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Yoga Practice: A <i>HOT </i> item in Sellwood-Moreland

by: Elizabeth Ussher Groff, Nicole Carter, student and teacher of “Bikram Yoga” at Bikrams's Yoga College of India in Sellwood-Moreland, is here in the “camel” pose, one of 26 yoga poses done in a 100+ degrees Fahrenheit room, at each 90 minute session.

When this reporter walked into the yoga room at Bikram's Yoga College of India at S.E. 16th and Bybee in Westmoreland to take a photo, my digital camera stopped functioning. A relative newcomer to digital cameras, I thought possibly the extreme heat of the room had exceeded the tolerance range for the camera. Later, a battery check would show that the batteries were discharged, but the fact that I had even entertained the idea of 'camera heat stroke' is an indication of just how hot that room was!

All yoga is known to relax and heal the body and mind. Bikram yoga, choreographed by Bikram Choudhury three decades ago, takes place in 90-minute classes in studios kept heated to 95-105 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat enhances the body's flexibility and promotes sweating, which is known to release toxins from the body. The heat and a set series of 26 poses and two breathing exercises are what differentiate Bikram from other yoga practices.

Although one might wonder how such great heat is endured, many committed Bikram students tolerate and even like it, claiming the practice has amazing healing powers. Douglas MacReynold, owner and director of the Sellwood-Westmoreland studio, says some of his students with repetitive motion injuries find relief from pain after one or two classes; weight loss and muscle tone can be achieved within a few months. And some with diabetes, thyroid imbalance, osteoporosis, or muscle or ligament injuries profess significant life changes.

The legendary Bikram himself experienced a miraculous healing from hot yoga in his late teens. A student of yoga since age four, he won the National India Yoga Championship at age thirteen, but suffered a knee injury from a weight-lifting accident at age seventeen. When a European doctor told him he would never walk again, he turned to his yoga teacher, Bishnu Ghosh, for help, and was walking again in six months. His recovery motivated him to start a number of hot yoga schools throughout India.

Nicole Carter, a Woodstock resident, and teacher and student at the Sellwood-Moreland studio says, 'There are many dramatic stories--different yet similar.' A student of Bikram practices since 1998, she has traveled regularly to seminars on the east and west coast to train with 60 year-old Bikram and his wife Rajashree. At times the couple have had as many as 300 prospective teachers in their two-month training sessions.

Carter describes her own story as relatively undramatic, but claims Bikram practice has made a significant difference in her life. The challenge of the poses and training in the heat have given her more physical and emotional awareness, and helped her to face with greater ease the difficulties of being a high school teacher and social worker. Speaking of the impact on her personal life, she says, 'I am able to respond with less drama and unnecessary baggage.'

'Bikram says this is 90 minutes of meditation,' Carter continues. 'Most Americans think of meditation as sitting in a dark room with a candle. But this situation is difficult. You have the heat…the teacher telling you what to do…awareness of the person next to you… and you are looking at yourself in the mirror, with few clothes, doing postures. It is a mental challenge, as well as a physical one, and that leads you to gain better self-control and self-awareness in all areas.'

According to Bikram, developing and strengthening the 'Five Aspects of Mind'-- Faith, Self-control, Determination, Concentration and Patience--evolve naturally from the practice. Studio owner MacReynold says this internal change has indeed been true for him: 'What I like about Bikram is that I have been able to define my spirituality through this yoga journey. It took two years for it to stop being just exercise and start being meditation. But I have had this journey on my own. All of it has happened through the physical, without anyone talking about it.'

For hours, location, description and photos of the studio and Bikram yoga poses, visit the Internet website: www.bikramyogasellwood.com, or call 503/232-9642 for more information.