Yoga For Firefighters. Seriously.
What is Bikram Yoga?
Bikram Yoga, also known as “Hot Yoga” was created by Bikram Choudhury. It consists of 26 poses, which are known more formally as “asanas.” The names of the poses range from the mildly ridiculous (um, Wind-Removing Pose? Really Bikram? Not something a man should be doing when surrounded by hot, sweaty scantily-clad ladies) to the badass: Cobra Pose. The kicker with Bikram Yoga is that it’s done in a sweat-lodge like setting. The thermometer is set to 105 degrees and some sort of magic machine keeps the humidity hovering around 40%. The “class” takes approximately 90 minutes, and once you’ve experienced one class, you’ve experienced them all. The sequence that the poses are done is fixed and never deviated from. Likewise, the time spent in the poses, and recovering between poses is carefully monitored and constant whether you take a class in Amsterdam or Boulder.
According to some estimates, Yoga has been around for almost 5,000 years. The fact that it endures to this day should serve as proof that it must do something to help people out. Otherwise, they would have abandoned it centuries ago, right? Yoga has gotten a pretty bad rap over the last few decades as a past time for aging hippies and eccentric new age types. If you believed in the curative powers of crystals or owned more than one Yanni album – you probably were doing Yoga too. Fortunately, yoga has been brought into the mainstream, with the proliferation of Bikram Yoga studios popping up in strip malls across the country. It’s also benefited from some high-profile endorsements (John from “The John Jay and Rich” morning show, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and scores of other NFL, NBA and MLB athletes.)
And if you’re looking to shed some pounds Men’s health claims that you can lose anywhere between 350-600 calories per session. Which isn’t too bad if you’ve got a little paunch.
Why Does Hotshot Fitness Recommend Bikram Yoga?
We here at Hotshot Fitness think there are three very good reasons for getting down to the local Bikram Studio and sweating through some poses.
First, injury prevention. Incorporating a regular stretching routine (which Bikram Yoga is) has been proven to reduce your risk of injury. But why take our word for it. Remember Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? Arguably one of the best basketball players to ever play the game had this to say about Bikram Yoga:
“I truly believe that it helped to prolong my career and kept me from getting serious injuries. The stretching aspect of yoga perfectly complements the strength training and cardiovascular endurance that are so well covered in traditional sports workouts.” ~Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Second, it can improve your breathing. Some might scoff at the notion that you can “breathe better” but you can. Just because you breathe naturally and without conscious effort, doesn’t mean that you can’t improve upon it. Think about a car’s engine. What’s an easy way to improve performance, power, and fuel-economy? Upgrade the air intake system. The more oxygen you pump into the cylinders, the better your car performs. Your body is no different. Pranayama breathing forces you to breathe deeper and longer than you ever have before. You don’t appreciate how shallow your breathing is until you attempt to do a full six second inhale, followed by a six second exhale. After ten repetitions, you’ll probably feel like you’ve been huffing gas. Congratulations – you’ve just saturated your body with oxygen. This is a good thing. Regularly performing these breathing exercises can increase your lung’s elasticity and overall capacity. You’ll be able to perform better at high-altitudes, and also work harder without feeling so spent afterwards. It’s not a bad idea to do some breathing exercises before starting a shift, or a workout. The extra oxygen circulating in your system will definitely help.
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, it makes you feel good. I was absolutely amazed by how I felt after my first Bikram Yoga session. Going into it, I figured that I would feel terrible afterwards. I would be dehydrated, light-headed, and spent. I would come home, exhausted, sit on the couch and be worthless for the rest of the night. To my surprise, I felt the opposite. Granted, I was soaking wet in sweat, and while driving home I wished I had brought a change of clothes, or a towel or a squeegee-something. But otherwise, I felt remarkably energized. No exhaustion, no lethargy – it was rejuvenating. I always rolled my eyes when people made these outrageous claims about how a”transformative” yoga could be…blah blah blah. I can only speak from personal experience and say that honestly, I did feel good after I did it. I didn’t jump on to Travelocity.com to book a one-way ticket to Calcutta afterwards and give away all my possessions, but it definitely made me want to do it again. It’s just something that you have to experience for yourself.
What Should I Wear?
Anything comfortable really. Some folks get damn near naked while they’re doing it, so pretty much anything goes. I’d recommend a pair of running shorts. Nothing to baggy – basketball shorts will get in the way, and believe me, you’re gonna want to minimize anything that will collect sweat. Be proud of your pasty thighs. As for what to wear for a shirt, either skin it up, or go with Tank Tops. Wearing a regular cotton t-shirt is perfectly acceptable, but it’s going to be soaked completely through with sweat ten minutes into the session. A better option might be a light-weight GoreTex shirt. It won’t retain as much water as cotton, but it’s still going to be drenched. Our advice – check the inhibitions at the door and skin it up. You’ll feel better. As for footwear, well you won’t be wearing socks or shoes while you’re in the studio, so no need to worry about that.
What Should I Bring?
You don’t need to provide your own mat, they’ll have them there for rent (or it might be included in the cost of the session. Best to ask if you’re not sure). Expect to pay a $1-2 for the rental. Amazon.com offers them for cheap here.
Be sure to bring a water bottle, sip from it occasionally, and show up well-hydrated. And if you went out drinking the night before – stay away. You’ll get the nasty eyeball from everyone if the stench of Jägermeister is seeping from your pores and filling the room. After the session, be sure to rehydrate with some Gatorade or some pickle juice (completely serious – Ben Zorensky talked about it in our interview with him.) Eat some potato chips – anything to get some salt back into your system. Just don’t overdo it.
Bring your own towel. You will spread this out over your mat in a futile attempt to sop up all the sweat that you’ll be dumping out.
Think about the ride home. If you don’t have the time / or the interest in showering up at the studio, bring an extra pair of shorts and a shirt to change into. Or at least another towel to throw on your car seat.
What if I’m not flexible?
You have to start somewhere. Do the poses as best you can, and don’t worry if you can’t hold them the entire time. You’ll improve with practice. Remember too that the heat will make you more limber. You might just surprise yourself.
Should I learn the sequences before I go?
Sure, it might help you out on your first couple of sessions if you’re familiar with the basics, but don’t feel like you need to study up on it before your first class. Listen to what the instructor says and just do what everyone else is doing. The instructor will describe each asana (pose), and will often times walk around the room and move your body to correct your form. And if you can’t do a pose – just hang out on the mat, and wait till it’s over.