“The Yogic path is about disentangling the built-in glitches of the human condition… We’re miserable because we think that we are mere individuals, alone with our fears and flaws and resentments and mortality. We wrongly believe that our limited little egos constitute our entire nature. We have failed to recognize our deeper divine character.” – Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert
How fitting is it that on the day I agreed to do Bikram Yoga (a form of yoga in which traditional exercises are performed at high temperatures and humidity – also known as “hot yoga”. This style of Yoga was founded by an Indian-born US Yoga instructor, Bikram Choudhury. – http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Bikram%20Yoga?s=t) with Thai that I reached the “India” portion of Eat, Love, Pray (a portion of the book in which Elizabeth Gilbert prayed, mediated, and partook in Yoga on a frequent basis)? Was it synchronicity? Perhaps.
I’ve tried yoga several times before didn’t care for it because I didn’t find it to be relaxing (despite what the masses said). When I tried it, I found myself more focused on mastering the positions and keeping my balance than focusing on the meditative aspects of it and enjoying the stretch. I pretty much wrote yoga off a few months ago, but decided to give it one more try because of Thai’s excitement for Bikram Yoga.
He’s been practicing Bikram for years and constantly raves about the associated benefits. To name a few, Bikram Yoga removes toxins from your body, helps lower back pain, improves circulation, improves balance in body and mind, strengthens and tightens the abdominal muscles, improves flexibility, and does wonders for your skin. After hearing so many great things and learning that this style of yoga is a slow one with simple moves I decided to give it a try.
My first Bikram Yoga experience went down at Bikram Yoga Downtown NY (http://www.bydowntownny.com/) for the last class of the evening at 7:30 pm. In preparation for the course, Thai advised me to stock up on water (if possible to ingest more than the daily recommended amount of 64 fl. oz.) and to not eat anything two hours before the class started. This preparation is standard as newbies can get nauseous and/or dizzy during their first class.
Thai and I arrived in downtown Manhattan at around 6:30 pm and checked out a few restaurants in the area (so that we could plot on which restaurant we wanted to patronize after class). At around 7:00 pm we made our to the building in which the studio was housed. One short elevator ride up and we were there.
Thai pushed the elevator door opened (the elevator was one of those old fashioned joints – the ones in which you have to push the door open when you reached your desired floor) and my sense of smell was IMMEDIATELY assaulted. I want you to be fully prepared for what you will experience upon entrance into a small Bikram Yoga facility should you give it a try. The smell is reminiscent to that of boiled bologna. I was very happy that my stomach was empty at that moment because had it not been I probably would’ve vomited.
Thai guided me towards the bench so I could remove my shoes (as a form of respect I suppose – I didn’t see anyone with shoes on their feet once I stepped inside). We placed our shoes underneath the bench with the rest of the shoes that were already there. I was a bit “weirded” out by this (I didn’t know these people, would my favorite sandals be ok here?) and thought about that episode of SATC when Carrie’s shoes were stolen at a baby shower (click here for reference –>
I took a chance and removed my shoes, Thai reassured me that they’d be safe. I joined Thai at the counter where we received questionnaires (they pretty much asked if we’d taken Bikram before, had any physical limitations, etc.) then completed it on the bench. A woman crossed my path, but she didn’t smell like a woman. Time stood still. I was confused. Why did this woman smell like a barnyard animal? Did she not know that the showers were free? Was soap busy? Could it not meet with her and take her stench away? Whatever – I held my breath until she left (she was waiting for the elevator less than 10 feet from me) and her funk dissipated.
I returned my questionnaire to the counter and went to grab my rented yoga mats and freshly laundered towels (two for my mat and one for my post-yoga shower).
Preparing for Class
Thai and I walked down the hall and separated – he took the first room on the right to enter the men’s locker room and I continued down the hall to enter the women’s locker room. Upon entry I was greeted by an older woman and her tig ole’ bitties. This is a locker room right? No time for being shy! I walked towards the back of the locker room (where the cubbies were) and proceeded to change into my yoga clothes. I changed into the cotton hot pink biker shorts and black racer back cotton tank that I packed. I also packed toiletries (body wash, deodorant, and body cream) as I knew that I’d have to shower after class.
So This is What Hell Feels Like!
I met Thai in the hallway (he was clad in a pair of basketball shorts) so we could walk into class together. Before we entered the room he advised me to focus on my breathing as it was the key to me surviving my first class. He also advised me to lie down on my mat until class started so that my body could acclimate to the heat.
I took a deep breath and followed him into the room. I noticed that there were three people already inside. A woman and a man engaged in a conversation in hushed tones and a woman lying down on her mat doing various stretches in preparation for the class.
Initially I didn’t find the heat to be too bad. I feel like every single New Yorker has experienced heat of this magnitude while waiting for their train to come down the tunnel on a hot and humid summer day in the NYC subway system.
Thai and I set up our mats – rolled them out and placed our towels on them. We placed our bottles of water by the wall (towards the foot of our mats). Three minutes in – no sweating yet, so far so good. We engaged in a conversation of our own (in hushed tones) and practiced deep breathing. 8 minutes later Satan, I mean the yoga instructor, walked in and turned the lights on. “Hello everyone, my name is LJ”. She sashayed her 5’3″/ 5’4″ petite frame to the center of the classroom for all to look at her for instruction. She was clad in a black sports bra and a stripped bikini bottom. Her brunette hair was pulled into a loose bun atop her head. After introducing herself to the class she proceeded to take attendance.
I was the only newbie in the class, as I discovered when LJ asked if there were any first timers in the group. I meekly raised my hand and noticed that I was the only one with my hand up. She advised me to remain in class and to lie down in the anatomical position should I get dizzy and/or nauseous instead of running out into the cool air because the drastic temperature change could make me light headed and possibly cause me to faint. I thought I’d be fine. “What’s a 1.5 hour class? This won’t be as hard as they say it is..” Boy did I eat those words later on….
LJ advised me to watch everyone do their stretching exercise first before joining in because they are kind of “wonky” (as she put it). Everyone, but LJ faced the mirror (as she was facing us) and we followed her instruction. The opening stretches were all about the upper body. I stood with my feet together as everyone else and watched everyone around me interlock their fingers and place them beneath their chins. They took deep breaths in, then tilted their heads back – stretching the front their necks as they exhaled deeply. As their heads went back the class exhaled and sounded like wild sea life – the noises were very peculiar to me. I did my best not to laugh and continued to watch them. After observing this stretch once more, I jumped in and got into the swing of things seamlessly. We did this stretching exercise about 5 – 6 more times and I started to feel more and more relaxed.
Aside from being relaxed I noticed that I was starting to sweat on my chest and back. Not bad – “this will probably be the most I sweat during this class. I’ll be fine”, I said to myself. I glanced over at Thai and he was sweating like a wild hog. Typical, he’s a man, men sweat way more than women do. We moved on from stretching and proceeded to do actual poses. Right away I started to enjoy Bikram. The pace was very slow (unlike the other yoga styles that I tried in the past), relaxing, and the poses weren’t too complicated. I successfully followed through with the exercises (careful not to be overly zealous and risk injury).
I held my own, until I didn’t… I’m guessing here (there was no clock in sight), but I’d say that about an hour into the class things started to take a turn for the worse.
During my first hour I noticed that I was sweating from places that I didn’t know I could sweat from. Why were my my elbows, ear lobes, and knuckles sweating? This was some kind of detox! I used the towel on my mat to wipe the sweat from my face, chest, and hands. My hot pink shorts looked like a diff hue of pink – they were saturated. I began to understand why Bikram Yoga is sometimes referred to as “The Torture Chamber”. I began to feel genuine anger in my heart for LJ. I swear I thought I heard her erupt in evil hysterical villainous laughter as she turned the temperature in the room up from HELL to DEATH. This can’t be legal?!? Why would anyone want to subject themselves to these conditions on purpose? Am I dating a mad man? Thai must be crazy! Why else would he rave about practicing this sadistic exercise?
I couldn’t take anymore. I followed LJ’s instruction and lied down on my wet mat (it was wet from sweat) in the anatomical position. I was overwhelmingly dizzy and wanted to leave immediately. After lying still for two exercise, I tried to get up and join the class for the remainder of the session – bad idea. I started to feel nauseous so I sat “Indian-style” on my mat. LJ came to my side and advised me to lie down as this would return my heart rate to its ideal resting place. I didn’t want to listen to anything else this evil woman had to say because she was the cause of all my problems. She was the reason I was hot and angry and I wanted to punch her in her throat with all my might.
I tried sipping some of my water, but that was no use. Who the hell wants to sip water hot enough to make a soothing cup of tea? I swear each moment felt like an eternity. I kept thinking the class was just about to finish, but no – Satan continued with her evil machinations and instructed the class to contort their bodies in position after position. I lied on that floor and started at the glass door. The glass door symbolized my freedom to civilization. It was so close, yet so far.
Thai reassured me in between his poses and encouraged me to breathe. Every time he told me to breathe, I whispered to him that I wanted to leave. I couldn’t focus on breathing anymore. All I could focus on was stepping outside as soon as possible.
FINALLY, after my near death experience, LJ announced the final stretching poses. I sat up for that as I wanted to try and finish strong and was successful. She cracked the glass door and a gush of refreshing air came into the class. I walked out (with Thai behind me) and thanked God for his mercy. I felt a bit lightheaded, but not overwhelmed. The students proceeded to clean their mats at the mat cleaning station and I followed suit.
Thai and I went to our respective locker rooms, showered up (that was the most refreshing shower of my life) then I changed into my clothing.
All and all, I know it sounds crazy (especially after rehashing my ordeal), but I really enjoyed the class. I plan to go back to the class because I liked the way I felt and slept that night. I felt lighter (maybe it was all in my head, I don’t know – but I’m going with it) and I slept restfully and blissfully. If you’re up for a challenge, give Bikram a try. Prepare for the funk, the heat, and your very own experience inside “The Torture Chamber”. Its tough, but you just might like it!
Until Next Time Friends!