Today I decided to try something altogether new. This is part of the new me that moans less and does exciting new activities in order to progress to more healthy and rounded world view. Oh yes.
Todays enterprise was in fact in pursuit of become slightly less rounded, in tummy at least…
ladies and gentleman – drum roll please… Get ready to hear about my eye opening and VERY sweaty brush with…
So – a brief introduction, for those of you who aren’t familiar with this particular form of yoga:
The yoga form was invented by someone called Mr Bikram (go figure) in the 1970s. To get all wiki-ed up about the bendy ins and out of it read more here, but if you want it in a nutshell – it’s 90 minutes of sweaty hell in a smelly oven from which you emerge looking like you’ve been pummelled through a mangle, feeling every so slightly nauseous, but generally full of overwhelming gratitude at still being alive.
I’ve been feeling rather podgy and unattractive since the excesses of Christmas so there was some definite need to take action. Being the impatient git that I am I wanted something that worked, quick. I have a delightfully stringy friend – Jasmine – who’s got a killer figure – long slim limbs wrought out of pure muscle – who’s always trying out the latest sports fad. I gave her a ring to get some advice of how to tone up fast. Apparently Bikram’s the answer – by the time she got as far as ‘you lose something like 750 calories per session’ I was sold – and totally ready to sign my name away in any hot penned deal for a better body. Another enticing factor for the impoverished post christmas fatty is that most studios do a good ‘beginners’ rate – obviously hoping to ensnare you into a bendy sweaty addiction. I went to the Hot Bikram Yoga Studio in Balham (website here) which currently does 20 days unlimited yoga for £35 which, considering each class is normally an extortinate £16.50 a class, is bargainous – and particularly good if your planning a post Christmas detox.
Wow – listen to me turned saleswoman for Bikram.
So what’s it like? Well, first off the studio was totally crammed. When I went the class before had just got out so the small changing room was heaving with sweaty bodies from the studio colliding with frozen bodies from the great outdoors. I changed into leggings and a t-shirt and immediately felt very self conscious. Everyone else seemed to be dressed in their bikinis – with teeny tiny shorts and scraps of material covering their breasts. Even more distressing was just how bloody gorgeous these women were – they had bodies to lay down and freely volunteer your life for. It was all I could do to not stare, open mouthed like the pervy tourist I was. I desperately scanned the room for some normal looking women and spotted one or two huddled in corners with too many clothes on like me looking just as shy and out of place. I decided these women were my friends. Nice normal women. Horrid amazonian beauties with your enviable taut tummies and your tanned smooth bikinied up skin. How are you even tanned for god’s sake – it’s January?
I followed one of my ‘normal’ friends into what I assumed was the studio – only to discover I was in fact trying to occupy a toilet with her. Apologising profusely and realising my stupid newbie bumbling presence had demoted me to the very bottom of the normals.
Entering a bikram studio is a tad overwhelming. First the heat hits you like solid wall. Its unbelievable. They say it’s 40 degrees but the humidity (about 40%) makes it feel even hotter. Then there’s the smell. I’m guessing a lot of the humidity in the room consists of the evaporated sweat of the previous class – the deep pungency of this is vaguely covered by a pumping out of tea tree air freshener. The result is a pungent cocktail that climbs up inside your nose and firmly takes residence. Then there are the people. The room is impossibly crowded with yoga mats topping and tailing up and down the room. At first I can’t see a gap to place mine but eventually I manage to squeeze in between an Amazonian and an Adonis of a man, with blonde sunkissed locks falling to his shoulders. I smile at him shyly as he begrudgingly moves his mat to make room for mine.
I’m not going to describe the class in infinite detail – rest assured to say it’s tough – really tough, and when you’re in the midst of it it feels like there’s no end to its torture. The heat works on you like a parasite and within five minutes the 70% of you that consists of water is desperately trying to make an escape through your overheated pores. I felt continually dizzy, and more than a little embarrassed about how shitty my balance and postures were compared the impossibly bendy pair that flanked me. I felt like the podgy kid at school who was rubbish at sports that the other kids quietly laughed at.
So were they any redeeming features?
Yes there were – and believe it or not I’d recommend anyone who hasn’t tried it to give it a go – just for the sheer sense of achievement of surviving a class if nothing else.
Its a proper work out and you feel yourself becoming more supple as the class goes on. You have moments of total exhaustion but then you also have the occasional burst of a second, third, or fifteenth wind. This new release of energy from where you thought there was none is totally exhilarating. Although I didn’t fare particularly well today I can tell this yoga is very reliant on mind over matter – and is very good for focusing a flabby mind. With a brain that is fundamentally weak willed and prone to negativity this kind of mental workout can only be a good thing. At the end of the class you lie down for five minutes, legs splayed and arms outstretched in blissful darkness. You’re exhausted – totally spent – and this more than anything you’ve before experienced is heaven. you forget everyone else in the room, you forget the smell, you even forget the heat – and you just feel a deep and satisfied peacefulness settle into the very core of you.
Sadly this feeling is blown to smithereens on return to the hustle and bustle of the changing room, but for that fleeting moment you believe in the potential of what you and your body can do together.
So I’ll be going back. There’s nothing like going through hell to make you appreciate the everyday.