My memory of Bikram yoga is kneeling in Child’s Pose, forehead to the floor, arms outstretched in front of me. I’m not resting peacefully; in fact, my heart is racing, and I'm struggling to breathe.
Let me be clear about this: Bikram yoga is for some people. It’s just not for me. My issue is that, unlike with other types of yoga I've tried, Bikram is very “my way or the highway.”
I like — nay love — yoga. I (try to) go to a Vinyasa class at least twice a week. I dabble in other kinds of exercise, usually something dance-related that fools me into doing cardio. But I don’t enjoy anything nearly as much as I do yoga. It’s deeply relaxing, yet I still leave feeling like I had a workout.
Another factor that makes Bikram tricky for me: I’m a sweater. Meaning, I’m the person at the party who can always be found by the window, even in the winter. At school, friends called me “Schwemi,” a combination of “schweddy” and “Emi.” When I leave any yoga class, people assume I've come from hot yoga.
So, imagine me in the middle of this Bikram yoga studio, where the temperature was hovering around 110°F. All I wanted (read: needed) was water. So I felt around blindly for my water bottle, but was abruptly stopped by the teacher’s voice booming into her microphone: “I didn’t say it was time for a water break.”
The #1 way to un-Zen a yoga class? Use a microphone.
Bikram authorities say that, in order to avoid dehydration and hypothermia caused by overheating and excessive sweating, you need to “listen to your body” by resting and hydrating when necessary. But that can’t happen if your instructor is shaming you in a hot studio in front of 40 people.
So as hard as it was, I let go of the bottle, and licked off the few droplets of condensation left on my palm.
The only reason I was “allowed” to be in Child’s Pose was because I'd told the teacher I felt like I was going to faint. Before that, I'd fallen while trying to balance on one foot, and was immediately ordered to stand back up.
No, the movements aren’t strenuous. The 26 asanas (or postures) of Bikram are relatively simple (like Chair Pose) but even lifting a finger is difficult in 110°F.
And so, for me, even Child’s Pose was too difficult. With my head on the ground, I couldn't get enough oxygen into my lungs. The room was spinning and I felt like I was about to hurl. I decided to “listen to my body,” and my body told me to get the f*ck out. So I did.
The teacher sprinted after me and grabbed my arm.
“You can’t leave.”
I felt like I was in a horror movie. But I was also sweaty and on the verge of tears.
“If you leave, you disrupt the aura of the class.”
So then I was ruining everyone else’s experience? She guilted me back to my mat, where I lay on my back. She told me to open my mouth, so I did. There, she deposited a pack of Emergen-C.
Nope. Nope. Nope. As I coughed up a lungful of the orange powder, I made my second attempt at escape — this time successful. She chased after me, but once I got outside, she gave up.
The “cool” 90°F air outside felt like freedom. I mindfully placed one foot in front of the other, conserving my energy, to get to the corner bodega — and I didn't look back.
Admittedly, this place in New York City could very well be an unrepresentative example of all the Bikram studios, but I have been to a couple other places around town and had similar experiences, minus the Emergen-C. I understand that no two classes are alike but, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, I don’t want to risk it again.
I see the benefits of sweating that much and ridding your body of toxins, but the only way Bikram yoga can work is if you actually let students “do what’s best for their practice” and “listen to their body” — and sometimes, that means escaping early.
If you want to find out more about Bikram yoga, start here:
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