“If it’s your first time, and you’re feeling dizzy or nauseous, congratulations, you’re doing it right,” said Erik Cummings, co-owner of Bikram Yoga Harlem, during my first class there.
Bikram Yoga Harlem has a studio large enough for 50 supine bodies, with light streaming in from 145th Street. There’s a friendly, community vibe with flyers about local events posted on the notice board, and posters with advice from Sebastian, the hot yoga hot dog mascot.
Bikram Yoga classes are 90 minutes long, using the same 26 poses in a room with 105-degree temperature. I thought it would be quite relaxing, like stretching in a sauna. I was wrong.
Choudray Bikram, who invented the method in the 1970’s, claims that working out at this temperature helps the body to detoxify through sweating out toxins and by massaging the body through the different postures.
“You have stretched and energized every bone, every ligament, every cell in your body,” said Adam at the end of a class.
“Bikram says it’s better to torture yourself for 90 minutes than torture yourself for 90 years,” said Adam. “It’s better to work really hard in class and then see that the rest of your day is so much easier.”
Holding the poses is hard, so hard that one time I had to lay down and cry. But I still felt a sense of accomplishment when I finished the class. The aim in Bikram is to focus on the self and not look at the teacher or other people who may be experts.
“It’s ok to get frustrated,” said Adam. “Yoga’s not about the ego. It’s about doing your best.”
“If someone asks why should I do Bikram yoga,” said Adam, “the answer is because I want to improve, there’s something I want to change for the better. If it’s that you want to improve your flexibility, strength, the way you look in the mirror, the way you act with your children, or you want to act less stressed: you have to want to make a change.”
Adam and Eric both taught downtown and lived in Harlem when they noticed how many people were commuting for Bikram classes. “Bikram Yoga Harlem has definitely surpassed what we thought was going to happen,” said Adam.
Having visited many different studios, Adam is also grateful for the diversity of his students.
For anyone who wants a challenging workout in a very warm environment, and anyone who wants 90 minutes of moving group meditation, Bikram Yoga Harlem offers a great experience.
“Your heart might be beating faster than usual after this exercise,” said Adam. “A heart that’s beating fast is always better than a heart that’s not beating at all.”
Photographs by Kellyn Uhl.