I didn't make it to that Bikram class in the morning, but coz I finished early today, I thought I'd take their evening class. It was cold and raining all afternoon... just the perfect kind of weather to get toasted.
Man, did I get toasted.
The last Bikram class I took was probably oh say... about 2 years ago. The first time I did it, I probably had to stop about 10,000 times coz the heat and humidity were making me so light-headed I felt like I was gonna throw up, then pass out. Tonight, I did a little better and stopped about... oh say, 5,000 times instead? I still felt like I was gonna throw up, then pass out.
A Bikram class is thus a very good lesson in humility. HAHAHA.
I'm not in my top physical state coz my asana sessions have been patchy in the past few weeks (you know this)... and even though his copyrighted 26-pose sequence is a really easy Hatha yoga sequence, that bloody humidity just nails you. I was floored sooooo many times. But I figured stopping every single time I needed to would be much more elegant than keeling over and passing out if I just pushed on.
The first thing that struck me about this place were the 3 HUGE photos on top of the wall. So any time you had to look up for drishti, you got distracted by:
And there was a third picture flanking Bikram's right of a chubby dude... whom I thought was Bishnu Gosh at first (Bikram's teacher), but now that I've googled it, it seems like the picture on his left is actually of Bishnu Gosh. So... sorry folks, all I can say is the chubby dude had long flowing locks, sat in an almost lady-like sideways pose and was the only one who wasn't sitting on a tiger.
So... what do you do when you've already decided you want to go to this yoga class, paid the money for the yoga class and brought all your gear into the studio to set yourself up for said yoga class only to be confronted with such DISTURBING IMAGES?!? ...I guess it's supposed to come across as "fierce" but all I could think of was "What about Ahimsa?" (I mean... HELLO McFLY? Those dudes are sitting on SKINNED TIGERS?!?!???)
I did the only yogic thing I could think of doing in such an ironic situation: PASS NO JUDGMENT.
And then the next thing I thought: Liz would piss herself laughing if I could get a picture of this. HAHAHAHA. Sadly, no cameras in class of course. Thank goodness the internet raked up 2 of those 3 pictures.
Here's where I feel I need to interject with my personal opinion of Bikram. He's not exactly the most "yogic" of teachers... everything from his flashy lifestyle (100 Bentleys. Or is that Rolls Royces. OK, I'm hyping up the figure too, but you get the idea.), to his use of language ("Because I have balls like atom bombs, two of them, 100 megatons each. Nobody fucks with me.") SERIOUSLY. ...to his copyrighting of his asana sequence and suing any unlicensed studio for using the name Bikram™... Yeah, it's all kind of vulgar and un-yogic.
BUT... is it? On the other hand, kudos to him for telling it like it is. He is honest and unapologetic for who he is, what he does and how he lives. I mean, who said yoga teachers were GOD, right? (By "GOD", I mean: Perfect.)
Crazy as anyone is for practicing yoga in what is pretty much a steam room-sauna, there is some benefit to it. I like to call it "gateway yoga". I know lots of people who've come to know yoga precisely coz of a hot yoga class, and from there delve into other aspects of it. So I'm not gonna knock this style of yoga coz god forbid people get into a "My guru is better than your guru" debate. Which would be completely WRONG and beside the point (Thanks Marinus, for that quote. I will forever remember it was you who reminded me of this!).
And the fact is, it is nice to finally be in a warm room in the dead of winter and be able to feel your muscles expand and open up, just like they should. (OK, maybe 40 degrees Celsius is kinda pushing the warm-factor, but hey... I'll take what I can get).
Oh, and the teacher-chatter I was so afraid of? ...It helped that the class was half in Dutch, half in English. HAHAHA. Each pose is repeated twice during the 1.5hr class, so the first round of asanas were taught in Dutch, and the second round were explained in English. This worked very well for me coz I didn't understand half the chatter that was going on, anyway! It was like having BBC World radio on in the background when the foreign correspondent is blabbering on. You just kinda zone out. And coz I was watching what other people were doing to figure out which pose came next, I was glad for his English translation by the time he got to it.
Impressions of Bikram as a form of yoga, after coming back to it 2 years later? (and after practicing Ashtanga Mysore style monogamously during this period). They're such different forms of yoga, like on opposite ends of the scale... the most obvious is the decibel-level of course. There's barely a sound made except for Ujjayi breathing in a Mysore class... this, versus the Bikram script.
The other thing that really struck me was how externalized a Bikram class is. I never noticed this before, only this time round. I mean... you're staring into a mirror in front of you, watching to pull this up, push that down. As opposed to internalizing the process in a Mysore environment - feeling where in the body you ought to be working. Also, with Mysore it's so internalized that everyone's doing their own thing, at their own pace... no one really cares where in the series you're at.
With Bikram, because everyone's looking into the same mirror, it also felt like there's a bit of competition going on (he's bending more than I am, she's getting her leg higher in Nataraja, etc.) I caught myself comparing at times, only because you're all staring into the same bloody mirror so it's right there in front of you! (OK, here's where you say "Then engage Pratyahara to the max!") I can so totally understand why he of all people is pushing for yoga competitions and for it to be part of the Olympics (Sorry folks, this is where I draw the line. Yoga is NOT competition). I don't agree with it, but now I understand a bit better WHY he's all for competition. The use of mirrors in class encourages this.
And finally, while I got to crack my back open in that delicious heat and with all those lovely backbends, I have to say that only practising those 26-postures is extremely limiting (if this the only asana practice one does). No arm-strengtheners! Not much core-building! Listen to me, I'm such an Ashtangi!
Dammit, at least with Ashtanga there's a progression to the practice... you keep adding on more poses that will help you strengthen/ open this-and-that part. So even within the "fixed" series, you're still adding on and growing stronger and more flexible. There's a progression. I'm not sure how this would work within Bikram's series... but I'm also unsure if there are "advanced variations" to the poses. Any Bikramites care to share? I mean - I'd think you'd hit a plateau at some point, no? Or am I missing something?
I'm glad I went. I was craving heat, but by the end of it my head was bursting with "WHAT WAS I THINKING?" as I stopped for the 5,000th time before I threw up or passed out... It would probably be a while before my next Bikram class, I think I've had my fill for a while. It's just nice to shake things up a bit, once in a New Moon. (Haha, bad Ashtanga moon day joke) (Which is today, by the way. Which is why I went for the Bikram class in the first place. The joke is so bad I had to explain it in such detail).
Those 3 photos are still burned into my memory. Arghhh!