Bikram Yoga: Enter the Sauna

Picking my classes I felt pretty comfortable. “Who wants to mess around with the shorter classes when they offer a relaxing ninety minute steamy session of Bikram yoga?” I’d reasoned that the heat would make it easier, not harder, to contort myself into those tangled positions.

Yoga is a deceptive activity at the best of times. Brand wise, Yoga markets itself as a relaxing meditative practice for women with free daytime schedules. The image of a lady in pastel coloured Lycra perched serenely on one leg among scented candles swims into vision whenever I’m booking a class. Even having experienced that yoga isn’t serine, but rather taxing and uncomfortable, when it comes to booking I’m always ambitious.

Classes for beginners were recommended at fifty minutes, but I reasoned that ninety would really work my muscles and give me the full benefit. The website advised two towels, loose fitting clothing, and two litres of water. Reflecting, I’d say the two litres of water was probably the best piece of advice, one litre didn’t quite do it for me.

I entered the Centre at ground level, changed and headed down into the basement. I thought I’d arrived early, having not seen anyone in the changing room, but on opening the door through to the yoga room I was surprised to see a dozen supine figures spread across the room.

I selected a mat and found a space. Lying on my back in silence and waiting for the lesson to start. Large mirrors covered two walls and a podium occupied the right side of the room. Waiting I became aware of the room’s heat, it was uncomfortable. The other occupants of the room had spurned the centre’s loose clothing advice with naked torsos and swimwear proving an effective alternative.

The instructor arrived. She perched on the steps and, with the support of headset linked to an internal PA system, began directing us into different poses. I began to sweat a lot. The uncomfortable thing isn’t the poses, it’s the breathing. The heat and humidity make breathing uncomfortable. The sweat, which literally pours from you, makes many of the poses difficult to adopt, just because of your body’s slipperiness.

The fitness level of the group was high. Most were in their twenties and clearly came regularly. A young Richard Gere lookalike was in front of me, topless and gazing at himself in the mirror – in true Richard Gere fashion. Irritated though I might have been by the young man’s prowess, the high standard of those around me made adopting the instructor’s directions that much easier, as I basically just copied Richard.

The heat doesn’t so much make yoga easier, it more permits you to push your body further. The direction was excellent too. The session was challenging. Aside from a sharp back pain raised by a particularly challenging stretch, I was able make it through trouble free. Ninety minutes is a long time to spend under sauna intensity heat though and I felt my head starting to swim toward the end of the session. I can’t imagine fainting is uncommon.

On finishing we were advised to lie in the heat for as long as possible before leaving. I couldn’t, I was out of water and desperate for cool air. I’m sure Bikram yoga has huge benefits, it must because it is such an uncomfortable experience. Afterwards, I felt exhausted, but not necessarily from the activity itself, it was as though weeks of stress and late nights had been drawn to the surface.

It’d tried a ninety minute classic class, but the centre offers many others. I’d like to try more. The centre’s show piece class is called fierce grace, intended as a more intensive ninety minute class. I might try that next, how hard can it be?

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