I recently discovered Bikram Yoga when a friend opened a beautiful studio nearby. As a one-time competitive athlete and possibly due to my innate Irish Catholic guilt, I am drawn to the intensity and purging involved in this grueling yet exceptionally rewarding workout, which for me, at least, poses challenges far beyond the physical.
"Bikram Yoga is a series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises performed in a room heated to approximately 105 degrees. The postures are the same every class - it is your body and mind that changes." - from the Bikram Yoga Rye Brook's Web Site
Clean, uncluttered and completely serene the studio is the mirror opposite of the house I just left. Two steps into the dimly lit room, hot air envelopes like the covers my daughter pried off me a few hours ago. It's a cold and rainy April morning and if I didn't know what the next ninety minutes had in store I'd regret not bringing a pillow. Having narrowly escaped an early demise after my last class, instead I snag a corner spot near the entrance and convince myself there's a discernible sliver of cool air funneling toward me through the door jamb.
I am still recovering from a school break that felt like six months - and the beverage consumption necessary to survive it. I am grateful to be alone. To detox. To get centered. To focus on myself.
The lights go on. Wow brighter than I remember. Suddenly I don't feel quite as hidden and serene in my corner pocket. Did I shave today? Yesterday? Recently? As Steven starts the class - my friend, Frannie, the studio owner, slips into the room and lays her mat out right in front of mine. Uh- oh. Game on. No slacking off. And definitely no bathroom breaks. (Frannie has conveyed that it is 'bad form' and 'potentially dangerous' to leave the room while class is in session.) It's ok. Just breathe. But I'm already having trouble doing that. I inhale when we're supposed to be exhaling, exhale when the class inhales and my arms are up when everyone else's are down. I sneak a furtive glance in the mirror to get in synch.
"This is your practice. Take your time. Clear your mind," Steven says in a hypnotic voice. As it turns out this is more of a hurdle than the breathing.
In the locker room I ran into a mom from my son's basketball team but out of context I can't recall her name. She's across the room in the front. She looks tan and in shape. She's very nice. What is her name? Patty, Jennifer, Mary Beth. Hmm, I don't think I'm going to get it. She said her son is playing Little League. Do people have their arms up or down? Why didn't we sign Jay up for Little League. I know the games are interminable but he would have liked it. Why lacrosse? Baseball is the All American sport. He should be playing baseball!! Frannie is incredibly flexible. I know she owns the place but she's practically at a right angle on half moon.
I like half moon - I like the way it sounds and the way it feels. "It's a "hip opener," says Steven. I like the next one too: Eagle. It's more challenging but I'm proud of myself for not falling over. I wonder if Frannie is impressed that I didn't fall over. The heat is starting to settle in. I wonder if the boys practice will be cancelled tonight. They will be disappointed but at least it eliminates the logistics of three practices at the same time. If it's not I wonder if the sitter can stay later with Erin. If it's raining she will probably want to leave early. I guess I can take Erin with me. Did I give Erin her meds this morning?
Head to knee pose. Sweat pours from my forehead on to my knee. If it's cancelled though dinner becomes a larger issue. My head feels exceptionally heavy on the way up. Did the room just change colors?
A woman in the front row who had her foot above her head on the last pose is now lying prone on her mat. I wonder if she's ok. I wonder if my brain is failing to tell me that I'm not ok. I wonder if I have lost the capacity to gauge how un-ok I am. And she's up again. It's all ok.
Tree pose is the last of the standing series. It's a happy pose. On my left side I think I almost look like Frannie. Feeling good. Feeling flexible. But then Frannie and all but one other person slowly crouch down on one foot, the other still resting on top of the opposite thigh. It looks next to impossible. I wonder what this has to do with being a tree. (I later learn nothing. It's a whole different pose called Toe Stand.)
I lie on my mat wondering why I'm not more relieved to be lying on my mat. They say heat rises but it's sweltering down here. To keep the room from spinning I anchor myself on a small circle in the square ceiling panel above me.
"Keep breathing," Steven says. Are people forgetting?
Cobra. Rabbit. Camel. Turtle. Animals appear in Technicolor. I know the end is near.
Final breathing exercise, the lights are dimmed and happily there are no accompanying arm movements. Inhale. Exhale. This I can manage.
"Peace, Love and Many Blessings," Steven whispers as he dims the lights and leaves the room.
That is such a nice thing to say to someone, I think to myself as I reach for my water bottle. Did Will remember to pack his water bottle today? And his cleats? I saw them by the door. That kid! If only he could learn to focus...