As I mentioned in a recent post, I bought a 20-day pass to my local Bikram Yoga studio in London so that I could supplement my North Face Endurance Challenge schedule with some cross-training. I have not had access to a gym during my two weeks here and Hot Bikram Yoga just opened a new studio a short walk from where I’m staying, so I figured it would be a great opportunity to get back into yoga after a six month hiatus (I took a break when my hip started to hurt last summer).

If you’re not familiar with Bikram Yoga, it was developed by Bikram Choudhury and consists of a 90-minute long series of 26 postures practiced at 105°F. For more information, this page on Bikram’s website is useful.

I was very curious as to how my body would react, both in terms of the heat and my recovering hip injury. I have done hot yoga before, but not for well over a year, so I knew it would take some time to adjust to the heat. My past classes were at 8am, and I usually only drank water and/or juice beforehand as eating anything heavy 1-3 hours before class wasn’t recommended. I remembered enjoying the postures and feeling extremely energized and toned every time I left the yoga studio so I was excited to give it another try.

Each of the five classes I have done so far has been a very different experience. I experimented with several things, including how much food and water I consumed prior to class and whether or not I did a short easy run beforehand to keep my mileage up. The temperature of the room also seemed to differ.

My first class was surprisingly strong – it was at 5pm and the room was PACKED, which meant the temperature felt extra high. I had done a relatively challenging race pace run that morning, but had eaten and hydrated well throughout the day and felt very flexible. The occasional wave of dizziness and nausea washed over me, but overall I was comfortable and maintained great focus despite how little space I had to do my postures. I was slightly sore the next day, but nothing abnormal.

Two days later, I attended an 8:45am class and had the complete opposite experience. The room was far less crowded and I struggled to make it through the standing series. I felt so dizzy and sick to my stomach that I had to sit down many times and simply focus on my breath. For the postures I did do, I was unable to stretch as far as I had during the last class. I ran two miles prior to class, which is hardly anything at all, but that may have affected my energy levels. What’s tough with the 8:45 timing is that it’s too early to have a full breakfast (unless you get up extremely early) and too late to not eat anything, so I had a banana and a liter of water 30 minutes before my run. Clearly that combination wasn’t right for me or I was simply having a tougher time that day. The instructors always tell beginners that feeling sick is very normal as your body adjusts to the heat, and it’s important to stay in the room for the full 90 minutes, so I did and felt fine shortly after leaving the studio.

My third class was a few days later at the same time and I swung back to the other extreme. I had a rice cake with almond butter and jam and tons of water about an hour before running three miles easy, then drank water mixed with some energy drink throughout class. I was 100% focused and felt incredible. The room felt far less hot, partly because the instructor kept opening the windows, which made the yoga slightly easier. I still felt stiff, but I think my body is just less flexible at that time of the morning, plus I ran over 12 miles a couple days earlier. By this point, my hip was hardly hurting anymore after my runs, so that was a good sign!

My fourth class a couple days later was even stronger – this time I didn’t run beforehand and had a light breakfast. I also hydrated very well the day before, as the instructor had said that it’s 24 hours prior to practicing that really helps your yoga, not chugging water as you rush to the studio. The room was warmer again and I pushed myself a bit harder in the postures, which is perhaps why I later felt some soreness in my knees and lower back. This worried me during my coaching session the next day, as we were due to work on barefoot technique (which I am starting to explore) followed by a hill pyramid workout (for my upcoming half marathon). We focused more on technique and the aching went away after a rest day, which put my mind at ease.

I completed 14.5 miles – my longest run of this mini training cycle – on Saturday morning with minimal pain. My hip ached a tiny bit a few hours later, but I think that was mostly because I rushed off to catch a train and spent several hours sitting down without taking the time to stretch as I usually do. Thankfully, I made up for it by spending two days relaxing in a wonderful B&B on the edge of the New Forest, which is where I did this 10 mile race back in July!

And that brings me to my fifth class this morning, which I must admit I didn’t particularly enjoy. I’m glad I went, but I wasn’t as into it and thus didn’t get as much out of it. I opted to save my run for this afternoon, so I ate a relatively substantial breakfast 45 minutes beforehand, which perhaps contributed to my not feeling great. In terms of my lack of focus, I’ve been feeling a bit anxious about leaving London in two days and trying to get everything done in time. I did my best to acknowledge my thoughts and let them go during each posture, but it was tough not to feel distracted. That’s okay though – some days just aren’t your best days, and that goes for yoga, running or whatever else. You simply try your best and learn for the next time. The feelings of boredom, anger, stress etc that bubble up are natural and it’s healthy to work them out through yoga, meditation or other forms of exercise.

I realize that my two weeks of Bikram do not qualify me to make any sweeping conclusions, but I do believe this type of yoga is beneficial and can be a great addition to a runner’s training. It can be easy to get caught up with the instructor’s narrative and push yourself beyond what your body is ready to do, so just make sure you don’t rush the process, particularly if you are naturally flexible but weak in certain areas like I am. I found some of the postures to be difficult on my knees and hips, but in those instances I took it easy or skipped the postures.

I can’t say that I loved every minute of each Bikram session, but I always felt great afterwards (eventually) and really notice the difference in my body, even after five sessions. I will certainly make it a regular part of my training in the future if I live near a good studio, and encourage others to try it out!