image via BleuOiseau

image via BleuOiseau

This morning I woke up and thought to myself, “It’s been too long since I’ve been nauseous to the point of dry heaves, sweating profusely in a room full of strangers, all while standing on one leg with the other leg held shakily against my forehead. I wonder if there’s anywhere in town where I could do that today.” As it turns out, I was in luck. Because last night I was trying to decide which yoga classes I could attend for my week of healthy additions, and none of them quite fit with my work schedule. Don’t forget, the point is to find balance, not to blow off work 4 days a week to bliss out in my favorite Ashtanga class. Refusing to give up on my goals, I started looking into my other options.

There are some fabulous small yoga studios here in Richmond, but I’m in an odd part of the city that requires a 15 minute drive to get pretty much anywhere but my corner of town. So my options are limited. Very limited. I only really had one option. The Bikram studio a mile down the road from my house.

I have heard of Bikram before and was mildly intrigued by the idea. You do a series of 26 poses over the course of 90 minutes in a room heated to 105 degrees (with humidifiers on full blast, natch). I liked the idea of sweating out toxins while at the same time allowing the heat to deepen the stretches. Sounded fab. Then a few months ago I looked at the 26 poses, seen here: bikram_yoga_sequencePretty basic stuff. No inversions, no fast-paced sun salutations, no difficult balances… not even a simple downward dog. I immediately lost all interest in Bikram. Cut to last night. In desperation from lack of options, I bought ten sessions from the local studio’s website and shrugged it off as “well, at least it’s better than nothing, and the sweating will be good detox if nothing else”.

This morning I arrived bright and early, water bottle and face towel in hand. The lovely woman behind the counter smiled, “Is that the only towel you brought?”. Admitting that it was, she gently offered me a large white beach towel. “You’ll need one of these. Normally we charge, but since it’s your first visit it’s no trouble”.  I was led into the studio where I laid out my mat and my beach towel. It was hot, but no hotter than a summer day here in the South, and I relaxed on my mat to wait for class to begin.

People began arriving in various states of undress. Wearing a sports bra, thin tank and short yoga capris, I was soon the most heavily clothed person in the room. Now, bear in mind that nearly all these people had hard-earned physiques that warranted a little strutting. And bear in mind that, unlike me, this was not their first inferno. Class began with some breathing and stretching and I was enjoying the clear mind that yoga brings. Then the sweating began.

Poses that should have felt relaxing and elementary became labored and tortuous. Sweat ran into my eyes and I started to feel woozy and dizzy. They told me to expect this, but they also told me not to eat for several hours before a Bikram class. Since I chose a morning class, this meant skipping breakfast. My ears felt like they were stuffed with cotton and I could feel the blood drain from my face. Not knowing if it was hunger, or heat or exertion, I chose to come out of the pose and take a knee to get my head straight. We had not yet reached the point in the class when you’re allowed to drink water (Yes, there is a water bottle sitting next to me while I’m close to passing out. No, I may not drink it.), so I just took some deep breaths and with a reassuring smile from the teacher, got back to my feet and rejoined the class. It was then that the stir fry commenced. I do not know who, and I do not know why, but someone for some reason began to sweat out the scent of stir fried chicken. In retrospect I was lucky to have gone on an empty stomach, because as I balanced there on one foot, knee to my head, I was certain I was about to be sick.

The next pose was corpse pose, which in Bikram, basically consists of laying quietly on your back while your psyche fluctuates between self-pity and anguish. When the other students moved into the next posture, I just remained laying on the floor, trying to decide if anyone would notice if I removed all of my clothes. It was stressed to me, after all, that as a new student, the single most important thing to achieve is not to leave the room.

Then something beautiful happened. The teacher announced that it was Party Time. No, I was not hallucinating (though, as in Indian Sweat Lodges, it would not have surprised me). “Party Time” is Bikram-speak for “water break”. From there on, we were free to drink as needed. I finished my water bottle and was almost instantly back to a place of relaxation and contentment. Even the mysterious stir-fry smell seemed to dissipate. While it was nowhere near my beloved Ashtanga, I no longer alternated between nausea and unconsciousness, which was nice. When class was over, the teacher brought each of us a cold, wet towel that had been treated with lavender oil. We put our dripping towels in the hamper and I rolled up my now-melted yoga mat.

It was 44 degrees when I left class this morning. Getting into my car, I turned the air conditioning on full blast, aiming every vent at my face and made the short drive home that way. After a shower and a meal, I wonder if it was really as bad as I thought. Perhaps I just had faulty expectations and didn’t re-adjust properly due to lack of nourishment. I cannot express how much I hope this to be the case. Because there are no refunds and I have nine. classes. left.