Monday, 17 August 2009

The greatest workout for the athletically disinclined

I was never athletic, sporty or in any way a healthy lifestyle type of person. Growing up, I was bordering on obese until the age of 13. My parents tried - swimming classes, squash classes, baskteball in school - but this blob just wasn't moving. I started smoking at 16, and it was downhill from there.

In the past couple of years, as one nears the age of 30, one starts to think about one's health, especially when the smoking has really gotten to your lungs now. So there have been a few quitting attempts, gym memberships and aerobics classes along the way. I also took up salsa dancing thanks to Sarsour, which is incredible fun and also a good form of exercise. But I still felt like my body needed more.

And I found it! About a month ago I discovered Bikram yoga at Club Stretch in Dubai. They tell you it's the hardest form of yoga, which, although I've never done any other, I believe. For 90 minutes, you work on 26 different postures in a heated room (42 degrees Celcius / 105 F and about 40% humidity). Sounds painful? Well, it is. But don't judge too quickly.

In my first class, after about 20 minutes, I felt faint, dizzy, breathless and wanted to give up. I discretely rolled up my mat and tried to quietly leave the room. But you can't just disappear in a Bikram yoga class. It's so disciplined and almost synchronised, that the instructor will undoubtedly notice 'off-beat' movements. So he literally pushed me back into the room and said "I'm not letting you go. You've come this far." And in my head I'm thinking "This far"? I've done like 20 mins of torture, probably got everything completely wrong, and most definitely never coming back. But I stayed in the studio, taking breaks when I needed them. The next day I dragged myself back. And the next day, and the day after that, and every day since.

And here is why I will keep going back, and I strongly recommend this to anyone who feels the same way about exercising:

1. It's the greatest motivation I've ever had to quit smoking.
The mere thought of a cigarette, followed by the thought of class, gives me palpitations. For 90 minutes, the intensity of the workout is so strong, that it's impossible to get through without calm, controlled breathing. So smoking is out of the question, and has been for me since I started.

2. You reap the benefits immediately.
I have no patience for long-term exercise plans. Within the first few classes of Bikram yoga, you will feel a difference in your breathing, flexibility, energy level and focus. Eventually your body feels stronger and you actually feel healthier. You can learn more about the details physiological benefits here.

3. The ultimate mental training.
For 90 minutes, you have no choice but to concentrate on your body and trying to get the postures right. Stretching, balancing - very intense focus. Although Bikrma yoga doesn't include any meditative actions, it's almost impossible for your mind to get distracted or stray elsewhere. You forget everything.

Unfortunately, as Ramadan is coming up, I will have to take a break. Because of the heat, you cannot do Bikram yoga if you haven't had double the standard recommended water intake throughout the day! So while fasting, forget it. I'll probably look for some other, less intense, form of yoga to maintain what I've accomplished so far, if for no other reason than to stay OFF the nicotine.

If you want to see what it looks like, I found this and there's a few other videos on YouTube.


  1. I've been looking for a Bikram place close to Media City, but I think Club Stretch is the only one that does Bikram in Dubai. I'm a big yoga fan but really wanted to try Bikram...

    Definitely gonna check it out soon...Looks intense!

  2. Yes, it is the only place in the UAE. Places need to have certified instructors, so be careful if you go elsewhere.

    It rocks, come check it out :)

  3. I did...and I almost died!

    Still undecided about whether I want to go back :) But re-reading your post gave me the motivation to try it again.

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