As I walked out of the Bikram Yoga studio toward my car after my first class, I found myself declaring, "If I can actually do this yoga, it will totally change my whole life." I had only been able to attempt half the postures, with the rest of the time lying down, just dealing with the heated, humid room. But it was a revelation as to the sorry state of my body's condition, and the pathetic condition of my mind-body connection.
I had already made the firm decision to do yoga class every day for two months, after reading Bikram Choudhury's introductory yoga book. He says, "Give us two months. We will change you." After living with years of back pain due to compressed lumbar discs and a sedentary lifestyle, I was ready for that change--so ready, in fact, I was willing to subject my de-conditioned body to 90 minutes of vigorous cardiovascular activity in 105° heat and 60% humidity (making the "apparent temperature" somewhere around 145°). But the prospective discipline of it appealed to me, and soon I was actually enjoying the gentle torture of it, as I began to move muscles, bones and cartilage that hadn't been moved in years.
Beyond the rewards of seeing my body stretch and reach new ranges of motion in class, it was after and between classes where the payoffs truly lay. Bending over to pick up something no longer hurt, standing up after sitting for a while no longer involved pain and stiffness, and I began noticing how good I felt instead of how bad.
Of course, getting to these improvements took a while; and although I had committed to two months of daily practice, it has now been nearly eight months, and I can now say yoga is an indispensible part of my life. This path has blatantly announced to me how I had incrementally reduced my own range of motion with each tiny discomfort, each injury, each bout of stiffness, in an attempt to protect myself from future pain. It is a common life strategy, but a very wrongheaded one. The body needs to increase its range of motion over time, and each discomfort or injury points the way. As the World's Stiffest Person at 50, I was on the fast track to being a crippled old man by 60.
I drew a valuable conclusion from this, that all the little aches and pains and microconditions we had as twentysomethings, if not dealt with in a broad and holistic way, are the exact pains and conditions that amplify over time leading us to our ultimate demise. From this perspective, what is commonly referred to as "aging," is actually more like an excuse for not answering the body's calls for help early on. I'm just not buying the "I'm just getting too old for this" refrain I hear from my friends. Time, friction, and gravity will take their respective tolls, but only with permission from you. If I end up dying at 94, I would rather have gotten there vital, active and pain-free, instead of feeble, crippled, and tormented.
The main thing I've learned from my beginning yoga experience is that it takes MUCH MORE WORK than I thought to reverse my past slothfulness, and much more diligence on the day-to-day to maintain what gains I have acheived. Bikram refers to the "body's bank account." You invest into the account with yoga, and then spend the account when not doing yoga. Of course, I found I was sorely and deplorably in DEBT, and am only now seeing the light at the end of that tunnel, striving for the day I can touch my forehead to my toes, rest my leg on my shoulder, and nap on my back with my head on my feet.