strength in my legs as well as the muscular tone and definition has increased. My knees hurt less and can endure longer bouts of kicking and rolling on the mats. Add to that, my core strength is off the charts! Flexibility is still an issue but I’m working on it. I will say, my kicks are much higher and I struggle less getting my foot to someone’s head!
Overall, I have nothing but positive things to say about Bikram Yoga, even if it is hot as all bloody hell in there. As a martial artist I think it’s imperative to take at least three to four classes of Bikram Yoga a week. The heat allows your muscles to stretch and the poses build your muscular endurance that is needed to get through physical practice and competitions. The meditative quality in Bikram helps clear the mind and helps you focus on your body and its movement.
There are two MMA dudes that take the Bikram classes with me and they offer the same testimony I just gave you. They agree their training has greatly improved and swear by this type of yoga. They even bring their training partners in with them—sometimes kicking and screaming! I asked them what is the biggest benefit they’ve received from taking these yoga classes and their overwhelming, enthusiastic response was, their core strength has improved dramatically. Moves and techniques they used to struggle with are no longer an issue for them and they can pull them off with great ease. I snuck a peek at their abs while they were talking to me and they’re ripped and strong, and awesome looking, my goodness they’re really really strong!
I challenge you, yes, YOU, to try at least five classes then tell me you don’t feel a difference for the better in your training! Try a few classes… I dare you! Let me know how it goes… GOOD LUCK!!
Special thanks to Bikram Yoga – San Antonio (BYSA) and Rick Urban (pictured), one of the 17 instructors there, for changing my life and defying what my doctor’s said I wouldn’t be able to do. *This past weekend, I received my black belt in Taekwondo from Master Michael Giampietro of the National School of Martial Arts in San Antonio, TX.
**As with any physical workout program, always consult your physician or medical provider before beginning any new exercise program.