Sweating it out at Bikram Yoga North Beach

If you have ever run a distance race, you know the feeling of accomplishment after it is over. You remember that “post-run high” and feeling of success long after the pain of the race is gone. Sometimes, you may even idealize that completion feeling in your head and blow it out of proportion, forgetting how much your body hurt on mile 10, 11, 12 and so on.

I’m afraid I’ve done that with Bikram Yoga.

Bikram Yoga is incredibly hard. It’s a 90-minute torture chamber.

I hadn’t attended a Bikram Yoga class for more than two years, and last week found myself selectively remembering only the great feeling I had after finishing a class.

That’s why on Friday morning, I paid a visit to Bikram Yoga North Beach for a San Francisco stretch session.

In case you aren’t familiar with Bikram, it’s a type of yoga practice where the room is kept at a minimum of 105 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature is supposed to help the body do several things: increase blood circulation by thinning the blood, release toxins (through absolutely ridiculous amounts of sweat) and increase the heart rate. Essentially, you have to heat up your body in order to soften it and change it.

Bikram Yoga North Beach (also called Bikram’s Yoga College of India) bills itself as the first Bikarm Yoga studio in the United States, which is a claim I was able to confirm after a few minutes of Googling.

Housed in the upstairs of an old building above a neighborhood market, Bikram Yoga North Beach is a small space with one heated yoga room, a welcome/check-in area and two bathrooms with showers. The teacher of the class was manning the sign-in desk and was the only employee. In fact, she locked the studio entrance before class began so no one could enter the building. The class only had about nine people that day, which was a nice change from most crowded yoga experiences. I didn’t have to be too close to my neighbor.

Cost was $15 per session.

The teacher was authentic and effective. I spoke to her before class letting her know that I had only practiced Bikram twice before, and the last experience was a couple of years ago. She suggested I set up near the window in case I needed to open it and stick my head out, citing that this studio was one of the hotter rooms around. I told her I welcomed suggestions and adjustments throughout class, and she took me up on that. She also called me by name throughout class, either complimenting my form or offering ways to improve it. I really liked the personal attention and appreciated her efforts to make me comfortable. As a group fitness teacher, I have a list of things I like to see when I go to another class and even though yoga is completely different from the classes I teach, I enjoyed seeing some of the fundamentals covered at this studio. Knowing that Bikram Yoga is incredibly hard, she told me “not to be a hero” in case I felt like stopping or needed to leave the room. Well, I was a hero alright …

A typical Bikram Yoga class includes 26 poses done two times each. The class lasts all of 90 minutes, and is done to the backdrop of heavy breathing and an instructor’s voice. No music, no fuss, no chanting.

I have never sweated so much in my entire life. I soaked an entire bath towel and a hand towel. At one point, I had trouble grabbing onto my own legs to get into a particular pose because I was so drenched. This is a totally normal occurrence for beginners and regulars.

I found a few stretches quite challenging, but overall was pleased with my effort. In future classes I need to get the 80/20 breathing rule down, which means you take a full breath in through your mouth before a posture and let 20 percent out at a time through your nose during the course of the holding the pose. It sounds easy, but was the hardest thing for me to achieve during class. I kept running short of breath.

I walked the 1.4 miles home from Bikram class that day in gym shorts in barely 60-degree weather. My body was so heated, I couldn’t bear to put my sweatpants back on. As expected, during the walk and for the rest of the day, I felt absolutely cleansed and refreshed. Just hours later, I had forgotten the sheer pain that I was going through in the heated Bikram room earlier that day and had thoughts about adding this class to my regular workout regimen.

Will I attend another Bikram Yoga class? Maybe. And if I do, it would probably be at the same studio, with the same teacher, and definitely with a second bath towel to soak up the sweat.

Bikram Yoga North Beach
The first yoga studio in the United States.
Bikram Yoga North Beach
Check out the steam of the yoga room after class.
Bikram Yoga North Beach
Steps up to Bikram Yoga North Beach.

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