"The question is not when's he gonna stop, but who is gonna stop him." ~ Super Soul in Vanishing Point (1971)
On Sunday, March 14th, I will have completed my 318th Bikram Yoga class in 318 days. Yes. You read that right. That's a little over 3 back-to-back Bikram 101 challenges. There have been plenty of days where I did not want to be in the hot room. But I use my English bulldog determination to make myself go and throw my mat on the line. Since May 1, 2009, I have missed 2 days in a row only 3 times. I will occasionally miss a single day every now and then. Missed days have been "made up" by taking 2 classes in 1 day.
I guess I'm officially the "Crazy Yoga Guy" at my studio. I have my own stash of shiny stars that I keep in my bag for my 60-day challenge sheets. And I'm beginning to hear comments about me wallpapering the studio lobby with my sheets. I am on my 6th back-to-back 60-day challenge.
At 200 classes in 200 days, even some of the instructors were giving me funny looks. A couple of them suggested that I "take a break" and get some rest. At 300 classes in 300 days, one of my instructors asked what my "finish line" was. I didn't have an answer to that question. I have a personal goal of making it to 365 classes in 365 days, but I don't see myself stopping there. After discussing the "finish line" question with my wife, she suggested that my coffin be my "finish line". I rather like that idea so long as I don't end up dying on my mat in the yoga room any time soon!
So we've established that I've done a lot of yoga this past year... but I should probably back up a bit and tell you "why" I enter Bikram's Torture Chamber nearly every day.
My doctor was not happy with the direction my weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol were heading. I wasn't particularly happy with what was going on in those areas, either! I came to Bikram Yoga in March of 2009 as a last resort after an unsuccessful year of trying to address my issues in the gym with weights and cardio. My wife had been doing Bikram Yoga for about a year and suggested that it might help me with my problems.
In addition to the problems I just listed, I have had psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis for 27 years. In very general terms, I have an autoimmune disorder that causes my body's immune system to freak out a bit and attack my skin (psoriasis) and my joints (psoriatic arthritis).
The psoriasis causes unattractive red, scaly patches of skin. At its worst, I had it on the majority of my scalp, a good portion of my back and torso, lower legs, and it had started to show up more on my face and on my arms. As you can imagine, I wasn't particularly happy with my body image at this point. Summer weather and going swimming were extremely stressful and I avoided shorts and the pool more often than not.
Psoriatic arthritis is a lot like rheumatoid arthritis. It damages the joints over time, is very painful, and can be crippling and debilitating if severe enough. Some people with psoriatic arthritis end up needing surgery to replace joints and others simply end up in wheelchairs. Sometimes, my arthritis will attack one joint. Other times, it may attack a few joints. At its worst, it would feel like every joint in my body was on fire. Just getting out of bed in the morning could prove to be excruciatingly painful if I was having a really nasty flare up. So now I'm not happy with my body image and having to deal with a lot of chronic pain. Needless to say, my quality of life was less than stellar at this point.
Several years ago, they came out with some new class of drugs for the treatment of psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. These new drugs blocked a specific component of the body's inflammatory process that creates the psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis symptoms. The medication worked great for my symptoms. Within a couple of months, my skin was nearly clear and my joints felt great! But, there were a few problems. To keep my symptoms subdued required me to take double the recommended dose of the medication. Plus, the medication has a few very rare, but troublesome potential side effects like cancer (lymphoma), possibly triggering neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis, inflammation of the optic nerve, and congestive heart failure. The medication also suppressed my immune system making me more susceptible to infections. I had gotten to where I would take the medication for a few weeks and then see how long I could coast without it until my symptoms got unbearable again.
In March of 2009, I came to Bikram Yoga out of desperation. I was going to be 39 in a couple of weeks and had a 3 year old daughter. I was very worried about what my health and body would be like in another 10, 15, 20 years. All of the "traditional" methods for treating my problems had either failed or had potentially nasty consequences. The first 3 months of my yoga practice, I was without my medication for my psoriasis and arthritis as my doctor and my insurance company argued about my dose. But, during those 3 months, both my skin and arthritis symptoms continued to improve. Throughout my yoga practice this past year, especially in those first 6 months, my arthritis attacked my ankles, knees, hips, back, ribs, shoulders, and elbows. I have spent months just lying on my arms in locust pose waiting for the arthritis pain to subside in my elbows. Some nights, I'm able to kick my legs up, most nights, it still hurts to much. Despite that minor issue, I have seen some amazing changes in my body.
It took me:
- 2 months to begin to get my fingers under my foot in standing head to knee - 2.5 months to touch my toes for the first time with the yoga sit-up - 3.5 months to be able to grab both feet in floor bow (I could barely grab 1 foot when I started and I actually strained some rib muscles trying to grab both feet in floor bow when I started) - 3.5 months to get hips to begin to touch heels in fixed firm - 4 months to be able to do 3rd part of awkward pose with control without falling over (I have enough control now that I am usually one of the last people down) - 6.5 months to begin to get both hips and foot on the floor in spine twist (foot isn't flat, but it's touching the floor!) - 7 months to be able to interlace fingers in eagle pose - 7 months to begin to get my elbow "in front" of my knee in spine twist instead of "on top" of my knee - 8 months to be able to comfortably straighten my legs with my hands on the floor in standing separate leg stretching - 8.5 months to begin to really be able to kick up and back in bow pose - 8.5 months to get forehead on the floor in half tortoise - 10 months to get hips and shoulders level in tree pose - 11 months to be able to begin to be able to get into, hold, and get out of the 2nd part of awkward pose - 11 months to get hips to touch the floor (barely) for the first time in fixed firm
The most significant changes for me:
- I have recovered a tremendous amount of pain free range of motion in my ankles, knees, hips, back, shoulders, and elbows. - I have not had to take any of my prescription medication for my arthritis in almost 6 months!
I have also healed many annoying, persistent pains that I had from my arthritis and from old injuries. My skin symptoms are stable. I have a few stubborn spots on my legs, but they are slowly improving. I will get occasional spots elsewhere, but they usually disappear after a short period of time. I have not lost any weight, but I have lost a lot of inches. I have added a significant amount of muscle to my shoulders, back, and legs. Many people say that it looks like I have lost at least 15 pounds. I feel better now than I have in many years.
The yoga is absolutely one of the hardest things I have ever done! There have been plenty of days where I have been tired, run down, hurting from my arthritis, or just didn't feel well, but I make myself go to the studio and have always been glad that I went. There have been some nights where I thought I was going to die and/or spontaneously combust on my mat, but, on those days, I just try to do as much of the yoga as I can. I am there nearly every day because if I miss 1 day, it's uncomfortable when I get back to the yoga. If I miss 2 days, it hurts when I get back to the yoga.
I could not have done this without the support of my wife Lisa. She has been doing Bikram Yoga for about 2 years now and she went with me to my 1st class. We both work full time, but she makes sure that I have a mat and clothes for class and takes care of our 4 year old daughter while I go to class every night.
A lot of people have asked me how I find the time to go to class every night. To be honest, I'm not missing out on anything. The time that I take to go to yoga would have normally been spent watching TV or goofing around on the computer. Things like Facebook, Farmville, American Idol, etc. won't do anything to improve my life or my body.
Bikram says give him 60 days and he will give you a new body, a new mind, and a new life. He wasn't kidding! The yoga is 90 minutes of medicine that my body needs every day. The yoga keeps working, so I keep going back. My yoga practice is far from pretty and I have a long way to go in many of the postures. I absolutely believe that if you keep a consistent yoga practice and give an honest effort, that you will see amazing results.
What do you have to lose? But, more importantly, what could you potentially gain?
Robert is a soon-to-be-40 year old married guy in Houston, TX. He was an oncology nurse in a previous career, but is now a desk jockey and nerd wrangler managing a small group of analysts that support computer systems and technology for the Department of Nursing at a large, well known hospital. He has been practicing Bikram Yoga for about 1 year at the Bikram Yoga College of India in Houston at the South Blvd location.
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