In February I decided to kickstart my (rather delayed) 'new year, new me' regime by embarking on a 30 day Bikram Yoga Challenge. As a rather non-sporty person by nature this may have been a tad ambitious, but I have (fabulous looking) friends who swear by it and had previously dabbled myself on a few occasions without too much psychological damage.
Bikram Yoga is a 26-posture fast-paced yoga series performed in a room heated to 40.5 degrees. It is 90 minutes of stretching, bending and twisting your body in intense heat. It is sweaty. It is humid. It is smelly. BUT it is said to burn over 1,000 calories per class, make you lean, supple and alert, and combat depression and lots of general aches and pains.
So on Feb 1st I gave up the booze (which is a whole other tale of pain), informed Facebook (surely one of the most successful motivating tools there is?) and set my mind on the sweaty challenge ahead.
I did it. I completed the challenge. I am here to tell the tale.
And my tale, unfortunately, is that it didn't rock my world. I didn't see a massive change in my shape or weight, and even after 30 days I didn't feel as though I had reached a stage where I enjoyed the practise. TBH I have found more spiritual enlightenment dropping herbal tabs in the Healing Fields of Glastonbury than I did during my time sweating buckets in a studio crammed with dripping West Londoners.
On the plus side my problem skin cleared up, I got that yoga 'glow', my appetite disappeared and I was (apparently) a lot bendier. I know that my muscles got a lot of benefit, and I am terribly proud that I managed to complete the challenge - I don't think I have ever done anything for 30 days consecutively except maybe Christmas parties in 2011.
For me, the sheer endurance of the classes weren't a fair trade off for the results, and so I'm not going to be continuing it long term BUT it stopped me drinking so much, helped me form an exercise habit that I'm managing to keep up and it kickstarted a different way of looking at my health and life and how I choose to spend my spare time, so it was definitely worth 30 days of my year.
If you are thinking about taking up your own challenge here are some helpful things I learned along the way...
DO'S AND DON'TS OF BIKRAM YOGA
1. Don't wear grey jersey. Never, ever: This is the quickest way to look like a newbie and also the sweatiest person alive.
2. Don't wear too many clothes: It doesn't matter how conscious you are about your body, 45 minutes into the class you will be desperate to be naked. This is what those clever sweat-wicking styles were invented for (Gap do some great value technical fitness pieces).
3. Do choose the most convenient, not the sexiest studio. A 90 minute class plus cooling down and travel each way is going to take minimum 2 1/2 hours out of your day so make it as easy as possible for yourself to get there.
4. Do prepare to be your own cheerleader: Friends and family are very supportive at the beginning, and interested at the end, but get bored in between. You can't blame them for not wanting to talk about your sweat glands for 30 days straight. You'll be boring yourself by day 14 (the hardest for me, incidentally). Of course they care, but most days you are going to have to be your own biggest fan.
5. Don't be hungover. Or if you are, know that you will want to top yourself ten minutes into the class.
6. Do know that Savasana is the most beautiful word in the world: This is the term for the 'dead body' pose of total relaxation and is a chance for you to lie down and be totally still for a short time between poses during the second part of the class. You will come to worship this word.
7. Don't be surprised if you are constantly tired: Trying to fit classes in between work and a social life means a few late nights, lots of early morning sessions and sometimes two 90 minute classes in 24 hours, which is hard on the fittest of bodies.
8. Do expect Bikram yogis to be a bit clique-y: They recommend that you practise at least four times a week to get real benefits from Bikram, and if you don't have that time to devote to a humid studio and strangers in Speedos you won't be one of the gang.
9. Don't sit near the man in the loose shorts: Forward bends + packed room = TMI, sir.
10. Do go early when you can: This will get it out of the way, and also the studio smells less ripe at the beginning of the day.
11. Don't be surprised if you make sex noises: It happens.
12. Do understand that you will get bored: Repeating the same poses over and over again each day gets pretty tiresome. The random sex noises help to keep it interesting though.