Gregg should know. He weighed 435 pounds and was at the point of suicide when he started Bikram four years ago. He has lost more than 200 pounds and is now engaged to Lori. Bikram is Lori and Gregg's business but also their lifestyle. The same is true of all the teachers—they are my leaders as well as my classmates. They learned, as I am learning, that the body begins to crave Bikram—the heat, the moves, the comfort of healthy discomfort. When I started the 60 days, I wanted to kill the already-dead yogi who came up with standing bow-pulling posture, but I'm actually starting to look forward to it—not much, mind you, but some.
"Elbow hurt? Arms hurt? Back hurt? Hair hurt? Hands hurt? Good for you," Choudhury has been known to say to his students during particularly challenging moments in class. "All the pain in the world is not going to take happiness, peace away from you. If anybody can make you angry, you are the loser. If anyone can steal your happiness, peace, away from you, you are the loser."
You'd have to be in the studio to understand the power of words like these. The teachers' instructions and insights become like a mantra, and the teachers themselves like coaches, or beloved shrinks. As I lie in savasana, half-dead with exhaustion, just listening to Lori, Gregg, Kerri, Shannon, Jyo, or Kristy talk about strength and determination—about the integrity of the attempt—propels me through the remaining postures. I may not do the moves perfectly or even well, but by week four I'm doing them. I've stayed in the room, which calls upon reserves of calm I didn't even know I had. The blood flows, and whether the Bikram claims about health benefits are true or not, I do start to feel different, and to cultivate better thoughts. Instead of thinking, "I can't do this," an alternative occurs to me: "I am doing this."
"Emotions first," Lori keeps telling me. "Then the body will follow."
The first demon to go is the stiffness. The second is the headaches. As I reach the halfway mark of 30 days, I feel more relaxed. I stand straighter. I can touch my toes. People tell me my skin looks great, my eyes brighter. One day in the parking lot, a woman driving a Mercedes cuts me off, and instead of fuming, I simply let it go—lady wants to be a jerk, let her be a jerk; it's got nothing to do with me.
I'm drinking water now—not enough but more than before. I've completely changed my diet to lean meats and vegetables and have set myself back only once—with a pair of chewy Chips Ahoy cookies (120 calories) one particularly rough night alone at a cousin's house. The food changes don't feel like sacrifice. In fact, I was hungrier on the drive-through diet of probably 3,000 calories a day than I am now on half that amount.
On day 60, I'm scheduled to return to Lifesigns for a back-end battery of tests, but on day 30 I do a few measurements of my own. My weight has dropped to 198—a long way from my personal goal of 125, but I'll take it. Wii Fit tells me my BMI has fallen from 34.6 to 32.7. I've lost 2.5 inches in my hips, 2.5 in my bust, and one inch in the all-important waistline.
Also, I got a job—a terrific one. Another city, another magazine. I'll start work after I finish the Bikram challenge, assuming I finish the Bikram challenge.
At one point, Choudhury himself swings through Memphis to promote his book Bikram Yoga: The Guru Behind Hot Yoga Shows the Way to Radiant Health and Personal Fulfillment. Lori and Gregg arrange for me to talk with him before a crowded Borders book signing, a conversation that encompasses the fifth dimension, Jupiter, and a parable about a wooden bird. Choudhury, who routinely mentions having trained and befriended public figures like Shirley MacLaine, Richard Nixon, Madonna, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, has just taken an emotional tour of Graceland and keeps talking about Elvis. "He was my best friend. I could have saved Elvis's life."
Choudhury is 63 and looks 50. He is petite and compact (I've seen his abs—I know). For the book signing, he dresses in a salmon-colored, formfitting V-neck sweater and creased white pants that look like something a cruise director might wear. His Rolex is as blingy as anything Elvis wore circa 1975.
"What's the most important thing in your life?" Choudhury asks me. His rhetoric is well practiced—the question lives in his repertoire, just as the Japanese ham sandwich lives in his lineup of postures.
"Is it bad that I can't answer that question?" I say.
"I ask the same question around the globe," he tells me. "They say the most important thing is God, water, wind, family, children, love—all bull. The most important thing in your life is you."
By day 60, I hope to understand what he means.
Follow up: Paige Williams's second 30 days of Bikram and beyond. (Was it worth it?)