I finally tried Bikram. Not because I wanted to. Oh, hell no! I do "real yoga." OK, I do hatha yoga. In fact, I teach it. So I may be a little biased from the get go, though I know flexibility off the mat requires an open mind. In this case, I could use a lot of stretching.
I tried a heated hatha class in Phoenix, Arizona 11 years ago. Kind of ironic considering for six to seven months out of the year, if you did yoga outdoors during the day you could legitimately call it heated hatha. I wanted to try Bikram, but there wasn't a studio around back then.
The heated hatha was OK at first, especially when the very attractive instructor took off his shirt. That may have made it a tiny bit warmer for me and I noticed that while it appeared I was blushing, it was just the awful shade of maroon my face turns when I am hot. Having experienced heat exhaustion numerous times in the past, I knew I was in trouble when I entered trikonasana, or triangle pose and almost blacked out.
In that moment, horrible visions of me collapsing and breaking my neck snapped me back into a conscious state. I made it through the class and swore I would never do that again. That is until my goddaughter decided to become a Bikram instructor and asked me with those huge, doe like brown eyes, and sweet voice, "So will you come take a class?"
She would only be teaching locally for a few months. I waited until the second to the last class she was teaching. That was my excuse to not having to do any more than one class. The morning I arrived, my goddaughter was very happy to inform me that I was "in luck" as the heater had broken the night before, but it would still be a warm 97 degrees with the space heaters. Yay.
The room was much smaller than I expected and we had to face a row of mirrors. There was no back row, so I tried to shrink as close to the wall as possible. One by one, students entered. including my very fit, very beautiful neighbor who is married to the founder of a very famous and phenomenally insane obstacle race. There was a variety of ages and sizes along with one man. Despite my best efforts at practicing non-comparrison and egolessness, I failed. I silently talked myself into believing in my abilities to stay with the class and see it through.
My sweet, lovable goddaughter started the class with a warm-up breath that I am familiar with, but not as it was being taught. With each inhalation, a sound was coming out of the participants that was akin to a child pretending they are a plane engine starting. I have practiced ujjayi breath for over a decade and have never heard it sound anything louder than Darth Vadar with a cold. I had to have had a painful look on my face as I actually tuned my head to figure out what was going on while simultaneously stifling a giggle. Of course, I was busted. I got the stink eye combined with "You OK?" look from the teacher. She knows me too well.
As the practice started, I was shocked and amazed at my goddaughters ability to speak as fast as she did. How that girl fit in so many sentences into one inhalation and quite possibly double the amount on the exhalation to "guide" us into through the class was beyond my comprehension. Literally. I couldn't understand half of what she was saying and the half I could was just different enough from how I knew how to do the posture that I felt absolutely lost as my mind tried to play catch-up.
For example, trikonasana (triangle) was actually pasvokanasana, or side angle pose. We did pilates. And through every asana we were encouraged (sweetly bullied might be more accurate) to go deeper, farther, "MORE!" to our personal best. That's all fine and good except when those words suddenly sound like they are coming from a dominatrix. I had to pause a couple of times to truly honor that my goddaughter had, in fact, inherited some of my genes. Not that I am a dominatrix, but I did find some joy in causing others discomfort when I was a personal trainer.
I sweat. A lot. But not as much as I expected. Honestly, the heat didn't help me go deeper or find my edge. It just annoyed me when it dribbled down into places that tickled and weren't appropriate to wipe. That carried into our baby savanna's (rest periods). My mind wondered how the sole gentleman handled all that sweat with all the hair covering his body. I wondered if the sweat caught in his massive beard or if some of that body hair stuck to the mat like a chia pet when he was lying down. These distracting thoughts kinda defeated my ability to "rest".
When the class was winding down and everyone was directed to lay on their mat "until they felt complete", my goddaughter introduced herself, reminded us the mat spray would be outside the room with her, and she left. She left the room! I knew I was supposed to drop into my zen, but I never got to a place where I could. All I really wanted was to get out of the sweaty, smelly room and I had no idea how long it would be till someone, anyone, felt complete enough to stand. I waited. I listened. When someone finally rose, I did, too, quietly and respectfully, exiting as fast as possible.
I understand the popularity of a yoga that pushes you and overwhelms the senses. We live in an age where we are constantly being bombarded with stimuli and messages of not being enough. There's comfort in that hot, sweaty room as you're being pushed. There's comfort in getting so many instructions you can't possibly take ownership or responsibility for finding your space within the asana, within the breath. It makes sense. Do I need that? Apparently not. But I don't begrudge others who do.
I tried hot yoga and I tried Bikram. I found the reasons I thought I wouldn't like it weren't what I expected. In the process of trying, I learned more about myself, my practice, and why any of it really matters to me. Perhaps that clarity is the best we can ask for when you do something you don't want to do, even when it is for someone you love. And I might add, the image of the hairy man I can't quite shake, especially when we run into each other in town, well, just proves how much I truly love my goddaughter.
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Wendy Reese, MA, is coach, author, speaker, and teacher who is passionately committed to helping visionaries, change agents, and healers be whole. With over two decades in the health and fitness field and 13 years teaching yoga, she brings a holistic approach to her work. She intuitively bridges woo-woo and practical guidance in a no nonsense, yet fun manner. You can find more on Wendy at www.wholebeinginc.com, twitter @wholebeinginc, and G+ and Facebook.