1,000 Days And Counting

"Give me 30 days, I'll change your body. Give me 60 days, I'll change your life."
-Bikram Choudury, Founder of Bikram Yoga

Anyone who practices Bikram, a vigorous form of hot yoga, will agree that within a single class you feel as if you have been reborn. No one knows this better than Keith Weidenman, a resident of Syosset, New York, who just completed 1,000 consecutive days … and he plans to keep on sweating.

Weidenman, aged 59, took his first Bikram class in Providence, Rhode Island during a visit to a health-conscious sister. While he almost “hit the wall,” he did survive the 90-minute regimen in a room heated to 105 degrees with 40% humidity. In fact, Weidenman emerged feeling cleansed and rejuvenated. His breath was different, his senses were heightened, and his middle-aged limbs felt lighter and more agile.

Hooked, he returned to Long Island in search of the perfect studio. Weidenman found it in Bikram Yoga Roslyn, an eco-friendly environment filled with ionized air and an abundance of good karma. Cleanliness and friendliness were both priorities, and he immediately signed-up for their introductory offer (7 days for $25), which morphed into a 20-day and then a 30-day challenge. Weidenman soon became a fixture, his name went up on the challenger’s wall, and his unbroken record soared into triple digits. Encouraged by his teachers and fellow students, he decided to aim for an unprecedented 1000 days at the Roslyn studio.

“I realized that Bikram is something that I could and should do every day,” he explains. “I’m still in the process of figuring it all out; it’s like an experiment that I don’t want to fail.”

Bikram yoga is a scientifically designed series of asanas or poses, which are performed in the same sequence during every 90-minute class. Most of the poses are repeated twice, and are held for 60, 30 or 10 seconds in detoxifying heat. Students do not have to count or remember the order of the poses; they are guided in their movements by a patented dialogue that is personalized by each teacher. Classes begin with a breathing exercise, flowing into a standing series and then a floor series, before a final twist and round of breath. The poses are designed to complement one another and to increase core strength, balance, and flexibility, while reducing stress, stimulating mental clarity, and improving concentration. The essence of the practice is to heal the body, cell by cell, from the inside out. After attending hundreds of classes, Weidenman still listens to his teachers who help him to unlock the mind/body connection, and their familiar prompts to “look into the mirror,” “clear your thoughts,” and “stay present” are all highly effective.

Weidenman is honest about his progress. He cites the benefits of Bikram: he has lost 20 pounds, feels stronger and more flexible, has a cast-iron immune system, and is more patient both on and off the mat. Or as he phrases it, “I no longer lose my temper.” What intrigues him the most is that he never gets bored because Bikram is an elusive art form; the poses that he masters one day are his nemesis the next. But struggle is all part of the process and Weidenman enjoys playing the edge, finding the right amount of push/pull so that he doesn’t end up with sore muscles. He has learned to listen to his body and to move slowly, or even come out of a pose, leaving its ultimate expression to another set, or to another day.

A retired Physical Education teacher, Weidenman has always been an athlete. He left Boston College to play baseball, but due to injuries, had to abandon his dream of turning pro. His sisters (including the one who would later introduce him to Bikram) surreptitiously signed him up for classes at Queens College, and he completed his degree with an impressive 3.9 average. After several jobs, he was drawn to teaching because he wanted to make a difference. He worked with students from K-12, and spent part of his career in the South Bronx. Although he is a seasoned teacher, Weidenman is also a student at heart. He previously studied martial arts, which he compares to Bikram, with its emphasis on all-out effort, alternating with complete relaxation. The difference, he points out, is that in martial arts the instructor pushes you, while in Bikram the motivation comes mainly from within.

Keith Weidenman would be a standout in any class with his athletic build, shock of salt-and-pepper hair, and infectious grin. It helps that he shows up in a black, dry-fit shirt with a pair of neon-green bull’s horns splayed across the front. While most yogis acclimate to the heat, lying in shavasana (corpse pose) or lightly stretching, Weidenman remains standing until class begins, bouncing on his toes and jabbing the air like a prizefighter before the first round. No one seems to mind and everyone takes his energy in stride. After all, this is a tough practice in which “party time” means a sip of water and relief comes in the form of a momentarily cracked window or door.

Jamie Weil, owner of Bikram Yoga Roslyn and a popular teacher, appreciates the spark that Weidenman adds: “Keith’s 365 classes in 365 days is truly remarkable. Every day he brings motivation, consistency, and a kind, friendly smile to our yoga community. I’ve actually heard students say that he was the inspiration for their coming, especially if they were on the fence!”

“In fact,” Weil notes, “we just launched a studio-wide challenge to encourage all of our students to dedicate more time to their practice. While I’m sure some of them will embrace this opportunity to get ready for the holidays, they may also do it out of solidarity with Keith.”

Despite his legendary status, Weidenman has no desire to ease up or to retire his yoga mat. His challenge is open-ended and he will continue to practice every day for an indefinite period of time, which includes the upcoming holiday season. And while there is no resemblance between Keith Weidenman and the cold-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge, there is a definite link between the affable yogi and the good-natured citizen who brightens the final pages of A Christmas Carol. Both men have been transformed by their visits, and both pledge to be kind to themselves and to others (another yoga prompt). For Scrooge, this means keeping Christmas in his heart every day; for Weidenman, this means keeping Bikram in his life every day. Perhaps, way, way down the line, the yogi may end his hot streak, but for now the ghosts of yoga past, present, and future are all sweat-infused and healing … and that seems to keep Mr. Weidenman in very fine spirits.

-Robin Ahrens, Author


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