A pink taxi

A pink taxi

December 3, 2010

Why I love to HATE Bikram Yoga

I recently got wind of a mini scandal: Mr. Chodhuri Bikram (of Bikram Yoga fame), has apparently refused Madonna's request for private sessions with him. Perhaps she wanted the one on one expertise with the guru but I think she was also hesitant to get into a hot room with three dozen sweaty yogi.

I have grown accustomed to the less than perfect conditions of Bikram yoga. I limit my space to my personal mat and focus on my stances and grow oblivious to the rest. At Bikram, I focus so much that it has become good practice for concentration elsewhere. I listen to instructions as they are presented to me. I can catch most of the nuances. The focus is good for the brain because shutting off allows for stress management and relaxation.

It is at Bikram yoga that I have learned how to relax instantly. The constant requirement to enter savasanah rapidly has taught me to do the same at home. I can lie down and be napping at anytime, by switching off, relaxing my whole body and benefiting from a nap, no matter how deep and how short.

I have mentioned that I hated Bikram. I sigh with the thought of gathering all my energy and taking it to a hot room for a full ninety minutes. However, and inexplicably, I anticipate the weekly class with the same thrill as the Pooh anticipating his honey. I can work very hard with my children, going the extra mile, knowing that my escape will occur that evening, that I will be doing my dreaded breathing exercises in a few hours and feel much better. Why the first breathing exercises make me yawn uncontrollably remains a mystery...

I am not a Bikram yoga regular. Attending once a week will not make me an expert yogi but I have been going long enough to have personalized my postures. I don't dread any for having done them too many times. The camel posture is one I am proud of because I can perform without the nausea and the fear that comes from such an extended back bend.

Despite the concentration, many images assault me during practice. My favorite pose is the locust pose because I can no longer separate it from the Paranormal Activity image of the defenseless mother being dragged by her legs down the stairs by the invisible spirit. In strong contrast, the warrior pose is a poetic posture because the instructor requests that we open our chest like rosebuds, and I can only think of Boris Vian's Chloe who had to cover her chest with flowers in order to survive her illness. Artistic is the last posture which always reminds me of the blue Matisse collage.

The instructor has ceased to mention the "waterfall of gravity" in which we gather between our standing poses. In those instances, I do dream of the Utah waterfalls that my grandfather loved. When the instructor requests the sudden and frequent situps that follow our savasnahs, I rise from the cold waters and imagine icebergs floating around the hot room. It must be my method of dealing with the heat.

Bikram yoga has indeed modified my tolerance to heat. The sport is performed in a hot and humid room, similar to the actual climate of the UAE. With that practice, I remain as stoic outdoors as I have to be in the yoga class. This is a concept my friends don't seem to warm up to. They can't understand why I chose a sport that mimicks the atmosphere that we complain about in the Gulf.

Granted, I have convinced most of them to try the exercise. We have had bikram parties when we would come as an army of six or more, but they rarely came back and Bikram is a subject they prefer not to bring up again with me. Out of that whole experiment, a single friend, who also played golf with me, got closer as she accompanied me to Bikram several times. It has a bonding effect. I still remember our car rides back, talking about class, as others would talk about  a movie they had shared.

The benefits of Bikram Yoga are numerous: the cardio workout, the extensive stretch that is facilitated by the high temperatures of the room and the good feeling of release that occurs after all the energy is spent. Never a morning have I not awaken with the gratifying aches and pains of good stretching that Bikram provides. Who needs a massage after such an experience?

 Bikram Yoga will always remain a challenge for me. The sportiest, fittest friends I know have been confused about it. For Bikram yoga, the beginner must be steadfast, no matter the negative feelings, and attend, class after class. Eventually, it grows on you, no matter how much you hate it.

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