Pranayama power from yoga in Turkey

I have just  returned from a week-long Bikram yoga retreat at Göcek, which is near the coast of Fethiye, in Turkey. This was a beautiful location — up in the mountains, where the crickets rattled maracas in the heat all day long, the sound of a male tenor voice signalling the call to prayer of Ramadan echoed through the valleys at 3am each morning, and the tinkling bells on the necks of goats rang out as the herd wandered across the dry dirt and sparse grass around the mountains. Meanwhile the heat was a duck-feathered wall that comforted, held and revived me. Reaching 39 degrees on one day, it was an excellent excuse to work hard on losing my pallor by (meditatively) lounging by the pool at the commune. But most of all, the Bikram yoga practice was magnificent. As Hasan said (in ‘Balancing Stick’): ‘Like a ‘T’ for Terrific, the Terrific Turkey Troupe, not a broken umbrella!’.

The renowned Bikram guru, Michelle Pernetta, was our leader. Her instruction and inspiration, in particular, was an enlightening experience.  She also has a wicked, wry sense of humour that was constantly insightful, sometimes hysterically funny or satirical, and always witty. Here are some photographs, a poem about how my yoga practice felt at the peak of this retreat (during the final class, to music, with Michelle, on Sunday evening), and the plans I will take forward in response to the things I learnt during this epic holiday.IMG_1925

Pranayama

IMG_1969

Michelle told me some very scary stories about how much harm my addiction to aspartamine and other sweeteners is doing to me. Did you know that sweeteners can cause brain seizures, and cannot be digested by the body, so they remain lodged in your gut?!

I also learned about different yogic practices, homeopathy, massage techniques and ‘ayurveda’ (I am a ‘Vata’ type, which means that I should eat certain types of food to regulate my basic constitution).

plan2

IMG_1893

Most of all, it was a wonderful holiday. I learnt that I am taking too much medication. The caffeine detox (I decided to give up coffee, tea, diet coke and all sweeteners)  left me so drowsy that it hurt to keep my eyes open, I felt dizzy some or most of the time, and my drishti blurred so it was harder to balance and maintain each posture. But I return to England feeling strong, energised, refreshed and enlightened. I have thrown away every product in my flat that contains any kind of sweetener. I return to the hot room tonight, at the 5 o’clock class in Cambridge (with my dearest comrades Jennifer and Theo, who (as Michelle said) have taught me so well). I will put to the test what I learned about how to practice from Michelle, and exercise my newly refined postures and extroverted, energised will to power.

photo

Accomplished: The 30-day challenge!!

IMG_1725

Elated. Proud. Grateful. Hot. Powerful. Athletic. Happy. These words describe some of the things that I feel tonight, after completing the 30 day challenge of Bikram yoga, at Ethos Hot Yoga Sports Studio in Cambridge. This involved taking a 90-minute class of Bikram yoga every day for 30 days, in a room heated to a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius. The point of Bikram yoga, in my mind, is to stretch and build up your body’s utmost, supple capabilities; toning and stretching muscle memory; massaging and exercising your internal organs; and relaxing your mind so it can inhabit this body’s new, pristine state of prime poise with a performance that is ever seeking immaculate perfection. This end is never possible, but striving to contort and stretch the body towards it engenders a method of living that is energising, rejuvenating and purposeful.

My path on the 30-day challenge began way before the official Day One, and if truth be told I actually did about 40 days in a row, and sometimes twice in one day. I tend to overdo things, that is, I don’t do things by half. Being committed to practice every day without fail, and having my name on the board, was at first invigorating and it became exciting to mark a cross on the chart and compare progress with other competitors in the challenge. Since, peaceful relaxation aside, there is something inherently competitive about this challenge. This is probably one of the reasons I shone through it (born to try to win, although in this competition to win is to lay still in savasana, letting the body absorb the work and allow perturbing pensive ambulation to pass by, letting go). I mean, I didn’t ‘shine’ as such. Although I always position myself on the front row (as near the heaters as possible!!), I tend to fall out of the hardest poses and I often feel ashamed of my body’s clumsy ineptitude.

I felt tired, jaded and frustrated at times, throughout the challenge. One day I kept falling asleep every time I sat down on my sofa. It was hard work. But I found better food. I bought a blender and made what I christened as a ‘power food smoothie’ to up the protein: coconut water, chia seeds, blueberries, banana, matcha green tea powder, all whirled up – whirled my energy levels up, ready to work hard with my writing and painting, and work out even harder in the hot room!

And, the more I practiced the stronger I felt. My postures improved, and I gained energy and an inner power, which I tried to direct towards each of the gruelling tasks that Bikram presents. My body gathered muscle memory. I hadn’t noticed much of a change in my shape, although I know my weight has not changed. It has remained exactly the same. I’m proud of that, for I practice Bikram in order to retain my weight, rather than to lose it. I’ve gained muscle. Kate, a fellow Bikram fan, said to me today that I have ‘a body to die for’. I was shocked! And delighted. No one has ever said something like this to me before. ‘Be proud, go out in New York and flaunt it,’ she said.

For tomorrow morning I leave Cambridge and travel to New York to organise the Making Sense colloquium at The Metropolitan Museum. This event is one of the most momentous of my life. So my elation and triumph in the yoga studio is a great way to start this epic trip.

I’m grateful to the teachers at Ethos, especially Theo, Jennifer, Jaquie, and Hassan. Their help, support and patience has been inspiring and a gift. What next? I need to practice – especially on Awkward Pose, Standing Bow and Half Locus, and all the poses really. The more you practice the further you want to go, and the harder the end result (i.e. perfection) seems. But along the way my body improves, strengthens and becomes more inhabitable. Meanwhile, my mind is calm, and satiated by the moving meditation. I can sit still in savasana. (For a short while. I’m still always the first one who gets up at the end…)

IMG_1726 IMG_1728