I had a euphoric moment in Bikram yoga today. I went to my friends Theo and Jennifer’s new studio, Ethos Hot Yoga, in town, and practiced in both of their classes. I ‘did a double’ (with my packed lunch and lots of coconut water in between). This experience brought me a momentous bodily nirvana as a trolled along to my Sunday’s duration.
The first class was lead by Theo. As I exerted my body to the maximum, trying to achieve the perfect muscular alliance and traction during each pose it occurred to me that I have become so besotted to Bikram because it seems so like my previous love (and obsession): dressage. In both arts there is a set sequence of movements which never change: in dressage you follow a particular test, trying to perfect each movement, which is judged and marked out of ten. The tests might change, as you progress and advance to a higher level, but the movements stay the same. You are always trying to improve and interpret these movements with greater correction, pureness and poetry.
Just so, in Bikram the 26 poses are repeated in each yoga session, and they do not change. But every time you practice you try to improve and interpret each pose with greater correction, pureness and poetry, just like in dressage. And, in both arts, every time it feels different. In Bikram, the body reacts and plays differently, as the heat changes in intensity, whilst you can feel your muscles being stretched and your internal organs being massaged in different areas, with different amounts of pressure, as you attempt to perfect each posture.
Equally, in dressage, the horse and the rider always feel different in their interconnection and in the ways they align and communicate to interpret each movement. I used to talk to my horse with my body, through pressure from my seat bones and our connection through the reins, and with our synchronised breath and muscular harmony we could communicate and reassess each movement, always trying to advance the power of the horse’s body and show the meaning of beauty. We did this by practicing each movement, and using this process to enhance the muscular anatomy and poetic brilliance of the horse. In dressage this is an endless search and a lifelong journey that changes and is always different every time the horse and rider come together and perform.
It’s the same in Bikram yoga, my new-found love. The poses are always the same, but each effort to move the body to create them is different. I always lose my balance in ‘Standing Bow’, or during the three bounces to test the balance in the third part of ‘Awkward Pose’. During these poses, and in fact in every pose, I am tested to my limit.
But today this test erupted. There was a tsunami of sweat, as I melted (and came in the heat) and an oozing evanescence between the boundary lines of my body and my mind as they came together and performed each pose. Within the set barriers regulated order of the sequence there was a continued effort to grasp a purity or essence that might be obtained if you can ever achieve the pinnacle of perfection by doing each of the postures properly. You trust that the muscles of the body will be compressed and stretched, massaged and realigned to their ultimate benefit by doing these postures. You can really feel it happening, or, at least, that’s what I felt today. Like dressage, the practice has the aim of improving the anatomy and reaching a pinnacle of health and wellbeing, as well as achieving or creating an artistry and genesis.
Today I felt this come to fruition. Jennifer led the second class and I was determined to test my body to its utmost. It was hot. I felt so situated inside this flesh, and aligned by my practice that I took off my long-sleeved black t-shirt, which I always wear during every Bikram class. So, for the first time, wearing my crop top, I bared my arms and their scars, my stomach and its weight, and the meaty covering over my ribs, which used to protrude and now are no longer visible (even during the pranayama breathing exercise). Most of all, I bared and shared my body with myself, and felt at home there, as the sweat flushed and dripped down me. I put my all into each posture and, despite wobbling around during most of these attempts, there were moments when I could really feel the benefits of this practice. I felt fit and alive. I could see the scars, as relics of my psychotic, destructive, detained past, in the mirrors, but I no longer needed to create them, or to hide from them. I was surrounded by new friends, a new life, and the discovery, or self-discovery, of a healthy way of being inside my new body. This was my euphoria.