Bikram yoga is supposed to have all sorts of benefits. According to BikramYoga.com (maintained by the practice’s namesake who pioneered the movement) it just about solves every problem. Do you have kidney disease? Bulging disk? Sinus infection? Dengue fever? Well, then pull on your Lululemon hot pants and get down to your local Bikram studio, because your problems will be solved!
Ok, maybe not. I’m not sure I believe in the magical healing powers of contorting your body while you drip sweat, even if the website does give long, heart-warming testimonials for each of their hundred listed ailments from a client whose life has been changed. I mean, hardly scientific. But it really can’t hurt. You know how you work out in the gym and then get in the sauna? Well, just think of Bikram yoga as saving you some time by combining the two.
The main benefits for which people go are weight loss and detoxification. Lord knows I need some detoxifying, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to lose a couple!
I didn’t really know any of this before I showed up this evening to Bikram Yoga NYC. All I know is that I had gotten a Groupon for one month of yoga on the cheap, and I decided, “Why not?” I hoped it would motivate me to get my cubicle-bound, soft little butt into the classroom. I haven’t been to yoga in forever. Partly because of the new job, partly because of laziness, partly because of drinking on the weekends. So I packed a bag before work and put it on my priority list. With classes starting as late as 9:45 pm, I have no excuse not to go.
One of Bikram Yoga NYC’s locations is located on the second floor of a building on 72nd Street and Amsterdam. As soon as I pushed open the door to the studio, a wave of soggy, warm air hit me. I was a half hour early, but there was already a waiting list. (Once you are a member, you can reserve a spot ahead of time online.)
I fought my way through the overcrowded little locker room, trying to avoid touching the apologetically naked women who didn’t seem to realize I had a prize view of their cootchy when they bent over. Ew. As soon as I could, I stuffed my bags into a locker and went back into the lobby to discover I had gotten off the waiting list and into a class. Score!
When I got up to the classroom, I found it to be very long and thin, with two rows of twenty people each pressed together, mat to mat. It’s a good thing it’s not a flailing, power-type of yoga, or else there would be some bruises. The classroom already felt like a swamp, and everyone was wearing tiny little shorts and sports bras. I, in my misguided modesty, was wearing long pants and a tank. A decision I would later regret.
In front of me was a hairy, middle-aged guy with nothing on except short shorts. I would get disturbingly acquainted with that guy’s back and the v-neck design his back hair made during the class. Two people to my right was a beautiful girl in her twenties with ornate tattoos all over her arms. And a few over from her was a girl with an Astroturf haircut. “How do you give yourself an Astroturf haircut?” you might ask. Well, you buzz your hair into a strip from ear to ear, leaving bangs in the front and your hair long in the back, and then dye that strip neon green. Beautiful.
Anyway, the little Asian instructor bounced in right on time. She was leanly muscled, the picture of a well-practiced yogi. She took the names of all the “new friends,” including me, and then exhorted us to move to the outside, where it wouldn’t be so hot. I stayed put. I could take it! I’m a 7-mile-jogging, regular-yoga-attending, weight-lifting, former athlete!
Oh, how wrong I was.
We started with deep breathing and stretching exercises and then moved into basic stretching poses. “Streeeeetch yor body out!” She would exhort us. “Puuuuuuuh [pull] yor stomach uuuuuup!” Like she was on the toilet straining instead of trying to get us to stay upright. I couldn’t understand half the things she said, but at least she was enthusiastic.
The poses themselves weren’t that bad, nothing I didn’t do in all of my other yoga classes. But as the class progressed, the air became thicker and hotter, until I felt like I was drinking soup instead of breathing. At 4o minutes, I thought I would pass out, and I still had 50 more minutes to go.
I’ve only felt like this three times before. And every time it was August, during field hockey preseason, right after sprints, as the ground spun beneath me and a felt that either I would collapse or vomit. But here I was in a little box with 39 other people, voluntarily subjecting myself to what felt like water boarding. I kept going through that yoga class, occasionally dropping to the ground to suck in slightly cooler air, kind of like what you’re supposed to do if you are in a fire. Stop, drop, and breathe deep!
When the class mercifully ended, I stumbled out and down the stairs. I had to sit for a bit in the locker room and just get my energy back. I needed time to fill my lungs back up with regular air.
So will I go back?
Yes. I bought a whole month of yoga, and damn it, I’m gonna use it! Plus the athlete in side of me is telling myself to stop being such a wuss. All signs point to it getting better, including all the happy and energized women who milled around me in the locker room right after. There were some -ahem- chubby people in that yoga class, but they made it through. If they can do it, So. Can. I.
Update: This morning I weighed myself, and I’ve dropped 3 pounds since Sunday. It’s gotta be the yoga.