I have been practicing yoga for many years, for about fifteen to be precise. I got into yoga when a friend bought a series of power yoga DVDs on TellSell. (I know. Always take the classy route.) I would go over to her house weekly and we would practice together, and lounge about on her sofa, chatting and drinking tea in post-yoga bliss afterwards.
For me, bliss it is. Yoga really does bring me back to my center, my core. It makes me feel strong and clear, and soft and surrendered at the same time.
When I started my practice I had a repetitive stress injury, which was bad. Bad as in it felt like my arm, shoulder and hand were about to drop off. Bad, as in I couldn’t open a carton of milk any more because it hurt too much. Bad, as in I couldn’t work for a couple of months because I could no longer type! Physiotherapy (eight months of it) made it worse. In the end, a combination of acupuncture and yoga made it better. I even took the DVD to the physiotherapist’s office: “Look, this cured me!” And it did.
Since then I have practiced about a million different styles of yoga: power yoga, hatha yoga, yin yoga, kundalini yoga. When I studied in Leiden and was writing my Master’s thesis I would roll out my mat for 50 minutes of power yoga with Bryan Kest on DVD at the end of the day, every day. It saved my shoulder and my wrist. When I studied in London I joined the Yoga Club and we practised our headstands in seminar rooms and the LSE basement. It saved my sanity. (LSE yogis are competitive! My teachers would be showing off their poses and moves wherever they could. Trying to outdo each other in backbends and arm balances and crazy ridiculous postures. And have arguments about what constituted yoga – East vs. West. Indian teachers versus American). In Italy, I again reverted to my home practice, as I couldn’t find a studio or teacher I liked. Unfortunately so. But when I returned to Amsterdam I found a lovely yoga studio with classes that were mellow and friendly. When I was very poorly, it was my saving grace. And now, I do Bikram yoga.
If you haven’t heard of Bikram yoga: it is about the most intense type of yoga there is. You do 26 postures in a heated room. Heated as in hot! 40 degrees. You pour with sweat, for 90 minutes, while twisting and stretching and strengthening, with mirrors reflecting your inelegant attempts at yoga back at you. If this doesn’t sound appealing: it isn’t particularly appealing! But it’s addictive and it’s fantastic. I feel rubbish most of the time (OK, all of the time, in honesty) because of my Lyme disease, but when I walk out of Bikram class, no matter how difficult it was, I feel clearer, brighter, more grounded and energised. Even if I still feel horrible, I feel better.
This academic year, my boyfriend decided to join me with an experiment of his own: going to Bikram class for four to five days a week. Before work. If you know him, you know this is a bit of a revolution. In the almost-decade we have been together I have not known him to go to bed before 1 or 2 or 3 a.m. or get up before 10 a.m. Ever. Unless he had to catch a flight, or if the university administration had been particularly evil and assigned him to teach a morning course. Now he is in the hot room at 6.30 a.m. Every day. The difference it has made has been astonishing. The man is on fire (in the best possible way imaginable). More focused, more clear-headed, more grounded. (There is more, but I have to stop there, because I know he wouldn’t want me to discuss the private details of his life. He leaves all the spilling the beans to me.)
I realise this all sounds like a bad commercial and perhaps a confirmation that the Bikram aficionados truly have a few screws loose, which I am not going to deny. But the truth is the difference has been incredible. The bottom line: the yoga experiment has been more than successful. It reinforces the ideas I teach in my seminars and in the HappyPhD online course: that the cure for feeling swamped at work isn’t working longer hours in an attempt to get more done. It is making sure you have structures in place that help you stay calm, clear and focused. The physiological component is an important one: exercise in general, and yoga in particular will help you create mental space, as well as mental strength. Which is never a bad idea.
PS – The Bryan Kest series I practiced for years (Energize, Tone & Sweat) is also on Youtube. I particularly like the Tone practice. The videos are beyond cheesy, which I think must be the defining characteristic of my taste in yoga!
Do you practice yoga? What do you like about it? Tell me. Also, if you enjoyed this post, could you share it? As always, much appreciated.