How it all started!

On August 8th 2008, I had a bicycle accident – broken right arm and multiple simple fractures. After being in a cast for 12 weeks and physiotherapy for another 6 months, the final conclusion was “you have tendons caught in the metal screws.  Removing the plate and screws is high risk, so you have to have steroid injections to relieve pain, unless you get enough strength in the hands, in which case we can remove the metal”. It was a chicken and egg situation. I could not do the exercises because of the pain, no exercises meant metal doesn’t come off, a vicious cycle!

Missed a promotion at work, could not be the “man of the house”, could not open my refrigerator door, let alone take the trash out, and could not lift my three-year-old daughter like I used to. I just went into a downward spiral of being physically out of shape and mentally depressed.

A Russian physio told me “I have done everything I can for you. At this point you have to overcome the pain. You are an Indian. You should do yoga!” At first I was upset with the stereotyping. Sure, as a kid I was taught to sit in lotus pose for long times, but that is all the “yoga” we did as kids. She also told me “go try the hot yoga. It helps in cases like yours.”

At the same time, my Mother-in-Law (MIL) broke her ankle. We had two overweight, depressed people going through a downward spiral in the house.  One of my wife’s classmates happened to try Bikram Yoga and he chimed in with “you should try it.”

March 11th, 2011, 5:30AM: My MIL and I showed up for our first yoga class at the old BYSJ studio.  A six-pack sporting athletic Japanese woman in a two-piece bikini pushing us from the podium was a twilight zone experience. We survived that class. I fainted in the office that afternoon and was taken to the hospital. The doctor prescribed some pills. Just before I went to the pharmacy, my wife called me and said, “I checked online. Dizziness is a normal symptom after you start that yoga. Don’t get the pills. Just go back and talk to someone at the yoga place.” That was timely. I got some advice from a teacher: drink lots of water and come regularly.

If one class was enough to send me to the hospital, we wondered what “come regularly” might do?! My MIL liked the first class. She said, “We should at least give it another shot.” So off we went. When I walked out of class, there was the buzzing noise of silence inside my head for a good two hours. I had sweat and somehow it felt like the skies opened and there was a downpour after a long time of clammy weather.

We went 9/10 days on that introductory offer and continued to go 91/100 days. I lost 17 lbs, MIL lost 51 lbs. We were both walking, I was running again, had a smile on my face all the time, and most importantly, feeling a sense of accomplishment after every class. The grumpiness was gone.

What did I gain from my yoga practice?

My teachers at BYSJ repeatedly tell me, it is about the journey, not the destination. It is a practice. There was a time when I did not get it. After a few hundred classes, it did eventually dawn on me that you are trying to get better than the you of yesterday. You are trying to get better in the second set than the first set. That is all there is to it.

There were so many benefits in the early stages of starting yoga: I documented bodily changes, and mental changes.

The mind and body have to cross a few challenges to get to a happy place, and once it happens and the most interesting part is that it doesn’t last. That was another lesson learned. You cannot appreciate light without darkness and vice versa.

To sum up a few of the benefits: a stable weight, ability to eat a lot of great food, glowing skin, no bad breath, clean sinuses, improved vision, balance between strength and flexibility, ability to calm down on demand, and the ability to care about something while completely ignoring other things.

Before Bikram Yoga, I was overweight, depressed and it was all mostly because of the arm that looked frail with no muscle.  After about six months of the yoga, there was enough muscle on the hand to get rid of the metal.

The day after the surgery, I got right back into the hot room and sat in the last row the entire class just getting used to the heat. By day 6, I was doing every pose.  My friends and family thought I was nuts, but inside, there was a feeling that things were getting better.

There were some weird things during the first few weeks after surgery. I was cutting my nails every three days only on the hand with the surgery. Hair was growing so fast on that arm, my kids called it the “gorilla arm.”

A month after the surgery, the head of orthopedics said, “It is all good news. You are healed.  I have not seen anything like this before! Normally people take 3 months to heal. Your bone looks completely closed in 30 days. You must have some amazing blood circulation to deposit that much calcium in such a short time or some amazing regenerative ability. Look, your hair on this arm is longer than the other one. Look at your nails! Did you do something special?”

Told him other than doing Bikram Yoga, nothing special. He said “I am going to check this out and recommend it to other folks who might need it!”

That was the biggest gain. Getting the usual life back, without metal in the hands, without pain, without clicking noises that came within the arm with blinding pain!

Then came the magical moment where I actually lifted up my little one and threw her in the air and caught her. There were so many times she would run to me by force of habit and at the last minute would turn away knowing that my hands were useless. Two years after that accident, I was able to throw her up and catch her. What more is there to gain?!

Sundar's family in Triangle pose

Sundar’s leads his family in the Triangle pose.

What was my greatest challenge?

In the first six months, the biggest challenge was to finish the class with the metal in the arm. After the metal came off, the challenge was to do the poses. You see others in the room do a much better job and you want to try and replicate it. You know you are improving every day, a millimeter at a time but the mirror says you are not even close. The Type A personality in you takes over and gets frustrated.

After three years, the poses started looking closer to the real thing. By this time, I was doing 60 day challenges, going regularly to class and killing myself in every class and also going to some special classes taught by guest teachers. One person who made a big difference was guest teacher Jim Kallett. He taught an all day class and made a huge difference. It was like a dozen flashbulb moments in a day!

The challenge was no longer the asana. It was the breath. For the next year or two, the focus was on breathing through class. That made everything easier. You sit down a lot less.

Then my job changed. I had to make a trip to Europe or Asia every third week. That meant keeping up with the personal goal of practicing 200 times a year, became the biggest challenge with all the travel days, jet lag and getting exposed to all the germs on planes and airports and hotel beds.

Attendance can be a challenge. The last few years, it has been the biggest challenge. Push yourself to show up when in town, rain or shine, jet lag or not, low grade fever or not, work stress or not. You are happy, you go do yoga. You are sad, you go do yoga. You are mad, you go do a double!

Sundar with Rajashree

Sundar with Rajashree Choudhury.

What should you do as a new student?

If you are new to this practice, here are some lessons:

  1. Listen to your teacher. If you want to learn anything from a teacher, you have to respect and take them seriously, 110%. You should trust that what they tell you is for your own good. If you don’t have that open mind, chances are you will not learn anything.
  2. Listen to your body. The teachers will tell you that too. There is good pain and bad pain. It is good to push past your limit, but just a little at a time, in every pose.
  3. Falling out of a pose is actually a good thing. You don’t get to a new edge unless you leave your old edge.
  4. Take care of your body outside the room. Drink lots of water and electrolytes. I found Zico coconut water to be my favorite drink.
  5. Come regularly. Consistency is the key to this practice. The most challenging thing may be to drag your ass through those big double doors with the sign above them that says “Never too old, never too sick, never too late to do yoga and start from scratch once again,” but do it! You will improve with every class, a millimeter at a time and those millimeters add up over the years!

What do I do outside yoga?

I have a Ph.D. in Materials Engineering and as Vice President of Technology at one of the top-rated startups in the Bay Area, I get to do some pretty cool stuff. In spite of all the travel, I like my job. The yoga definitely helps me cope with the travel stress. Outside of work and yoga, I love photography, writing, cooking, traveling and blogging our family travels. Over the years, there are 60+ posts on Bikram Yoga experience alone, on my blog site.

When you spend 2-½ hours every day for yoga, it does sound like a serious commitment. But think about it this way. Think you are reading a book about yourself for 90 minutes, and discovering new things about what you can do on a daily basis. Think you are going for a walk, within your own head for a good 90 minutes every day. This time you invest in yourself is like putting a quarter in the bank every day and doubling it on some days. Might not seem a lot, but the more you put in, the more interest you get and those quarters add up pretty soon. When you are going through a tough time outside the yoga room, all the yoga you did in the past helps you recover faster. Just show up, give it all you got, and you won’t be disappointed.

If you’d like to learn more about Sundar, including his yoga journey, check out his blog.