NOTE: After an iliotibial band injury caused me to give up running for a bit, I agreed to try out "bikram yoga," a form of intense yoga that takes place in a room heated to 105 degrees. The class is 90 minutes long and runs through 26 different postures. I am assured that you need not be skilled at yoga to try this. Below are a few initial thoughts after this morning's class.
"I haven't been this scantily clad in public since the 1980s."
I know you're supposed to wear, like, next to nothing when doing this type of yoga, but it's just weird to be wearing that little around strangers. I mean, I'm more covered up when a stranger is looking at my hoo-ha, what with that paper dress and all. This morning, as I put on my black I'm-a-boy-swimmer-in-the-1940s shorts and my bright green you-know-as-well-as-I-do-that-this-really-is-just-a-training-bra looking top, I had a moment of doubt.
A few actually, but the one I could identify was this: Remember when it was "Wacky Wednesday" or something of the sort when you were in middle school? And you'd get all dressed up in wacky clothing? And then, as you walked out the door toward the bus with your dad's shirt on backwards and your mom's pantyhose dangling from your head, you'd have this sudden panic, like- "Oh, no. What if I got the date wrong? What if there's not even a Wacky Wednesday and I made the whole thing up in my head?" A million what-ifs that all end in you showing up at school looking like the jackass you've suspected you are all along.
That's how I felt, standing in my kitchen in my boy trunks and training bra and knowing soon I'd be in a room full of strangers in the very same outfit. But I threw on some sweats and headed out the door just the same. It can't be any weirder than a bike meet with all of those clippity-cloppy shoes and spandex shorts and helmets that look like penises. Right?
"Oh, man! I forgot my yoga mat at home! I'm going back for it."
Now, here's the truth. I never imagined I'd ever be one to own a yoga mat. I mean, I'm just not yoga-y. At all. For one, I have hamstrings the size of a toddler in legs the size of a grown woman. This is to say when I bend over, I consider it a great stretch if my palms reach my knees. So, the only thing a yoga mat would do is sit under my bed and mock me each night as I went to sleep.
The one and only time I did yoga was with my beautiful friend Maud. She's yoga-y. And she had her own mat. And while I unrolled my loaner mat and attempted a downward dog to mask the fact that I was sniffing it for foreign and unpleasant odors, Maud rolled her mat out and confidently got right on it. Because it only had a Maud smell. Which she, on some level, identified as her own and kept her from recoiling and choking the vomit back each time a position brought her nostrils to the mat's surface.
Which I left at home, unrolled across my kitchen counter to get rid of the overwhelming scent of paint fumes that I discovered after pulling it out of the package.
"Don't be a mat-snob," I thought to myself as I pulled into my parking space at the yoga studio. "Just rent one. It's, like, $2. Big deal." The $2 wasn't the big deal. It was the fact that I suddenly imagined Ron Jeremy and his hairy, sweaty butt dripping Ron Jeremy sweat all over a mat and then hanging it up for the next person to use. And that next person being me.
I threw my car into reverse and went to retrieve my mat much in the way Nicholas Cage's character went back for the diapers in "Raising Arizona." It was epic.
"Hey. It's not so bad in here. In fact, it kind of feels good."
I made it back in time for the 10:00 a.m. class. I registered, tossed my things in a little cubby, shed my sweats and walked into the studio like it was perfectly normal for me to be walking around in my skivvies with other adults who were also walking around in their skivvies.
The heat was...nice, actually. "I'm not sure what everybody's talking about," I thought. "This isn't bad at all. It's like a nice summer day. My friends must be heat-sissies."
10 minutes later:
"Okay. I guess it is a bit warm. But this is totally do-able. No problem."
15 minutes into class:
"Um. Okay. Wait a second, here. This doesn't seem right. Did somebody turn up the heat?"
30 minutes into class:
"I can't...think...straight...mouth dry...fire in lungs...eyes burning...me die now..."
At this point I am totally drenched. Sweat rolling into my eyes. Sweat dripping on the towel under my feet, which is now completely soaked in sweat. Salty sweat rolling down my arms as they're pointed toward the ceiling and sweat making its way into my mouth each time I turn my head. I can't believe my body had this much water to lose. "Well, just get a drink of water, dummy," you might be saying to me through the computer screen.
I would. But we were instructed to only drink water when the instructor says, "Party Time!" which was once. Other than that, we could take a sip in between poses, which amounted to about a millisecond of time. I'd reach for the bottle and..."LIFT YOUR ARMS ABOVE YOUR HEAD AND LOCK YOUR FINGERS..." Dang it. Missed my chance. Next break in directions and I'd reach for the bottle again. "GRIP YOUR ANKLES AND LOCK YOUR KNEES..." My fingers would just touch my pink Camelback water bottle (now filled with warm water) and I'd be directed back into a pose. If I were a yogi, I'd invent the "water pose" which would just look like holding a bottle of water and drinking from it. But, as it were, there was water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.
"You want me to put my what? Where?"
I think it is interesting, if not a little impressive, that some people can contort themselves into a shape not unlike a bowl of wet noodles. I really do. And if you can bend over backwards and then grab your ankles and, oh, I don't know, walk up the side of the wall with your super-yoga strength, I will think that's pretty neat.
I'm just not made like that.
So when the yoga lady said, "Get into tree position," and then folded her leg over the front of herself and grabbed onto her ankle, I thought two things: (1) I've never seen a fucking tree hold onto its foot like that, and (2) There's no way in God's green earth I can get my body to do that.
But I'm determined. And I don't want to be the only tree in the room not holding its foot, so I give it a go.
Grabbing hold of my super-sweaty limbs proved as easy as trying to catch a hyper-active baby that you just lathered in vegetable oil. I might get a toe or part of a heel, but I couldn't get a good grip on any part of my body. Everything was slipping and sliding and begging for mercy. "Well, why didn't you just wipe the sweat off of yourself, dummy?" you might ask.
Good question. But we were told not to do that. You see, the sweat, which at this point is making everyone look like dejected losers in a hillbilly wet t-shirt contest, is supposed to cool us off. No wiping the sweat off. I cheat and use my fingers like a squeegee a couple of times. Other than that, I grab at my toes and ankles and heels the best I can, as instructed. When I finally get a hold of, say, my toe, it's all I can do not to yell, "I GOT IT!" And then like the pop sound in the Chordette's song "Lollipop," my toe slides from my grip once again.
"Savasana= sanskrit for "Haha! Just kidding suckas! You don't get to rest!"
So, picture this: You've been forcing your body to stand in the most unnatural of poses in stifling heat. It's like you went into your granny's attic in the summer- your granny who has no air conditioning- and then stayed up there for over an hour trying to dislodge your arms and legs by wrapping them around your body. No. Let's say someone was forcing you to do this. Like you're in prison or something. A yoga prison.
Then, just when you think you're actually going to die, the prison guard says, "Oh, just kidding. You can lay down and rest." This is called "savasana," you're told. The resting pose.
It takes about 3 seconds for you to lay down and about 5 seconds later you're snapped out of it with instructions to do a quick sit up and immediately get into another pose. I guess we could all mutiny. We could just lay there and refuse to get up, like when your mom would tell you to go up for a nap and then you'd fall to the floor and weave your arms through the dining room chair and then she'd drag you up the stairs with your arms still woven through that chair and it would thump thump thump all the way up the stairs but, by golly, you were not going to give up.
You could do that.
But you don't. And neither does anyone else. We're all slaves. Slaves to the yoga. And these little "savasana" periods only show us what resting people do. We are not resting people.
"My last thoughts before I (almost) died."
About two-thirds of the way through, I thought about dying. I mean to say if I could have chosen to do it right then and there, I might have. A quick look around the room told me I wasn't alone. Several people were down for the count, sprawled across their mats like bodies on a Civil War field. Chests rising and falling in rapid succession and looks of defeat on their faces.
We were told we could sit out a pose if we absolutely needed to. Many people absolutely needed to. And I wasn't far behind them.
But, hell. I ran a half-marathon two weeks ago and found it a delightful experience. "If you can run a half-marathon," my friends assured me, "you can definitely do bikram yoga." Really? Because the half-marathon was no test of endurance like this 90 minutes was. I've had kidney stones. Twice. I tried to think about that as I was in my final leg-wobbling, sweat-producing, dignity-stealing poses. This can't be as bad as kidney stones, can it? It was. I've never had a baby, but I imagined giving babies might be more unpleasant and a greater test of endurance. I began to imagine I was giving birth. To a little sweat baby. That seemed to help.
When finally the last pose ended and we were told to get into the non-restful resting pose for the last time, I crossed my arms over my chest and felt my heart pounding in its cage. I swear I could hear my heated blood swooshing through my veins. Every part of me was covered in sweat and had the world tilted slightly, I imagined I could just slide my way down Clayton Road to my home, without any trouble. My lungs took in the hot air in shallow breaths, not unlike what it feels like to wake up in the middle of the night to find you've accidentally wrapped your head in all of your blankets and have been gasping for air for God knows how long. Others began stepping over me and making their way out of the room. I could feel the cool air rush in and slap the bottoms of my exposed feet each time the studio door opened.
"I did it," I thought. "I did it."
I'll be back.