Here at Greatist, we believe in taking a day off. Instead of our regular programming Saturdays, our writers get a chance to write about living the greatist lifestyle and, basically, whatever they want. This is one of those awesome articles. Enjoy!
A yoga buddy gave me this advice:
- Start drinking water now. Guzzle. Hydrate like your life depends on it for at least 24 hours before your class. (Great tip.)
- Bring two full-size bath towels and a washcloth. (A washcloth? It was clutch. More on this later.)
- Wear light shorts and don't even bother with a shirt. (And still I was overdressed.)
- Have two water bottles, one frozen. (So nice.)
- Try not to get caught up in the competition, John.
I showed up a little early to take care of the paperwork and, in the name of journalism, set to eavesdropping on a waiting-room conversation between another anxious rookie and an old pro.
“I bought this unlimited seven-day pass,” said the rookie. “Is is safe to come two days in a row?”
“Absolutely,” he assured her. “You work up to it, but we all come every day. Some people, if they miss a practice, they’ll do a double the next day to make up for it.”
“You would do two sessions in the same day?”
“Not me, I would never miss a day in the first place. I need this to feel good. Without it, I can’t…I just can’t imagine feeling right without my daily Bikram.”
(Was anyone else hearing this? I almost wanted to jump in with my DSM-IV: “Do you spend significant time and energy on hot yoga? Have you ever put off work or family obligations for hot yoga? Do you have difficulty controlling your use of hot yoga?”)
But then the double doors opened and the great wave of heat, like a desert gust, washed over us. My first thought was that it did not smell unusual at all. My second was that I had arrived in the land of the washboard stomach. Everyone had six-packs, and no one was wearing a shirt. Sweat streamed in rivulets down their chiseled abdomens.
As we filed in and set to our silent preparations, draping bath towels over our yoga mats, I started to worry a little about a particular yoga weakness of mine: not tight hamstrings or a weak lower back, but a competitive streak. I suffer from yoga vanity and from the need, especially in a new class at a new studio, to be better than everyone else.
More than one friend had predicted that Bikram Yoga would undoubtedly bring out this worst trait of mine, that it was the most aggressive and in-your-face of the yoga styles. Looking around, it seemed that the opposite was true: my classmates tiptoed into the room in silence, making only necessary movements, focused wordlessly on preparing for the practice as if beginning to pray. The only thing more evident than their peaceful and deliberate energy was the heat, which had already begun to melt the ice in my frozen bottle.
Exactly on the hour, the headsetted instructor ascended her dais. “Welcome to Bikram Yoga,” she said. “This is a patented series of 26 postures in 90 minutes that helps you stay healthy, fight diabetes and obesity, feel great, and look even better.”
We started with breathing exercises, unhinging our jaws and hissing like snakes. The instructor continued, enumerating the various ailments I could avoid by practicing each posture. “This one squeezes the liver and is great for digestion, hypertension, alcoholism, flushing toxins from the body. Squeeze them. Twist a little more, and breathe. Twist a little more, and breathe. Push your limit.”
I was shining with sweat. My hands did a little slapstick surfing on my shins when I tried to grab them (this is where the washcloth came in, to absorb perspiration and enhance friction) but I was in yoga heaven—stretching and balancing better than ever. I only had one worry: when was the instructor going to stop talking? And more importantly, when was she going to tell me how wonderful I was?
She kept on buzzing into her microphone, like a telemarketer who is obligated to read the entire disclosure statement to you over the phone. When I was the only one in the class to get my forehead to my knee in a one-legged balance, she urged me to go still further into the pose.
After the class, I found myself chatting with the receptionist about my first class.
“I like that my skin feels so clean.” It really did—I felt like I had perspired until there was nothing but pure water left in my pores. “But are there any instructors here who don’t….talk so much?”
“The continuous dialogue?” he said. “That’s one of the pillars of Bikram yoga.”
“Heat and continuous dialogue and the patented series of 26 postures.”
“It kind of gets to me.”
“That’s the challenge, to see if you can tune it out. That’s why it’s a signature of the style.”
Surprisingly, you never hear about this. (“Oh, you do Bikram? The yoga with continuous verbal dialogue, right?”) But to me it was Bikram’s salient feature: that everything they said was allegedly for you not to hear. And more importantly: that I couldn’t stop listening.
It was humbling. I went in feeling like a yoga champ and left realizing what a novice I was in that most basic respect: mental control. Trying a new yoga style was like traveling to a foreign country—coming face to face with a new way of thinking and living. In the end it wasn’t about sweat, heat, or Bikram and waiting for his continuous dialogue to end—it was simply (and not simply) a matter of finding ways to quiet my own.
Photo by Jordan Shakeshaft