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Hot, Funky, Sweaty Yoga

posted Jan 25, 2010, 12:45 PM by Natalie Cox   [ updated Feb 2, 2010, 8:36 PM ]


I’m a yoga sampler. One of my goals is to try every single type of yoga that’s been invented thus far, on the entire spectrum from freakishly funky to the nicely normal. Except for naked yoga. Yep, soooo not going there.


Last Friday I decided to go with Bikram, aka “hot yoga.” Frankly, my biggest motivation to try Bikram was the opportunity to walk around not enfolded in 7 layers of clothes like a frozen human taco I have been in our frigid, heater-less house for most of this winter. Bring on the artificial summertime! I’d heard some people say the heat made them nauseous, but I figured if I could do yoga in 98% humidity in Ghana for a year of my life, no faux-tropical heat could faze me.  


How wrong I was. However, it wasn’t really the heat that bothered me. It was the aroma said heat invokes. The name of the studio, Funky Door Yoga, was appropriately descriptive. That place reeked like a moldy old jockstrap wrapped around a dirty sneaker used to wipe the dripping armpit of a body-builder on a high-protein diet. I don’t know if it was the fact that it’s located in Haight Ashbury, home of unwashed hippies, or the disturbingly moist old carpeting all squishy underfoot, but doing deep ujayii breathing through my nose lost all its appeal in this place.  


Ironically deep, concentrated breathing was the only reason I made it through the class. I stared my sweaty self down in the mirror with an intensity of focus I’ve not had in yoga for a long while. But it’s not because the poses were difficult or I had reached some meditative state. I was actually working very hard to keep from passing out. Bikram (as practiced at this studio, anyway) is a spectacular recipe for fainting. The smell of bodily odors burned into my nostrils along with the saturating heat, the studio was basically an airtight greenhouse minus fresh oxygen, and it featured fluorescent lights with hanging fans, thus creating a strobe light effect. That and the teachers’ constant exhortations to, “Lock your knees! Lock your knees harder!” made it very evident as to why so many people feel dizzy or queasy during their first Bikram yoga class.


Really though it’s fine to do yoga in 105 degrees, and let’s be honest: most people stink when they sweat a lot. My main bone of contention with Bikram is their practice of encouraging people to “stretch beyond their natural flexibility.” Essentially, heat cheats: it creates an artificial limberness in the body that enables people to push their joints and tendons open. Forcing the body to stretch beyond its normal capacity is a dangerous game to play. Heat certainly makes the body more pliable but it is also like applying an anesthetic to your muscles. Can you really feel how much is too far? How many times can you hyperextend before tearing or pulling something? In my yoga world, stretching should feel good and be safe. I believe in encouraging people to challenge themselves, but not to force themselves beyond their edge simply because the thermostat is turned up. And for that reason, I don’t think that I’ll try Bikram again. I’ll just go to a sauna next time.