I’m on the record as being generally ‘meh’ about Yoga. Pilates, love it. Yoga? Meh. I tried it a couple of times and it just didn’t take. It was too slow, not challenging enough, the instructors were uninspiring – for whatever reason, I didn’t find the right fit. I plowed on with various other exercise, did lots of Pilates and plenty of stretching at home. But every time I mentioned my blase attitude towards Yoga, Yoga fanatics would tell me Bikram would turn it all around for me. I was skeptical. All that slow movement and breathing coupled with an intensely hot room you say? Not exactly appealing. Nonetheless, I decided to give it a go.
I went to the studio for an 8am session that would last for 90 minutes. The receptionist, upon hearing this was my first time, gave me run down of dos and don’t and a few safety warnings. All of a sudden, the idea of what was supposed to be some gentle stretching seemed really intense. I was a little nervous. ‘As this is your first time,’ she said, ‘you don’t even need to do any of the poses. Your goal for today is simply to stay in the room.’ I scoffed. Yeah, alright love – clearly you don’t know about my levels of supreme badassery.
Upon reflection, I probably should’ve toned down the cockiness. The swiftness with which my ass got handed to me once the class started was no joke.
I entered the room and was hit with a one-two punch to the face by a wall of heat. That was followed by a roundhouse kick and a rib shot of humidity. It was hotter than the fiery pits of hell in there. We’re talking hotter than the balls of Satan himself. I found a mat near the back of the room, lay my towel on it to claim ownership and waited for the class to begin.
The instructor came in and reiterated to me again that I didn’t have to do any poses, I just had to stay in the room. I still thought this was ridiculous. I mean, I came to do Yoga, right? Of course I’d do the poses. Pssh!
Friends, I didn’t even make it through the warm up before I had to sit my ass down. Really deep breaths and lifting your arms were the opening exercise, which may as well have been 1000 sit ups followed by dead lifting a sumo wrestler for the degree of difficulty it seemed to impose on me. I felt like a superhero who’d lost their superpower. I looked at my limbs in disbelief. What…is….this….? I thought to myself. Oh my God, the heat. The sheer, overwhelming hotness of all that heat. I was reprimanded by the instructor for taking a sip of water – goes against the warm up etiquette apparently. Do you know what it’s like to have a 1.5L bottle of water in front of you in a 45 degree room and not be allowed to drink from it when you want? I thought hot salty tears might soon join the abundance of sweat on my face, but I held it together.
Every couple of exercises I would get up and try again, desperate to join in and nausea and dizziness would slap me back down. I worked out fairly early on that basically anything involving standing or balance, which you know, is basically THE WHOLE OF YOGA, would not work out well for me.
I sat on my mat again, feeling like a naughty child. To make this even more frustrating, I’m pretty sure the woman in front of me invented Yoga. If she didn’t, she should be getting a cut of all Yoga profits, everywhere. She was this tall, incredibly slim demi-goddess in a tiny crop top and shorts whose body would bend magically like some sort of contortionist. If the instructor said ‘lean your head back and try to look at the back wall’, Goddess of Yoga in front of me would lean all the way back, her head by her knees, hands in prayer and she’d stare through the wall while others around her tumbled like a house of cards. She stayed there so long she virtually built another wall and knocked it down, ensuring all the bricks crushed your tiny Yoga dreams. She was amazing. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
Finally, the mat portion of the class came where I thought that sheer proximity to the floor would aid my ability to participate and I did manage to do some of the poses. By no means am I saying I did them well, but I did them. Yoga Goddess in front of me was gracefully pulling her legs over her head and such and I looked like some sort of beached whale behind her as I struggled to get a grip on my soggy limbs. You can sweat from your shins? And your big toes? You learn something new every day.
By this stage, despite the difficulty, if we’re going by the ‘just stay in the room’ goal, I was close to crushing it. I felt a sense of victory. I can’t remember which pose we were doing but the instructor said something very simple, ‘whatever you’re feeling in this moment, let yourself feel it. Embrace it.’ And for some reason, that really hit me. As someone who is noted for talking about the emotional wellness exercise can bring, just hearing that brought me pure joy and a smile spread across my face as I once again attempted a back bend. It’s not often that your emotional state is addressed and you’re encouraged to explore it in an exercise class. It wasn’t a cheesy, overwhelming hippy moment drenched in spirituality and aligning of chakras. It was just….there. And I needed it.
When the class finished, the instructor told me how well I’d done. I left the room and sat in the reception area feeling utterly exhausted but oddly proud of myself that I had simply managed to stay in the room.
Did I love it? Well, I’m not sure I’m utterly convinced that Bikram will turn me into a Yoga convert, but I am at least willing to give it another go.
I went to Hot Bikram Yoga in London Bridge.
You can also see this post on my fitness blog, Spikes and Heels.