Lessons I learned at Bikram class
You get a lot of time to think in a 90-minute Bikram class. Sure, you're focusing on your breathing (in and out through the nose, close your mouth, slow your breath down, keep breathing) and on getting your forehead to your knee or your fingers beneath your heels, but, in a world of fast-paced viral videos, of non-stop newsfeeds and social media overload, switching out of scrolling news mode and into the meditative state yoga seems to require can be a challenge, to say the least. The fact that I went to my first Bikram class in about five years and came away with a load of thoughts really speaks to the fact that I'm not a pro at switching off, at all. Maybe I'll get there some day; maybe I won't. With this, as with so many other aspects of my life, I'm trying to let go of the guilt associated with failing and just enjoy the process. It doesn't matter if I never manage to switch off – it's more important that I'm showing up and getting it done. Every day, another small victory.
I'd done Bikram before – at Init Yoga in Ringsend, for a 30-day period when I bought their intro offer. At first, I hated it, and then I grew to like it, and how it made me feel. But, once the 30-day intro offer was over, I didn't go back because I couldn't afford the full-priced sessions. I've done yoga since, on and off, but I haven't ever really got into a regular practice – and, for anyone who lifts weights regularly, it can be hugely complementary.
Anyway, I went, I practised, I sweated profusely. And I thought about myself, and what brought me here, and where I'll go to next. Here are a handful of my profound Bikram-induced revelations.
You never regret a workout
The decision to go to Bikram yesterday was kind of last minute, and kind of not. I bought a Groupon deal last week, for two weeks unlimited Bikram at Dublin City Bikram Yoga (website). I put a little schedule into my Google Calendar; for the fortnight of the deal, I'd practise Bikram five times a week. Saturday's 4pm class was to be my first, but when it came to it I was tired and it was cold... and mostly, I was lazy. Then, at the time I should've been leaving the house, I thought to myself, I'll never regret going, and so I gathered my bits together and speed walked my way into town.
Of course, I didn't regret it – that's a logic that holds fast for pretty much any form of training, and it's something I've known for some years now. But somehow, I've kind of forgotten lately and I've found myself, too often, choosing comfort over discomfort and TV over training. High-tailing it into town yesterday evening in the freezing cold and emerging, soaked with sweat, into the darkness of the night, reminded me: you never regret a workout.
An elephant may never forget, but a human body does
Bikram is not like riding a bike, at least not in the sense that, if you do it once, you'll remember it forever. During my previous foray, I remember that I got quite... well, not great, but at least proficient. I knew how to contort my body into the poses. I kicked my leg up and back and confidently stood on one foot; I got my knee to my forehead and my hips on the ground and felt flexible and refreshed afterwards.
Yesterday's class was a stark reminder that, what we don't use, we lose – in my case, that's the flexibility of my pre-weight training days. (It doesn't help, of course, that I'm now in my early 30s; my previous Bikram practice took place in my mid-20s.)
Why is it that I always think, if I've done something once, I'll be able to do it again? I should really have learned my lesson with box jumps, but it took a frustrating few moments of remaining in the very first phase of a pose I used to be well able for to show me that my body has moved on. There are things I can do now that I couldn't do, 10 years ago – but, by that same token, there are skills I've lost. Maybe I'll get them back, maybe I won't. (It'll probably take more than a fortnight of Bikram, so we may never know.)
Bikram is for every body
There's nothing like sweating in a room with a dozen or so other humans, all in varying states of undress, to remind you that really, we're not all that different from one another. It actually reminded me of the time I participated in Spencer Tunick's Dublin event (I'm somewhere in the photo above). For the first few moments, standing out on that wall, in the freezing cold, sure, I didn't know where to look. We were all shy and polite and gazed above people's heads and looked awkwardly from left to right, avoiding genitals and breasts and scars and body hair and staring, at all costs.
But within 15 minutes or so, we'd stopped. We all stared at one another, looking each other's bodies up and down – we were going to be there for a long time, after all, and there was no avoiding what was right in front of our faces. And the resounding impression I got was that we were all so, incredibly similar. Sure, there were small differences, but ultimately we were limbs and torsos and flesh and faces, and nobody looked any better or worse than anybody else.
Perhaps it was the cold that united us then, and yesterday it was the heat of Bikram, but there is something incredibly comforting about practising a physical activity in a room with people of varying shapes and sizes. It feels inclusive and welcoming, rather than the exclusivity that we sometimes associate with yoga (I blame the yoga bods of Instagram, honestly).
It is always possible to sweat more
Bikram is that one workout where, just when you think you couldn't possibly get sweatier, another rivulet of sweat will come trickling from somewhere you didn't think had sweat glands – your shin? Your knee? Your cheekbone? I wore Nike shorts – y'know, the demure kind with the under-shorts – with a vest top, and was so horrified by my level of sweat that I've since purchased an obscene pair of booty shorts (on sale!) and will henceforth be practising Bikram in hotpants and a bra top. #sorrynotsorry
Fine, these revelations weren't all that revelatory, but I felt like writing them down all the same. Consider this blog a personal diary of sorts – one that I invite you to read. (You're welcome.)