B is for Bikram Yoga: My Trip Into the Bikram Chamber

They say pay back can be nasty. My day for pay back came yesterday in the form of my very first Bikram Yoga class.

If you have heard of Bikram Yoga you will know that the mere contemplation of it can induce terror.  Bikram Yoga was created by Bikram Choudhury. His method is a set series of 26 postures each of which is performed twice together with two breathing exercises in a single 90 minute class.  The class is undertaken in a room heated to a minimum of 40 degrees Celsius (105 degrees Farenheit) and about 40% humidity. The idea is that the heat keeps your body from overheating (ha!), works on your muscles to allow for deeper stretching, promotes detoxing, increases your heart rate for a better cardiovascular work out together with a myriad of other “benefits”.

I have dabbled in “dry-land” yoga classes on and off for a number of years. Whilst I have never been a huge fan of twisting my body into what for me are unnatural positions I can see the benefits on posture, balance and the spirit. My philosophy for the past three years has been I’ll give anything a go once as long as it is affordable, not immoral, illegal or offensive. So here I was going off to try what can only be described as EXTREME yoga as an EXTREME novice.

I was given a set of instructions beforehand to prepare for the class. You must drink at least 2 litres of water, stop the drinking at least 30 minutes before class and you must not eat anything at least 2 hours beforehand. The warning bells were already starting to ring right there. If you have ever drunk 2 litres of water in a short amount of time (cue anyone who has ever had an ultrasound) you will understand. Two hours of prep for a 90 minute class? Really, most people don’t even do that much prep for an exam!

Stomach laden with water, I stepped into the hot room. There were about 20 others in the class, with the experienced cool kids up the front. I was told to follow them. Being my first time, the instructor referred to me as her “new friend”. At this point, I was still breathing freely but I wasn’t regarding the instructor and the other members of the class as my “friends”.

Yoga requires things like balance, co-ordination and flexibility and I was in the wrong line when they handed out those attributes. Let’s just say I didn’t manage to make all 26 poses and leave it at that. Oh, and did I mention that the Bikram room had mirrors everywhere? There was no escaping towards the back of the class. Hello humiliation!

Much of the class was taken up watching and admiring the cool kids twist like pretzels whilst I was trying not to pass out or catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror.  I tried to think of cool oceans, Antarctica and my legacy to my children. I zeroed in every time the instructor said “Our new friends can sit out and just watch this pose for the first time” in secret relief.  I kept mentally asking “Are we there yet?”.

Now I know the real meaning of the term “sweating buckets”. I have never “sweated buckets” before.  I have never drunk so much water or contorted so much before. Also, I have never pushed my boundaries so much before. I survived 90 minutes in the Bikram Chamber – that was the real challenge. Therefore I left the class with a sense of triumph together with my jelly legs, detoxed body and happier organs.

I am glad I gave it a shot. But I think one shot is all that I have in me. I admire anyone who can perform a graceful Garuasana or a pretty Padangustana. May you live a long and happy sweat filled life. However, it has never been a goal of mine to flex so much that I can put my feet behind my ears.

[Photo of the letter B from flikr – chrisinplymouth’s photstream]