Turning Up the Heat With Bikram Yoga This Ramadan
Siti Astrid Kusumawardhani
The last place you would imagine feeling calm and focused is probably a crowded, hot room surrounded by mirrors with sweat constantly dripping into your eyes as you lie down in “the dead body pose.”
I discovered that during my first Bikram Yoga class as I struggled against the voice in my head telling me to get out. The room was kept at almost 40 degrees Celsius for the entire session which lasted for one and a half hour. It was the longest one and a half hour I have ever felt in my life and I was so relieved when it was over. Clearly, this is not yoga for the faint-hearted.
Surprisingly, I slept very well that night, and with a little bit of that “good pain” you feel after exercising, my body craved for more. I came back for a second class and since then I have been regularly practicing for almost six months. The same enthusiasm is shared by many students — frequent practitioners and newcomers alike — who practice regularly at Bikram Yoga Kuningan in Epicentrum Walk, South Jakarta.
Bikram Yoga was created by Bikram Choudhury, an Indian yoga guru who selected twenty six postures and two breathing exercises out of hundreds of Hatha yoga postures which he claimed to “keep you healthy, fight against stress, diabetes, obesity, insomnia and arthritis.”
Choudhury himself was injured after a weightlifting accident during his youth and was proclaimed to never be able to walk again. He went back to his own Guru to practice yoga for six months and, against the odds, healed himself completely. Since then, Choudhury has trained thousands of teachers and certified thousands of Bikram Yoga studios all over the world, including Bikram Yoga Kuningan.
In 2008, owner and instructor of Bikram Yoga Kuningan Ricca Francisca was certified by Choudhury himself after completing Teacher Training, a mandatory course for those wishing to teach Bikram Yoga.
The Bikram Yoga series consists of twenty-six asana, or stable postures used in prolonged meditation, that are practiced with a standardized dialogue performed by a certified instructor in a room temperature of 40 degrees Celsius paired with 60 percent humidity level. Similar to traditional forms of yoga, Bikram Yoga focuses on uniting the mind and body through meditation and breathing.
The ultimate goal of holistic healing is achieved through combination of psychological, physical and spiritual rehabilitation. “I have witnessed my students who started their practice from zero to big improvement. Many of them get their concentration and focus along with physical improvements like weight loss, toned body, clearer and smoother skin, and glowing faces,” Ricca said.
“In a long term, practicing Bikram Yoga is not only for physical changes, but how we feel connected from within our body, our mind and our soul,” she added.
Bikram Yoga combines physical exercise with mental challenge and meditation, which is perfect for us stressed-out urbanites. “We live in a very stressful city with bad traffic, air pollution and bad eating habits. We assume that we are healthy as long as we don’t need to go to a doctor or get hospitalized, but we put too much toxin in our body without knowing it,” said Ricca.
“Bikram Yoga detoxifies and purifies the body and the mind. Through our practice, three times a week, we rejuvenate our internal organs, muscles, tendon, ligaments and joints. The blood circulates better, sending oxygenated blood to every cell in our body,” she explained.
Even during Ramadan, the studio remained busy with two classes daily. As someone who fasts, I was worried I could not maintain my practice. The intensive exercise of breathing, stretching and bending seemed difficult for a body that had been dehydrated and low in sugar for an entire day.
I tried it anyway with a class that started half an hour after fast breaking. Fueled with just water and three pieces of dates, it was not as disastrous as I had imagined. Even though I found myself performing less than I would have on a regular day, I managed to push through until the end of class.
“Lack of fluid during fasting can affect the body, yet it can also happen on daily basis. I usually suggest my students who still want to practice to do it in the evening when it is closer to the time when they need to break the fast,” Ricca suggested.
When asked about her students who are fasting, Ricca beamed with pride, “They have been very inspiring. To do the fasting, it is also another challenge, but to do both in the same day, that is amazing.”
More than ever, practicing during Ramadan proved to me that the mental challenge in Bikram Yoga is more difficult than its physical challenge. The mind gives up before the body does and, more often than not, we stop pushing our limits because our brain tells us we are not strong enough or good enough. Upon completion of each class, it feels like I have accomplished so much, or at least beat my own laziness for that day.
Bikram Yoga, however, is not without controversy. The element of heat is claimed to give Bikram Yoga the extra edge, but it is also the main source of debate surrounding the method. The heat is claimed to help improve muscular and cardiovascular strength, endurance, flexibility, balance and eventually promote weight loss because the heat makes it easier for the body and muscles to stretch.
However, some students may fall into the hazard of over stretching, which is common in other forms of yoga when people push their body beyond their physical limits. Particularly first-time students may feel heat stress symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, dizziness and dehydration.
“Yes, for some people they can get those feelings. That is normal while the detoxification is happening, but it could also mean that the person just ate something or lack fluid in their system,” Ricca explained.
Just like any other strenuous physical exercise with its accompanying risks, students are encouraged to educate and prepare themselves properly before each class. “To avoid dehydration, we must drink at least 3-4 liters of water a day if we want to practice. Students can get electrolytes supplement after class — it will also help if we watch our diet as well,” Ricca elaborated.
With more knowledge and regular practice, I continue to feel not only physical transformation, but also my thoughts and perspectives. I am now able to look at my own eyes for the entire class and be truly happy with what I see in the mirror.
They say to save the best for last, and in Bikram Yoga class that is truly the case with the final dead body pose where you lie down and meditate. “When we just focus on the breathing, it is living in the present moment. We become real people and become grateful to what we have, not what we don’t,” Ricca said.