Why the hot fuss?
Yoga is the like Sharon to my errant Ozzy Osbourne.
Before yoga arrived at my stage door, I was a devoted non-physical.With a deep love of Bulgarian Merlot, Marlboro cigarettes and slouching. I wasn’t always as faithful to yoga, sometimes I neglected her. But when the benders ended and the groupies went home, she was always there to sort me out and get me strong again. But I’ve heard there’s another girl in town, and she’s hot, fast, and very, very popular.
Bikram Yoga was founded in the 1970’s by Bikram Choudhury, an Indian yogi gone Stateside. Classes are 90 minutes long and consist of a fixed series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises. The room is heated at 105 F (40.5 C), humidity maintained at 40%. The intense heat is key to the formula, allowing yogis to go deeper into the postures more immediately, while detoxifying and stimulating the circulatory system. Glowing-skinned devotees swear by it. Gym memberships collect dust, and everywhere we look there’s a studio opening up, offering two weeks of sweaty heaven for the price of a pair of Primark shoes. So what’s the hot fuss about?
Be prepared; there are no soft candles or Tibetan prayer bells in a Bikram studio. There’s no lulling Snatam Kaur on the iPod to get you in the mood. The room is lit like a prison, with adjacent orange lines dashed across the floor.These lines were my precise and friendly guide to mat placement. Our instructor – and he was an instructor: “Back row! Green vest! I’m talking to you!”– was perched on a lookout, wearing one of those headsets reserved for telemarketers, spin class teachers, and Britney Spears.
I hurt my neck, badly, during the first breathing exercise. In 9 years, I can’t remember the last time I sustained an injury practising yoga. The postures were reasonably familiar, but where was my form? I just couldn’t shake the feeling that we were all in an incredible rush to get somewhere. Savasana – corpse pose, a consolidating relaxation posture – was barely enjoyed before we rocket-launched our way into a forward bend. To make matters worse, my (close) neighbour was wearing loose, tiny shorts that revealed a retina’s worth of exposed scrotum every time we got up. And there was a lot of getting up.
60 minutes gone, I was eye-balling the clock. I felt sick, desperate. Like a little boy forced to go tile shopping with his mum after 8 Mr Whippies and packet of Nerds. “Please, God, make it stop!” Thankfully it did, with the same efficiency I’d come to expect from Bikram. On the way out, I ran into an actor friend. He was a right Bikram poster-child, albeit a decidedly pink one with a motorcycle helmet. After discussing the new series he’d just begun filming for the BBC. I launched into my nausea diatribe.”Oh yeah,” he said cheerfully, “I felt completely awful after ‘camel’ pose.”
What? Is it supposed to feel bad? What is Bikram? Some yuppie sack-cloth we all want to try on? I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that I’d spent the last 82 minutes cussing Vishnu’s mother and swearing never to set foot in another Bikram studio ever again. “I’m coming back on Saturday,” he offered hopefully.
On the tube home, I took a moment to inspect the vibrant little pamphlet they had given me: “The most exciting, hard-working and effective yoga class in the world. . . Your journey will have its ups and downs, but you will soon feel the benefits and appreciate why an increasing number of people are taking up Bikram Yoga to improve their life. Like Rome, your understanding of Bikram will not be built in one day.”
Will not be built in one day. . . And then it dawned on me: If I was going to pass judgement on Bikram, then I would need to go back and do another class, at least. Maybe two. I know, Ozzie, it’s enough to make you want to bite the head off a live bat, isn’t it?
www.bikramyogasoho.co.uk Offers a 14 day introductory special for £35. Figure correct as of April 2013.
Bikram devotee? Let me know what I’m missing in the comments below.