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The Reluctant Adventurer: Bikram Yoga

Friday, October 24, 2014

 

photo credit: iStock

If you live in Portland, Oregon, chances are at least one person has told you that Bikram Yoga will change your life. And if you take a class, it will change your life, for at least 90 minutes.

Bikram is a form of yoga created in the 70’s by Bikram Choudhury, a cult-ish leader about whom a not-so-complimentry Vanity Fair article was written this January. 

Bikram Yoga classes are 90-minutes long and all contain the same series of 26 postures in the same order, taught by Bikram certified teachers who paid almost $11,000 for a week’s training. But what differentiates it more than the series of postures is that fact that the room is heated to 104 degrees, with a humidity of 40%. 

Gross.

My friend Allison was the first person to mention Bikram to me about five years ago.

“It will change your life,” she said, not knowing she was the first of countless people who would say this to me over the next few years.

“But I don’t really like yoga,” I responded.

“You’ll like this.”

“But I hate heat and humidity,” I replied.

“Stop fighting it. You’ll love it.”

I know that as adults, we’re not supposed to say we hate something before we try it. We’re supposed to keep an open mind, be optimistic. 

But I’ve never tried eel before, and I know I won’t like it. Not because I know what it tastes like, but because I know how I feel when I imagine the idea of eel in my mouth. No matter how great it’d taste, all I’d be able to think was, “This is eel. It’s EEL. There’s some eel in my mouth.” (Why is that more disgusting than a chunk of cow? Good question, vegans! I think the slime factors in, but I’ll never be sure.)

In any case, because so many people begged me to do it, I finally tried Bikram. 

I’m going to save you the suspense. It did not work out well for me.

Upon entering the 104 degree studio, I immediately felt like I was walking in hot jello. I put my towel down on the carpeted floor near the door just in case I had to bail and lied down on it.

As I stared at the ceiling and attempted to relax, the air was so oppressively thick and hot as it came into my lungs that I started to feel claustrophobic. 

THIS IS NOT RELAXING, YOU GUYS. WHY ISN’T ANYONE ELSE FREAKING OUT?

Clearly, none of the other people in the class had seen the episode of “Charlie’s Angels” where the bad guy tries to kill Kris by locking her in a sauna. That would be a terrible way to die.  Was it a coincidence that we were all lying in savasana, or corpse pose waiting for class to start? 

Oh, god. Abort! Abort!

But I didn’t abort. I stayed in the room, which is all they ask of you in your first Bikram class. Just stay in the room. You can lie on the floor the whole time, just don’t leave. I’m sure this is mostly so you don’t pull focus and lower the temperature in the room by opening the door, but still. It feels like a supportive thing to say.

The first pose is Standing Deep Breathing. I can stand and breathe. Why did everyone say this was so hard? 

Nailing it, guys. I’m punching yoga in it’s stupid, smug face right now.

Speaking of stupid, smug faces, though…not happy about the mirror at the front of the room. I understand that the mirror helps the attractive, thin, boy-shorts-wearing, muscular-and-betatted-with-the-chinese-symbol-for-“I sometimes just forget to eat, isn’t that weird?” to see how precisely they’re executing the postures. But those of us who executed a barbacoa burrito earlier in the day would appreciate a mirror-free section. It’s just more humane.

Second pose is the Half-Moon Pose, wherein you lift your arms above your head and bend slightly to the side. 

I AM SO AMAZING AT YOGA. Also, I haven’t thought about Kris dying in the sauna for at least three minutes now. Although technically I just thought about it again. Dammit. Stop thinking about whether or not you’re thinking about it.

Third pose, Awkward Pose—arms straight forward, knees bent, balancing on the balls of your feet. I have always dreamed of an activity where awkwardness is actually called for, and now I have found it! Yoga is SO PERFECT FOR…wait, this is hard. Pose three is hard! 

Fourth is Eagle pose, wherein I’m supposed to bend slightly, lift my left foot off the floor and cross my left leg over my right and hook the top of my left foot behind my right calf while at the same time bending my arms at the elbows, snugging my right elbow into the crook of my left and raising my arms until they’re perpendicular to the floor with the backs of my hands facing each other.

In 104 degree heat.

Screw you, Bikram Yoga.  

Screw you for TWENTY TWO MORE POSES. Poses that I get to watch myself do poorly. For over an hour. 

I have trouble staying engaged in a television show that’s more than hour long, and when the show is called Who is That Sad Lady With No Balance and Why is There a Pool of Sweat and Tears in Her Glasses?, it’s way less likely to hold my attention.

But I made it through. 90 minutes of poses much more difficult than standing and breathing. 

I considered it a huge accomplishment.

I will never be a marathon runner, and I will never be a Bikram Yoga person. It requires the kind of self-discipline I have never had, but admire greatly: the kind of self-discipline that allows people to do something that’s difficult to the point of unpleasantness over and over and over again because the result is undeniably positive. (I also admire my friends who are parents for largely the same reason.) 

Friends who do Bikram claim it’s changed their bodies for the better forever, increasing flexibility, muscle tone and self-worth. 

These people are badasses.

These people are grownups. 

I wish them the best. 

I’m going to get a burrito.

BIKRAM YOGA FREMONT STREET

4831 NE Fremont Street

http://www.bikramfremontstreet.com

RECOMMENDED FOR: Anyone raised in Arizona, Florida or Texas, The Flexible, grownups, literally everyone else but me.

NOT RECOMMENED FOR: Me.

Courtenay Hameister is the Head Writer and Co-Producer of Live Wire Radio, a syndicated radio variety show distributed by Public Radio International. She is currently working on a book that will be released through Audible.com in 2015. Follow Courtenay on Twitter at @wisenheimer

 

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