Yoga Fail, Heat Training, & a Life Worth Living

Yoga Fail, Instagram

Yoga Fail, Instagram

Gather round, children, for the story of Geoff’s Epic Yoga Fail.

Yes, kids, I can run 100 miles no problem (not fast, but I get it done), but my third Bikram class and I end up being carted out in an ambulance.

Not exactly sure what happened, actually. I did a 12 miles or so loop at 3 Pts/Mt/ Hillyer/Silver Moccasin Trail, sat around for a while with Larry and Jeanne, ate some watermelon Larry graciously offered, and then headed to my Bikram class for some of that heat training. Took it easy in the class. The last pose is on your back. I guess I got up too quickly. I got a head rush and stood still to steady myself. And then I got up off the floor again thinking “I thought I was already up”.

Turned out that in between those two things, I passed out and fell to the floor.

“I thought you did that on purpose” said one guy. I guess there are a lot of actors in this yoga class, and they sort of reckon that these sorts of things are usually done for dramatic effect.

And, of course, there was blood, because what’s a Geoff fall without blood. And there was a doctor in the class who gave me all the tests they give to boxers in the ring and pronounced me looking-pretty-okay-but-I-should-probably-go-to-the-emergency-room-just-in-case-I-die-from-that-thing-Liam-Neeson’s-girlfriend-died-from-after-she-took-a-fall. And then I heard sirens and thought “Oh shit. That’s for me,” which it was.

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Emergency Room

And various people I know from around happened to be walking by and gawked for a bit while the paramedic dudes hooked me up to a bunch of stuff and pronounced my in bad shape on account of my blood pressure. This, of course, being 5 minutes after a 1.5 hour class in 105 degree temps. I’m pretty sure half the class had goofy blood pressure at that moment. And then another ambulance showed up and they took me to the nearby hospital and hooked me up to enough stuff to generate a killer bill, I’m sure, and said I seemed to be recovering really well since I’m in a good shape and I watched Alien for a while and then asked them to release me.

“I don’t really want to be here either,” said the doctor, “and I’ve got another 9 hours.”

“yeah, but they’re paying you. Nobody’s paying me.”

“That’s true.”

Apparently my potassium levels came back high, which could be an indication of all sorts of problems that generally happen to overweight people, or else could be the result of the way the nurse drew my blood since she struggled with it a bit. I’m voting for the nurse. They wanted me to stay for another round of blood tests and assured me it wouldn’t take but another hour or so, but I was kind of over it and wanted to go home. Plus, the IV they were giving me was freezing cold.

Note to Self/Life Lesson #3479692: If they let you back in the Bikram class, make sure you don’t go there on an empty stomach after running in the mountains.

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Life itself is a health risk.

I posted this misadventure and the accompanying photo on Facebook, and immediately the Bikram haters came out of the woods. “Bikram is a fad, not yoga”, “DUH, do you want to do something that will help or fuck you up? never mind take the easy hipster route – good luck”, “At first I cared but now I just think you’re stupid”, “Hot yoga is not good for you!”

I tried to explain that I was not really doing this for yoga sake, but because I needed to get heat training for a race that is 2 weeks away. I got told that this was stupid and that running is the worst form of fitness.

Why does everyone seem to assume that long distance runners run marathons or ultramarathons for fitness? It’s a SPORT, people. We do it for PLEASURE. And sports tend to be somewhat detrimental to fitness, in many ways, because sports cause injuries, the kind of injuries you are not as likely to get sitting with your friends at the trendy coffee shop or playing with your ipad. You like to go to an art museum, or listen to live music, or maybe go surfing. I like to run in the mountains. I don’t run in the mountains for fitness, and you probably don’t go to the Echo to hear a band so that you can further your understanding of music theory. We both do it because it’s fun and it brings us pleasure.

My sedentary friends are alarmed by my mishaps. This is my second trip to the emergency room this year. They are strongly encouraging me to give up this sports stuff. It’s unsafe. I need to lead a safe life.

I’m not sure why leading a “safe” life is desirable.

Yes, a safe life minimizes health risks, but what about the extraordinary health benefit of joy? Yes, I am more likely to be attacked by a mountain lion or a bear in the mountains than I would be at the local hipster coffee shop, but I’m more likely to be killed by random gunfire or mugged or killed in a traffic accident on the way to the coffee shop than I am to be attacked by bears or mountain lions in the mountains. And consider this: I have 2 trips to the emergency room this year, one of which cost me a morning at work. And that is the entirety of my sick leave in the past 3 years. Meanwhile, you guys are sick a couple of days a month, due to hangover, or stress, or the flu, or a cold… I’ve had stitches. You’ve had spinal surgery. I got an IV. You got part of your colon removed. I feel like I’m winning here.

It seems to me that living a safe life poses greater health risks than my “extreme” activities.

This should not come as a surprise. There’s considerable research lately that shows the health risks of sitting.

Life itself is a health risk. You put yourself in danger merely by existing.

The ultrarunners got it. Not all thought that Bikram Yoga was good heat training, but they understood the point behind it.

The medical professionals seemed to get it, too. One of the paramedics in the ambulance asked me “Do you like this Bikram stuff? I’ve been thinking of signing up.” This while he is hauling me away from a Bikram Yoga studio in an ambulance. He understood that the problem wasn’t the class. He was comfortable with my explanation that it was purely my fault, due to having run in the mountains shortly before the yoga session, and probably being dehydrated. At Glendale Memorial one intern asked “Did you ever do one of those Bulldogs?” Another intern had recently watched a movie on Badwater and wondered if I’d ever done that. My own doctor is full of questions about ultrarunning. My ailments, which basically consist of knees that look like a penitent Catholic’s and other scrapes and bruises, seem a fair price to her for the health I enjoy. And just to be clear: I really do enjoy my health.

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It’s a cult. It’s a fad. It’s the Crossfit™ of Yoga.

So what about this Bikram Yoga stuff? It was always my understanding that it’s sort of like the Crossfit of Yoga: militant, cultish, and placing a higher value on being badass than on yoga itself. Founder Bikram Choudhury is a controversial guy and his business practices have a monopolistic, search and destroy quality that seems very at odds with yoga’s gentle, meditative, peace & love character.

Yoga practitioners seem to hate Bikram. It’s not yoga, they say. It’s a fad, a scam, it’s dangerous, it’s for trendy hipsters. Their main bone of contention is the heat, as articles here and here demonstrate.

Being in the heat is dangerous for the body, people say. Of course, so is just about anything else if done incorrectly. I injured a shoulder sleeping. I’m still rehabbing it 8 months later. The point of training, whether strength training with weights or running, is to push the body to or near its limits, so that it can adapt, and the limits of strength, speed, endurance are expanded. The same with heat training. Perhaps when you first go into the heat you get nauseous and dizzy. Slowly, through exposure, you acclimate, so that the heat no longer has this effect. You cannot acclimate yourself to something without exposure to it.

I don’t know enough about yoga to comment to comment on the vehement-bordering-on-vitriolic assertions of the Bikram haters. I kind of get where they are coming from, though. I think Crossfit is militant, cultish, and dangerous the way it’s typically practiced. Of course, Crossfit can also be practiced skillfully and effectively, as can Bikram Yoga, although my fall the other day probably does not qualify as skillful or effective practice.

Athletes, and runners in particular, seen to love hot yoga in general, and Bikram in specific, since Bikram claims the rights to hot yoga. There are all sorts of articles on running websites extolling the virtues of Bikram. Jerry Armstrong, aka EnduranceJer, writes about his Bikram experience here, and Livestrong has a series of articles about it

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Howie is a tough customer but the heat is tougher at times.

Every email from AC100 Race Director Hal Winton contains an admonition along the lines of this: “Time is moving ahead fast. I hope you who plan to run the AC100 are ready to soon do the heat training necessary to raise your good chances of finishing the race this year. Heat does in even the best runners if having a bad day and not heat trained as well. Ask Howie Stern, 5 finishes at HR100 and on the ground at 3 Pts A/S. Pic in the run book. Howie is a tough customer but the heat is tougher at times.”

This year, the weather has been unseasonably cool. We’ve been rained on and hailed on during mountain runs, which sounds more like something that should happen in Colorado. And so I had to look to something other than running in the heat to get myself acclimated.

I started with Pam Smith’s irunfar.com post “How the West(ern) Was Won“, in which she describes her preparation for her 2013 Western States Win. She talks about spending time in the sauna. I started doing this. 20 minutes has been the most I’ve been able to handle. The sauna at the Y is about 180 degrees. There’s not much you can do in 180 degree temps but sit there. Pam talks about catching up on her magazine reading but paper is forbidden in the Foothill YMCA sauna for fear that it might just combust.

I got the idea of using Bikram Yoga for heat training from Hotshot Fitness, which designs fitness programs for firefighters in Arizona. If anybody needs heat training, it’s those guys. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to get in some stretching as well. Since I’m not out to prove anything, and tend to be lazy, I figured I’d take what I like and leave the rest when it came to the poses. Some are good for the hamstrings. My hamstrings need work. Some of the poses loosen the hips. Those are great. Some tighten the hips. Skip those. Some are hard on the shoulders. My shoulders need work too, but more of the strengthening variety than the lengthening variety, so those I’ll pass on. I’m an opportunist, not a purist, when it comes to this kind of stuff.

Here are a handful of shots from from a life worth living. Beats sitting on my ass bored to tears and getting heart disease.

4 replies
  1. Andy
    Andy says:

    Great post! Nice Pics! (as usual)

    This incident may have been the best thing to happen to you during your taper for AC100…You probably received a healthy dose of replenishing fluids from a saline or glucose IV while in the hospital…plus, (hopefully) you took it easy for a day or two after…both are exactly what you need during your final preparations for an Ultra…Of course, you did it the hard way (although your method makes for a better story)…Regardless, CONGRATULATIONS, and now, have a great AC 100!

    Reply
    • Geoff
      Geoff says:

      Thanks, Andy. I’m still pretty convinced that this sauna/hot yoga stuff is going to benefit me in ways that running 5 or 6 miles in 65 – 70 degrees will not, come race day. I see lots of folks are out there scrambling now to get some heat training in during this final week before the race, since it finally got hot. That might be too little, too late. My plan is to show up well rested & well stretched. And then I’ll just need to get through 26 miles of climbing and elevation and arrive at Islip feeling pretty, and ready for a hot afternoon. We’ll see…

      Reply
  2. Pete Sercel
    Pete Sercel says:

    Fabulous post, thank you for sharing. I’ve also tried to express to friends and family that I do not run for fitness; I run for the hell of it. Its been a slightly tough sell recently as my fun led to bad fracture on the trail, but, as you say, there are perhaps worse health hazards just sitting on the couch than running into wilderness areas. “Security is an illusion..” … and its pointless to limit one’s life to achieve that particular illusion.

    Reply

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