Bikram yoga takes place in a room that is heated to 40 degrees. That’s essentially like doing yoga outdoors in Kuwait during August, but without the sunburn.
The Yes Woman series is about saying yes to experiences that I would previously have rejected, and I would have rejected this experience outright, with a sense of satisfaction at a 40-degree bullet dodged. But this time I had no choice.
Many women approach with distress any activity that dishevels them to a level of scruffiness. It is probably tied up with that deep-seated reliance on appearance we are immersed in very early and tend to carry around with us for life. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. My tidy appearance is a form of armour. It tells the world, or at least intends to, that I’m not easily undone. Conveying that message is much more difficult when your hair is damp with sweat, your shoes are hurriedly shoved on to the wrong feet, and you smell like a damp Labrador.
If it’s necessary to address hypocrisy or personal weakness to open oneself to something new, then that’s just what we should do. It’s often easier said than done, but I duly take myself off, with some trepidation, to a beginner’s class at Bikram Yoga Dublin in Harold’s Cross.
As I approach the glass front door, I notice that it’s fogged up with condensation. Already I am a bit spooked. That ominous fog implies a temperature level that offends the January air outside the door. When I head inside, it does seem a little warm, but nothing too extreme.
I meet Anne, who will be teaching the class. She’s friendly and encouraging and has the slender, sinuous form you might expect from someone who is a regular practitioner of yoga. She tells me what I can expect and gives me some advice on getting through the first class.
When I’m changed and ready, Anne opens the door to the classroom, and the heat seems to slow our movement (or rather mine), as though we are walking through a thick liquid, and I know that I’m really in for it. Forty degrees looks unpleasant just as two digits sitting side by side. As a temperature, it’s simply offensive. People are sitting on towel-covered yoga mats. I’m heartened that these people are all shapes and sizes. There are the slender bodies you might expect, and there are also softer and less disciplined bodies, like mine.
There is a nice mix of men and women, and everyone is rather minimally dressed. The men wear just shorts, while women tend to wear sports bras and cropped leggings, or shorts. Anne says kindly to me, “Next time, you’ll probably want to wear less”. I love that the attire is all about utility. Nobody cares how anyone else looks, and everyone is too busy perishing with heat to have the energy to sexualise anyone else.
The class begins. Within five minutes, I’m seeing black spots in my line of vision and I have to sit before I pass out. It isn’t the stretching; it’s the heat.
While I sit for a couple of minutes and take a drink, I look around the room and notice a young woman at the front. She’s wearing very short shorts, and a cropped top that exposes her protruding belly. Just as I watch, trying to figure out what exactly looks funny about her, Anne comes over and announces that we can all take inspiration from this woman, who is two weeks away from giving birth. Ah. She’s almost nine months pregnant, and her limbs spiral gracefully around her enormous bump. I’ve rarely seen anything weirder, or more strangely beautiful, than this woman winding her elegant limbs like so many planets around her bump.
At one point, she is sprawled backwards on her knees with her forehead touching the floor. Right then, I think, best get up so. I last the 90-minute class. The volume of sweat that pours from you in such as session is astonishing. Afterwards, I feel swollen with heat, and baffled. But I want to do it again.