Bikram yoga cured my chronic illness. I know I’ve talked about this a lot, and several people have been impressed by some of the more superficial outcomes of regular yoga practice (hey I’m not complaining, it certainly makes it that much more awesome to lose weight and look good!) but the underlying reason I go back in to what Bikram calls “his torture chamber” is my health. I used to suffer from severe chronic respiratory infections. At the age of 24 I’ve seen the doctor’s office and hospital rooms more than many of you will until you hit middle age or beyond. I was known as “that girl who always got sick.” In fact one of the most hurtful things an ex ever said to me was about this. I’m not sure he ever really knew how deep it cut me but one of my ex-boyfriends expressed genuine concern about marrying me because of my illnesses because he was “worried I’d never be able to bring a child to term” if I couldn’t stay healthy. Nice right? Just the thing someone who feels like they are trapped inside their own faulty bodies needs to hear.
I’m not sure why I decided to join a sorority sister of mine at this yoga. I honestly do not know what possessed me to go. I despised heat. I had suffered heat stroke on a field trip in first grade and I have the palest, day walker skin you’ve ever seen on a Jewish girl. I also really hated humidity having grown up on the east coast and experienced days of summer that were so thick with wet air you couldn’t breathe. So what in the world inspired me to go? I wish I could remember. I want to thank that person, that article, that divine intervention or fairy godmother whispering in my ear because those classes changed my life and got me healthy. They’ve been keeping me healthy. I went over a year, a YEAR, without so much as a sniffle and then last week I finally succumbed to a sinus infection but after 2 ½ days I was able to function. Within 4 I was back near full slayer strength. Today I actually might be able to go for a real run again. Which is something else I couldn’t do until recently. Run. My lungs couldn’t handle it because they were always fighting off opportunistic infections and mucusy.
I started feeling icky on Sunday last week. It was the “girl yucks” but since we’re big boys and girls, and placing taboos on bodily functions is stupid, let’s say what it was: my period. I have endometriosis and so when that time rolls around I am occasionally subjected to severe abdominal pain that can last for days on end. I’m on medication for it but that’s been getting switched around and so last Sunday I was still subject to some of the more unpleasant tummy sides of the disease. The problem was that getting my period also means my immune system is depressed and I am much more likely to get sick. The majority of the time I do fall ill these days it’s when I’m being invaded by the Russians so it figures that when Wednesday rolled around I started to show all the classic signs of a sinus infection. So I left work, went home early and rested. Then at 8PM I went to yoga. Now at this point I’m sure some of my friends are rolling their eyes and thinking I’m ridiculous but many of them make the mistake of thinking that yoga is about losing weight and keeping in shape for me. It’s not, or well it is, but it’s not the PRIMARY reason I go. My health, and the way it works to keep me healthy, is why even when I am sick I drag my ass to that room.
The following two days (Thursday/Friday) I did nothing but eat, sleep and practice yoga. Friday I was feeling well enough after doing a morning class to actually work from home the rest of the day. Progress already. Normally I’d be coughing and feverish still by Day 2 post-onset. Instead I worked and even made soup. Saturday I actually woke up with clear sinuses. By Sunday the pressure in my head was gone. No meds. No weeks of coughing. Nothing ever reached my lungs. I cannot believe how almost magical this shit is.
Except it’s not magic. It’s science. Here’s why it works: getting in that room when you are sick is like inducing a fever in your body. Fevers, as many of us know, is a sign that our body is trying to fight off an infection. A fever that runs too long or too high is dangerous and so we try to reduce someone’s temperature when that happens but the point of it is to “cook” any harmful microbes that love our cushy 98.6 but can’t live in an environment too far out of that range. The yoga induced a 90 minute flash fever. That’s what it feels like to me when I’m sick and practicing—I have all the feelings associated with a fever. Well okay great but what if you aren’t fighting bacteria that die at higher temperatures or what if your issue is viral? What then huh?
Well here’s the thing: the health benefits to a fever aren’t limited to just the direct death of microbes. Increasing your body temperature has been shown to stimulate and activate an increased immune response in, but not limited to, the following ways:
- Increased heart rate causing an increase in blood flow, thus increasing the mobility of white blood cells
- Enhanced leukocytes phagocytosis (i.e. your white blood cells target and destroy faster)
- Decreased production of toxins by bacteria
- Increased production/spread of T cells (a subset of your white blood cells that, among other functions, target virally infected cells)
- Increased metabolism resulting in faster assimilation of nutrients and removal of toxins
- Trigger the parasympathetic nervous system which will reduce cortisol (that stress cholesterol they always talk about) thus improving your blood pressure and general health
So there, you see, SCIENCE! It actually makes sense why regular practice keeps your immune system strong and how it can especially make an impact when you are sick. Now it’s not going to cure cancer, or hepatitis, or herpes and it can’t help you grow back any limbs or fix some rare genetic disorder. What it can do though is amazing, especially for anyone with respiratory issues like me. I breathe differently now because my lungs are so much stronger and I haven’t had to touch an inhaler in 2 years.
When asked about why his yoga is so intense, Bikram will often say “I don’t sell cheesecake” but I beg to differ. I love cheesecake. I think it’s the most delicious, amazing thing made in the kitchen aside from a good ice cream. I also love my yoga. I don’t think of it as a chore, even though many people seem to treat it like one or think I should. I want to go. It’s as special of a treat to me as having that slice of cheesecake and I crave both of them equally. The only thing better than a hot yoga class is going to a hot yoga class and having something delicious afterwards because I know my body is healthy and strong. So today I’m celebrating all my loves: Bikram, Cheesecake and Ice Cream.
Why? Because it’s been 1 week since I first felt sick at all and I am so happy to say I’m completely better. That is something worth celebrating. It also makes the creamiest, most amazingly melty ice cream you’ve ever had. It scoops like butter out of the freezer and is probably the most decadent thing I’ve ever made to date. And that’s saying something. This post is just full of grand statements isn’t it?
Cheesecake Ice Cream w/Graham Cracker Cookie Bites
An Olivia Original