Bikram ‘hot’ Yoga
After deciding to embark on on my ‘108 Yoga Classes’ journey, the first Google search came back with the Bikram yoga studio in the town where I live. Although all yoga obviously derives from hatha and the principles to practice are the same, the styles and variations to the application of practice are completely different.
Practising the most ancient form of yoga in Ashtanga, I’ve deemed Bikram previously as being a little ‘faddish’ and certainly very commercial. Judgemental? me? no!
No expectations I said.
I was delighted to see that the once Bikram yoga studio had expanded it’s practices to incorporate ‘Urban Yoga’ which includes a whole range of other styles. The differentiation being either ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ yoga. I don’t think I would ever have thought about any yoga practice being cold. Although hot definitely describes Bikram (I could think of other words actually) any yoga is meant to be practiced in a fairly warm room and certainly never a cold one.
I decided this would give me a path upon which to start towards my goal of attending 108 Yoga Classes. I signed up for a 30 day trial and eagerly booked myself in for a ’26/2 Hot Yoga’. I already knew that the basis of Bikram (apart from practising in intense heat!) is made up of 26 postures. I assumed this meant (and I was right, now wishing I was wrong) practising them twice.
I arrived early for my first evening class so that I could find out where everything was before starting. The owner of the studio was around and took me on quick tour and told me a little bit more about Bikram. We talked about Ashtanga and the differences to expect in the Bikram practice. She felt the postures wouldn’t be challenging to me, but the heat would. As we stepped across a doorway towards one of the hot rooms I was immediately met with a blanket of moist heat. That was through a closed door and I already felt like my clothes were sticking to me. My mad curly hair, still down at this point, started to feel much like a blanket encased around my head. The owner stood chatting happily, drinking hot tea I might add, while I began wondering how I was going to make it through the practice if I felt this uncomfortable standing outside the door! She assured me the teacher would take good care of me and not to push myself in the postures too much; resting if I felt dizzy.
I hadn’t taken the instructions I’d been given earlier in the day lightly. I made sure I had eaten a little more than usual and had already consumed almost 2 litres of water. I wasn’t entirely sure how much I was going to sweat out but decided that would do it. I’d also taken heed of the advice to wear as little as possible, opting for yoga shorts and a bra top. I scooped my unruly hair on top of my head in a tight bun and set back off down the stairs armed with another bottle of water, my yoga mat, cotton mat to soak up the sweat and an extra towel.
As I walked through the door I wasn’t too surprised at the heat that hit me. 42 degrees to be exact. Being really hot always makes me feel uncomfortable (don’t ask why I decided on Bikram) but maybe that’s part of it, stepping out of your comfort zone? I mean here I was, venturing out of my yoga solitude and joining a class, not only in a different style of yoga than I am used to but one that boils your blood and stings your eyeballs! Nice.
The owner had said that it was much hotter at the back of the room, but that regular students went to the front, so to pick the middle row. I do well with middle ground – I picked a spot the far side of the room, set up my mat and lay down. I underestimated the heat. At first I thought it was OK, but after a few minutes as the sweat started to trickle down my face and my lips became dry, I wondered how the hell you were meant to actually move.
A voice appeared through a microphone, interrupting my thoughts and the teacher took centre stage at the front podium armed with head mike. Not the kind of practice I am used to I have to say. She was middle aged, but then I guess at 43 perhaps I am almost middle aged too. OK, so she was a little older than me maybe and in good shape.
We started with breathing which was virtually impossible. Every time I inhaled, I felt like my nose was burning and I couldn’t catch my breath because every part of my body felt too hot. Breathing out was a series of fast in and out breaths while I tried to regulate my breathing. I stuck with it and got through what seemed like two rounds of endless last breath exercises.
I knew the postures, but there were subtle differences in the way you hold your arms, move from one posture to the next and how you stand. In Ashtanga you always move to the foot of your mat and your hands are in prayer or mudra. Bikram isn’t like that and what was most bizarre is that when you carried out some of the standing postures you didn’t use the mat, but stepped over it, so your feet were straddled and planted either side on the itchy carpet tiles. Side note here, I couldn’t figure out why there would be carpet tiles instead of the usual wood or sprung floor in most yoga studios. Sometimes it takes a while for the penny to drop. If the floor was wood you would slip! However, it still didn’t make sense why you have a yoga mat if you aren’t going to use it, especially in the standing postures. The carpet tiles were prickly on my feet, which was unpleasant, although not as unpleasant as the heat.
Hate is a strong word, so I will say, I disliked it very much. The postures weren’t challenging, not compared to Ashtanga yoga practice, but in the heat they were extremely difficult and at times nigh on impossible! When you did have to hold parts of your body it was difficult because when your entire body is dripping in sweat, its hard to hold anything! I felt like I was trapped and being suffocated; unable to get out. The thought did occur to me several times, that I was a grown adult and was choosing to be there, I could leave at any time. I did consider it but decided that would be the easy way out and after all, I was here for a challenge.
I felt dizzy, mainly when I had to bend forwards. I sat down a few times, especially when I reached the point of feeling like my brain was actually going to throb its way out of my skull.
I stopped to drink water but the teacher advised we were not to drink unless instructed. What kind of class was this?
Finally, we reached a point of where we were laying down. Thank God I thought, it’s over. I’m not sure whether I had just fast forwarded time in my own mind because it very much wasn’t over. I was grateful for having worn so little. My entire body was as though I’d just showered and I resembled a tomato, or at least my face did as it beamed hot red at me when I looked ahead in the studio mirror. As we moved through the lying down postures I was suddenly overcome with feeling sick. I lay flat on my front trying to breathe, but that just resulted in squashing my stomach even more, intensifying the nausea. I rolled over onto my back and looked up at the ceiling.
‘Savasana, dead pose’. The teacher’s voice jumped me out of my nauseous trance. Savasana translates to corpse pose, signifying the end of your yoga practice; when you allow your body to assimilate all the energy you have accumulated through your practice. In this class, dead pose was definitely about right.
However, it wasn’t over. How dare the teacher use that posture and it not be the end! It carried on. At one point I was lying on my side, partly trying to resist the urge to throw up and partly still listening to the magnified voice of the teacher instructing us into another posture. I think an F word, followed by, off, flicked through my head – I know, very un-yogi like, but seriously, how much more was there left to this 90 minutes. It felt like I had been trapped there for hours.
Including me there were 4 new students to the class. One of them was next to me. I glanced across at her. I thought she was unconscious, laying there in ‘dead’ pose, until her eyes flickered. She didn’t look too well either.
The teacher came over to ask if I was OK and instructed me to drink some more water, which I have to say was now much warmer than just luke warm. I managed to sit up and join in the Bhastrika breath, but couldn’t quite force the breath from my stomach because of the fear I would throw up in the process.
‘Savasana’, the teacher instructed. I silently questioned whether she was tricking us again. This time, however, it really was the end. I lay down and actually felt elated, not because I had managed to get through practising most of it, without passing out or throwing up, but that it was over and I could get out.
The teacher left the room.
I looked at the girl next to me and she looked back and rolled her eyes, dragging herself up from the mat.
I asked her how she felt and we exchanged a few words about how intense it was, how sick we felt when,
‘ssssshhhhhh’ came this loud roar of a noise, actually coming from one of the women at the front of the class.
I felt stupid and then thought, how rude! We were new to the class, we weren’t talking loudly and hang on a minute, were we not allowed to speak?!
I felt shaken, perhaps a paradoxical combination of having the life sucked out of you by the heat, the elation of it being over, getting through it and then when relaying your experience to someone feeling the same, being told to be quiet.
I rolled up my mat, picked up my things and walked over to where the ‘sssshing’ woman now lay with her eyes closed on her mat. Other people were milling about the room and some leaving. I stood over her and quietly said that I thought she was rude, that it was my first time in a hot yoga class and that one would think others who came regularly would be kind to new students.
She sat up gesticulating her argument, which was promptly interrupted by a sweaty blonde woman storming towards me waving her arms frantically telling me to stop talking, that you weren’t meant to speak and then madly putting her finger to her mouth ‘sssshing’.
What the hell was wrong with these people?!
I told her that I wasn’t a child and wouldn’t be spoken to like that, swung my bag over my shoulder and left the room.
I actually cried, quite a lot after the class, which I am a little embarrassed to share, but it’s the truth. I am not unaccustomed to processing emotions during or after yoga sessions. It has happened many times, but not in this way.
Was it a result of the intense cleansing and detoxification through the heat of the practice or perhaps the feeling of escaping the room that made me feel trapped and suffocated? Perhaps.
A large part of it, however, I feel was in the ‘telling off’ and confrontation that ensued at the end. In people being unkind and lacking compassion. Had someone just popped over to me and said kindly, that usually at the end people were silent, I feel my experience may have been different.
In every uncomfortable or ‘bad’ experience there is always something to be gained. Perhaps a nugget of information enabling you to learn something about yourself, enabling you to progress, to grow, to send you in a direction you are meant to be going in or a lesson. The whole experience, practice and all, has definitely unravelled many things for me, but prominently, I was struck by what it means to be a yogi, which goes above and well beyond the physical practice of yoga.
Being togged up in yoga gear, attending a yoga class and practising yoga does not make you a yogi.