A longtime friend of mine, a lovely gentleman well into his 70s, once explained to me what he thought entering a new life stage should be feel like. So many people, he said, are scared of going from one life stage into the next, particularly as they get past a certain age. They see the stakes get higher, the opportunities lessen and sense their own decline.
But, said my wise old friend, picture this. Picture each life stage as a runway and ourselves as an airplane. As we reach the end of one life stage, we are like a plane approaching the end of a runway. We lift off – like a 747 taking off – and fly for a while before we reach our new destination, land (safely) and continue our journey.
‘Like a 747 taking off’ is one of the phrases used in Bikram Choudhury’s yoga dialogue. The dialogue accompanies the 90-minute, 26-posture yoga sequence practiced in a studio heated to 40 degrees Celcius, created by Bikram and practiced by millions all over the world.
School teacher Jeny Jeeris is one of those millions. Jeeris, 61, started practising Bikram yoga in 2007. It wasn’t easy at first. “When I first tried it, I didn’t like it and didn’t plan to continue,” says Jeeris. “But strange things happened. I discovered an energy I never had before and felt the desire to have a second go, although my body was protesting.”
Jeeris was persuaded to try Bikram yoga by her grown up son, but often it is the other way around. The women persuade the men to try it. For Loy Chee Yan, 63, a petroleum consultant, it was his wife; for Kek Soon Eng, a senior vice-president in investments, also in his 60s, it was his daughter; and for Charlie Hubbard, 61, a former firefighter and lieutenant with New York City Fire Department and now a Bikram yoga instructor, it was his girlfriend.
“I was dragged to the studio by my daughter,” says Kek. “After several false starts, finally I embarked on my practice.”
“My wife played a major role in getting me started,” says Loy. “I saw changes in her that persuaded me to come and try this yoga. We are both avid golfers and she had told me about the benefits of Bikram yoga but I did not believe her until I saw her swinging the golf club faster than before! I started practicing with her in August 2008 and have not looked back since.”
“I started doing yoga in 1999 when I was dating a yoga instructor,” says Hubbard. “I then discovered Bikram yoga in January of 2002 and went to teacher training in the spring of 2005.” Hubbard is now a travelling yogi and blogs extensively on the different people and cultures he encounters along the way.
Yoga is a rare activity that strengthens, heals and nurtures the body, mind and spirit. There is probably isn’t a single regular practitioner of Bikram yoga (or any yoga) in the world who hasn’t gained tangible benefits from their practice. “I find myself a lot more flexible at 61,” says Jeeris. “My arthritic fingers and painful right knee have fewer calcified crystals rubbing against the joints, so the pain has decreased considerably. After every practice my energy level goes up and I can maintain that for at least three days without feeling sluggish. Lately, I also find myself meditating and getting to know the internal me more intimately.”
While some yoga practitioners love the physical beauty of the postures, Bikram yoga is not about putting your ankle behind your head or doing a 180-degree backward bend. The finer achievements of Bikram yoga are much deeper and subtler than that. It’s the control, the courage, the determination, the active stillness. “Smooth and controlled breathing,” says Loy, “is one of the most difficult things to master about Bikram yoga.”
So what if you’re reading this and thinking – there is no way I can do this yoga. It’s too hard, too hot; it’s for those flexible types, I’m too stiff, I’ll faint, I’ve never done yoga before … Then read what Hubbard has to say about Stephanie, one of his students in the US. “Stephanie, in her 50s, had polio as a child and is paraplegic, with no feeling beneath her waist,” says Hubbard. “She would come into the studio in her wheelchair and put herself on the floor. I envisioned her hips as her feet and she and I modified the postures to work for her. Her scoliosis has improved as have her general fitness and blood pressure.”
But, we should warn you. Bikram yoga is addictive. One you start and experience the benefits, you might not be able to stop. Like Jeeris, Hubbard, Loy and Kek, you might join the legions of Bikram practitioners everywhere who dedicate a portion of their lives to this yoga. And who are stronger, healthier and happier, as a result. As Jeeris says, “It is like a calling to the Universal energy. Are you ready for it?”
Taking Off With Bikram Yoga
Few things help us get better as we get older. Bikram yoga is one of them.
Photo of Emmy Cleaves