the past week.

Just logging classes.

Thursday: Vinyasa. Yoga for Runners.

Friday: Hot Hatha. Yoga Wheel (I really loved what I did in this class).

Saturday: Bikram.

Sunday: Bikram (hot…). Pilates Flow (wow, so much core work).

Monday: Vinyasa (slower than usual but more intentional). Hot Hatha.

Tuesday: Hot Vinyasa.

Wednesday: Hot Hatha. Ashtanga (hoping not to have a repeat of the ‘muscular arms’ situation from past experience of practising Ashtanga).

 

 

Bikram Yoga, Paris, Grands Boulevards

In April, I checked out Bikram Yoga in Tokyo while I was on vacation. Exercise doesn’t have to take a break while we are on holiday, as I have realised, is not just my personal mindset because one of my two friends whom I travelled with was also hitting the gym almost on a daily basis! I suppose besides that we try to incorporate exercise into my daily lives, much like how we need to eat and sleep each day, it also helps us to burn off excess calories from all that good food that we enjoy when we are on holiday.

Maybe the fact that I am trying to maintain a regular exercise regime also affected how I think about what my job requires. Last year, I had crazy travelling schedules, by my measure; it wasn’t entirely hectic, but having to be out of the country each month, for either a week or two each time, could seriously disrupt this routine, besides screwing up my body clock and causing some health problems. Jetting across timezones can take its toll on my physical as well as mental health and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It might also be due to age, where somehow the body is not reacting well to the physical stresses of travelling, coupled with other forms of stress that this endeavour creates. Finally, I have probably also felt the desire to spend more time with my family now. Although I am still not what some would describe as being very close-knitted with my family, time does change people to a certain extent.

Anyway, on this last business trip to France, I decided to find out before I went if they had a Bikram studio too. Well, most big cities have some form of Bikram yoga, and I found two studios located in Paris, which I thought to check out during the weekend. I couldn’t go on weekdays because the office, as well as the hotel where I was putting up at, isn’t located within the city, and it easily takes about an hour to get to the heart of the city. On the first day that I arrived that was Sunday, I made a trip downtown but was too tired physically to want to drag myself to the class. From the website, I saw that they conducted lessons in English, once a day, at each of the two studios. As I could only make it for the 4pm class, I wasn’t able to last that long outside and still pull through, so I left Bikram for the coming weekend.

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On Saturday, I was out shopping on my own downtown, and after not having much success there, I found my way to the studio at Grands Boulevards. It is about 10 minutes’ stroll from Galeries Lafayette (on Boulevard Hausmann), and very near to the Grands Boulevards metro station. I spent a lot of time walking that day, and since the weather was rather good, I just walked around the city the entire time. The studio is pretty small, and it only opens its doors 30 minutes before class starts, so I was standing outside this door for quite some time since I reached way before 4pm.20130627-092623.jpg

They have a small changing room with lockers that you can operate with a one-euro coin, refundable when you open it, and 4 shower cubicles. It isn’t a large place, smaller than Bikram Shinjuku in Tokyo but it wasn’t crowded. The first time I went, the studio was only about half-full, which numbers probably about 10-12 practitioners, I couldn’t remember. The studio could supposedly accommodate up to 25 persons but perhaps being a fine Saturday afternoon, most people are out enjoying the weather in town. It was much warmer on Sunday, and so the studio was also more unbearably hot and humid, especially when the fans were not switched on at all. Sunday was also a day when most shops are not open, so that probably explained the higher turnout for the same 4pm class.

Perhaps the studio being small, the instructors could really focus on the students, and they even knew them by name. Also since I was a guest (of sorts), and obviously being very different in how I look as compared to the others, they would also call me out on the postures if I wasn’t doing something correctly. It was rather stressful at some point, but it’s a great way to improve! I had fun during the two days of practice at Bikram Yoga Paris, and I’m not sure if I will ever return because France is just too far away (and expensive to travel to too), but the instructors were great and I think the price is pretty ok, cheaper than Tokyo! I got myself a promotional offer, which was a 10-day pass at 35 euros. Considering that even though I only went for 2 classes in 2 days, it was already worth it cos a single class is priced at 25 euros (without adding on the costs of towels and mat).     20130627-092632.jpg

I wonder where will be the next city where I will get to practice Bikram Yoga at. It helps heaps that they had English classes in Paris, because although the 26 poses are always the same and the routine is the same, Bikram Yoga is still a dialogue-based class where we try to follow the instructions when to go into the pose and so on. When I was in Tokyo, the classes I went for were in Japanese (they also had limited English classes too) and I just went through the routine without knowing if the instructor would have been trying to correct me.

Bikram Yoga Japan, Shinjuku

This post is not so directly related to the holiday but it took place in Tokyo anyhow. I believe most people who read this are gonna go “What? Are you crazy or just pure obsessed?” I know that most people, when it comes to vacations, means taking a break from everything about daily normal routine life, which includes work, maybe family or commitments, and as well exercise. We often decide that when we want to rest we go all out, enjoy whatever we can of the place we visit, sights, shopping and of course, the food, and exercise takes a back seat. I do that too, but Tokyo is some place where I have visited often in the last few years. In fact, I think I have not really gone a year without visiting Tokyo, or at least some city in Japan. There are many places yet unexplored in Tokyo, and definitely the rest of Japan (like Hokkaido that I really want to visit soon one day), but I just like Tokyo a lot to keep going back, even if it means I am not having any planned itinerary of what my holiday is. To me, going on holiday means relaxing myself in a place other than Singapore (or rather going to some place that I really love and enjoy), and it doesn’t have to come power-packed with activities like sight-seeing or the likes.

Since it was a trip that I took at a leisurely pace, I thought it would be a great idea to check out Bikram Yoga in Tokyo since I picked this up recently. There isn’t a gym in the hotel otherwise I might have been tempted to just head to the gym and pound on the treadmill, but I have been experiencing some pain in my left hip so I had decided to keep my trainers for the time being. It would definitely be more convenient if it’s just going to the gym because going to yoga means I have to bring along with me shower stuff and all the rest of the works, outside of the hotel to the studio, which frequently means a huge bag of toiletries. Fortunately, the Bikram Yoga studio in Shinjuku was located fairly near my hotel, about 10 minutes’ walk away. 20130424-095806.jpg

I first went to look for it one morning before I met my friends R and G for breakfast, but they weren’t open yet (the Shinjuku branch opens from 10:00am), so I went back in the evening and got their schedule, which is also available on their website. Within Tokyo, there are six outlets but this location worked the best for me although in terms of timings it isn’t. Nevertheless since I am on holiday, I could work the Bikram classes around my activities.   20130424-095825.jpg

I dropped in for a class on a weekday morning, and it costs 3,000 yen per class (includes towel mat), which works out to be about S$40. It is not cheap I would agree, but in Singapore that is perhaps also the kind of rates we are talking about for a one-time class I think, or at least from what I recalled what a friend told me in the past, several years ago. I paid an additional 150 yen for rental of a set of bath and face towels, but you could bring them yourself (maybe from the hotel) if you want. I didn’t want the hassle of bringing additional weight of towels so I paid the 150 yen. This is one row of the lockers, where the lock and key are provided.20130424-095851.jpg

And this is how the locker looks like. Pretty compact but I was surprised I could fit everything in, my huge bag plus the carry-all I brought along for the gear and my toiletries, the bath towel, coat and the layers of clothing I had.20130424-095904.jpg

The dresser; I like that they are so thoughtful to provide cotton squares with make-up remover for us! Wished they would do this in Singapore but I’m pretty sure us Singaporeans will just abuse and maybe bring such things home. Besides, in terms of the membership base, as this is a one-studio place, at any one time there are not as many yogis so the place doesn’t become packed and crowded. 20130424-095916.jpg

And the shower cubicles. Again as you can see, everything is neat and compact, and this is about 10 shower stalls we see. The shower cubicle isn’t big or roomy but it sufficed for me. What I really am impressed with is that the cubicles are all very clean, and the flooring used in the stall is of some material that dries really fast because after I showered and towel-dried myself, the floor is almost already dry.20130424-095928.jpg

The Shinjuku studio is relatively new, from what I read from the website so that probably also explains its cleanliness and maintenance. When I compare it with the state of (dis)repair of the studio that I go to in Singapore, the latter really pales in comparison. Of course, our facilities are all heavily used and abused, so it is tough to maintain it well and also many members are not civic-minded and considerate enough to help upkeep the place. I really enjoyed the experience I had despite the price I had to pay for the three sessions I attended. Maybe in future when I return to Tokyo I will check out the other outlets to see if they also offer the same kind of good experience and facilities, or if they will also suffer from the same problems once the studios entertain high numbers of practitioners. Even when I went for a 8:45pm class one night, as the 7pm class was emptying out, it wasn’t that packed, not like we are used to seeing in our own Bikram yoga studios.

I didn’t manage to take any photos of the studio itself as there was a class going-on and on another occasion the lights were already off. Besides, I don’t know if photos are allowed since I didn’t ask… so if the above pictures are not allowed and someone from Bikram Japan wants me to take them down, please let me know! I took care to snap the photos only when everyone left the locker room in order not to risk snapping anyone in the buff.

lure of the hot studio

Since I was first introduced to yoga more than six or seven years ago (I think I first stepped into a yoga studio in the end of 2005), I have gradually fallen in love with it. I won’t say that it’s a sport or an activity, it is supposed to be a way of life although I can’t really say that yoga is my lifestyle. I am still too far off from making such a lofty declaration, it takes much more to be a true yogi (or yogini, whichever), to be one who lives and breathe yoga. I would like to aspire towards such a lifestyle but right now it is still just a thought, an ambition, a dream if I would call it, for me.

The very first time I attended a hot yoga class, I vaguely remember feeling immense discomfort. Even though the class was a 60-minute class, I felt constricted in my breathing from the heat and perhaps humidity, which coupled with the breathing in and out of everyone else in the room, it seemed like I could not breathe properly and with all the perspiration dripping off my forehead, I escaped into the cool comfort of air-conditioning perhaps with the class having another 20 minutes left. Dehydration in hot yoga classes is common, for first-timers, and even for seasoned practitioners who are properly rested or hydrated. At least that was what I experienced. After that first encounter, I had slowly conditioned my body to the heat and as time went by, I could easily go through a 60-minute class without feeling uncomfortable. The vast amounts of sweat that I had in that hour was liberating and it made me feel like my body was flushing out all toxins I had inside. It got to the point where I attended hot yoga everyday, and after which I will have a second class at normal temperatures to either cool my body down or to further stretch my already-warmed-up muscles and ligaments.

I don’t know what happened thereafter. Somewhere along the way, work got in the way because I had to travel for an extended period of time, and with that the time I had in Singapore was greatly reduced, and as well time for yoga and hot yoga in particular, dropped drastically. When I finally had time to go back to the studio, I returned to hot yoga and my body seemed to have become more resistant to the heat than when I first started. Halfway through the class, I felt faint and nauseous, and I laid down and forced myself to rest and breathe hard. When I thought I felt better, I continued, but the feelings returned, and after 60 minutes as I walked out of the heated room, I blacked out, just as I collapsed my body onto the bench outside.

That was quite a harrowing experience for me because I had been through black outs when I was younger and I hated that. I was also worried about the dehydration part so the fear deterred me from going back to hot yoga.

I don’t know how long I stayed away. It was only until late last year that I finally mustered up the courage to put myself in the heated room again. I tried to prepare myself well, to try to have enough sleep and rest the night before, keep myself adequately hydrated throughout the day, and most importantly, turn up early for class to choose for myself an optimal spot in the room where I know will not be too hot. The first class went well, and I welcomed that familiar sensation of detoxification. It had been so long, and it felt so amazing. This, in preparation for my maiden Bikram yoga class.

Bikram yoga is another form of hot yoga; in fact, it is supposed to be THE original form of hot yoga, a series of 26 yoga asanas performed twice, in a room heated to about 41 degrees celsius or more, that takes 90 minutes to complete. It is different from the other hot classes I have attended so far, which were 60 minutes in duration, in a room with temperatures that ranged between 35-40 degrees, and where we practise hatha yoga with various asanas, depending on what the instructor prefers. Bikram yoga is structured, because regardless of where it is practised and with whom as the instructor, the practice is always the same. Maybe that is why some people liked it so much that they can practice it twice a day, or even two back-to-back classes. For me, it is a chance to build my endurance and tolerance, and to use it as an opportunity to improve on the 26 asanas, as another step towards deepening my yoga practice.

I can’t just practise Bikram because it is not all inclusive, there are some parts of yoga that are not touched on by the Bikram discipline, so I always need to augment the various practices of yoga in order to have a more holistic yoga practice. Sounds like Greek? Maybe. But it has made me a little lazy where other exercises are concerned. Just last year, I was rather motivated in hitting the gym to run on the treadmill, but I hated running due to my poor stamina and because treadmills are boring. I don’t like running outside even if that offers better scenery and running is just not my thing. As an excuse, I tell myself that running counters my yoga practice, because it makes my hip joints and flexes stiffer than they already are, which is what I have been trying to work on in yoga, to open up these joints and flexes more. It isn’t like I can’t run totally, I will just need to stretch for an even longer period of time if I were to want to continue running, but I am that lazy. So maybe that is something else I need to work on, and spend time on.

For now, let me just acclimatise myself further with the Bikram studio, and work on those asanas. Perfection is still too far off for me.