“There is a principle which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”
– Herbert Spencer
Tell us what your life was like before Bikram Yoga …
Before I ever set foot in the hot room, my life was a constant barrage of miscalculated attempts to better myself and even like myself on a healthier level. I had never really tried any yoga with a serious attitude. It required something I didn’t think I had – calmness. People who did yoga, in my opinion, had reached some other plane that I didn’t have – that I wasn’t even sure I wanted. I was fit enough; sure, I had some bad habits, but I worked out and ate well. And, honestly, stretching in speedos was not my idea of a good way to spend 90 minutes of my day.
So … what changed?
The summer of 2011 proved to be one of the most emotional times of my life. Everything I thought I knew had come crashing down around me, and I was left reeling as a result of so much loss. In an attempt to heal myself I sold my business in Nelson, B.C., and bought a live-aboard boat. In July, I found myself emotionally shipwrecked on Kitsilano Beach and decided to move ashore. Everywhere I went, there I was; no escape. The experience was raw, to say the least.
As I settled into Vancouver living, I decided I was going to try something new. Being a thrill seeker, adventurist and genuine risk taker this feeling was familiar to me yet different. I decided to look into Bikram Yoga. I hadn’t heard anything about it; when I Googled “hot yoga,” it was the first site that popped up on my screen. I thought, “This looks as good as any,” so I bought a pair of yoga pants and a mat and thought, “I got this.”
What was your first class like?
It was an experience I’ll never forget. Let me paint the whole picture for you. I am a 6’2” athletic guy who’d had a definite taste of mountain living for the last 10 years. So, going from bow-hunting deer to wearing yoga pants was a shock. I’d just had my head shaved to get stitches from a biking wipeout a few weeks earlier and felt like Mr. Clean. I felt awkward the second I stepped into the studio, like a fish outta water. My first thought was: run! My second thought was run, and my third thought never came to fruition as one of the front-desk staff cut it off and welcomed me to Bikram Yoga!
As I changed in the men’s room I assured myself that I was going through with this. I put on my new pants, grabbed my water bottle and headed for the studio. As I walked by the front desk, Lisa looked at me and said, “Oh, you aren’t going to wear pants in there, are you?”
“Um, yeah, I could cut them into shorts,” was my mumbled reply.
“Oh, no, I have a pair that will work for you and they’re clean,” Lisa said, throwing me a small – REALLY small – piece of clothing. I walked back to the change room, thinking, “OK, change in plans, no problem.” Then I put on the shorts: skin-tight and black, they came down just far enough to be called shorts instead of a waistband. I took a breath and made myself walk to the studio, feeling my face blush as I walked by the desk.
As I entered the studio a wave of hot air slapped me back to reality. Big mirrors on all sides meant no place to hide. I headed to a spot in the corner, put down my mat and sat down, trying not to look at anything – especially not myself. I didn’t want to see those shorts. I didn’t want to see that guy in the mirror. I kept thinking that everyone else in the room must have been thinking what I was thinking: “What is that guy wearing and why is he here?” Talk about monkey mind …
Finally, the teacher came in and welcomed the class. “We have a new student today … Nate, where’s Nate?” I managed to stutter, “Here,” as the blood charged to my face. I knew everyone was laughing now at my little shorts – big tough guy, huh?! What was I doing here?!
What happened in that first class outside of myself, I don’t know, because I was at war. The heat was relentless. Every breath felt like it was sure to be my last. I know I attempted most of the 26 postures, but I really don’t remember being in them. There were so many emotions going through me, most of all anger. I felt so angry. It was too hot, too long and pretty much impossible for anyone to do. How the hell were these people doing it? How?
“Just leave,” was the thought that replayed over and over again in my mind. I didn’t leave. I lay on the floor looking up to the ceiling thinking to myself, “If I get through this I can get through anything.” I stayed in that class to the end. As I walked out the door and the cool air embraced me I felt a sense of accomplishment. I used to think something in me broke that first class, but now I think, rather, that something was freed. They asked me if I was coming back. “Yes, I’m going to keep coming until I actually want to come,” was my response. And I did. The first few classes were hard but, by the fourth and fifth class, I was seeing improvement and starting to like it. I wanted to come!
What are the biggest benefits you receive from Bikram Yoga?
Within a few weeks of practising I noticed several changes both in and out of the hot room. Being a student at the time, I found my focus was becoming much sharper and I had more energy. Inside the studio, my practice was becoming just that – my practice. I focused on my yoga. It didn’t matter that the person next to me could touch their feet to the back of their head; I made it to the posture today. Someday, I’ll make it deeper into the posture but, for today, this is where my yoga is. That’s where I keep my mind in the room today. It’s taken discipline, patience and a lot of coming back, but it is there. I love what my body can do. I have practised with some amazing people and I respect their yoga as equally as I respect my own. You give it 100%; what more can you give?
What’s the biggest challenge for you today?
The biggest challenge for me today is the constant acceptance that every class is going to be different. How is that so if it’s the same 26 postures each class? Well, maybe, but each day I’m at a new place. On some days I can get really deep into a certain posture, more so then ever before. Other days I can’t balance on one leg to save my life. The acceptance of where I’m at each day, and that each day is still progress, is a big challenge. We want to see results. My best that day is the result. Wrapping my mind around this idea – progress, not perfection – is still a challenge.
Would you recommend Bikram Yoga to friends/family?
I have brought lots of friends to Bikram Yoga. Some have stayed on and become full-time students like myself while others have thanked me with daggers in their eyes and not returned. It’s a part of my life now so of course I want to share it with others. It has changed so many things in my life on so many good levels. I love my yoga today, and that’s something worth sharing. I can see how it could help a lot of my friends but many of them live with the contempt prior to investigation that I had before my first class. There’s always the next time, though.
Now that you’ve discovered Bikram Yoga, will it always be a part of your life?
I plan on breathing and doing Bikram Yoga for the rest of my life. Funny, we have control over so little, really. As long as I breathe I know I’ll practise yoga. You take it with you wherever you go. That feeling of wellbeing that settles upon you after a hard class – I just wouldn’t want to lose that. Bikram Yoga also keeps me up to par, recovery-wise, with all my extra-curricular activities. I play a lot of sports and have some awesome but physically demanding hobbies and interests. I love hiking and windsurfing. Water recreation is awesome in Vancouver. I know I’ll still be going strong years down the road provided I take care of what I’ve got – and Bikram Yoga is part of that care package!