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Running with Bikram: Taking On a 30-Day Hot Yoga Challenge

Running has been a favorite pastime of mine, even if I don’t consider myself a competitive athlete. I love the simplicity of lacing up my sneakers and hitting the pavement, enjoying the camaraderie of the running community, and chasing that endorphin high!

Running to meet NYFlyer Francesco Presutti in Florence, Italy

Over the years, I’ve tried to challenge myself to get faster and stronger, but like many runners, I’ve faced my share of setbacks.

I was stuck in a frustrating cycle: building mileage, adding speedwork, getting injured, and having to start all over again.

My hips were continuously in pain, which forced me to skip scheduled races and hindered my progress.

Occasionally, to brighten my mopey mood, I practiced yoga with my favorite yoga teacher, my sister Sharon

Yogi Sister Sharon Epstein and Me

While I was still down in the dumps, I came across a quote while scrolling that caught my eye: 👀

Oh? Always up for a challenge, I gave this some thought…..So, if I take 30 consecutive days of Bikram yoga, I’ll get out of this rut? I was intrigued.

I found an alluring Bikram studio near home. As a bonus, if you complete the 30-day challenge, you get bragging rights to sign your name on the beautifully painted challenger wall of the studio!

Bikram Yoga+ Roslyn (Roslyn, NY)

What is Bikram Yoga Anyway?

In simplest terms, Bikram yoga* is one of the original forms of “hot yoga.” It consists of a routine of 26 yoga poses including two breathing exercises practiced within 90/75/60 minutes (originally only 90) in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit 🔥 with 40% humidity.💦

No matter where you go for your Bikram yoga class, these same 26 yoga poses (known as Asanas) will be practiced in the same order, for roughly the same amount of time. The lights are bright, and the walls are mirrored. Typically, there is no music. The instructor (often emphatically) coaches you through the postures, a moving meditation, encouraging you to push harder, deeper, beyond your flexibility while breathing only through your nose. If you need a break, you are to lie down on your mat instead of leaving the hot room.

The 26 Asanas

The Challenge
Historically, I’ve been intrigued by Bikram yoga, probably because it is known to be a disciplined practice, both mentally and physically. I’ve taken a class here and there over the years and usually left feeling dizzy, disoriented, and freaked out to learn that you can sweat from the tops of your feet.

A few of my strong female runner friends (Carmen, Katarina, Shauna) practice Bikram yoga as a complement to their running. Always inspired by their running performances, it was another reason to give this challenge a try!

So, I bought a class package, and I kept a journal for 30 days, jotting down some thoughts after each class. Here are a few highlights:

Day 2:

  • Guy covered in tattoos flung his sweat onto me during Eagle Pose.
  • 30 days of this?!?
  • Instructor said to me, “Sure, you can smile.”
  • I wondered, is there no smiling in Bikram yoga?

Day 7:

  • Nowhere near “standing head to knee pose.”
  • But … I noticed when I stand up tall with my spine upright—no sinking into hips— suddenly my balance improves. Magical!

Day 12:

  • Other than running, I haven’t felt this good after a workout, ever!
  • Same day - my mother told me my posture looked beautiful. At 5 foot 9 inches, I’ve always been uncomfortably awkward with my height. This may be the first time I’ve ever received a compliment on my posture.

Day 16:

  • I’ve learned how to tune everyone out in the room. I felt fiercely focused on my image in the mirror: “That English Bull-dog determination, Bengal Tiger Strength,” says the instructor.
  • If I look at others in the class, I lose my balance.
  • Biggest gain: staying focused.

Challenge Complete (Sort of):

I didn’t complete 30 consecutive days in a row. On Day 6, my aunt passed away, and I attended her funeral in New Jersey, so I couldn’t make it to class that day. I started over, back to Day 1. During Round 2, on Day 17, a loved one had a medical emergency that brought us to the hospital. Thankfully, he’s okay now, but no class that day either.

Life is full of obstacles, priorities, and obligations, I knew that attending 30 consecutive days was a crapshoot. However, I did complete 30 classes in 46 days, so there’s that. Although I didn’t get my name on the challenger wall, I’m fairly proud of the effort.

Here is what I learned from my 30-day Bikram yoga challenge:

  • Increased Body Awareness: My posture has improved and I no longer sink into my hips. I’m now more aware of standing tall with my core engaged. Even the slightest adjustment can unlock a whole range of movement and space. This newfound awareness has improved my running form.
  • Enhanced Focus: I’ve learned to stay present while running. Before, my mind would wander to music, to-do lists, and past conversations. Now, I relish each moment, running without headphones, fully immersed in the experience.
  • Improved Running Metrics: According to my Garmin watch, my V02 max estimate increased by two points. While this might not be the most precise measure, it’s the first time I entered the “superior” purple zone in all my years of running!
Garmin Connect

Recently, I ran the NYRR Mini 10K in Central Park. Last year, during the same race, I walked the westside hills because, well, hills are hard! Though they remain a challenge, I was now able to push through. I could hear the instructor’s voice in my head “… that English bulldog determination, Bengal tiger strength.”

The result? I shaved off four minutes and 22 seconds from my previous year’s time, and my age-group average percentage climbed from 50.78 to 54.87. One week later, I ran the NYRR Queens 10K. Similarly, I improved my performance from the same race, one year later (percentage from 52 to 54.2).

Are these gains earth shattering? Perhaps not. Did I PR? Not quite. But compared to last year, it’s progress in the right direction. I’ll take it!

-Melissa Slobin, NYFlyers Co-BlogManager

*Author’s Note:
Bikram yoga has been the subject of controversy due to allegations of sexual harassment and assault against its founder, Bikram Choudhury. In 2016, a jury ruled against him, and he fled the country. Many Bikram studios have chosen to disassociate with him and have changed the name to “Original Hot Yoga” and similar. I do not condone the man or his actions, but I do appreciate the benefits of this yoga series as a powerful practice.