Why We March: A Brief History Of My Relationship With Bikram Yoga, Which Actually Turned Out To Not Be Very Brief At All.

I first heard of Bikram yoga while reading an article in a Japanese publication circa. 2005. I don’t recall what the publication was– the corollary of always having ones head in some sort of publication– but I do recall being intrigued by the method and curious as to what the benefits for me specifically might be.

Bikram Choudhury; that’d be this guy:

Is the brain-child behind the method, which he devised with his guru, Bishnu Ghosh as a way of restoring his own health following a weightlifting accident at the age of 20 which left Bikram crippled.

A Kolkata native, In a United Nations sponsored research project at Tokyo University, Bikram helped doctors prove that yoga regenerates tissues and cures chronic ailments. The findings and benefits of the study were then submitted to the International Medical Conference in 1972, and to my knowledge, were then passed.

The series of 26 hatha yoga postures are performed in a hot room of 37 degrees celcius over 90 minutes. And they work. Each and every last one of them.

My own personal relationship with Bikram yoga didn’t begin here, however. I suppose the seed was planted that day, but it didn’t really begin to take shape until a year or two later.

I remember the moment exactly.

I had spent the afternoon on my back lawn in North Melbourne, balling my eyes out in a dressing gown, surrounded by printed articles and medical journals on the topic of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and Major Depression, of which had both been long standing bastions in The Life of Yours Truly for some 16 years by this stage. So much so I don’t actually remember a time when life existed without them.

That’s the truth.

From the age of 10–for me– there has been a big, bold backdrop of horrific symptoms and ailments. For those unfamiliar with the term (and what the fuck is with these abhorent medical terms anyway? An ex- of mine would refer to it as “OPSM” rather than “PCOS.” A much more palatable definition, he’d say.) But I digress.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is the rather unattractive name given to a metabolic condition in which hormonal imbalances are linked to insulin resistance that involves the overproduction of androgens and causes ovarian cyst formation.

Sexy stuff, eh?

So along with polycystic ovaries, a woman will have a certain pattern of other symptoms that reflect imbalances in reproductive and other hormones. Most of which are pretty shit. Allow me to list them for you in no particular order:

  • Multiple ovarian cysts
  • Irregular or absent menses
  • Infertility
  • Acne
  • Obesity or inability to lose weight
  • Excessive body or facial hair (hirsutism)
  • Insulin resistance and possible diabetes
  • Thinning of scalp (alopecia)
  • Velvety, hyperpigmented skin folds (acanthosis nigricans)
  • High blood pressure
  • Polycystic ovaries that are 2-5 times larger than healthy ovaries.
  • Multiple hormone imbalances, commonly including:
    • Androgens (testosterone)
    • Cortisol
    • Oestrogens
    • FSH (follicle stimulating hormone)
    • Insulin.
    • LH (luteinizing hormone)
    • Progesterone
    • Prolactin.
    • Thyroid hormones.
  • Impaired lung function.
  • Sleep apnea.
  • Fatty liver degeneration (NAFLD).

I’m more than happy to detail the specifics of what each of these terms mean and how they effect the female body– but for now– let’s just leave the shopping list as is.

Oh and throw in an image for a little comic relief, before I continue…

Now, where were we?

Oh yeah… On the back lawn of my terrace in North Melbourne, balling my eyes out in a dressing gown… Nice.

The reasons for this particular episode are varied.

Let me explain.

I had by this stage undergone some invasive surgery to confirm the specifics of my diagnosis and to ideally come up with some sort of prognosis. I have always dearly wanted to breed and the surgery was ultimately a method of preserving my fertility while devising some grand, master plan as to improving my livelihood.

What resulted, however, was far, far from the original plan.

I regained consciousness during this surgery, which resulted in my horizon turning a very inky jet black– as far as the eye could see– and then some.

My life completely fell to shit after that operation. The reasons for the general anesthetic wearing off, or never fully taking effect are varied and speculative. My specialist doesn’t like me talking about it. Nor does my prior specialist believe my story. That’s fine. That was a long time ago. I have my own theory however, which relates back to insulin resistance.

I’ve taken pills before recreationally that have knocked friends up and over the merry-go-round while I sit around, twiddling my thumbs, waiting for the tides to change. They often don’t. My body works slowly, if at all, is my point.

So anyway, that surgery was some three years prior to The Back Lawn Debacle of 2oo6. It was not the sole reason for the dressing gown or the tears. It was a contributing factor. A series of many factors combined to make a whole.

I had, by this stage, recently learned that Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is greatly affected or arguably even caused by the following:

  • Environmental chemical pollutants (i.e. hormonal disruptors)
  • Food adulteration (e.g. excitatory amino acids)
  • Chronic inflammation and
  • Genetic factors.

Understanding that there wasn’t a lot I could do about my genes I focused on the other factors. Food and my Environment.

Now to back-peddle some;

Following the surgery in 2003 (yep, at the ripe old age of 21) and the subsequent breakdown I went to see a fairly remakable woman by the name of Shu Shu Lu; A Chinese Medicinal Practicioner. This woman really knew her stuff and really sorted me out. One of the first things she had me do upon consultation was eliminate absolutely everything from my diet, with the exception of green vegetables– preferrably fresh, preferrably juiced. Her ideology was simple: Together we were going to starve my body until it started to work. The only indicator of this was to be my menstrual blood. No measurements. No scales. No bright eyes and bushy tails. Just my blood.

It had taken some months but Shu Shu, bless her little cotton socks, managed to get my system to work.

Now, it’s worth a mention that this syndrome is referred to as a “metabolic disorder” as there are numerous factors in basic body processes that have gone awry, suffice to say, they don’t fucking work. And because your body is a unified whole, a problem or dysfunction in one area will often cause dysfunction in other areas. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a dysfunction that is related in some way to your entire body, not just your ovaries.

So, considering this, consider also that there is much debate and uncertainty as to what causes the syndrome. The first of which being whether or not it’s a syndrome or a disease. A syndrome, by definition, or at least in my experience, is what medical professionals label something when they have very little fucking idea as to what it is, what it does, and why it does what it does. A disease, on the other hand, is something definable, something concrete, which this ain’t.

A syndrome also has the luxury of being referred to as what we in-the-business know as an ‘umbrella term.’ Namely, you don’t have to experience all the symptoms to a candidate for the title.

In other words, we have an amazingly complex network of interacting variables, each of which influences the other. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is not a simple disease with a single cause. In lamens terms: It’s a huge can of worms which takes some 5-10 years to diagnose. The prognosis of which is pretty well much — Good luck with that. KAPOW!

And if you can wrap your head around all of that, you deserve an ultrasound: Here you go…

I always thought my ultrasounds looked a lot like glorified knuckle dusters. It’s hard to get a specialist to laugh, however.

So now that we’ve got that out of the way I’d like to return to afternoon I spent on my back lawn, losing my shit.

That particular afternoon was made doubly traumatic as I’d been trying, with all my might, for months and months and months by this stage to get some sort of handle on my health– in lieu of having some sort of semblance of a livelihood. You know?

I was in pain a lot of the time, which I’d noticed had dramatically changed my personality. I wasn’t much fun anymore, you see. There had been talks of a total hysterectomy which was about as appealing to a 24 year old as one might imagine.

The diet of greens had rendered me a social dud. Dinner at mine? Ar, well… um…

And to add insult to injury I’d gone up two dress sizes in the space of a week despite the daily jogs, the absence of booze and the next-to-fucking-nothing diet of greens.

Hence the dressing gown, the lawn and the tears.

I’d run right out of ideas.

And like anyone else who has ever run right out of ideas– my mind came to the simple conclusion that if this was it– If this was the kind of hand I was to be dealt there remained only one option.

And the option was simple.

Far more simple than further research, surgeries, treatments, doctors, specialists, alternative health practitioners, bullshit diets, yadda, yadda, YADDA.

The option was death.

Pretty simple really.

So there I was, on the lawn, in my sassy chassy over-sized magenta dressing gown when I came to this conclusion.

And as if by magic, the conclusion settled me.

I stopped crying.

I stopped thinking.

I stopped wishing.

And just stared.

Stared out over the lawn, over the trees and in to space.

My breathing calmed and my eyes dried.

And just like that– I struck a deal with myself:

I would do absolutely everything within my power to improve my health and if things were no different, if things had not improved in one year to the day– I could top myself.

No questions asked.

No note.

No discussion.

Access All Areas.

A ticket out.

Which is when I started to Bikram yoga.

I’d riden past the big, hot steamy glass window on Johnston Street in Fitzroy one afternoon on my bicycle and was reminded of that method I’d read about– all those years ago, in that publication I can’t seem to recall the name of– in Tokyo.

I jotted down the number, checked out their website and was there, armed and ready in my underdacks and tank top bright and early the following morning.

They say you never forget your first Bikram class.

But they say a lot of things, don’t they?

To be honest, my first class didn’t stand out to me in any great, remarkable way. Sure it was hot. It’s fucking hot. It’s 37 degrees celsius. That’s hot. And sure it was hard. But the entire time I felt this overwhelming sense of doing something utterly necessary and remarkable for myself. The whole time, despite the heat, in spite of the heat.

In my minds eye, there was no one else in the room. Just me and my head and my body. Training to live forever.

I recall really struggling with certain asanas. In particular all the ones that related to my reproductive health, naturally:

Garurasana.

Get fucked.

Salabhasana:

You are joking.

and

Ustrasana:

Good god.

I actually used to weep a lot after Ustrasana and would find myself, initially, feeling much too overwhelmed to continue the class. So I’d just lay there, waiting for change. Waiting for calm.

A lot of the floor poses were virtually an impossibility as I could not bare the weight of my entire body on my reproductive organs. The owner of the centre in Fitzroy encouraged me to push myself further and further during these poses, within reason, as my body was most likely resisting them for a reason: I needed them.

So this bad boy,

Poorna Salabhasana:

and this bad boy,

Dhanurasana:

became my new best friends…

The very first shift in me, personally, that I noticed was a rather dramatic change in my sleep-wake cycle and my seretonin production. I’d sleep like a dream and catch myself giggling all through the day, sometimes at the most inane things. There appeared to be joy. And it appeared to be mine.

Shortly there after I noticed a dramatic change in my menstrual cycle. It was regular and bright red. Which is good. Which is very good.

The body weight shifted ever so gradually and there were comments made by both my flat mates and instructors as to why this was happening so slowly.

Awesome.

Yet another opportunity to detail the specifics of my ‘Bum Deal.’

I’d talk about it if I felt safe, or felt as though I had an attentive audience. Most of the time, however, comments about my weight and the excessive amount of exercise I was doing were largely ignored on my part. I mean, where do you start? Where do you cease? Why are they asking? Do they really give a shit?

I’ve actually learned over the years that a lot of the time people don’t.

There’s that whole female competitive thing whereby they may just be asking to one-up you or to have something on you.

And then there’s that ever inquisitive male thing which usually has more to do with: “Ar, when are you actually going to menstruate next? Cause like, you know… I’d feel better knowing you weren’t pregnant.” , etc.

So along I chugged, doing everything  I could to make my life better.

Despite my efforts however, some things just would not budge. Though I’d shifted some weight and developed greater core strength by girly bits were still increasingly painful and rather upsettingly at the time I had to stop riding my bicycle.

I was having these nasty little attacks of what felt like metal + pole being rammed inside of me. I often gasp mid-conversation as my eyes would water and whom ever I was talking to would wonder what the fuck was happening to me– including me.

This went on for months and months and months before I tracked down another specialist in Melbourne, told them the whole history and asked them what they thought might be going on.

And so there I was, almost one year to the day, with a brand new spanking diagnosis.

Endometriosis.

Excellent.

Of course, the bugger with reproductive disorders is the only way to really, truly diagnose them is to cut you open and get inside… so in lieu of that we opted for a little pre-internal ultrasound just to confirm we were all on the same page.

For anyone unfamiliar with transvaginal ultrasounds– well– they’re kinda like a dinner date but without the dinner…

See figure a1.

Yeah.

Good times.

And from this we learned a little something else.

Exactly one year to the day… not only was there some kind of evidence of endometriosis there was also a tumor. A tumor that had to come out.

I recall walking home through the Fitzroy Gardens that afternoon in the pouring, fucking rain, once again, bawling my eyes out, wondering what this all meant and what would happen next.

Mothers steered their young children away from me as I sat my the pond in the gardens and wept and wept and wept.

I’d had enough.

I’d more than enough.

Returning home early that evening I sat on the toilet and picked up that days edition of The Age newspaper.

And what I read changed my life.

It had very little to do with Bikram or the weather, etc. What I read was a feature article written by the Australian script writer Stevie J. Spears. And what he wrote changed my perspective on everything.

At the time of writing the article Stevie J. Spears was dying of terminal lung cancer. Never before in my life had I read something so forthcoming and brave and big and bold:

“Why cancer? Why a sunset?” He concluded the article.

And with that it was decided. Banging on about the ‘why me?’ of it was inconsequential. There was no Fair Berometre. Just as there was no over-riding judge or essence or karma. It is what it is. This whole life thing. And so I continued on… I had the surgery. I had the treatment. I sat and stared at the walls for a year while the drugs did what drugs do. I got the tattoo. I moved to Sydney and chose an apartment on the very same street as a Bikram Yoga Studio. This was not an accident.

Initially I was terribly frustrated by how much my body had fallen apart in the time between Melbourne and Sydney. In 18 months I’d gained about 20kgs– thanks chemo– and lost all of my core strength. My liver was alsorat-shit so the heat was a lot tougher than I’d remembered it.

It’s taken me a year now to even consider myself in anyway ‘better.’

Two now, upon second edit–

Better at my practice.

Better at living.

Better at life.

But here’s the thing– and this thing I deem worthwhile enough to have spent some four hours today writing this blog– Whatever it is, and whatever it’s not can shift, can morph, can change… and the really, really cool thing about Bikram yoga is that’ll guide you. It’ll let you know, in advance, where your fallibilities are, where your strength lies and what becomes of the brave.

Phew.

Glad we got that out.

x.

Oh, and as for Leonard Cohen. Well. There’s a great line he mentions in an interview whereby the journalist is asking him why he began to pursue zen Buddhism, et al. To which Cohen’s response is simple:

You don’t invest in this sort of discipline unless you’re suffering has become so great that there are no other options…

I like to think we swim in similar ponds, he and I.

x.

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Comments
18 Responses to “Why We March: A Brief History Of My Relationship With Bikram Yoga, Which Actually Turned Out To Not Be Very Brief At All.”
  1. Stephen says:

    I was trying to go to sleep and can’t so again I am back on my laptop reading about insomnia and sleep apnea trying to find answers to my problem. Thank you for the info. Steve

  2. trinh says:

    hello,
    after trying bikram yoga for the first time, i stumbled upon this site when i googled bikram yoga. i love this post. thank you so much for sharing this. i have been searching fruitlessly for the steve j spears article he wrote in good weekend that you alluded to above, to no avail. do you happen to have a way i can read this article? thank you so much.
    – trinh, a new reader

  3. mahaya says:

    so i know you wrote this a while ago… but i too have pcos and was diagnosed at the age of 20. i have been confused and for whatever reason feel that i am not allowed to be upset about it even though its basically the ‘syndrome’ to make a girl fugly. recently was also diagnosed with hypothyroidism so tahts great too. taking meds keep the insulin issues under control but still no blood. i just began bikram yoga and i am a giggly happy mess! i feel ive returned to the joyful girl i was before i became the irritated bitter *itch for which i blame pcos. i can only hope that i am on the right path. thanks for sharing, mahaya

    • Yeah sure, PCOS is indeed a bitter pill… It’s all but destroyed my life in loads of different ways but it is what it is and Bikram will make the world of difference for you, I promise you. You know that.

    • Just keep it up hey. Long enough to ween yourself off meds because you don’t need that shit coursing through your system in addition to everthing else. What are you taking for the insulin resistence, btw? Because a number of the meds they prescribe effect your cycle dramatically. It’s a juggling act that’s always subject to change but I find it helpful to talk about this stuff. You’re situation is not unique. Ya know? People need to be more honest about this sort of thing. Because it’s hard. Really hard. Soldier on my fair weather friend.

  4. Daniela says:

    Had my first Bikram class today at 05:30. The instructor called me “brave” and congratulated me after…She seemed to mention my name a lot in class – I know she was helping. But there were points that I didnt know if I was going to; cry, pass out, or get sick. I was quiet after the class – I am hardly ever quiet. But Im walking taller today – I have to go for nine more days – continuously, and I will call on your strength when I am hurting and ‘feeling the heat”. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I hope you have found good health and happiness – and a new dressing gown with fond memories! 😉

    • How did you go on the ten day pass in the end? I really appreciated your message, hey. Really cool. Which reminds me to purchase a new dressing gown with fond memories– I threw that one out in the end. Ghastly little pink metaphor gown. Which studio are you practicing in? And have you been keeping it up? Tell me more and more and more. I’m doing another 30 day challenge at the minute. We’re a third of the way through so now it’s getting really tough. Muscles want a sleep in and yet, alas, we soldier on… Thanks for reading. x.

  5. Marco Lonardi says:

    Really interesting method…..wish it’s works.
    I’ll undeniably suggest to all ladies.
    Regards
    Capt. Aniceto Bond.

  6. Tyler says:

    Inspiring entry. Stumbled upon it while looking up Bikram.

  7. Rhonda says:

    I was first diagnosed with PCOS about 15 years ago and have been living with most of the symptoms. I recently started Bikram and was so happy to run across your blog. I was having a hard time believing that this hot yoga was making me feel so much better! Seems like I am not the only one. I am hooked not for just the fantastic exercise but for the amazing changes I am already seeing in my physical and mental well being.

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  9. Amy says:

    Love this blog post. I just discovered Bikram Yoga this week. I have been 3x so far and just know intuitively that it must be good for PCOS. I have been blogging for over a year at http://www.pcosdiva.com and am always on the hunt for a natural way to help alleviate my symptoms. I feel such a sense of well-being after my 90 minute session. How is your PCOS now? Are you still seeing improvement with Bikram?

    • Hey Amy, thanks for your post. Loads of people visit, read and then disappear without a word– so thank you for saying your piece.

      In response to your question, PCOS is not really something that just evaporates. Depending on the severity there of, you know? I lost about 20kg initially when I started practising but haven’t really managed to shift much more weight since. With regards to my cycle, it really depends. It ebbs and it flows, you know? But over all it’s a dashing bright colour, it’s regular and it’s mine. I don’t take medications of any persuasion and I sleep soundly and find I don’t have the same impulses to eat certain foods like you do when your insulin is all over the shop. There are no magic cures. You either starve yourself and kiss your menstrual cycle goodbye (along with your sanity and all your bodily functions, ultimately) or you just face yourself in that mirror as much as you can and accept what you see. I’ll always practice Bikram yoga. It’s that simple. And it’s that complicated. You’ve got to remember how many years you spent outside of that room before you start to feel impatient with yourself with regards to results. You know? You’ll see dramatic changes initially and you’ll feel super splendid– what can be frustrating, over time, is when things plataue– but stick it out. Loads of things lay dormant in our systems for years and years before they even have so much as a teeny tiny opportunity to surface. Try connecting with your local studio on Facebook too or some other form of social networking site so you can all exchange experiences in an environment where you feel safe enough to be yourself. That be my advice. KAPOW! I’m darting off now to read your blog. x.

  10. yeahsnos says:

    You are amazing. Its funny, I don’t usually think that things happen for a reason, but check this out. I have PCOS. I have had a really shitty last year, i’m sure you can trust me on that. well, (oh by the way im not really good at this reply and comment stuff so i hope you actually get this) anyway, I hated western medicine for the longest time, but seriously i started hot yoga, specifically bikram and hot flow, honestly, its changed my life, and i want to continue making it more part of my life. I feel like ive run out of ideas, and this is why ive taken up hot yoga. so. here is crazy part, here i am in canada, feeling sorry for myself, feeling like i just want to cry and cry and cry and i still have tears in my eyes, well, i decided to look up hatha yoga and bikram yoga poses on google images. some photo came up that interested me and i clicked on it- i got to here. and then i saw the background and it had all these pictures of ovaries, im like, what is going on? and then i saw PCOS. i couldnt really believe it, so i started reading, the more i read the better it got, i felt like i want to reach over and hug whoever thats writing it, i started crying. twice. yeah. and i dont even know who you are, i havent even gone to your home page, or check your “about me” page or anything.

    you know i always think that blogs and all these digital stuff is so bullshit, and so meaningless where people write about cookies and the stuff they like that no one gives a shit about. and maybe a lot of people dont give a shit about your blog writing a book on how you feel, but how can i say it, its better than any book i took out from the library on this, its better than talk ing to idiot doctors, its better than my mom even encouraging me to do yoga.

    thank you. and you write so brilliantly. i wish i could write like you. i was laughing my heart out. specially with the picture of the sheman with the beard. yeah, sucks to be a half man here. androgens flying here and there. but its been a month since ive been doing hot yoga 4 times a week and lots of running too. things are slowly really slowly getting better, but barely. just slowly. but i can feel it. i know exactly what you mean when you say i dont know what it is i just feel it its good for me. health.

    “I like to think we swim in similar ponds, he and I.” well, count me in.

    • Thank you (person without a name) for posting this. I’ve been neglecting this site since completing my year with Leonard. And now for a big, fat edit! I appreciate your sentiments as they’re precisely I bothered with this whole project in the beginning. I’ve never quite understood why the book covers need to be menopause mauve and feature pictures of internal organs or lillies and such. Nor have I ever found any real encouragement from medical professionals, the literature they suggest, the support they offer or the cost of their consultations. So I find myself here, with you, and loads of others in exactly the same boat. Which is cool. Really cool. Thank you. So where do you practice in Canada?

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