Student Profile: Hannah S.

Hannah, a regular at Kits, is working on obtaining her PhD from UBC’s Faculty of Education. She’s also an avid hiker (some of her favourite hiking spots include Cypress Mountain, the Chief, Deep Cove and Lynn Canyon). Find out how Bikram Yoga helped this former Florida girl deal with several significant losses – and jump some of Vancouver’s biggest rain puddles.

Think back to your first class … when was it and why did you go?

I started Bikram Yoga in December of 2009, taking up the practice for emotional and physical reasons. Two years ago I was at the worst point in my life emotionally. I had moved to Vancouver from my home state of Florida to pursue a PhD at UBC; within several months of this rather radical uprooting, my long-term relationship ended suddenly and my best friend of 34 years passed away unexpectedly. Talk therapy was sending me into deeper existential despair.

On a less depressing note, I also needed some physical-muscular help. Before coming to Vancouver I spent seven years swimming for exercise in an outdoor lap pool. While moving through water was a pleasurable experience, my skin was feeling weathered from the Florida sun and chlorinated water. Additionally, my muscles were tightening with every stroke. Bikram Yoga found me more than I found Bikram Yoga.

The images I remember most vividly from my first class were the buckets of sweat pouring off everyone’s bodies and two tall, lean men at the front of the studio contorting into positions I didn’t think were humanly possible. I was humbled and curious about this practice. I loved Bikram Yoga right from the start because of the challenge it presented to me. The heat made the experience so intense that I couldn’t think about my losses while in that room. At the same time, the practice was helping me deal with my losses.

My experience of Bikram Yoga is paradoxical. I love the sweat, yet I can’t tolerate it. Trying the postures is simultaneously painful and pleasurable. I wish the practice didn’t take up so much time, yet I love the time it takes.

How often do you practise these days?I typically practice four times a week. Usually, two days on and one day off, but it can change. I notice a big difference in the way I feel when I practice less than four times a week. As I make my own work schedule most of the time, I can go to yoga almost any time of day I want. I feel fortunate in this regard (and so does my dog!). Having this kind of work flexibility won’t last forever. Because my mind is more lucid in the first half of the day, I take advantage of this and work until I need a break – which usually comes around the 4:15 p.m. or 6 p.m. class time. Now that Cambie’s opened, the 6 p.m. class isn’t as crowded as it used to be at Kits, so I go to that class more often. I’ve tried doing yoga in the mornings and early afternoons, but my mind is fried afterward. I can think post-modern, but I can’t think post-yoga. But post-post-yoga – i.e., the next morning – is excellent! I read and write the day away.

What keeps you coming back for more?

I have many reasons for continuing the practice. It keeps me in good physical condition first and foremost. Before starting Bikram Yoga, there was no way I could run to catch the bus without the danger of straining a muscle or giving myself a virtual heart attack. I just couldn’t run. Now I can launch into a full-blown sprint and make it on the bus like I’m a kid. And I can jump over big puddles at road curbs like I couldn’t before – a practice which is well worth learning in Vancouver! It’s really true that Bikram Yoga makes you younger and younger the more you practice.

I also experience Bikram Yoga as a way to socialize with a spectrum of people from the Vancouver community. Given that my life at this time revolves around writing my dissertation and teaching, I gain a great deal of pleasure out of such simple things as seeing people at the yoga studio that I know and chatting before or after class. The yoga practice and the yoga people are a welcome reprieve from the headier part of my life. I love that you’re not supposed to think in the yoga studio; it feels so transgressive.

What are some of the benefits you receive from Bikram Yoga?

I’ve realized that yoga is not only a practice, it’s a culture. Vancouver is certainly one of the most yoga-oriented cities in North America. I have a group of friends who practice other kinds of yoga and talk about it, so I can enter the conversation in ways I wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Another benefit I receive is indirect. I was able to turn two of my friends on from my PhD program to Bikram Yoga. One is Ashwani who moved to Halifax to teach at a university there and continues to practise yoga. Another is my friend Chelsey. None of us were yoga practitioners before Bikram, and we all spent much too much time with our heads buried in books or submerged underwater (we were all swimmers, coincidentally). It makes me happy that they receive benefits from regular yoga practice, too.

What do you find most challenging about practising Bikram Yoga?

Instructors talk about making your practice simpler, whether that means not moving between postures, not drinking too much water during class, not leaving the studio in the middle of class, etc. My biggest challenge is not wiping the sweat from my face with my hand towel. My excuse is that my contact lenses fog up and irritate my eyes if I don’t wipe. Maybe one day I will be able to let go of my “blankie” addiction. But for now, please don’t take it away.

What’s your favourite posture? Your most dreaded posture?

My favorite posture for quite some time has been Standing Head to Knee Pose. But, over the last two weeks or so, I’ve actually started enjoying a posture that I didn’t care for much before: the two-legged lift portion of Locust Pose. For close to two years I could barely get my legs two inches off the ground. I’ve recently had a breakthrough and think I’m getting my legs close to a foot off the ground on a good day. This is exciting, and I look forward to getting in the posture to see where my body will take me.

My most dreaded posture is the backbend portion of Half Moon Pose. While my spine can move side-to-side (barely), it just doesn’t want to budge backward. It’s like trying to bend a steel rod. One time, Danny came up to me in class and noticed that my back wouldn’t bend backward. He thought I had hurt myself until I explained that it just won’t move in that direction. He said that I needed to come twice a day to fix it!

Any New Year’s resolutions for 2012?

I’ve never been one to make resolutions, but I am someone who sets regular long-term goals for myself. One goal I have is to try to land a tenure-track teaching position at a university in the northeastern part of the United States. I’ve been working toward this goal every day of my life in Vancouver. At the same time, I live in the moment that is my life in Vancouver. I am very fortunate to be where I am, to research that which interests me and to have the gift of practicing Bikram Yoga.

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