Diary of a Yogini: Merill’s First Class Ever

by Merril B

Guest blogger Merril B tells us all about her first experience with Bikram Yoga in this beautifully written post below.

I did it. I finally tried Bikram Yoga. And I loved it. So I’m thinking about keeping it up. I haven’t made any kind of major personal commitment yet, so this isn’t my way of documenting a goal or a challenge, I’m just saying. It was good. I liked it.

photo: Bikram Yoga Huston

Anyway, I’ve been reading as much about Bikram as I can in the last few days. What to expect. Tips for beginners. How it works for weight loss. The myriad of benefits and changes it promises. Blogs about peoples’ 30-, 60- and – get this – 101-day challenges. And it occurred to me that if I really want to reap the benefits of the practice, it might make sense to write down my own experience and give myself the opportunity to go back and see how things might change in me.

I mean, who cares about the benefits other people see? I want to know how it is going to benefit me. Not just my body, but my mind, my attitude, my life, in general. Heaven knows I could use some change in every one of those arenas. Can’t we all?

So here goes, let’s see if it sticks.

I went to a small, cozy little studio in Encino while visiting family this weekend. I started with a 10 a.m. class on Saturday and went back for day two on Sunday at 8 a.m. That was the first thing I did right. They say the best thing you can do in your first class – besides keep breathing and stay in the room – is to come back the next day. So I did. Yay for me.

But, I don’t see that as any big accomplishment. I’m good at that stuff. When I like something – especially something workout/fitness/diet/weight loss/health related – I have a tendency to, um, obsess?

Yep. That’s the word.

So, whatever, I made it back for day two. But what amazed me was how different day two was from day one. To me, that was the accomplishment. That I felt the difference. That I observed it. That I could make progress in just one day. That made me proud.

On day one, I was eager and even a little giddy with excitement. But, I wasn’t really nervous – and I probably should have been. I signed in, told the woman at the front desk I was a “total newbie” (an exact quote), got set up and ready to get going. I had no idea what I was really in for. I had been looking forward to the heat. I love heat. I’m always cold. I think I could live in a sauna and be perfectly happy. I sleep with an electric blanket most of the year. In San Diego. I’m okay with heat.

But that room was HOT.

And it just kept getting HOTTER.

When I asked how many people are usually in a class, the instructor told me about 20. But that morning, there were at least 40. In a room made to comfortably fit half of that. We were CLOSE. And the first thing you do is a breathing exercise. Lots of really long, deep breaths in an awkward, moving posture. In a HOT room.

Photo: Bikram Yoga College of India

So, right of the bat, I felt like I’d inhaled and exhaled my way into a dizzy spell. Then we got into the first posture, half-moon pose, and I was positive I wasn’t going to last much longer. And I felt immediately weak, just thinking that. It was just standing up, arms up in the air and bending a little to each side, and then back.

Oh come on… I’ve run a marathon, I’ve pushed my way through countless spin classes and boot camps. I’ve run six miles through waist-high MUD. There’s no way you can’t do this! It’s just yoga!

But, holy cow, in that heat, this whole yoga business was no joke. I had to put my arms down and come out of the pose a few times just to keep myself from passing out. And it was just the first pose!  But I got through it. So I figured I could probably get through the rest. And I did. Sopping wet, blazing hot, often shaky, and a little daunted by some of the poses I couldn’t quite get into, but I did it.

Balancing Stick photo: The Ripple Effect blog

I actually felt pretty capable in the first half of class – the standing-and-balancing-on-one-foot postures. I’ve never thought of myself as balanced, but I held it together. The second half, was a bit trickier. Back bends. Laying flat on my belly and lifting parts of my body off the ground without using any of my limbs as levers. Finding a way to tuck my arms under my body without stabbing them with my hip bones. Twisting into a pretzel without anything to grab onto. And worst of all, the real kicker: RELAXING in savasna. Just laying there. Silent and with a clear mind. Open eyes. Present and aware of how my body was feeling, but relaxed.

Uh, right. Sure. Because I’m soooo good at clearing my mind.

I was relieved when class was over and it took me a while to get out of the room and cooled off enough to stand up straight and walk out. But, I had done it.

Day two was different.

First, I was sore. All over. A light sore, but in areas where I had no idea I even had muscles. I went earlier so I was a little tired, but I was also freezing (shocker) so I was really looking forward to getting in the heated room. Only about 20 people showed up so the temperature was much more bearable. In fact, it was comfortable. Like the first few steps into a hot Jacuzzi on a cold night. I didn’t sweat nearly as much.

I also set myself up closer to a side mirror, so I could see my posture from two directions. And, this time, the most visually unappealing and distracting of all people in the room, set up his mat directly in front of me. With no concern for whether I could still see the front mirror or how much his hairy back and legs might distract me from my practice. UGH. I scooted my mat and towel over a bit so I could see the mirror, but was still a little disturbed by the idea of looking at this guy all class.

But as soon as the instructor walked in, I didn’t think about him once more the entire time. And he’d left by the time I got up from final Savasna, so it was as if he was never even there. (I know I learned a lesson about those around you in class that morning, but I’m not sure yet if it has more to do with the harm in being judgmental and superficial or the value in focusing on yourself for 90 minutes. Maybe a little of both?)

This time, I was totally relaxed and comfortable at the end of class, not dizzy and overheated. I had a better grasp on what some of the postures are supposed to look and feel like. I think I got the concept of actively stretching and lengthening, rather than just getting into a pose and staying there without growing into it, as the instructor stressed.

I had progressed. In one day. It was good. I liked it.

At the end of class, just as I was leaving the studio, the instructor stopped me and said, “Second class?” Yep. “In a while, or ever?” Ever. “You’re doing great.”

And I knew I’d be back for day three very soon.


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