26 postures, 90 minutes, 105 °F, 40% humidity, 99% certainty I am going to pass out
(Side note...if you love Bikram that's awesome for you, this post is mostly in jest...though you will never ever get me within fifty feet of a Bikram studio again)
“Which circle of hell is this?” I think to myself, sweat pouring down my face. I have long given up trying to hold the simple poses I've held hundreds of times before. All around me the stench of dried in sweat, Walter Raleigh level puddles of perspiration, and the growing sensation that I was actually suffering heat stroke.
I know the Bikram craze has come and gone, but it's still popular enough to have a dedicated yoga school is my small city of under half a million people. I was tricked into trying this
crazy challenging form of yoga after my introduction to a much gentler, general hot yoga class. Another hot yoga school in my city offered two weeks of as many classes as you wanted for £20, which is a pretty stellar deal given that one class costs about £12. Unlike the bikram experience, hot yoga was actually awesome. The room wasn't quite so unbearable, and there were oil burners in the rooms so it smelled nice, and the general atmosphere was warm (metaphorically) and friendly. Prior to trying hot yoga I was worried, I am anxiety prone and extreme heat is one of my triggers, but I wanted to challenge myself. After I tried general hot yoga I assumed Bikram would be the same temperature (my research led me to believe so, and the claims of the temperature of both schools I attended), so I decided to give it a go.
Not even if Joe Manganiello and Jason Momoa were oil wrestling at the Bikram studio.
From the moment we entered the studio me and my friend knew it wasn't going to be like the other hot yoga we had done. Bikram has a reputation for instructors with ironically cold personalities. The space was very utilitarian with none of the usual Buddhas, Ganeshas or inspiring quotes to be found. It absolutely reeked of sweat. And this was just outside the actual hot yoga room itself. It wasn't the lack of the usual bohemian decor that bothered me, just the general atmosphere of the place was kinda unwelcoming and very cliquey and the teacher seemed that way too. This is another rumour about bikram, the cliquish attitude of some of it's attendees. I'm sure there are plenty friendly Bikram studios out there but this wasn't one of them.
Little did I know the chill I was encountering would very soon be something I longed for like I've never longed for anything.
The minute I walked into the actual Bikram studio I knew I had made a horrible mistake. It was clearly way, way hotter than the other school had been. I made it through about the first fifteen minutes of poses before I had to lie down on my mat and give up...and I spent the next hour fighting a full blown panic attack. It was so hot, my body was actually shivering and I felt like I had the chills, and I was extremely nauseous. I had to pretty much fight everything in my being to stop myself from running screaming from that room. The general rule in a Bikram class is that once you are in the room, you have to stay in the room. There is usually only one instructor so this means they can't really leave the class to come and check on you if you have a medical issue. So I sat there, battling anxiety for 90 minutes in a room that was legitimately hotter than hell, and way more smelly.
Another woman did not stick it out for the whole class and bolted when there was about 10 minutes to go. I watched her leave filled with envy.
When I got up to leave, despite having done nothing but lay on my mat and sweat for most of the class, I felt less steady than a colt taking it's first steps. As soon as I was physically able I got the hell out, and needless to say I never came back!
I know Bikram has a tonne of devotees and it's not my place to insult anyone's spiritual practice or how they choose to exercise. For me, personally, the class was way too much and knowing what I know about the personality cult of Bikram himself and some of the allegations that have been levelled at him, that was enough to keep me from going back. I know a lot of people love Bikram yoga, but for anyone who has never tried it, I really recommend doing quite a bit of research before attending your first class. The health benefits of Bikram are hotly (haha) disputed and the heat can become dangerous for some people. Hyperflexion of joints can also become an issue so please read from unbiased sources before you go.
For me, Bikram was just too freaking hot. Plus I'm not a massive fan of yoga where you do the same poses every time...I take an ashtanga class, but I much prefer vinyasa flow and vigorous forms of yoga where you can be a little creative. The Bikram poses really are not that complex, it's just that doing anything other than lying face down in a puddle of your own sweat in that heat is so difficult, that they might as well be asking you to run a three minute mile.
I still attend hot yoga occasionally at the other school I mentioned. The great thing about non Bikram affiliated schools is that you usually still get a Bikram style class, but you also get a whole bunch of other classes like hot yin and vinyasa. I recommend everybody take a warm or hot yin class in their life, even if they've never attended yoga. Yin is a very slow, gentle type of yoga which can best be described as a series of naps in stretching positions. It's glorious, and in the heat it is truly lovely to do.
For me personally, even though I do occasional hot yoga classes, I prefer the type of yoga that builds internal heat...I do vinyasa yoga daily and I do it vigorously enough that it makes me sweat without feeling like I'm on the surface of the sun!
It is truly awesome that we have so many options for yoga these days, and that they are all different routes to getting to the same place. To anyone who tried one type of yoga and found it to be not for them, it's really worth trying a few different types. Yoga has so many benefits for your mental state and for spinal health, it's really worth giving a few different type of yoga a go.
As for my next yoga experiment after Bikram, I'm thinking...