My first introduction to Bikram Yoga was back in January at a studio in Orlando, Florida. The two-time World Barefoot Champion, Keith St. Onge suggested Bikram Yoga as way for me to jump start my weight loss progress after a long plateau. Five minutes into the class, my face was red and I wasn't sure how I was going to last through 90 minutes in the 105 degree room. Thirty minutes into the class, I was deep into the breathing. By the time the class ended, I was hooked.
I returned to Chicago and signed up for the Beginner's package at the Bikram Yoga Naperville studio. Despite a hectic schedule, I managed to squeeze in fifteen classes for the month. I certainly got my $40 worth of classes in. I found that I looked forward to going to class and enjoying the feeling of bliss afterwards.
I took some time to talk with the studio owner, Conrad Gacki. I was curious about his journey with yoga and how he came to open the Naperville studio seven years ago. "I was on vacation in Hawaii with my family when I took a class with the founder and guru, Bikram Cloudhury," said Conrad. "I had done yoga before, but this was my first experience with Bikram Yoga."
Conrad suffered from injuries that he racked up in his football days and he found that he immediately felt better after the very first class. Cloudhury convinced him to stay for a second class, and before he knew it, Conrad canceled the rest of his vacation and stayed for a week of Bikram learning.
"My back would hurt so bad, that sometimes I would spend three days in bed and had to work from home," Conrad recalled. "Bikram helped me to strengthen my weak muscles and I worked through the pain. Eventually, I healed my injuries with yoga."
After his experience with Bikram in Hawaii, Conrad came back to Chicago and explored different types of yoga classes. He took classes twice a week, but began to realize that Bikram gave him an experience that he couldn't duplicate in other types of yoga classes. In 2003, Conrad became serious about learning Bikram and went for training with Cloudhury at his studio in Los Angeles. He and his son, Conrad, Jr. opened the Bikram Yoga Naperville studio in January, 2004.
Conrad taught fifteen classes a week in the beginning. The studio began to grow and they added yoga teachers who completed their training in L.A. Today, Conrad teaches three or four classes a week and does yoga five times a week.
"This is my passion," Conrad explained. "I love having a healthy lifestyle. Since I've taken up yoga, I've committed to healthier eating; more raw vegetables, fish and whey. My football injuries have gone away."
Conrad has seen students reap the benefits of yoga over and over. Many of them come in overweight and shed the pounds as they commit to the poses time and time again. "We have a gentleman who takes our classes-- he was involved in a motorcycle accident over 20 years ago. It affected his speech. He lost 60 or 70 pounds doing Bikram Yoga and has since improved his speech ability."
Bikram Yoga encompasses students of all ages and the Naperville location even has classes for children on Sundays. "You're never too old to take up yoga," Conrad explained. "One elderly woman started coming to Bikram classes four or five years ago. She was 70 when she first started yoga, and when she took her first Bikram class, she was 80. She was on thyroid medicine when she started and her doctor kept reducing the dosage, until he eventually took her off of it. Her doctor was shocked and amazed that she could finally get rid of the medicine."
Bikram yoga improves blood and oxygen circulation through a series of 26 poses done twice, with breathing exercises and meditation between some poses. "Through the stretching and bending, we stop the blood and release it, cleaning the body as a result," said Conrad. "This is a centuries old practice-- it doesn't work on one system, it works on all of them. Ninety minutes of Bikram puts you in a relaxing, meditative state-- and it relieves stress."
From my own experience with Bikram, I've discovered that the classes leave me with tons of energy and a clearer mind. In the locker room after a class, I asked an older lady what kept her coming time and time again. "It's pretty simple," she said. "I love how great I feel after every class."