Still a winner after failing the 30-day Bikram challenge

Just by turning up and doing what he could manage, Caomhan Keane experiences the benefits of weight loss and lower stress — although he is still rubbish at yoga. 

'Bikram Choudhury once preached “You eat every day, so why not yoga”?'

Ninety minutes into the class that bears his name and I get the answer. I’m stuck to the floor, grunting, sweating and squirming like a cocktail sausage that’s trying to turn back into a pig.

I’ve undertaken the 30-Day Bikram Challenge, taking advantage of the introductory offer most studios award virgin yogis to breed loyalty and to sell them on the physical and psychological benefits of the practice.

Having only recently popped my yoga cherry and suffering from serious commitment issues with working out, I want to mature into the type of guy who calls his yoga mat again after having his less than satisfying way with it.

To break through the awkward lunges, preening poses and tear-filled excuses and perform in a way that won’t mortify me when I think back on it later.

Unfortunately, my first stab has shattered my confidence. As young and old twist, contort and hover their differing body types in seeming unison around me, I fall about like the elephant pyramid in Dumbo and sweat like a beer can chicken.

“The first class is always a bit of an overload,” laughs Fiona McNamara of Dublin City Bikram Yoga. “But it’s amazing how quickly you notice the change. After a couple of classes you’re sleeping better, you’ve lost weight and you are super motivated.”

A series of 26 poses, performed in 40-degree heat to imitate Yoga’s Indian heritage (and a pre-heated oven) the same sequence is performed from class to class, as an instructor calls out the postures and their purpose.

The repetition helps you track your development and you quickly see improvement to your posture, a lessening of aches and pains and the sweating acts like toothpaste for your skin, making it glean.

But first, vanity takes a hit as you are forced to look at yourself in the mirror throughout. Beginners make up the back row so that if they find it difficult to follow the instruction verbally, they can look at more experienced class members up front.

And when the urge to flee comes over you (and it will, believe me), ignore it.

“You’re only starting to build up your stamina,” says Fiona, when I tell her about the voice that’s one half Darlene Connor, one half Donald Trump’s twitter feed and that rages in my head throughout class.

Still a winner after failing the 30-day Bikram challenge

“You’re taking in a lot of information. If you feel like it’s too much, or you’re out of breath, lie down on your mat and focus on your breathing. If you still feel like you need some air, move next to the door and I will open it for you.”

If you feel thirsty, instead of drinking water — a challenge when you’re craving liquid like a dried out Sponge Bob — she suggests that you take to your mat. “When people get uncomfortable, they drink water to distract themselves. Just sit down and breathe first. Drinking breaks your focus and your concentration and then the body has to do something with that water when it’s already doing stuff internally.”

Halfway through the class in I’m blinded by my own emissions and panic quickly takes hold. My breath accelerates and my nostrils flare in a desperate attempt to hoof more oxygen into me, sucking up the smell of feet, farts and suffocating humidity along with it.

“The heat is not there to make the class difficult,” says Fiona.

“It’s there to help you sweat, which makes your muscles relax and, in turn, makes it easier to stretch.

"I think people struggle with the humidity of a busy class more than the heat, but by sweating, you are working your body, inside and out, you are pushing things that the body doesn’t need out, which is why you feel so good after.”

She’s not wrong there. I left that first class feeling like a newborn fawn learning to walk while hopped up on amphetamines. As I racked up the classes, I noticed the difference almost immediately.

Without consciously deciding to, my diet shifted. The last thing you want to feel when you are doing the downward dog is your lunch doing the upward march, picking up heartburn and nausea along the way.

If you think about being in a sweaty climate you don’t eat as much heavy food. You naturally gravitate lighter.

You opt for juice or fruit, not pasta or sandwiches for lunch. Within a week and a half of starting the challenge I’d dropped a stone.

By the time 30 days had passed, I dropped a further 7lbs achieving my goal weight of 10 ½. And according to my beloved, I’m less of a wasp, regular concentration on my breath and relaxation into the poses releasing the tension that’s been stored, like venom, in my musculature, making me less stressed.

Still a winner after failing the 30-day Bikram challenge

I am also more in touch with my emotions. That’s the type of statement which would work my tongue up into a lather if I read it in someone else’s article.

But having previously only cried twice while watching the TV, I found myself laughing hysterically before sobbing as I re-watched old episodes of Roseanne and Parks & Rec.

What’s most remarkable about all this is that I am truly shocking at yoga. Thirty days later and I can no more do a toe stand nor the fixed firm pose than I could on my first day. I still have to sit out whole sets of a sequence as my breath has gotten away from me or I’ll suddenly feel dizzy.

And I couldn’t do more than five days in a row without taking a day off. My body couldn’t cope as I wasn’t taking supplements to compensate for all the minerals I was sweating out. But while I may have failed to go 30 days continuously, just by turning up and doing what I could I still experienced similar benefits to those who completed the challenge.

“Listen to yourself,” concludes Fiona. “You don’t need to do everything. Notice when you are struggling. You will make much better progress if you have control over your breathing and you’re not tensing your face, or the wrong muscles.
Beginners don’t have control of breath. So they need to sit parts out so they can last the whole class.”


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