In the spirit of Thanksgiving, Richard C., a regular at Bikram Yoga Vancouver’s Kitsilano Studio, tells us why he’s grateful to have Bikram Yoga in his life – and how it helped him complete his very first Ironman Canada triathlon in Penticton this summer!

When did you first start practising Bikram Yoga?

I started practising Bikram Yoga in December 2010, mainly to focus more time and energy on stretching as a complement to my other training. I’d often neglect to stretch properly at home, so I made the commitment to the monthly unlimited pass. I also wanted to help improve a niggling knee injury that I picked up running.

That first class, I remember wondering how on earth people were able to stay so calm and get through all of the postures. It was unbearable and, looking back, I must have been the biggest distraction – I puffed and panted throughout the class! Now I try to practise at least twice a week and, this winter, I hope to come even more often.

What were some of the first benefits you noticed?

I do believe that some of the postures have helped aid my recovery and strengthen my knee; for example, the standing series, especially the postures that put emphasis on locking the knee. I started noticing an improvement as early as four weeks after beginning to practice Bikram Yoga. Also, if I’ve had a busy day at work, I come to class with a restless mind and agitated body. But as soon as class begins, I feel my balance returning and I always go home feeling pretty chilled.

You completed Ironman Canada this year; congratulations! What was it like training for that triathlon?

From the day I signed up for Ironman in 2010, the race was at the forefront of my mind, but it was important to enjoy the training and not become too consumed, overtrain and burn out. So it wasn’t really until May when my knee was feeling stronger that I stepped up the mileage in all disciplines. This usually involved cycling once or twice a week and I’d try and do the Grouse Grind every week, as well as get to yoga two to three times a week.

What role did Bikram Yoga play in your Ironman training?

Bikram Yoga helped me get over my knee injury by building up my strength, and it became a means to get my training fix in without the impact. It also improved my swimming technique as I became conscious of maximizing the full stretch in each stroke and focused on lengthening my spine and tightening my core. I became more aware of my breathing when out on my bike or running, and I learned to draw deeper breaths and to breathe more slowly through the nose whenever possible. This was very helpful in Penticton as the air is dry and gasping through the mouth dehydrates the body much more quickly. There is also a mental edge to be gained through the yoga practice; it’s a combination of the heat and the postures themselves but, in nearly every class, I have to struggle to concentrate and focus. I definitely drew strength from this on race day.

Tell us about the big race!

Standing waist-deep in the water minutes before the off was a pretty surreal experience: 2,500 people all quietly contemplating the journey that had passed and the one that was soon to begin. The first few hundreds metres were tricky as everyone jostled for position, but I did my best to stay calm, control my breathing and keep going. After 1 km I finally felt some rhythm and kept a steady pace until I got back to the beach.

I headed to my bike feeling pretty good, planning to take it steady and stay within my aerobic zone. I drank at least two bottles of water/sports drink every hour as the heat pushed 35 degrees. The last 20 km of the bike course are fast, at times averaging over 60 km/h; this was the fun part and it allowed me to relax and give thanks for the trouble-free ride and to focus on the run that was to come.

The run course is pretty challenging and definitely painful; it required serious focus to keep my feet moving. As we got into town and people lined the streets, the pain in my legs faded. Running the last kilometre to the finish line was amazing. I couldn’t believe I was almost there, that nothing was going to stop me and I’d smashed my best possible finish time. The last few seconds were amazing as I ran by a guy with seconds to go. I finished in 10:34, ranked 152nd overall and 12th in my age group. It was pretty much the perfect race and I think I surprised myself with what I was able to achieve.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, do you feel grateful for having Bikram Yoga in your life?

I am grateful for the healing influence yoga has had over my injuries and the greater sense of balance and alignment I feel after practice. I also enjoy the positive vibe down at the Kits Studio from both the instructors and the front desk; it’s a comfortable environment and that always helps. I feel like every class is a challenge and I enjoy the sense of accomplishment when the 90 minutes are up. I really believe there are great benefits to be had from practising Bikram Yoga regularly, and I am keen to improve as my practice continues.

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