Bikram Yoga Truckee heating up mind-body connection
December 17, 2004
Walking into the 105-degree room at Bikram Yoga Truckee for the first time last month, I didn't know what to expect other than a lot of sweat and a new experience.
After 90 minutes and one of the toughest workouts of my life, I thought I had some idea.
Suffering, I thought, but suffering in a good way Ð the way a good shiatsu massage involves some discomfort but leads to a deeper relaxation when it's over.
An ancient practice that traces its roots back 5,000 years to the Indian subcontinent, yoga has more recently caught on in Western societies as an excellent means of stretching the body and focusing the mind while getting a full-body workout at the same time.
Bikram yoga is a specific form of Hatha yoga that was developed and brought to the Unites States by Bikram Choudhury in 1972. The practice consists of a sequence of 26 asanas or postures, done in a room ideally heated to 105 degrees with the guidance of a certified instructor trained by Choudhury himself.
Sweat is a big part of the practice; so much so that a large towel is just as important as the yoga mat and bottle of water that students bring with them to class.
But as I came to learn over the course of 10 sessions at Bikram Yoga Truckee, patience, endurance, determination and focus play an even larger role in the transformation that Bikram yoga brings to the body and mind.
"Basically your job is to stay in the room and breath," said instructor and co-owner Tanya Paul before my first class. "Anything else is just a bonus."
Surprisingly, just breathing Ð something I normally take for granted Ð turned out to be the most difficult part of the class, and I constantly had to remind myself to keep breathing regularly while doing the series of postures.
Co-owners Paul and Alaina Reichwald began teaching in the studio in the Pioneer Commerce Center in November 2003 and bought out the previous owners in March of this year. Since that time they have developed a loyal following of yoga practitioners who represent a diverse cross-section of the Truckee community.
"Pretty much everyone has their own story and their own magic that happens for them," Paul said. "We hear everything from people who say 'I had the worst allergies and this year I've only had to take one allergy pill all season,' to people who are scheduled for back surgery. So it works the entire body from the inside out and it's very apparent that it's working."
Others students initially come for the workout, explained instructor Tara Nichols, but return because of the mental and emotional release they discover in the heated room.
"When people first come, it's usually for the same reason that I first came, which is to get a good workout," she said. "But as you practice more and more, you start realizing how it changes your life.
"It just gives you a lot of confidence and self-esteem and it teaches you to just love yourself and be your best friend and all those things that you don't learn anywhere," she said.
Instructor Ida Ripley discussed the other benefits of Bikram yoga.
"You absolutely work your cardiovascular system, so there is an aerobic element to it," she said. "You're actually burning 650 calories minimum per class. But it goes beyond that too. And a lot of times people come in here just looking for that physical release and they get way more than that."
Paul agreed: "Everything else that happens outside the door is completely forgotten about. You forget about that you have to do your grocery shopping and you forget about your babysitter and you forget about all that stuff because you're so focused on just trying to breath."
My first yoga breakthrough came mid-way through my third class, just after making the transition from the series of standing postures to the floor exercises: All of a sudden, the heat didn't bother me anymore.
It wasn't a physical change as I was still sweating just as much as always; rather, it was more of a mental adjustment - I wasn't conscious of the heat as an obstacle to be overcome and I was able to embrace the heated room for what it was and the deeper concentration that it allowed.
Breakthroughs are common in the studio according to all of the students I spoke with, but few are as dramatic as those experienced by Todd Bianco, 39. Bianco first tried Bikram yoga after a 2001 auto accident severely damaged his shoulder. After five surgeries and two years of physical therapy with little to show for it, Bianco's doctor recommended that he try Bikram yoga in December 2003, and he immediately began to see improvements.
"When I first went to yoga, I had a hard time getting my hands up over my head and that has still been on ongoing battle.
My last surgery cleared that up but the yoga gave me more movement than anything," he said. "As soon as I got introduced to the yoga I just took to it. I've got 220 or 225 days in during the year."
Now able to reach above his head without pain, Bianco estimates that he has recovered 90-95 percent of his range of motion in his shoulder, a recovery that has amazed him and his doctors.
My second breakthrough came during my seventh class, and I began to understand what Bianco was talking about in terms of the changes one's body goes through.
We were on the floor doing the Poorna-Salabhasana or Full Locust posture - a pose I had always struggled with. Laying on my stomach with my elbows under my torso, trying to raise my soles toward the ceiling, I had never been able to get my feet more than three inches off the ground. But that day my legs just kept going up and I was amazed to see my feet in the mirror two feet off the floor with my back somehow holding them there for the 10 seconds or so we held the posture.
It wasn't, by any means, a perfect or even good Full Locust, but for me it was almost unbelievable.
Results like mine didn't surprise Camron Bordner, 38, at all. An athlete and outdoor enthusiast before he began practicing Bikram yoga two years ago, Bordner came to the studio looking for the increased balance, strength and flexibility that many professional athletes derive from yoga practice.
"I had heard about Bikram, and had heard that a lot of athletes do it. I'm a pretty active guy and I had heard great things about how it increases your strength and flexibility and balance, so I decided to check it out and really just enjoyed it," he said.
After almost two years of going three to five times per week, Bordner said the changes in his body have been dramatic.
"I've noticed a definite improvement in my flexibility; my strength and core strength have improved a lot and the balance thing is great," he said. "I'm a pretty active backcountry skier and nordic skier in the wintertime and a cyclist in the summer, and just the balance has been a real noticable benefit."
But Bordner has also come to appreciate the other, more mental side of yoga practice, and it is that aspect that keeps him coming back week after week.
"I started off for all those physical benefits - the balance, the strength and the flexibility - but I've come to appreciate it even more now for the mental or spiritual benefits that I derive from it," he said.
"You hear the instructors in there talk about how it's a 90-minute physical meditation, and I've really gotten to the point where it's become that for me. I still enjoy the physical benefits that I get from it, but I really go in there to meditate for an hour and a half..."
Bikram Yoga Truckee sees all different types of people come through its doors from athletes like Bornder and foks recovering from injuries like Bianco to women like Lynnie Standteiner who claims that her yoga practice makes her a better mother.
"I started doing it just for the physical side and then I realized that I got home and I was just nicer to my family and it's very calming," Stanteiner said, adding, "Now my daughter tells me to go to yoga."
After my 10th class I can't say that I've become a better husband or anything, but knowing that I can hold difficult postures for what sometimes seems like an eternity in that 105-degree room has given me a new perspective on some of the small annoyances that must be endured in everyday life.
I've also come to realize that yoga is like life in that it's a path rather than a destination, and while sometimes you have to sweat a little to get the most out of it, more often than not the hard work is its own reward.
Bikram Yoga Truckee is located at 10775 Pioneer Trail, Suite 105B (in the Pioneer Commerce Center). For more information on classes and/or the Bikram yoga method call (530) 582-4111 or visit their Web site at www.BikramYogaTruckee.com.
Sidebar (if needed):
Names of the 26 postures:
1. Pranayama Series - Standing Deep Breathing
2. Ardha Chandrasana with Pada-Hastasana - Half Moon pose with Hands To Feet Pose
3. Utkatasana - Awkward Pose
4. Garurasana - Eagle Pose
5. Dandayamana-JanuShirasana - Standing Head to Knee Pose
6. Dandayamana-Dhanurasana - Standing Bow Pulling Pose
7. Tuladandasana - Balancing Stick Pose
8. Dandayamana-Bibhaktapada-Paschimottanasana - Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose
9. Trikanasana - Triangle Pose
10. Dandayamana-Bibhaktapada-Janushirasana - Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose
11. Tadasana - Tree Pose
12. Padangustasana - Toe Stand Pose
13. Savasana - Dead Body Pose
14. Pavanamuktasana - Wind Removing Pose
15. Sit up - Sit Up
16. Bhujangasana - Cobra Pose
17. Salabhasana - Locust Pose
18. Poorna-Salabhasana - Full Locust Pose
19. Dhanurasana - Bow Pose
20. Supta-Vajrasana - Fixed Firm Pose
21. Ardha-Kurmasana - Half Tortoise Pose
22. Ustrasana - Camel Pose
23. Sasangasana - Rabbit Pose
24. Janushirasana with Paschimottanasana - Head to Knee Pose with Stretching Pose
25. Ardha-Matsyendrasana - Spine Twisting Pose
26. Khapalbhati - Blowing In Firm Pose