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…)