A year ago I thought yoga, and stretching for that matter, was a waste of time, sitting relatively still while I could instead be logging miles. All it took was hearing Dean Karnazes say once in “UltraMarathon Man” that he never stretches, and I swore off even the little I did do.
But as the miles of 2010 added up — 50-, 60- and more-mile weeks and aiming to keep building for a stellar performance in NYC 2010 — I started feeling more-than-minor aches and pains and eventually I incurred some full-fledged injuries including runner’s knee (patellofemoral pain syndrome), tarsal tunnel syndrome and eventually the dreaded plantar fasciitis. Needless to say my November marathon wasn’t the 3:20 I originally was training for, but rather a somewhat disappointing (considering the goal) 3:33.
I knew I needed to reset, find balance and healing if I were to keep running and get to the next level. A couple times on my job at Advocate magazine I had interviewed local athletes who found physical strength and healing through Bikram yoga. Joseph Encinia was a sick kid with rhumatory arthritis. He took so much medicine for the condition that he had a heart attack at age 13. He started Bikram and is now healthy and pain free. He has a trim and strong physique and is a three time National Asana Yoga Champion.
Melisa Christian, a local elite marathoner (with whom I also attended grade school), also told me that one of her secrets is practicing Bikram a few times a week. I hesitated to commit to Bikram because it is rather expensive ($99/month at Bikram Dallas) and it is quite miserable — a 90-minute routine performed in a 105-degree room at 40-percent humidity.
I took a $40 intro month in December while recovering from the various injuries of the season and slowly my body began to heal. One of the most interesting things was that even though I took an entire month off of running, when I returned in January and February – alternating running days with Bikram days – I actually ran a personal best in the 5k (20:38) and ran just at my personal best for the 10k (43:00) and even the half marathon (1:35), and that was in nasty heat/humidity at the 2011 3M in Austin.
My only lingering injury is the plantar, but even that is moderate and almost benign following a hot yoga class. My knees, hips and shins feel great. I find my recovery from long or intense running efforts is way faster than in the pre-yoga days. I breathe more efficiently and I think I handle heat better (the next few months will be the real test). I’ve also lost about five pounds. By the way, there are 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises in Bikram. 26.2. Coincidence?
On Saturdays I usually do a long run (10-18 miles) in the morning and Bikram in the afternoon. Same thing Sundays but with a shorter run. Then I work one in on Wednesday or Friday. I practice at least three times a week and, for what it’s worth, the instructors say it’s more beneficial to clump yoga days together than spread them out.
Bikram is not easy or relaxing. In fact it can be soul crushing and nauseating. It’s hot. Sweat stings my eyes and goes up my nose. I sometimes think I am going to throw up. My heart sometimes feels as if it is coming out of my chest. I occasionally get bitchy during a tough session. (Sound familiar my running friends?) The teachers can be militant (they will push you, chastise you for leaving the room – I’ve never left the room, by the way – and correct you when you are off course). But when I finish, especially if I’ve done something I’d previously figured impossible, I am left with this sweat-dripping euphoria. A sense of confidence that touches other areas of my life.
It’s why any athlete (save the professionals) grinds it out in any sport. That feeling. It’s nice that I can find it in the Bikram room (though it’s not quite as great as finding it on the road, only in my opinion).
Oh, and did I mention? Dean has recently taken up Bikram too.