The Dichotomous Union of Running and Bikram Yoga
Three years ago, I had this crazy idea to run a half-marathon. I found a training program on-line, encompassing 3 days of running, 2 days of cross-training and 2 days of rest. The suggested cross-training activities included cycling, kick-boxing, weight-lifting, hiking and swimming. Because I was a novice runner, I followed the training plan explicitly, incorporating spinning and kick-boxing into my fitness regime, therefore having little time for my beloved Bikram Yoga.
After three months of hardcore training, I thought that I was in the best shape of my life, despite severe ankle and mild back pain. I was strong and I was fast. The week before the race, I spent four days in Miami, running as many as 10 miles on the beach and walking everywhere I needed to go. In my exploration of South Beach, I happened upon the SoBe Bikram studio. The next morning, I walked to the studio for the 7 am class. I told the instructor that I was a regular practitioner of Bikram in Decatur, Georgia, but that I had not been able to attend class because of my half-marathon training schedule. He then, rolled his eyes, let out a sigh and quipped that Bikram calls running “mental masturbation”.
Whatever. Bikram doesn’t know everything. I placed my mat, towel and water bottle in the second row and prepared myself for class. I was ready to make BYD look good! During half-moon, I thought I was dying. Everything on my body was stiff and there was absolutely no way that I would have been able to lock my knees during “hands to feet”. As a former college cheerleader and gymnast, I had never experienced this kind of muscle shortening in my life. I have always been hyper-mobile, if anything. During the balancing series, my ankles were on fire. They literally felt as though someone had put a match to them. Triangle was not even an option in this class and there were a few other poses that I missed- even in the floor series. I was ashamed and astonished at the same time. I had run 10 miles on the beach the day before. How was I unable to complete this yoga class? Yoga’s not even a real sport… or maybe I was not in the best shape of my life, without yoga.
I shook off that tragedy and continued to prepare for the final days of race. The hour had arrived and I questioned my own judgment for ever signing up. The first 5 miles were tolerable. Beginning at the 7th mile, each step felt as though someone were beating my left ankle with a mallet. To this day, i cannot remember miles 10-13. I finished the race with a decent time, but in the most amount of total body pain I had ever experienced. I went straight to the medical tent for ice and walked around with it on my ankles for an hour before I was able to sit down. Over the next two days, everything on my body hurt. Two weeks later, I was finally able to make it back to Bikram. My postures were not even as deep as they were in my very first class because everything was so delicate. Each subsequent class was easier and my ankles were becoming stronger with every awkward, eagle, balancing pose. Again, I was astonished. I vowed to always keep Bikram as a part of my regular fitness routine.
Over the next year, I continued to run and practice Bikram. Several months later, I ran another half and full marathon, within a week of one another. This time, I trained while attending yoga class at least 2 days per week. My recovery time was less than I thought it would be. I credit Bikram.
While preparing for the next half-marathon in 2010, I found myself in the midst of a 60 day Bikram challenge at my studio. I was attending class at least once per day, while also running up and around Stone Mountain. I abandoned all other cross-training activities. My yoga practice was at its peak, as were my speed and endurance. I was injury free and my friends and acquaintances often remarked that I was “glowing”- not the pregnant glow; the healthier than ever glow. I finished this race with a great time and no injuries. Later that day, I even attended a Bikram class. Yes, I did! My instructor and I agreed that even a 90 minute savasana in the heat would be valuable. I did much more that that, pressing through each pose with strength, poise and determination. I did not sit out of one posture and I left feeling better than I had after any race. The class was a beneficial as any post-race massage. I believed in Bikram! I continued the second half of my challenge, only missing the last few classes because of a busy travel schedule… to a another race in another city. When I returned, Bikram was a essential part of my recovery.
This year, life got in the way of practicing Bikram as regularly as I would like to practice. I attended a few classes every other week, if that. On the second mile of my last long training run, one week before the race, I twisted my blasted ankle. I am a therapist, so over three days, I used all of the tools at my disposal to alleviate the pain: massage, electrical stimulation, therapeutic ultrasound, vibration, ice, topical analgesic and an ankle support. Then I remembered Bikram. I attended 6 am classes two days in a row. After the second class- two days before the race- my pain was completely gone. My postures were not stellar, but attempting them allowed me to run an enjoyable and injury-free race.
Bikram may not endorse running, but this runner definitely endorses Bikram yoga. During my regular yoga practice, I have fewer injuries, greater stamina, increased flexibility and a shorter recovery period from long runs. Additionally, since I endure running, but love yoga, I am also much happier when I can do them both. Physician and marathoner, George Sheehan once said, “Sweat cleanses from the inside. It comes from places a shower will never reach.” I am certain that the crazy runners and Bikram yogis will agree on at least that philosophy.