Bikram Yoga for Runners
Over the last few months I’ve struggled to find a workout routine that would complement my running.
Slowly adding more miles to my week has kept weight gain in check; but efforts to build core strength by resistance band repetitions or floor exercises haven’t been as easy as I’d hoped. Motivation is a serious issue. Only being responsible to myself just doesn’t seem to be enough to force these new processes into my schedule.
I was considering going the personal trainer route when my wife suggested we attend a class in our neighborhood at Bikram Yoga Savannah. I was skeptical when I read about the Bikram concept. Yoga in and of itself, I get. Dedicated stretching to target muscle groups, increased flexibility, a bit of meditation, what’s not to like?
Bikram Yoga embodies my over-simplified yoga definition and then takes it to an extreme. Specifically, Bikram Yoga is a series of 26 postures repeated throughout a 90 minute session in a room heated to 105 degrees.
That’s right, an hour and a half at one hundred and five degrees, actively moving, stretching and bending in new and sometimes uncomfortable ways.
I internalized online reviews where practitioners recalled blacking out or getting severely dehydrated during their first Bikram sessions and that made me more than a little bit nervous. Talking myself down, I realized that I’m in okay shape and wasn’t going in completely unaware. If it proved to be too much, I had nothing to lose but a bit of my pride and I’d definitely come out of it with a good story.
My worst-case-scenario visions of drill sergeant instructors, dizziness and debilitating headaches were unfounded. Instead of being a competition, the class was all about breathing, connecting and trying your best.
The class leader was kind, patient and encouraging. Watching yourself in the mirror was the most intimidating part. I was able to attempt every pose; but while several were very (very) far from being correct, I never felt out of place. To some degree, everyone was struggling. The class was made up of all ages, men and women, the uber-fit and those just starting on their journeys.
The heat-factor is no joke, though. The humidity created by the temperature and dozens of very sweaty people meant that any movement, including breathing, was metered, measured and acutely felt. Being that responsive and in touch with your body was invigorating and at times challenging emotionally as well as physically.
Afterwards, I was sore in my hips and thighs; but overall I felt relaxed and toned as if I just left a deep-tissue massage. Sure, I had to do the hard work myself; but it was a fifth of the cost of a massage and I had the added benefit of a full-body workout. At the end of our first session, my wife and I signed up for a month of unlimited visits.
The two runs since my Bikram Yoga session have been solid; but it’s too early to tell exactly how the benefits will materialize. The main areas that I see repeat yoga visits improving my running are in respiratory function and core strength. Increased lung capacity and better breathing techniques mean more efficient oxygen intake when running in our hot and humid Southern summers. A stronger mid-section means less stress on bones and joints, better posture and general health.
So, should runners partake in Bikram Yoga? I think that depends on lots of factors and is up to the individual. If you’re like me and looking for a challenge and new ways to get motivated to exercise on your non-run days, give it a try. How your body and mind responds to the physical rigors might surprise you.