Ah, hot yoga. For years, it's evaded me. I have done yoga in my past, (as in a decade ago on the other side of the country), but I had not been able to walk in and sign up, even though it has been across the street from me for the last 5 or so years.
Winter comes, and I begrudge my inability to stay warm while running. Yes, I have appropriate clothing. Short runs I can manage, but trying to train for spring marathons in the winter became the (almost) death of me. Some of you may have heard me complain about body temperature before, but if you haven't, my routine body temp, weather it be long run or ride, is often checked in at somewhere around 33-34 degrees Celcius. I thought it was wrong, but after 3 years of taking temps after coming back inside, I'm consistently cold. It also ties in with a consistency of symptoms such as: slurred speech, uncoordinated movements, and some confusion as to what I'm supposed to do next (aka, "stunned bunny" syndrome).
So, I did what any grumpy runner would do a few years ago, and take up swimming in spite of my total lack of skills & affinity for sucking in pool water into my lungs. Although it feels like trading aquatic environment for aquatic environment at first, at least the temperature is consistent, and there is both sauna & hot tubs should I just get too cold. So, if you know anything about my recent years in athletics, you'll know that fighting through learning to swim worked out well for me (see this post: http://rundriven.blogspot.ca/2012/09/ironman-canada-2012-race-report-or.html).
I have swimming as a weapon against bone chilling hypothermia inducing Vancouver winter training. But....I like new challenges. And we had a Bikram Yoga 20 pass card. And it's across the street from my house.
I fretted about joining up. I'll fully admit I have a complex about being good at sports. I said I would do it in October. Halloween came and went, I continued to envy those who floated in and out of the yoga studio. But then I was had a major hitch in running. As in, I couldn't do it without a great deal of pain. Did I have a hip stress fracture? Who's to say. They say elite athletes often catastrophize the first stage of injury, so either I had a stress fracture or a sore hip. In either case, the treatment was the same. Stop loading the hip. Stop running. Drastic times call for drastic measures.
I went to my very first hot yoga. I read through the postures (I certainly didn't attempt them), I read through what you needed, what might happen, why you shouldn't leave even if every fibre of your being in is escape mode, and what not to eat before you go. I had great fears of doing things wrong, getting singled out, making other people annoyed. So, I packed up my mat, a few towels & water bottles, and donned my only pair of spandex shorts (circa 2002? - 'spandex' literally loosely defined as I had a different body type playing varsity soccer - about 20-25lbs more muscle) and least destroyed sports bra.
I'll tell you about my first visit, and then my general impressions after being a seasoned veteran of 5 sessions completed to date.
I walked in, I think totally overwhelmed to the point I didn't even smell the stink that is the studio, just wanting to find a place for my mat. Phew, accomplished, up at the front, between two ladies going some super intense staring at themselves in the mirror, but whatever, I'm quite over mirrors so they can have at it. Some people actually look dead, they are just lying there and I can't see them breathing. No body talks to each other. I'm blissfully warm and about to exercise so I could care less about the fact Mr. Headband at the back is currently attempting to dislocate his hip.
The teacher comes in, and then asks who is new. Nightmare #1: being singled out. Boom. She reads everyone's names. She finally comes to my name, I put up my hand (this is like the first day of that camp you didn't want to go to), and she says 'Welcome' and then continues to tell me I'm really in the wrong spot (up at the front in the only space I could find - so really how was that wrong?), and would someone change with me (so I could be in the 2nd row to see others). Slightly annoyed very skinny blond (and therefore bendy - I think that's key to their success - no muscles to get in the way) reluctantly nods and moves her mat forward. (Note: she looks annoyed all class. Note #2: I see her again in class later and she always looks that way). As she and I switch, the teacher (or I maybe might call her the 'boss of you'), states "we'll just all wait while GILLIAN switches places"....."no rush" (which always means hurry up). My only saving grace is that my face (and most others) are already red hot and no one can see my embarrassment. And yes, I'm embarrassed by simple things, but I had really hyped myself up before coming into this class about being singled out. And it all happened. Nothing to lose now.
Now, the rest of class is interesting enough, but if you've done it, you know how things go. I managed to do very well for my first class, completing the whole series (like hell I was going to not complete everything in a competitive manner after getting picked on by people who think I'm new and feeble. The one benefit about winning Ironman Canada, is that multiple times in my life (and many different scenarios), I just harden my resolve to do anything by saying "I won Ironman. Of course I can do this", and, superpowers appear.
What I really want to get across to you, is what constantly entertains me (in my 5 visits) to Bikram Yoga. I think you're supposed to be more inner peace-y and more tuned into yourself. No way, I am looking at YOU, and you, and you. I am that person. Now, in no way am I trying to compete with the very well written and humorous, "Yoga Mat for Sale. Used Once." but you may see some of the similarities.
Chronologically, class often goes like this. I'm going to do a point for every degree Celsius I think it is in there.
1. Walk into studio. Sometimes I feel the receptionists smiles are evil. The smiles whisper, "you are screwed".
2. Get changed and sit in hallway with very scantily clad people who suck their stomach in hard enough to crack a nut on. It's pretty obvious. I stick my stomach out as a protest.
3. The studio. The smell. It's just bad. It's my soccer bag from university, minus the grass smell.
4. Devise plan when finding space in room. Up by the mirrors is possible, for those who like staring contests with themselves. I now just settle in at the back of the room. Low on the mirrors, high on the entertainment. Hot as all get out.
5. Look at some people look like they may have fainted and are sleeping it off. Good luck getting up buddy.
6. Watch those that can bend in spectacular fashion do postures that aren't Bikram related. In general , these people are show offs.
7. Listen to cans crack open. First I think, who drinks beer at hot yoga? Then I realize it's coconut water....of course.
8. There is no talking, but it's unwritten. So the new person talks, and they get a "SSSH" very loudly. They get such a loud "ssh" because these guys do breathing exercises for breakfast.
9. Boss comes in, announces who's new. Makes them put their hands up. I am so happy to never put my hand up again. They tell them just relax and do the best they can during the class. That attitude will change once they get their nama-chakra-yogi headpiece microphone on. "LOCK YOUR KNEES!"
10. The first breathing exercise. Thankfully, a friend, Brendan, warned me about this. I didn't know what was going to happen but he warned me I'd think it's nuts. I do. Thank you Brendan. I think it serves to hypoventilate you so you get dizzy and follow all of the bosses instructions even though under normal circumstances, you wouldn't. Yogi Tricksters.
11. Sweat starts to roll off you at about minute 4. I mean roll, not drip. Ike & Tina 'Rolling like a River' sweat. You become a human fountain. I often look around to notice that many girls haven't dripped a drop. And they have pretty shorts & sports bras, and I'm looking more like Mia Hamm (although, who would complain?). I have more in common with the dude beside me that keeps smelling his armpit than I do with the girls, but I persevere (I will later buy yoga shorts, damned if I'm not in the club).
12. I commonly feel like I'm nanoseconds away from fainting, and somehow hyperventilating myself combats this problem. I watch someone go down, and I feel better about myself. I remain standing.
13. Until the day I actually see the lights go dim and I have to sit down. I'm angry. So I stand back up, I lift my foot up to my costume (what a WORD), and I promptly sit back down. I refuse to lay down, and then look at the man beside me peacefully laying down in savasanah.
14. That man later gets berated for lazily 'sleeping' through class. Sucker.
15. In wind-releasing pose, someone always releases as such. It never gets old.
16. I always get a kick out of the phrase "the shaking is good". It means you're on the verge of failure, really. So, verge of failure is good. Actually, that really sums up the whole class. In a good way. I'm not always sarcastic, you know.
17. Tattoos. I don't have one, and that puts me in the minority. Wonder if I should Sharpie my calf next time. Something with 'peace', 'breathe', 'angel', or swirlies seems to make you better.
18. Speaking of tattoos. I sometimes spot the iconic Ironman Canada tattoo. It then becomes very evident we're in the same stretching circle. As in, we can't. We're just doing this so we don't have to run outside today.
19. You're not supposed to fidget in class. Have an itch, stinging sweat in your eyes, shorts half way up your a.....too bad, it's staying like that 'til the end of class.
20. They tell you to bring water then they won't let you drink it for at least 20 min. I can handle it from a lot of time spent dropping my water and waiting with desert-mouth to get more. But a lot of people in the class can't, as most people have water bottles attached to their hands these days. Reach for it and the boss will see, and ask you to put it down. Desperate looks ensue.
21. The river of sweat soon becomes an actual puddle on your towel/mat. Such that at a certain point in class, whenever you lie down for your 30 seconds of relief from spine cramping exercises, you make that squishy "I just sat in my own diaper" sound. But you don't care. Class can be that difficult.
22. You know you're getting pro at Bikrams when you start to complain that the room is too cold. I'm already there - by class 4 I wondered why I wasn't hotter. This was confirmed by tattooed girl veterans in the longest-shower-line-up-I've-ever-been-in-my-life later. I didn't even care I was standing on a public floor in bare feet. I was just hanging on to the sink counter holding myself up. Based on how often I go to the pool, these girls probably have to worry more about me than I do of them.
23. I realize this is a gold mine for any man wishing to meet a beautiful woman in bare minimum spandex. I also realize that the situation doesn't really work the other way around.
24. For example, I really got a kick out of Mr. Hipster Coconut water, who, wore his (some may call 'budgie smugglers') (but I will call 'booty shorts') pants, who I don't think started the class with hipster Derek Cardigan classes, but somehow ended with them on. What? Where'd you hide those? Oh, never mind. Based on the bare essentials (pun intended) you are allowed to bring in, I know the answer. I'm surprised your banana hammock isn't plaid. And ironic.
25. Bonus: no one is allowed their iphones in the studio. I think I might be the only one who wears a watch. I sometimes wonder if it's contraband.
26. It's chic to wear your towel around your neck like a scarf when you walk in if you are one of the coolest girls. I'm not that attached to my towel. I know what I do to it during class. "Squish".
27. Some bosses like the phrase, "It's supposed to hurt like hell". Now I start questioning whether this was a good replacement for a queried stress fracture.
28. I also get a little internal haha smug grin when they say that, because really, this is nothing in comparison to Ironman. Que the "I won Ironman" ego.
29. A new girl comes in wearing full pants. Oh no. I want to tell her to save herself but we're not allowed to talk. This is part of the rationale I think, so we can't warn anyone.
30. In my first class, which thankfully had a lot of new people (albeit all young very pretty university girls with gorgeous yoga clothes - seriously!? they hadn't even tried it yet and they were dressed - I would later put in 3 sessions before I 'earned' my yoga shorts), also had some new people that got up to leave the room. The boss then says "My friend, are you ok? Don't go" (my friend doesn't talk b/c they are on the verge of dropping like a fainting goat), "You should stay and work out your issues" (door opens, slams, person bolts). I don't think calling someone your 'friend' makes them feel better. Again, yogi trickery.
31. One day someone leaves, the instructor follows them out. There's silence and then the instructor yells for some help. Calmly, she returns to class (I should mention we're holding the lunge pose with arms overhead for extra long and I am resenting the girl that probably just fainted and likely smucked her face on the warm cement corridor), and we're all supposed to pretend like that didn't happen. It's like a human sacrifice to the yoga gods. Well, the Bikram gods, anyways.
32. One of my favourite phrases of the instructors is "throat choke". As if it wasn't hard enough already, they often remind us to choke our own throats. Slippery slope yogis, slippery slope.
33. You try holding onto your leg whilst sweating profusely, balance on one leg, extend the other over your head and bring your head to your knee. We're bad ass. We're better than anyone NOT doing yoga right now. Dehydration is kicking in.
34. The you fall over, narrowing missing your coconut water neighbour.
35. Then coconut water guy actually kicks his coconut water over splashing me generously with his precious water. Eff u coconut water man, and p.s. you smell worse than me. I want to take his Derek Cardigan glasses and break them.
36. I wonder if yoga will help me with stress management after all.
37. "Other way, 3rd row blue headband" (note: she doesn't call me 'friend'). I regret wearing a blue headband immediately. But if I don't, my contacts will float OUT of my eyes with all the sweat that runs into them when I turn upside down. I also notice no one else is wearing headbands. Hmm. This is why.
38. As previously alluded to, I am so put off with the smell of the guy beside me. God, guys stink, I should never sit beside guys in class (except that it makes me feel superior in the flexibility department). Then I realize, it's not the guy that stinks. The horror. The truth.
39. At one point my legs are shaking so badly people must think I am totally out of control of my body. Who's to say they're wrong? But I kind of enjoy the thrill of 'verge of failure'.
40. Dehydration leads to a myriad of things, including delusions of grandeur. This is again, I think, the key to success in hot yoga. Fake it 'til you make it, or until you hallucinate that you're totally making it.
41. The final savasanah. As I recall in other classes, this was a reflective and restorative posture, that we spent 5-15 min in (sometimes longer), and practiced absolute stillness. The instructor turns off the lights (and maybe turns down the heat?), mixing fresh air with smelly air and once again reminding me that it smells bad in here. Then there is about 30 seconds of quiet, then people begin rifling for the door. At first I wondered why. Then I found out it's for shower time. See shower comment previously.
42. Line up for shower with huge line of 'fresh' girls. Listen to them ooze on about how hard it was. Seriously, their hair is dry. This is my key indicator. My hair is wetter than when I go swimming. I have a hard time keeping my balance. They are making "like, totally" wild gestures with their hands. I almost fall over putting on underwear and most certainly cannot pull up my pants standing up. I leave with a sense of lightness. I have after all, lost 8 lbs of water weight. The smell is better at the front. I can't wait to go back.
That's it. My summary of my Bikram hot yoga experiences for my 'experienced' status of 5 classes. It may sound like I'm complaining at times, but I'm not. I really like it. I really like the challenge of something new, something that is hard, something that has the element of surprise to it. I may fall over at any minute, I may all of a sudden lock into a sense of stability like a rock. I see the metaphor to it all, but I won't bore you with the philosphy. I think you know it too.
And it's warm. So I'm hypo-hydrated, hyperventilated, but at least I'm not hypothermic. And that was all I asked for. The rest of it is a bonus.
Namaste, my 'friends'.