Monday, November 06, 2006

Gimps, Gays and Gurus

For the first year after my back gave out I made the rounds from doctor to specialist and back again looking for a solution to the crippling pain I was in. Deteriorating spine? Know that, tell me how I can go on with my life! Surgery was ruled out early on and the only answer the doctors seemed to have been prescribing more painkillers, more anti-inflammatories. Finally, acting out of a need to do something other than to just passively accept my situation, I decided to go to a chiropractor. Being Saturday my weekend choices were limited - the first clinic I called was fully booked, but my second try was more successful, and that was how I connected with my chiropractor Dr. Madahar. I should be upfront about my attitude towards chiropractics: I consider it more therapy than ‘medicine’, a practice/procedure which addresses symptoms rather than treats underlying problems. Yet one of the first things Dr. Madahar did after making some adjustments was give me a set of stretching exercises to perform each day to reestablish my core muscles and so support and stabilize my spine. After a few weeks my back seemed to show improvement so when Dr. Madahar offered to take me to a Bikram’s Yoga class, and despite his caution my doctors would not approve, I accepted. He was absolutely right; my doctors did not approve, and I’m now in my third year of Bikram’s Yoga.

Bikram’s Yoga is the creation of Bikram Choudhury, a former four-time national yoga champion of India who severely injured himself in a weight-lifting accident later on in life. With the injury diagnosed as irreparable he returned to his guru Bishnu Ghosh and his yoga roots and in a matter of months was totally recovered (yet another example of my own physical inferiority). His subsequent creation, Bikram’s Yoga, is derivative of Hatha Yoga but with refinements sufficient enough for him to have his copyright on Bikram's Yoga upheld by a U.S. court. It is essentially rehabilitative yoga, using a limited number of postures rigidly organized to provide a complete and logically progressive workout for the entire body, all while being conducted in a hot house like environment to both minimize risk of injury and to cleanse the body of toxins. For today’s repetitive, dysfunctional modern world, Bikram’s Yoga is relevant for practically everyone. It isn’t easy the first few times, what with the heat and trying to hold poses designed to challenge your muscles’ natural tendencies, yet the immense good the postures did for me was hard to ignore and so I soldiered on. There were setbacks. One day I failed to properly concentrate and threw out my back, something which stalled me at least two months in my recovery, but even so my progress back after being introduced to Bikram’s Yoga was never in doubt. It is to yoga I credit the extent of my recovery. Swimming is only a test to see just how far I can come.

Choudhury doing ... something

You may be curious as to how I came up with today’s title: it’s my reference to the type of men who seem to populate yoga. Today females still easily outnumber males in yoga but the ratio is tightening up as more and more men start to recognize yoga as a legitimate physical activity. By far the greatest number start Bikram’s because of a physical disability like a bad back, gimpy knee or obesity (the “Gimps”); a few join for the same lean, boyish musculature the women join for (the “Gays”); and even fewer are there for the understanding and increased athletic performance yoga brings, plus possibly a desire to teach what they’ve learned (the “Gurus”). Can you guess which category I place myself? By the way, in Vancouver at least, yoga is not a social activity (I’m told in some cities yoga is a place you can go to get dates) – you’d have better luck here picking up women walking down the street. Perhaps though this lack of socialization might be less a result of the enforced silence in yoga class than the natural impact on women of all us gimps collecting in one room. Ya gotta be realistic about these things. But guys, for gimpy knees, a bum back, tight hamstrings, an extra two hundred pounds - whatever ails you, join Bikram’s Yoga. It’s tougher than you think and it’ll work wonders on your body. Try it out.

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