Hot Yoga Mama or Mouth Breather?
by Nicole Freire
So, do you guys ever read "O", Oprah's magazine? My mom gave me a subscription for Christmas, even though I don't watch her show. Oprah's show, not my mom's.
Usually I just flip through it and think to myself, "Why are they always talking about finding the "right kind of jean for your body type"? Because unless you are buying me jeans, I am bored.
Anyway. The last few issues featured a two-part article about this woman who did the 60-day Bikram Yoga challenge. And immediately I said, "That's crazy!" But then I thought, well, I'm crazy too - maybe I should try it? Since I was going to write about it for Edhat, I decided to do the 10-day Bikram Yoga challenge. (Also because the local Bikram studio had a great 10-consecutive class deal).
I was thinking, just thinking about it for a while, not telling anybody. But then I mentioned it to my dad, and he freaked out. "You're going to do what? It's 105 degrees in there? You'll get sick!" I told him that I wasn't going to recreate the Bataan Death March, that it was just yoga - yoga in a very warm room.
I briefly mentioned it to a few other people, all of whom had the same basic reaction. "You're doing WHAT?" After a few conversations like that, I decided to keep my mouth shut. Because my brain was also saying, "We're going to do WHAT?"
I finally screwed up my courage, and got myself down to the Bikram studio, which is in the Galleria Mall - the one on the corner of State and La Cumbre. Back in the olden days (heaven's to Betsy, that was 1980's!) the mall opened to great fanfare. Very fancy stores. It lasted a few years, and then all the fancy stores pulled out. Now it has a bagel place, a bridal store, and a bunch of mysterious "financial planning" storefronts.
Ok, the stores aren't funny. But what is funny is that the yoga studio is on the second floor. So to get there, you can take the escalator or the elevator (yes, I know there are steps somewhere). This means that before and after class, you see very sweaty and exhausted people holding their yoga mats and riding the escalator down to their cars. Oh, Americans, we are so funny sometimes.
Back to the yoga. I read the instructions on the studio's website, brought my mat and a towel, a small amount of clothing to wear, and a huge supply of water. I cannot tell you how nervous I was. I almost threw up on the escalator. Little did I know that I would feel like throwing up for the next 10 days.
There aren't many hard and fast rules for Bikram, but there are a few. It's a 90-minute class. You cannot leave the room. It's like a hot time out. You stay there until the class ends. You can, however, lie down whenever you feel overwhelmed. But you have to lie down in Savasana (the corpse pose) with your feet pointing away from the mirror and toward the wall painted gold - mysterious, that rule. You can't have any water until after the first three poses. No talking in the studio. Do your best.
These all seemed utterly reasonable to me. I got to lie down if I needed to. Great rule!
Have I told you how much I love to text Ed? I text him all the time, saying silly things. I used to take pictures of things I found weird or amusing with my phone and send them to him until he said that his phone plan didn't include sending or receiving pictures, and I was all, "Ed! You have a website! Dude! Change your plan! Enter the 21st century!"
Now, I try not to use too many all caps when writing. Because it's yelling.
And because it makes me sound 12 years old. OMG! BTW! LOL! STFU!
After my first class, I texted Ed when I got to the safety of my car.
"OMG! I am doing Bikram yoga! It's 105! I think I am DYING."
Second class text went like this:
"I did not know it was possible to SWEAT THIS MUCH."
"WHAT HAVE I DONE?"
"I AM TRYING NOT TO THROW UP."
"Did you know that your CALVES can sweat? I did not. I do now."
"I have never breathed through my nose this much."
"The TOPS OF MY FEET CAN SWEAT"
"I can WRING OUT MY TOWEL AFTER CLASS!"
"I DID IT PLEASE GIVE ME A GOLD STAR. OR A MEDAL."
Thursday night was my last class. It is perhaps the most difficult physical activity I have ever participated in. And yes, I am going to include childbirth in there.
Yes, it is hot. Within the first 6 or 7 minutes of class I am soaked through. There is sweat in my nose. Running into my ears. My hair is dripping. By the end of class my towel is completely wet. Taking a Bikram yoga class means you stand in a room of about 25 scantily dressed people, all sweating like pigs. It is extremely un-sexy. You wear very little clothing because the thought of wearing anything but shorts and a water wicking shirt is unpleasant. And afterwards, you want to strip down as fast as you can because, oh my, the SWEAT. Take off the sweaty clothes. Faster!
And why would you want to look at anybody else? I'm too busy talking to myself, "Do not throw up. Do not throw up. Do not faint. Do not throw up. Oh my god. How much longer? It is so hot in here. Is it hotter than last class? I think it is hotter. Do not throw up. Let's lie down. Let's have some water. Is it hotter? Did I bring enough water? My towel is not long enough. My face is so red. Perhaps the Irish should not exercise in public. Oh yes, let's lie down in Savasana."
Before each class I get this nervous, yet excited feeling in my stomach. It's like I'm a teenager, and maybe the boy I think is cute might sit next to me in homeroom! OMG!
It is hard work - very hard work. For the first few classes I could not get through an entire class without taking advantage of the "lie down whenever you feel overwhelmed" rule. By my last class I could get through an entire class and do all 26 poses. I can't do them perfectly, but I try. And then sweat. I move very slowly after class. I do not jump up and roll up my mat. I lie there for a few minutes, and then get up slowly. Rest. Roll up my sweat towel. Rest. Slowly make my way to the locker room. Rest. Slowly drink some Gatorade. Slowly change. Rest some more.
The other night I overheard this conversation in the locker room:
"So, this is my first class. What do you think of it?"
"Oh my god, it is TORTURE. It is AWFUL."
"Well, yeah. But afterwards you feel INCREDIBLE."
Which is Bikram yoga in a nutshell. Yes, it can be awful. But then after? Pretty incredible. Fantastic.
I spend a good part of my day trying to stay in my head, not in my "let's get sick every few days" body. But for those 90 minutes, there is no avoiding my body, and my hamster wheel brain is quiet. I have no choice but to stay there, trying not to throw up and maintain my breathing.
Oh, the breathing! I had no idea I was breathing through my mouth so much. Hah! In class there are two times you can breathe through your mouth. Otherwise, it's all nose, all the time. I can actually take in more air now. I can breathe deeper. I like trying to control my nose. My brain is definitely getting more oxygen.
Wow, doesn't this sound like fun? Don't you want to try it?
I LOVE IT. NOW I WISH I HAD SIGNED UP FOR THE 30-DAY CHALLENGE. I LOVE IT. I FEEL FREAKING GREAT! WHOO! GIVE ME MORE! PLEASE! MORE CLASSES!
Full disclosure, I am not getting paid to sing Bikram yoga praises. I did this of my own accord because I am a little crazy and felt like I needed to kick start my head and my body. Maybe they pump happy air into the studio. Maybe it's a cult! But I have drunk the Koolaid. I don't want to stop. I can see why someone would sign up for 60 consecutive classes.
It may not be for you. It may not be for everyone. Or anyone. But YES YES YES it works for me. And I love it. I love it. I love it a lot. Big love for Bikram yoga. I want to marry Bikram yoga.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to do some online research about water-wicking yoga mat towels.
GO DO THE YOGA.
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Nicole Freire is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara.