My experience with yoga first began in high school when I recruited my ‘most arty friend’ after finding a magazine spread of seemingly easy looking yoga exercises and decided that we too could be ‘cool’ like the woman in the magazine, her flexible body stretched in impressive poses. So we began our yoga meet ups, posing as trees, cats and downward facing dogs on a weekly basis. After a couple of weeks, I was convinced I was seeing the results and my body was on its way to becoming the lithe elastic band other women dreamed about.
Unfortunately, our levels of commitment weren’t the best back then and the weekly yoga meet ups soon ended – we were teenagers after all. And that amounts to my total yoga experience. Until a year ago, when my brother gave me a voucher for a session at a Bikram Yoga studio as part of my birthday present.
When I heard that the sessions were an hour and a half, I was more than a bit intimidated. How on earth would I be able to attempt putting my body in unnatural positions in an unnaturally hot room for a full 90 minutes?! But, being a fan of a good challenge, especially when it’s exercise-related, I decided to give it a go.
I entered the studios one morning with a definite degree of apprehension. Once inside the door, there were two couches and a set of stairs going down to the reception. I noticed a sign requesting that guests remove their shoes first. That done, I walked downstairs and gave the staff member my voucher details. The staff were friendly and, on learning it was my first time attempting Bikram Yoga, gave me some details and showed me to the bathroom, equipped with lockers and one large shower area. Fortunately, after years of gym experience, I had by that stage already passed into my ‘this is my body and I’m OK with it’ stage so the thought of sharing shower space with other naked women didn’t’ scare me (too much).
Before my session, I had received explicit instructions from the studio about what to bring, and the essentials consisted of your own towel and plenty of water. Knowing I would be sweating a lot, I wore just short stretchy shorts and a shirt. I grabbed my towel and water bottle, and barefooted my way along the corridor and into the studio.
Had I known the amount of sweat I was about to lose, I imagine I would have been more cautious approaching the studio and expected at least some degree of stale BO odour. But, walking into the studio, I wasn’t overpowered by BO. What I did expect, and got, was heat. Then I noticed the quiet. There were a few still bodies lying down on mats already but it was absolutely silent. Sure, the sign outside had warned me that I would be entering a quiet zone but silence in London is still something pretty unusual.
Distinguishing between which mats to choose from, I took from the correct (non-used) rail and laid it down on the funnily textured (hypoallergenic) floor, trying desperately not to make too much noise. It was around then that my water bottle made a resounding ‘pop’ as the plastic returned to its original position after I’d squeezed it beforehand. Thankfully my disruption didn’t seem to cause any problems. Phew.
I lay there silently, having chosen what seemed like the back row, had there been one, pretending I vaguely knew what I was doing.
When the yoga instructor walked in a bit later, there were only a small number of us there, which made me happy. Fewer people meant fewer witnesses of the embarrassment that was about to ensue I’m sure. Which it did, immediately. After greeting us, the instructor called out my name to confirm that it was my first time there. So much for hiding in the back row. No, literally, I was told to move to get a better view.
Looking back, it’s obvious why they make sure they know whether it is your first time or not. That first session was difficult and I’m fairly certain, had my body been able to vocalise, it would have attempted an argument similar to this: “You’re not really going to try and put that there, are you? No, you’re just kidding, surely. Wait a minute… hold on… no, I don’t think that’s natural! Stop!”
The breathing is something else too. A few of the people around me freaked me out slightly with their very dedicated commitment to breathing very deeply. But I soon got into it and tried to emit the same sounds, although unfortunately failed to do so.
My instructor was lovely. She only tried to ‘fix’ my position once or twice, although I’m fairly certain I did most things wrong. She seemed to genuinely try to look out for me.
And the sweat… well, that was no joke. I don’t think I was even half way through by the time I considered turning my towel around because it was soaked. Ah, whatevs, embrace it, I thought. And I did.
For another month, actually.
After finishing my first session, I signed up for a month’s trial at a reduced price. And I went five days a week. By the end of my trial, my body had not only accepted the positions I was forcing it into, but I enjoyed it and improved. There wasn’t a huge difference, but I definitely felt that my flexibility had got somewhat better and my balance hugely so. It also just really felt like a good workout, which was something I wasn’t expecting. I had this whole idea in my head that it was more relaxation than anything else, perhaps helping your flexibility and stretching. I certainly did feel amazingly relaxed afterwards (cycling home took some effort!), but I really felt like I was actually exercising and that was greatly rewarding.
I was very tempted to throw my towel out though.
If I could give any words of warning to anyone considering Bikram Yoga, they would be these:
Don’t be shy about being new.
Don’t be shy about showering with others.
Embrace awkward body positions and deep breathing.
Be prepared to sweat. More than you ever have in your life.