Last Friday night we headed to what seemed like the middle of the Spanish desert to join the latest Bikram teacher training students for a Friday night hot yoga class with Bikram Choudhury, the creator of Bikrams Beginners Hot Yoga sequence, or HOT 26 as it's now commonly called.
Seven years ago, Jack, had completed some 40-plus classes with Bikram when he did his 9 week, 500 hour, intensive hot-yoga teacher training in Los Angeles, USA.
This night, we were joining the students and several Bikram teachers from around the world, who had travelled to Spain to assist and also to 'recertify' (meant to be done every 3 years!) and also support the trainees, or just join into classes with Bikram himself. Teachers often 'comeback' to training to offer up assistance and encourage students. We bumped into people we knew, people we had heard of, and we met new people; empathised with the students who were about to approach their last week of teacher training, and whom were sore, tired, excited and truly immersed in the 'yoga bubble'. During their 9 weeks they practice 2 x 90 min hot classes a day, Monday to Friday, and 1 class on a Saturday; Sunday is their day off – to sleep, eat and do their washing. They also attend posture clinics during the day and lectures at night, which sometimes finish at 3am!
It's a tough 9 weeks, but the yoga keeps you going and every class energises you. Certainly for Jack, he did not touch a drop of alcohol and had very little coffee during his 9 weeks- he was at his lightest weight in 20-odd years- as all you really want to do is hydrate between classes, you can't seem to get enough water into you.
When we arrived on Friday afternoon, I was really excited about taking the class as I've practiced Bikram yoga for 8 or 9 years and it was our first ever hot yoga class that we ever took. I love all kinds of yoga, but you never forget your first hot yoga session – we loved it, but we were also a bit shell-shocked! You forget the 'pain' of that first class or indeed your first 20 classes, it's a distant memory once you start a regular practice. Well this Friday, I was about to get a 'big wake-up call' and reminder of my first session: my first ever class with 'the boss!'.
Something we always tell first time visitors to Heat is: 'please hydrate well before class; watch the coffee intake and don't eat 2 to 3 hours before class; sit down as much as you need to, sip water, take it easy and you'll be fine……Well, didn't we just FAIL to heed our own advice! We arrived on Friday after a 2 hour drive, it was 35 degrees outside, we had drank about 3 or 4 lovely Spanish coffees that day, drank maybe 2 glasses of water and we'd spent the last five days enjoying a few drinks every night – we were on our hols! What was I thinking? Why did I have the complimentary grappa the night before after dinner, which followed half a bottle of red wine and a few Cava's?
All of these thoughts did not enter my head until I was on my knees after 40 mins of the class and had experienced a few moments where I thought I was going to 'face plant' and black out. I remember doing my first aid course and the instructor saying to us, when you start feeling dizzy, that is your body telling you to sit down, it's a built in mechanism to make you sit down or lie down before you actually faint or fall down. Did I listen to my body? NO, I stayed upright until I saw stars and a black hole and then I sat down.
The minute we walked into the room, I knew I was in trouble: the sweat was pouring off me just standing chatting to folk. We set up in the back row, away from all the 'healthy yoga bodies' but apparently it was a bit of a 'hot corner'! In came Bikram and we started with the breathing – amazing, but my heart was pounding and I felt nervous. Next came Half Moon, a great warm-up for the spine – all good and much needed after a week's holiday. I felt stiff as a board. Into 'awkward pose' we went, with Bikram teaching each posture, but also chatting during each posture, so that sometimes, it was 1 minute and sometimes it was 3 minutes enduring each posture!
At this point, I actually started thinking that I had a stomach bug or had picked up food poisoning from our breakfast at a local cafe earlier that day – I actually thought this nausea, dizziness, feeling fragile etc. was nothing to do with the fact that I was dehydrated and toxic! Oh, the stories we tell ourselves. I then thought, maybe there was grappa in the coffee we drank – it tasted amazing! I mean the clientele at the cafe that morning were on small beers at 10am and one lady followed that up with a large red wine and plate of sliced prosciutto in-between sucking on her cigarette! It was definitely the type of place that did grappa with morning coffee!
By the time we got to Standing Bow, I was dizzy and having a problem focusing, plus my legs felt like jelly. All the things I know that happen to people in our little Heat Hot yoga room started happening to me. I was able to almost examine myself and my feelings from the outside looking in and I found it amusing, scary, humbling and a huge learning curve. I tried to use my water to help me, but by this time, the water was as hot as a cup of tea and offered no relief, the humidity was high and my body was dehydrated for sure; a headache was already forming.
I hit the floor after Standing Bow and sat on my knees and watched everyone else in the room, including Jack who seemed fine, but I could see how 'red' he was, which he does not usually go in the hot box – it's almost like a red, purple colour and I knew he was doing it tough too. Eventually sitting on my knees was hard, so I just surrendered and lay down on my back…thinking, I'm going to have to leave this room or I'll throw up or combust internally. I was planning my escape, I was thinking about what a fool I was for not prepping for a class that was probably going to be my 'hardest ever' class and there were a hundred other things rushing through my head. If I did not leave the room I thought to myself that I would have to stay on the floor like this for the rest of the class because I had no choice.
Jack looked over at me and said, do your 'breathing', start breathing, long and slow breaths in and out, fully out and slow your heart rate down – just concentrate on each breath. Oh, I'd forgotten about that, my breath, the one thing I can control and that will help me. The one thing I tell other people to do in a hot yoga class, just concentrate on the breath. Thank goodness, and so I started concentrating on my breathing and Wham, my heart rate slowed down, the 'drama' in my head stopped, I just breathed in and out, slowly and fully and felt immediately better, plus there was more oxygen on the floor. I stayed with the breath thing for a while, it was great…or less-worse!
Okay I needed to get up now and try….what a horrible feeling, knowing if you get up, you may feel like 'blacking out'. I got up and concentrated on the breath, moving and breathing. It was better and we were nearly at the end of the standing sequence.
I just took energy from everyone around me, including Jack, who was still standing and doing his thing. Avi was in front of me and some other teachers and he turned around and gave me a few 'looks' a couple of times as in, 'I feel it too'! I became like a Yo- Yo, up and down, up and down – not trusting myself right then.
Of course I'd also tried too hard! (ego!) considering my 'condition' going into the class, but it was Bikram and he really 'works' you. If you turn up, you had better 'turn up'. I was listening intently as possible to his cues and his jokes and 'chats' during the postures to glean any info I could. There were moments in all of the postures where I went somewhere different and felt different. In Standing Bow, my favorite posture, he got us into the posture and said, 'Kick your leg' – yep I'm kicking and then he said 'stretch', yep I'm stretching and then he said, now really 'kick your leg' like you are going to kick someone coming for you, kick! I was like, I'm kicking and then he said, stop pulling, kick, are you kicking? He said don't pull, but kick, kick it – I was thinking, could the person who is not kicking, please start kicking otherwise we'll be here for a long time, and then I thought maybe that person is me? So I started really kicking and stretching, not pulling, and he was still going, come on 'kick', so I did and I kicked and just like the 'dialogue' say's, I felt that if you are 'kicking and stretching', you can stand and balance in that posture all day! It was true and I felt it……… and then I hit the floor before I passed out!
In some of the postures, he would just repeat the instructions, until you heard them, that could take a while because we are not always listening and our bodies are not always responding; other times he would 'demo' or use others to 'demo' or he would get frustrated and shout and swear, or he'd tell us we look beautiful and would let us have a longer 'savasana' when he knew we needed it. He was in total control of the class – and us. The words found me, the same words I've heard a 1000 times, but it felt perfectly timed and by the time we got to the floor postures, I was starting to realise that I was not going to leave this room, but I was going to survive this class, do what I could and hope to recover enough to do it all again the next morning – thoroughly detoxed!
The floor sequence was tough, Bikram feels this is the 'real class', the back strengthening and stretching is what we've been warming up to; the whole reason for the standing sequence is so that we can do some intense back strengthening and back bends. I endured, listened and tried my hardest while enjoying every second of 'savasana', which was a full 20 seconds, if not longer, between postures. He did not cheat us out of 1 second of savasana and I needed every second of that break to be able to turn over and do the next posture. It made me truly appreciate again how important it is not to rush the savasanas when people are new to class or struggling; it's what helps you find the energy for the next posture. I needed to take 3 long slow breaths, at least – and I did.
By the time we'd finished class and I squeezed Jack's hand with relief, it was around 1hr and 45 mins. Our final savasana had arrived and Bikram played us a song that was over 150 years old – a truly ancient yoga song. I have no idea how long the song was, I just lay there and waited and enjoyed my savasana. The temptation to leave the room once Bikram had left the room was there, to find some ice, some cold water and hit the pool, but I knew the longer I stayed on the floor, the better I would feel later. My headache was now full-blown, but by the time I got up to leave I felt quite giddy, energised, completely detoxed and on a high. I had survived, I had sat my butt on my heel's for the first time in Half Tortoise, I had felt what it's like to really kick and stand on one leg feeling like I could stand their forever, I did both sets of full Camel, even though I knew they would be tough and perhaps cause me to feel sick, but I trusted myself and my breath and body. There were many other little 'break-through' moments that happened during the class too, and I know that my practice has changed – again!
The next day, after loads of water, good food and a good night's sleep, my headache was gone and I felt amazing. My body was sore from the class, but I felt 're-born' and did it all again at 830am and this time it was still still tough, but I didn't feel, once, that i was going to 'pass out', 'black out' or 'leopard crawl' out of the room gagging!
I'll never forget that class because it showed me everything in one class. It showed me: how much I had been enjoying myself over the last week; how little water I had drank; how much coffee I had drank; it showed me what to do when the going gets tough; how to find your breath; how to sit down and calm 'the chatter' in the head; how to truly 'look after myself'. You feel better; it kicks your butt and I'd do it all again tomorrow, if 'the boss' was in town!