For those of you who are fortunate enough to have never been to a Bikram Yoga class, let me explain to you what it is. Bikram Yoga is a supposed beginner’s level yoga class with 26 stances — or more aptly, pretzel shapes— conducted in bright, fluorescent lighting, at a recommended temperature of 105 degrees. That’s right, one hundred five. Degrees. Fahrenheit. 1-0-5.
I fell for my friends’ lies, tricks and ploys hook, line and sinker. I actually believed them when they said it would not be bad and I would feel great afterwards. I believed them when they told me it would balance my chi, and I would live in harmony with the Universe. More importantly, I believed them when they told me it would result in my having a smoking hot body. I even consulted with my friend Jeff, a workout fanatic. He had read all the propaganda about the healthy results of Bikram Yoga, and was more than ready to give it a go with me.
The day of our first yoga class, I starting preparing as soon as I woke up. I drank water incessantly, and I ate proper amounts of protein and carbs at the exact times recommended on the Bikram studio’s website. 6 p.m. was class time. I met Jeff outside the facility and went to the counter to sign up for the miracle class.
Making sure she first had collected our money, the too-skinny lady at the counter told us some very important rules for the class:
1. No talking inside the actual studio where the yoga will take place.
2. If you cannot do a stance, just stand straight with your arms at your side.
3. If you need to sit down, lay down completely on your back, arms at your side, on your mat.
4. Only drink your water when the instructor says you may have some.
5. You are not allowed to leave the room during the class, which is 90 minutes.
Apparently, these rules are somewhat sacred. In fact, she was so serious and intense giving us the lowdown, I fully expected her to end with, “And the most important rule is do not talk about Bikram yoga,” a la Fight Club style.
Jeff went ahead of me into the fire studio to find us two spots while I went to the locker room and changed into my workout clothes. After changing, I confidently opened the door to the studio. What hit me next was a wall of heat that can only be explained by preheating your oven to 500 degrees and sticking your head inside it. The temperature completely took my breath away. I barely could see. As I tried not to audibly gasp for air, I finally found Jeff who was already on his mat looking dazed and confused. Although he only had been in the room five minutes longer, his shirt was already visibly soaking wet. I unfurled my yoga mat beside his and sat down. Because it was against the rules, we both had an overwhelming urge to talk. Finally giving in, Jeff whispered, “Psst, it sure is hot in here.”
“Let’s get the Hell out of here,” I replied in a voice way above a whisper.
At that moment, the instructor entered the room, and locked the door behind her. She smiled, and began the class. I smiled back and the nightmare commenced. The very first thing we did was a full body stretch with our hands raised all the way over our heads. Immediately, the wall of mirrors the class was facing showed me I had worn a T-shirt much too short for Bikram yoga. My big, extremely white belly suddenly was on display for all to see as my shirt rose up to the level of a halter top. I altered my stretch to minimize the belly flash, just as the teacher told us now to stretch down to our toes. It didn’t take a wall of mirrors to tell me that not only was my shirt not long enough, but also my shorts were ill-fitting. Let’s just say if there were a “Plumbers Stance” in yoga, I would have perfectly achieved the position.
I tried to keep up with the different stances and not be self-conscious of how I looked doing them. This became much easier to do as the 105-degree heat and the bright, fluorescent lights and the annoying teacher’s voice all kept smashing into me. My last conscious sight was Jeff on his back with his leg in a position that unless you have been mangled in a car wreck or a skiing accident should never, ever be in. He mouthed to me, “I’m sorry. We shouldn’t have come.”
Then, what I call Bikram Tourette’s Syndrome took over my body. I think it was my body’s only way of getting through this trauma. I started occasionally yelling out random curse words as I tried to twist and contort my body in ways just not possible. I giggled while illegally grabbing my water. I jumped on one foot while trying to do some “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” stance. I think I ended just trying to hold the classic position Ralph Machio made famous in the movie “Karate Kid” when he continued to fight even with a busted ankle. I can’t really tell you because I have no real memory of anything other than the heat.
For 90 minutes, I flashed my belly and butt crack to anyone willing to look at it while sweating more than I thought was ever possible. I cussed, prayed, and giggled my way to the end. After the session, Jeff and I sat in the locker room on the cold tile floor. I wanted to cry, and he wanted to throw up. We eventually gathered ourselves, showered and met back outside. I noticed that my left eye seemed to be drooping, and I did not feel better. I didn’t feel great or relaxed, and I was pretty sure my chi wasn’t up to par either. I began googling “symptoms of stroke” on my phone.
On our way out, the too-skinny perky counter girl informed us that this was a common reaction after the first visit, and that it was, in her exact words, “like 100 percent totally different,” after the second class. It would be incredible. In fact, she had taken the class every day for 30 days and felt like a new woman! Words can’t describe what I wanted to do to that perky girl. But instead, I foolishly listened to her. If she said it was 100 percent different on Day 2, then who I am to argue with that? She was the expert. Jeff and I decided we would rest one day, then come back for the amazing yoga high promised us after completing Class 2. In happy denial, I drove home, only barely having to hold my drooping left eye open with my hand, more excited for the day off than I was for the next class.
— Keith Stewart
Keith Stewart splits his time between his hometown of Hyden and nearby Lexington, Kentucky. He is a regular contributor to Chick Lit Central and Humor Outcasts and is currently working on his second book of humor essays. He is the author of Bernadette Peters Hates Me: True Tales of a Delusional Man.