With her background in medicine and passion for Bikram Yoga, Roxana Mavai‘s got some great advice for new students … that longtime practitioners will find helpful, too!
Tell us about your first Bikram Yoga class …
It was in April 2001 in the old Kitsilano studio at Broadway and Arbutus. Brad Colwell, now owner and director of the Metrotown studio, was the teacher – he’d also encouraged my friend and me to try Bikram Yoga. Brad touted it as the most comprehensive form of exercise, helping with strength, flexibility, endurance and stamina, conditioning of all organs and systems including cardiovasculasr, and great for mental and physical health and the mind-body connection.
I’d been running and hitting the gym as my primary tools for fitness. I was never flexible, had never liked to stretch, and knew I was getting stiffer with time. I had some chronic hamstring and hip pain, which l would ignore until I hit my “runner’s high” – about 15 minutes into a run when I would no longer experience the pain. In retrospect, this is one of the worst examples of lack of mind-body connection I can think of! The pain was telling me I was hurting myself with each pounding on the pavement. My ignoring it and the pain passing with the adrenaline of the run kicking in didn’t change the fact that the damage was ongoing and continuous.
It was hot and crazy in the room. I remember trying hard and making it through. During final Savasana, Brad gave us cues to relax; he made the comment, “Now fly.” That’s all it took for my mind to take flight! I had one of the most incredible lucid dreams I’ve ever experienced in my life as I took full flight in various modes. Physically, I felt amazing and knew there was something magical about this yoga. I was hooked and went back three times that week.
How long did it take you to get into a regular practice?
I went on a ski trip that weekend and, unfortunately, broke my wrist. I knew I wanted to go back to Bikram Yoga but didn’t know how to manage with a cast. I dealt with the wrist issue for the next year-and-a-half. Finally, in November 2011, I got the confidence to go back. That was the re-start of my Bikram Yoga journey.
I immediately saw healing benefits for my wrist, hip and hamstring issues, as well as old volleyball shoulder problems. I felt stronger and began noticing improvements in my flexibility; the yoga also helped me through some emotionally tough times. I felt more even-keeled and capable of addressing my problems with equanimity. This was a work in progress, but the mental gains were tangible. I was fully committed to my yoga practice and gradually found my desire to run and go to the gym diminishing. I still played volleyball and, particularly on days that I practised yoga before a game, found I could jump higher, block better and spike harder! I also love to ski, and find I now have greater endurance, lower-extremity strength and agility. I used to get fatigue in my lower back skiing a long day, but this is no longer the case.
When did you decide to make the transition from student to teacher?
For quite a while I wanted to go to Bikram Yoga Teacher Training and share this amazing yoga with as many people as possible. I finally got the chance in the fall of 2006. Though challenging, it was a great experience; I appreciated and savoured each moment. I was there with a number of great Vancouverites, many of whom are current teachers at Bikram Yoga Vancouver. The camaraderie and the experience of the “yoga bubble” are unparalleled. When I returned, I taught part-time for a while and gradually I became a full-time teacher.
What’s your teaching style/philosophy?
One of the most important aspects of my practice and teaching philosophy has to do with self-discipline. Despite knowing word-for-word what the dialogue says, in my practice I wait for the instructor to say exactly what to do and do it exactly at that moment, no anticipation, no hesitation – or, as Bikram says, “Everybody do it together, not before, not after.” My teaching reflects this aspect of my practice; I like to remind students of the continued work of structure, focus and discipline.
Given my background in medicine, another emphasis in my class is to discuss the physiological concepts most relevant to our yoga practice and the relevance in terms of expected benefits. The more one connects to the understanding of the workings of the posture, the more motivation to continue with the effort and frequency of attendance to see the changes and obtain the results.
What are your top tips for new students?
I cannot overemphasize the significance of hydration for Bikram Yoga: a balance of sufficient fluid and electrolytes on a daily basis. By the time thirst kicks in, we’re actually significantly dehydrated. We often go about our lives slightly dehydrated, which may not be so noticeable in daily activities, but a 1% loss of fluid is estimated to affect physical and mental performance by about 10%! Doing Bikram Yoga increases the demand on the body so, coupled with loss of fluids through the sweat, the effect of even minor dehydration is magnified enormously. This results in a very tangible effect on performance, with dizziness, nausea, cramping and even loss of mental focus.
It’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day; it’s difficult to “catch up” in the yoga room. In fact, drinking too much water in class can make you feel water-logged: a full stomach can cause nausea and discomfort in and of itself, especially with the compressions and stretches to the abdominal area during class. Most people could use approximately two to three litres of water just for daily maintenance with regular activities. Add the profuse perspiration that happens during Bikram Yoga, and another one to two litres should be consumed, for a total average of three to five litres – depending on your size and general physiology. This should be spread out throughout the day, so carry your water bottle with you. And remember: drinking other liquids counts toward hydration, but caffeinated beverages don’t count fully and sugary drinks are sub-optimal, since many are loaded with preservatives and additives and add a lot of empty calories to your diet.
Also remember: salts and minerals are lost in sweat and need to be replaced as well, or the body can’t retain the fluids consumed. The term electrolyte refers to these salts and minerals once they’re dissolved. Sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium and calcium are essential to replace. Besides helping with proper regulation of body fluids, they assist in nerve conduction, muscular contraction and energy production. Eating fruits and vegetables, along with some added salts, often sufficiently replaces daily electrolyte needs. However, engaging in extreme physical activity like Bikram Yoga necessitates supplementing your electrolytes diligently. Many sources for electrolyte replacement are available at our yoga studios, so students can try different methods until they find the delivery mechanism they prefer.
Another piece of advice for new students is: remember to persevere. You will have days when you feel strong and others when the class feels much more challenging. Even if you have a “bad class,” it’s just a stepping stone as you adjust to the changes you’re experiencing. It’s not a question of whether or not you will find some classes more challenging; it’s how you move forward that will define your character of determination. It’s perfectly acceptable as you acclimate to the new conditions to stop and restart as needed; just don’t give up. Stay in the room for the full class. Make up your mind that you will make it through and you will. Before our greatest victories always lie our greatest challenges.