Heather was wise, she got there early and set us up near the door. The instructor seemed nice enough and told me that my only goal was to stay in the room for the full 90-minute class even if I didn’t do any of the poses. In Bikram Yoga you do 26 poses and two different breathing exercises and repeat everything twice. Her attempt at calming me didn’t really help because what I’d really wanted to hear her say was that it would be okay to leave if I felt uncomfortable at any point.
Another woman told me that she hated it her first time and then she came back and loved it. Then she looked at me and said, “But you look pretty fit. You’ll be fine.” I appreciate the comment, but it’s simply not true. I’m fit, but that doesn’t mean that without proper training I can run a marathon or ski or toboggan in the Olympics without killing myself. It’s an assumption people often make. I remember when I was younger and was a reasonably good field hockey player people used to be surprised to discover that I was terrible at volley ball or ice skating. Just because you are fit and good at what you do does not automatically make you good at every physical activity. The problem is since everyone expects you to do well, you seem even worse when you don’t. There is an expectation that is impossible to live up to.
The room wasn’t as hot as I’d expected it to be, and I heard the instructor mention that the room wasn’t quite up to temperature yet—it was only 93-degrees at the start of our class. But it felt good to be in the room. I was finally warm.
The instructor suggested Heather and I separate so that we could each enjoy our own practice and not take away from each other’s experience. (This is the type of thing that really keeps me away from yoga.) I wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for Heather. I wanted her there for my experience. She was part of my experience.
Right before we got started I told Heather it wasn’t as hot as I expected. “Wait till we get going,” she said. I was a little surprised, I thought we did gentle yoga stretches in a hot room. “No,” Heather explained, “We’re gonna move.” I don’t know if she noticed my eyes bug out of my head. Maybe I shouldn’t have sat next to her after all.
The class did move, but I think I kept up fairly well. I couldn’t move as fast as many of the people in the class, especially if we were standing and went down to touch our toes. In a cold room I can’t bounce right back up without getting head rush. I wasn’t about to try it in the heat. So I’d roll slowly up a few seconds behind. I couldn’t stretch as far as they suggested, and I honestly don’t think anyone should try. There was a constant push to overextend your limbs. All the research I’ve seen clearly states that you should never overextend your joints. So I think there is a level of risk to try and get people to stretch that far.
It was like no yoga class I’d ever taken. Whenever I’ve taken yoga, the instructor has a gentle air. There is a meditative feel. This class almost seemed militant like the instructor was barking orders. It wasn’t bad or mean. It just stunned me. Her voice was nice; she knew everyone by name, but she didn’t come off as gentle. She kept saying that pain was good. And all my training in pilates just won’t let me agree with that. I believe in good pain and bad pain and that we should be able to recognize the difference, but one thing I have seen in my experience is that people hate stretching. I think that is partly because they stretch until they feel pain as opposed to being gentler with their body. If nothing else pain is not good because it makes people not want to do it.
I think I did fairly well in the class. I was covered in seat, but I did every pose. And in truth I felt wonderful. I felt like a pile of mush at the end. It reminded me of days that I’ve spent at the Norwich Inn and Spa doing nothing but getting massaged and relaxing in a hot tub. I was stunned. How was I going to tell my sister? (I still haven’t.)
I imagine that since it’s the same every time that I would get a little bored. I bore easily and need variety, but I think I would try it again once in a while. I’ve heard from other people that they loved it and upon going again had a terrible experience with the heat. I think if I had one bad experience I’d be done. There was another new person in the class who was having a hard time. She sat or stayed lying down nearly the entire class. At two different points the instructor went up to check on her and the girl explained that she felt nauseous and wanted to leave. The instructor suggested she stay both times. At these moments the instructor became gentler and told the woman that she was watching her and that she was okay. I just couldn’t help but wonder if staying is what was really best for that woman. I felt awful for her. The woman stayed.
The next day I was so sore, but not your typical workout sore, more like after having a deep tissue massage. I like that feeling so I was okay with it.
So what’s my conclusion? Everyone who has an educated opinion on the matter that I trust thinks it’s a bad idea. But running is bad for you and I know that and love it anyway. Running a marathon is bad for the body and I ran one and don’t regret it for a second. I’m still waiting for a response about whether or not there is any research on what the temperature actually does to or for the body. I’ve been told that many Type-A personalities really like Bikram. In that I am guilty as charged. So I would say that if you are a Type-A and know that you can reign yourself in and not try to overextend your body by stretching or moving more than you can in the heat, it’s worth trying if you so desire.
I think I have to try it at least one more time before I finalize my opinion. At this point in time, I’d say I liked it, and I’d do it again, but only in the winter. So if I don’t get back there before the end of March I probably won’t go again for a while.