Photos by Dalton Patton | @daltgetdown
Plenty has been written about the toll the writerly life takes on one’s body. Between the hours spent motionless in front of a keyboard, the tendency to self-medicate, and a broad spectrum of ever-present deadlines snarling from the shadows, working out, much like doing laundry, is often the first thing scrapped off the to-do list. With my own mortal shell being in a state of physical fitness best described as “not applicable,” I put my brittle body through its first-ever Bikram Yoga class.
For the uninitiated, Bikram Yoga is a style controversial founder Bikram Choudhury created based on traditional yoga. It involves 26 postures and two breathing exercises conducted over 90 minutes, and is a total motherfucker. Through the class, a certified Bikram trainer leads you through positions and regulates the heat and humidity inside the room, which averages at about 105 degrees and 40 percent humidity, give or take a few degrees depending on class size. You even have to sign a waiver before attending a session. You know, in case you die.
At the Back Bay Bikram Yoga Boston studio, my class was packed, so our instructor Brad fattened the air to a 60 percent humidity. It’s essentially a sauna with wall-to-wall carpeting, saturated with the funky aromas of human sweat emanating on an epic scale. If you have a toxin in your body walking into the class, it stays there after you leave.
And sure, you sweat at the gym, or when running, or after overdoing it at a Brazilian steakhouse. But the difference between that kind of perspiration and what your body does in a Bikram session is the difference between throwing a bullet and shooting one. By the time we finished warming up, I looked like I had put on clothes after emerging from a shower without bothering to towel off. By the end, I was soaked head to toe. Below is a sample of some of the poses you’ll face in a Bikram class. Free advice: go to this hungover at your own peril.
STANDING HEAD TO KNEE POSE
Self-explanatory. You lock one leg in place to support your body, interlace all ten of your fingers under your non-standing foot, slowly extend that leg straight out until it’s parallel with the floor, tighten your stomach muscles, and touch your elbows to your calf muscle, tucked chin touching your knee.
BENEFITS: Stretches and strengthens all major muscle groups, exercises your digestive organs (which you’ll feel shifting around in there), improves concentration, and flushes out your pancreas and spleen.
DIFFICULTY FOR FIRST TIMER: Not easy. I looked like the village drunk trying to lap up a lost shot of whiskey from my leg. At one point, some kind of mysterious knuckle in my pelvis that I wasn’t aware I had cracked. I thought I broke myself, or was about to shatter like an old vase.
Kind of what it sounds like. You lay on your back, heels together, feet spread apart, with your arms relaxed and by your side. Eyes open, palms up. Deep breathing.
BENEFITS: Reduces blood pressure, improves circulation, and oxygenates the blood. Even cures jet lag, apparently.
DIFFICULTY FOR FIRST TIMER: Easy. This was my favorite one.
This is less a “Mike-Mike-Mike-Mike-Mike” Geico camel, and more of a professional wrestling camel-clutch camel. Propped up on your knees, which are set about six inches apart, you place your hands behind you on your hips while inhaling and slowly dropping your shoulders back. With your hips pushed forward and chest up, inhale deeply and work your way backwards until grabbing the heels of your feet and looking upside down and behind you.
BENEFITS: Cures constipation by stretching the abdominal organs and muscles to their extreme, stretches the throat and thyroid glands, opens the rib cage up for breathing, compresses the spine while stimulating the nervous system.
DIFFICULTY FOR FIRST-TIMER: Really not easy. Besides the fact I was trying to balance while bending my spine in a way that generated really throaty, unusual grunting from me, I looked around to see if I was doing it right and practically toppled over into a neighbor. I also thought my head was going to pop like a zit.
By the end of the class I was a ruined man, both physically and emotionally. But not necessarily in a bad way (well, perhaps physically, but I was hardly off to a great start when walking in), but a sort of goofy mental case kind of way. It was something akin to the intense endorphin high most long distance runners experience, be it from the surge of blood still swooshing around in my brain, or the fact I seem to have sweat until my glands spit out the last remaining fluids in my body. Either way, I had a positive glow about me.
Which was dimmed immediately afterward by some well-earned Bloody Mary’s down the road.
[Bikram Yoga Boston, locations in Financial District/Harvard Square/Back Bay, $20, bikramyogaboston.com]