After a week of crazy hospital visits and surgical interruptions, I’m sure you have quite forgotten where we were with our story. And so, a brief recap: August hit, my ankle remained a mess but life started to come back together. I became a vegan and started doing Bikram yoga. And so:
Why, you must be asking, would anyone in his or her right mind do Bikram yoga?
Why, I must ask you, do you assume that anyone who does Bikram yoga is in his or her right mind?+
I got caught up in Bikram by accident. In December of 2009, while I was home deciding whether or not to finish my MFA, I ran into a major conflict with my ED: ED wanted me to work out, and I couldn’t, because I had injured my back at the gym (something I did often) and needed to rest and recuperate.
Resting and recuperating were not a part of ED’s bodybuilding dreams, but I was afraid to go back to the gym and injure myself further. ED insisted, however: days off were not an option. Days off are days when fat turns on.*
So I turned to the internet for help. (Rarely a good idea, although Google actually came through for me on this one.)
In my area, there were about four or five different yoga studios, all specializing in different practices. Hatha. Iyengar, Ashtanga. Bikram. I made my choice not based on style or benefits but on proximity to my house. (And, you know, estimated calories burned.)
Bikram it was.
I called ahead, and was instructed to bring two towels (one large, one small) and a yoga mat, to eat very little or nothing beforehand, and to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
The studio smelled overwhelmingly of wet feet**, and I could see both men and women in various stages of undress already sweltering near humidifiers on the floor.
The first class was one of the most intense experiences I have ever had. I walked out of the studio looking as though I had been thrown in a swimming pool, but I felt so clean and light on the inside that I thought I might float away.
That night, I ate an extra tablespoon of peanut butter for dinner and ED didn’t even say a word.
I started doing Bikram every other day, and my back pain quickly cleared up. I returned to the gym in the mornings (doing my hour-and-a-half-long lifting and cardio routines) and then went to Bikram at night. I felt euphoric, light, and even hopeful. It was strange. I even felt less anxiety after doing yoga, so I started going every day.
The peace and clarity of mind I felt when practicing Bikram was a large factor in my decision to return to New York to finish my degree. In the city, I found an amazing little studio on 145th street, and I incorporated Bikram into my already crazy gym-and-school schedule.
Now, don’t get me wrong: Bikram was not a complete panacea for my problems. If it were, I would not be writing this particular blog right now. But Bikram was an invitation to begin healing. It was a way to soften the rough edges of my depression and to calm the chronic anxiety I felt. It was a way to connect, if only for 90 minutes, with the inner voice that ED had long suppressed. It was a way to appease ED by taking some time for myself, because I was still burning a massive number of calories through each session.
Due to the issues of time, money, and general reality, however, constant Bikram sessions were not in my cards for the long term. First and foremost, I was overdoing it, as is generally my M.O. I pulled my hamstrings on more than one occasion, and threw out my back whenever I combined too much yoga with my ever more intense gym sessions. As the months dragged on, I went to yoga less and less frequently. By the time I reached my summer transformation challenge, I was pretty much yoga-free. (And, not unexpectedly, stewing in a pot of my own anxiety and depression.)
When I returned to Bikram for the 30-day challenge in August 2011, I was not a different person. I was still a mental prisoner of ED. I was still prone to extreme behaviors surrounding my exercise and calorie restriction. I was also injured.
The good news is that, at least for the month of my challenge, many of the symptoms in my ankle started to clear up. While I was still weak, I felt less pain. If I missed a day of yoga, I would dissolve into anxiety attacks until I was able to make up the transgression on a double day. (I even started doing preemptive doubles, just in case.)
Combined with my raw, vegan, mostly-juice diet, Bikram made me feel lighter than air. I threw myself into the practice, and the practice rewarded me with health and wellbeing.
With Bikram, I saw myself on a path to healing, and maybe even finally escaping from the clutches of ED.
*I know now that this is a lie that ED told me. Days off are days in which muscles repair themselves and grow stronger. Please make sure you’re getting sufficient rest in whatever fitness program you’re following!!!
**Every Bikram studio smells of wet feet. You get used to it.