26 May 2012

Bikram Yoga: Suffering optional but likely.

From the moment we walked into the overly crowded, tiny reception area and exchanged glances with other attendees waiting to swipe in, I realised it was going to be serious. Any possibility of fun or joy was sucked out of me with one glance of those people filing into the studio.

At the yoga studios we signed up to, they were offering a special deal of 30 days unlimited bikram yoga for £35; a pretty good deal considering one class costs £14.

Bikram yoga developed from traditional hatha yoga. Classes run for 90 minutes and the room is heated to an optimum temperature of 40 degrees Celsius with a humidity of 40 per cent. 

The website had stated to drink at least two litres of water before class and bring a lot with you, not to eat two hours beforehand and lastly, to bring two towels.

The woman at reception told us to remove our shoes and place them into the cubbyholes provided. She also mentioned to leave our things in the changing rooms, which were across through the studio, but that there were no lockers. A flash of worry at the lack of lockers did cross my mind but apparently, thieves and bikram yoga don’t go hand in hand together.

There are no words to describe the multiple feelings and sensations that overwhelmed me as I cut through the studio to reach the changing room. First the heat hit me, then the smell. It smelt like clothes that had been sweated into several times over and left to rot for days. The combination of the heat and the stench of the room together was engulfing and made me feel physically sick.

Bikram City where my class is held. I'm fortunately not in this class photo. (c) visitlondon.com

I almost sprinted across the room to the changing room, trying to escape the heat and smell that I was about to spend the next 90 minutes enduring. Heading back into the class, I was surprised at how many people willingly give up their Saturday mornings to this smelly, unbearably hot yoga practise.

I was also shocked at the variation of people. I had assumed almost everyone in the class would fit the yoga health freak stereotype but there were people of all shapes and sizes. To my left a rather large overspill hung out of some completely inappropriate short shorts and to my right a woman without an smidgen of fat. Where I have a layer of emotional eating, this woman had a layer of ripped abs that would put Kelly Holmes to shame.

Being a newcomer to the class, I was forced to the back so not to interrupt the ‘flow’ of those further towards the front with my inexperience. The instructor entered and took her place high upon a chair, which was much closer to the ceiling than the ground. She fiddled with the microphone attached to the side of her head and so the 26 poses began. The first round of sequences were standing sequences. We were told that we were not allowed to drink any water until we were instructed to.

First pose down and all was going well. I felt like months spent in ordinary yoga classes were paying off. I was clearly a natural. But then the sweat came. It covered every inch of my body. Not that anyone was interested in what anyone else was looking like. Everyone was far too focused on controlling their own sweat from running into their eyes, and dripping from their forehead onto their mat.

Every pose we did we repeated for both sides of the body and then repeated again. Two litres of water, two towels, two hours of not eating – everything seemed to be revolved around twos in this place. I was told that again, what with being the new girl in class, if I needed to sit anything out then I was more than welcome to do so but must sit still and not fidget if I did.

Forty-five minutes into the class (the length of my usual yoga class) and my shorts and crop top were now a very different colour from what they had entered the class as. My body was so hot that I felt dizzy and ready to faint any second.

I wish I could say that I hit that point that you sometimes hit with exercise and everything just got easier and better. It didn’t. It got hotter, harder and worse. And to make matters even more difficult, I became desperate for the toilet towards the end of the class but what with there being no toilet breaks allowed, I had to continue through the gruelling few poses, trying to control not only my own sweat, which I could have now swam through, but my desperate need to wee as well.

Three weeks later and I've been twice. I’m determined to face the class again, just to see if it was really as bad as I remember. However, it is obvious that once the 30 days are up, the last place you will ever catch me is in that studio again.

Disclaimer: I originally wrote this for Arts London News .
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