We’ve all heard about it, but is it as hot as people say? And does it make you faint? To find out, Amie Tsang stretches her yoga muscles in the 40°C heat at Bikram yoga classes.
The receptionist at Yoga City gives me my card. It has a giant bicep on it with a tattoo saying, “I ♥Bikram”. Brilliant: the butchest yoga in the world. I pad into the intensely hot room, grab a mat and spread my towel over it.
As I sit heaving on my towel, dispensing the Niagara Falls before I’ve so much as tensed my finger, I look around me. I am surrounded by people in their underwear. As their taut bodies glisten in the heat, I feel the soggy patches expand on what now feels to me like a voluminous pair of shorts and a billowing, soggy vest.
I have already been informed it might take a few sessions to get used to the tropical indoor heat and the detoxification headaches that come afterwards. Before we start the teacher reassures me, “It’s normal to feel dizzy or sick” and tells me to sit down if it becomes too much because “I can’t run over to catch you quickly enough if you fall.”
Oh well. I’m a firm believer in ‘No pain, no gain’ and I have every intention of becoming equally taut so that I too can parade around in similar small pieces of clothing.
So, as Bikram Choudhury would say, “Put on your leotard and get to work.”
The class moves quickly through the 26 postures (or asanas). There are restorative rests between poses, but I barely notice them and my heart thumps along vigorously. Everything from my breathing to my elbows has to be controlled, but it’s difficult to concentrate when I can barely breathe normally.
By the halfway point of this 90 minute lesson, I am struggling to hold some of the poses. The heat is overwhelming and I am sweating so much that bits of my body keep sliding off each other. Eagle pose becomes flabby albatross and cobra becomes beached whale, so I take some time out.
As I sit through some poses, I see enclaves in bodies that I would never otherwise see and I quickly recede into torpor. I manage to grunt my way though some of the final poses feeling distinctly embarrassed that I am evidently suffering more than the heavily pregnant lady a short distance away. Even she is bendier than me.
At the end of the lesson, I do in fact feel very good, but I’m not convinced it isn’t just the elation of having made it and not asphyxiated myself along the way. As I write this now, three hours after finishing, the detoxification headache is hammering away and a bit more corpse pose wouldn’t go amiss. I feel tired as you would do if you’d spent too much time in a steam room.
The heat feels pleasant this session so rather than struggling for breath and desperately holding onto sweaty body parts, I can concentrate on improving my beached whale. As a result, I feel the effect of the yoga session in my muscles much more than I did the first time round. Incidentally, there is actually a flying whale pose, but I think I’m still very much flailing in the sand.
I realise during this session that because the yoga class is based on the same 26 postures, the mentality that you take in with you is very different to some other classes. As someone with the attention span of a goldfish (not a pose) I like to go into a class and wonder what I will be doing. Surprisingly though, I’m not immediately bored. I just think more about my stamina and stretching further rather than trying to stand on my head.
This third teacher frightens me. She’s very particular about when to drink water and keeps telling us to: “Make your mind up not to give up.” My feeble mind quivers. She reminds us constantly of the restorative role that bikram yoga is suppose to play: “Oxygenated blood is now flowing into your elbows.”
I embrace it, feeling like a yogic real-life version of Innerspace, letting my fear drive me on. As a result, the postures improve a little, held back only by ever greater deluges of sweat as my body struggles to deal with the exertion. I manage to morph from quivering bush to wobbly tree pose.
I feel strangely re-energised after this class and don’t spend the usual half hour lying on the floor recovering.
With fewer people at this lesson, I manage to nab myself a place right in front of the mirror. My crooked reflection glares back at me, providing me with more incentive to improve the postures. I now know what poses are coming up, but I’m not bored yet because I still can’t do half of them very well. Anything that involves balancing on one leg still seems to elude me.
Would I do it again?
I am feeling fitter overall, though I still get an overwhelming urge to sleep after a class. However, now that I’ve heaved my way through the first few sessions, I plan to continue the classes for another month because I am feeling rather invigorated by the whole thing.
This is very unlike the Iyengar yoga I used to do and the heat means there’s less muscle-ache the day afterwards. Those who have done a lot of yoga and are looking to do a variety of asanas may find that this isn’t what they are looking for. Then again, if you’re the kind of yogi who spends every summer practising in India, you might find the heat useful and enjoyable. To those who have less experience, I’d recommend giving it a few goes because it takes some getting used to.
Is it affordable?
Classes are not cheap, but you are essentially paying for a class in a sauna and there are deals on offer for students and off-peak lessons. Sites like Vouchercloud sometimes have good deals. Check out websites or call in beforehand so you know what to bring and do before the first lesson.