Sunday, November 2, 2008

Extreme Yoga

Over the summer, my sister went to a BikramYoga session while on vacation, and she loved it. It just so happens that a Bikram studio is near my house, so I bought her five classes for her birthday. I also bought five sessions for myself, so that we could take the classes together. I have been faithfully attending a yoga-based class at the gym for years, and I occasionally pop in my "Power Yoga with Rodney Ye" DVD and practice at home. I have found that yoga, above all other things, has improved my strength, balance, and stress levels, and I highly recommend it to everyone for improving overall health and peace of mind.

...But, I would not recommend starting out with Bikram Yoga. Sure, the body feels great after the class - the same way I imagine torture victims of the Middle Ages might feel upon being returned to their cells.

It is very unlike me, but I was totally unprepared for the experience. I did no research on the topic, figuring if I could handle Rodney Ye, I could handle anything. Tiff told me the room would be hot, so I at least knew that much. It is actually at least 105 degrees according to the website.

We are told by the teacher that our goal for our first time would be to stay in the room for the whole class. This was when I began the have second thoughts. She then asked if I had water and a towel for over my mat. Towel? I thought, why the towel? When I suggested that I could get by without it, she silently handed me a rental. Likewise with the water.

After stowing our belongings in the locker room, we enter the "hot room". As the name suggests, it is hot. "At least 105 degrees" really does not do it justice, because most people liken it to a very very hot summer day. I would liken it more to purposely walking into a room sized oven. It is stifling. A few of the other pupils are sprawled out on their mats, meditating. We quietly unroll our own mats and situate ourselves near the back, talking in whispers as other people filter in, each one letting in a refreshing tease of cool air when they open the door.

We begin the class with breathing exercises, and Tiff and I are told to watch the other students before attempting it ourselves. Everyone then begins to inhale with their hands clasped below their chins as they extend their elbows upward. They make this weird near-snoring noise as they breathe in, then let the air out slowly with an audible "haaaaa" sound and rotate their heads until they are looking at the ceiling, and their elbows until they are touching in front of the face. The process is then repeated, and after a few times, I begin to mimic this rather odd behavior. It is very hard to inhale for 15 seconds straight, and I am unable to produce the weird snoring sound. Also, the movement of the head seriously stretches the neck. I am actually a bit sore today (though the neck is the least of my problems.)

After that, we do the "half-moon" pose in which we lift our arms above our heads and then lean the upper half of the body to one side as much as possible. This stretches the long muscle that runs from the pelvis to the shoulder-blade. We are approximately 10 minutes into the class at this point, and I realize that I am exhausted even though all I have done is stand there, breathing and stretching. After a back bend and a hamstring stretch, it is "party time" and we are permitted to drink some water in small sips.

I am truly wondering if I can manage to stay in the room. Our next pose is the eagle, which I have done before in the gym class. It stretches the upper back and shoulders, and normally feels wonderful. However, it involves wrapping the arms and twisting the legs around. To keep the legs in place, one must hook the one foot around the opposite leg's calf. This is extremely difficult to do when one is drenched in sweat. At this point, I am slimier than a greased pig.

That brings me to the towel. The man in front of us has a very nice towel that exactly fits his mat. However, he begins to sweat to the point that it is dripping off the bottoms of his shorts, as if he had hung them out to dry before the spin cycle had begun. At the end of class, he is standing in a literal pool of sweat that had soaked through his towel, through his mat, and left a dark spot on the carpet. Ah, that is why the room smells faintly of B.O. Turns out they sell the towels out front - 50 bucks. I think I will bring a beach towel next time.

Finally, after a few more poses, we do my favorite pose, Savasana. This is sometimes referred to as '"corpse pose" in my gym class, and practiced by lying on the mat, hands by your side, feet flopping out as they feel comfortable, and breathing deeply. if only the teacher would open that door! My heartbeat is so dramatic that I feel like my entire body is moving with it, and my ears drums are in danger of bursting with the sound of it thumping.

We are directed to begin the next pose, and I reluctantly oblige. We sit on our knees, then push the legs out until our "costume" touches the floor. (This is the endearing phrase the teacher uses to refer to the general crotch/buttocks region.) Then, we are told to reach behind us and support ourselves on the hands, then the elbows, and finally, to lie on our backs. I feel pain in the knees and ankles at step one, and remain supported on my hands, waiting for release from this torturous pose. We do a few less challenging poses and I collapse once again into savasana. This time, the teacher actually does open the door, and wonderful, inviting, cool air slides over my body. She closes it again, and I realize that I may actually hate this woman.

I fair somewhat well when I am told to sit with one leg out and lean forward until my head touches my knee. Perhaps that is because it is purported to be our final pose. However, when told to sit with both legs outstretched, we are directed to touch our foreheads to our toes. I stare at my toes, drenched in sweat and glistening about a foot away from my head, and decide that this is not a literal direction when the girl in the front actually succeeds in this task. Perhaps she has short legs.

At last, the class is over, and I painfully roll up my mat. I feel a bit nauseous, a bit tired, and well aware that I have just strained muscles whose existence was previously unknown to me. I enter the hallway, and the air is so relieving, that I feel like I could cry.

Are you coming back? Several people ask. Of course I am. I already paid for five classes.


CaraBee said...

I hate being hot. Hate. It. This is SOOO not for me. I have heard of Bikram Yoga before but had no idea this is what it is. No thanks!

Maureen said...

I tried this once, but I never went back. Very, very intense.

Liz Baer said...

This does not sound like fun... :(