I was in a wheelchair when Bikram Yoga came into my life
I had injured both of my ankles so seriously that I had not been able to stand for over a year. My doctors had tried every physical therapy technique in the book to no avail. MRIs and X-rays ruled out bone and tissue damage. We kept searching for answers, but no one could explain why my ankles refused to bear weight. The next step would have been either attempting to reboot my nervous system (in hopes that it would function correctly by injecting something I did not want to hear about into the base of my spine) or for the podiatrist to operate in hopes of finding the cause of my inability while he was in there. Luckily my friend brought me into Bikram Yoga of Santa Rosa before it came to this.
I was timid, wondering what someone in a wheelchair was doing in an intense yoga class. I had never really practiced yoga before and didn’t love the idea of starting someone while I was incapable. Thankfully I had been so eager for movement and exercise, that I overcame my fear and self judgement and agreed. I wheeled up to the classroom door, leaving my wheelchair outside, and crawled to where my mat had been placed. I had been told to only do what I could without severe pain- not to skip steps, but work on what little of the foundation I could managed until I slowly improved- so i did. I practiced the standing series on my knees, simply remaining still and upright for many.
I cannot explain the feelings that came over me after that first class. I FELT BETTER! I had felt the same for so long, I was beginning to lose hope. But I can honestly say that I left that room better than I felt before, every single time I practiced. Addicted to beginning to feel healthy again, I worked with teachers to develop acceptable modifications only until I was able to stand and begin the postures again the correct way. I practiced nearly every day for the next year and half. Improving a little, then overdoing it and go backwards in healing a bit. The teachers and students became my family, helping me heal physically, emotionally, spiritually. Being in that room, helped me breathe through and be patient with the healing process and myself. The yoga made me feel better, so listened to it. I was grateful that not being able to walk across the room had taught me to release a little control and replace it with acceptance. I trusted the yoga to bring me to health because I felt it working.
After 2 months I was able to stand for 10 minutes at a time and after 5 months I left the wheelchair at home and began to use a redwood branch as my cane. My therapists handed my therapy to Bikram’s ancient knowledge, as they were still baffled. Bikram’s magic was re-alligning and reconnecting the neglected and hypersensitive parts of my body. And it felt so good!
It is almost hard to believe how much power and healing potential Bikram Yoga has if you just trust it and allow it to. I may not have believed it, not having been touched by this magic myself. But I am standing, skipping, running, leaping proof that there is ancient wisdom and magic in Bikram Yoga that allows you body to heal, connect, cleanse, strengthen, and reach its full potential. More and more so with each practice.
My advice? Get into that room.
Do what you can; be still and appreciate your body when you can’t.
Trust your yoga. And it will unlock and allow you to become what you need.
How Bikram Yoga Changed my life
At age 23, after years of swimming, running, weight lifting, bicycling, and skiing, I suffered a traumatic knee injury. I realized that my muscles were strong, but my joints had been damaged. Even after knee surgery I found it challenging to continue my passion for sports. One day a friend “dragged” me to a Bikram Yoga class. I didn’t know much about yoga at that time, and expected it would be a waste of time. I was wrong!
At first I found Bikram Yoga to be extremely difficult, and this surprised me because I had always been athletic and thought of myself as strong and fit. I soon realized I had to revise my idea of what it means to be fit—I needed to bring flexibility into the equation, not just muscle strength. At first, I could not do many of the postures because of my knee injury. (I learned later that a knee injury that threatened his ability to walk is what originally brought Bikram Choudhury to develop Bikram Yoga).
Though I found Bikram Yoga incredibly challenging, I was determined to stay with it, and soon began to see and feel major changes in my body. I increased my class attendance, showing up five or six days a week. Slowly, I was able to move into postures that had seemed impossible when I first started. My body was changing. I noticed a sometimes leisurely. I have never been happier or healthier in my life, during times that I practice regularly. I have hit times of getting burnt out from the practice, and take breaks, but after a few weeks off, I feel the aches and pains creeping back in. This always sends me back into the yoga room. Recently I practiced Bikram Yoga (with modifications) through the second and third trimesters of my pregnancy. It kept me feeling wonderful through my pregnancy and birth of my beautiful twins, Skyler and Everett.
I have seen these same positive changes in my students and fellow Bikram Yoga enthusiasts. Over the years I have watched men and women lose weight, heal injuries, improve muscle tone, and take on a happier, more fulfilled outlook on life. Together we experience the bliss that comes with the release of tension and stress, and the power that comes with strengthening our joints and muscles in a healthy, positive, and transformative way.
For those who are seeking the benefits of Bikram Yoga, I recommend the following:
Practice three to five times a week. Attend some light, easy classes, interspersed with a few more challenging sessions. Just like any fitness routine, in order to see changes, 3+ days per week is recommended.
Learn to go easy and take breaks when needed and be proud of yourself for knowing when to sit down.
Focus on doing the postures correctly, not on “going deep.”
Always cross-train. Nothing, including Bikram Yoga, is a cure-all. For maximum benefit, make Bikram Yoga one part of your overall fitness routine. Doing too much of anything creates unbalance in our lives.
Bikram practice saved me not only mentally, but physically
When my daughter was 14, she started practicing Bikram Yoga. I would drop her off for class and when i’d pick her back up, I’d look at the people coming out of class and think, “these folks look terrible, all hot, sweaty, and exhausted.” You could never get me into one of those classes. One month later I attended my first Bikram class.
Of course that was 11 years ago and not only is my daughter still practicing but so does my older daughter and my husband Mark. Bikram yoga has been a big part of my daily life and has impacted me both physically and mentally. I was always physically active and combining yoga, weight training and walking, was a perfect combination for physical health. About four years ago i was diagnosed with very bad arthritis in my wrists and thumbs and was no longer to weight train. Bikram then became even more important and i went from two classes a week to three. I began seeing the difference in not only my physical health but also noticed how much it strengthened my mind, determination, and focus.
Two and a half years ago i had acute liver failure and was given about a week or two to live. Thankfully, I had an angel on my shoulder and was given the gift of a new liver. Four days after my transplant i was in the hospital hallway doing half moon. I was then nicknamed “Yoga Lady” by the nurses. It was a life changing experience and i’m so fortunate to be alive today to write about it. The months that followed were extremely difficult and there were times I didn’t think i could go on. But my mind was strong and i was determined not to give up. I believe that my Bikram training helped me stay focused and five weeks after my transplant, I was back in class. I remember the times I just didn’t think I could get through, i’d think “you can do anything for 10 seconds” and that determination helped me stay focused.
I truly believe that my Bikram practice saved me not only mentally, but physically I was in such great condition before i got sick, my body was able to heal at a much faster rate. Now I try to practice 4 days a week and love the combination of Bikram and the Fusion class. For me, this is a perfect practice and I owe so much to my daughter for introducing me to my lifesaving practice.
It’s worth every one of the 90 minutes
In the summer of 1999 I turned 49, and I was a mess. I couldn’t sit or stand for long with out back pain. I couldn’t step off a curb without great caution. If I tripped, sneezed, coughed, or bumped into something my back would spasm. I couldn’t lie on my stomach.
My sister and good friend Betsy both said I should try Bikram Yoga. I was skeptical, but desperate by then, so I went to the studio and signed up. I thought after the first day that I may have made a big mistake, but committed to a month.
My first month was hard, especially the first week. In the first class I couldn’t decide if it would be worse to stay in the room and vomit, or leave in embarrassment. (In hindsight, I know it would have been better to leave than heave in the practice room!) I stuck it out, and made it to four classes a week for the first month. It was a huge effort and in every class I had to push myself to come, but I was seeing progress, very small but steady progress.
I gave it six months. During one of my classes my back seized so badly that Ruth had to help me off the mat and into the locker room. I came back anyway and kept coming for a year.
After a year I started to notice big changes, like being able to brush my teeth without pain when bending over the sink. Maybe the effort was paying off!
Five years later I don’t always get to the studio four times a week, in fact, sometimes I don’t get here more than four or five times a month. I notice the difference right away, my back tells me! Most of the time I’m able to practice at least twice or three times a week, and consistent yoga has made all the difference in my life. I can trip, sneeze, cough, and play with my granddaughters without pain. It’s still hard to come sometimes. It’s a huge time commitment. It’s hot. And, it’s worth every one of the 90 minutes three to four times a week. I love Bikram Yoga.