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Breath of Fire: My (mis)Adventures in Bikram Yoga Class: or, Sixty Minutes In Hades

Breath of Fire: My (mis)Adventures in Bikram Yoga Class: or, Sixty Minutes In Hades

Munk's Junk (Everything Else)
Lauren Abramowitz and I a much less stressful place: a party

In addition to being my Diva of Dermatology (Park Avenue Skin Solutions), Lauren Abramowitz is a dear friend whose yoga practice has, in recent years, truly transformed her life. As an enthusiastic proponent of transformation myself—be it internal or external—I acceded when she invited me to visit her “Hot Vinyasa” class at Pure Yoga, where she proved to be as skillful with an advanced pose by night as she is with a syringe of Radiesse by day.

I have done yoga with some consistency over the years, though my only experience with yoga in a hot room was about ten years ago in Los Angeles in my first and only Bikram class.  About ten minutes into the session, I began to kvetch to the instructor, in full-on Goldie Hawn Private Benjamin distress, that the room was way too hot and “could somebody please crack a window before I pass out?”

Since then, I’ve heard about the benefits of working in a warm room and, though I loathe to be uncomfortable, especially when paying, I decided to challenge myself . “Why not?” I figured, “I could use some additional transformation.”  I never inquired about the difficulty level of the class because one of the precepts of yoga philosophy is that you work to the extent of your ability and that is enough. The one thing Lauren did tell me was that the room was kept rather warm. Though that didn’t seem very appealing, I figured, “So I’ll sweat out some toxins and big deal—I can deal with anything for an hour!”  Here’s what happened:

After the jump, read my minute-by-minute breakdown (literally), of what happened in that class.

105 degrees

6:00 pm:  The class begins.  It is crowded.  There seems to be a range of students, some were even a little chunky. The plumper students made me feel better: if they can I can too.

6:10 pm:  I move through the first series of poses with reasonable mastery and a level of aptitude that doesn’t draw undue attention to itself.  I’m not trying to impress anyone (that’s the opposite of yoga), but if anyone does happen to see me, well of course, I want to look my best.

6:15 pm:  I notice Lauren, extremely advanced, is essentially having her own class where she takes the poses the rest of us do and basically does them upside down, or in mid-air or with extra twists.  I felt proud to be with her.  She looks at me upside down in a headstand and mouths the words “are you alright?”  I respond with a wink and a smile, as if to say, “oh please, I’m really terrific!

6:20 pm:  I start to become aware of the extreme heat and humidity in the room and, though I begin to falter just a bit, I’m still firmly with the class, feeling hopeful and showing well.  I also notice that my cotton “Cher-Guevara” t-shirt is completely drenched.  I contemplate taking it off like some of the other, more advanced guys in the class, but I just wasn’t having that kind of day.  I decided to remain fully clothed and simply breathe into the moisture.

My “Cher” Guevara t-shirt

6:30 pm:  I notice that the pace of the class is rather brisk, with none of the built in moments to breath, drink water or take a second to recover in child’s pose.  Since I really love child’s pose and the instructor maybe not so much, I begin to take a few furtive child’s poses just to give myself that extra little assist that no one else seems to need.  “I deserve them,” I feel, “I’m really pushing myself here.”

6:35 pm:  My towels and my cute yoga outfit are completely drenched and sticking to my skin, I find myself beginning to giving frequent attention to the clock which is, unfortunately, right above me.  I feel my concentration slipping.  Rembering the old adage “a watched pot never boils,” I avert my gaze. Unfortnately, mid-aversion my eyes bump directly into the thermostat, which says “107 degrees.”  Since I don’t have my glasses on and my eyes are burning from sweat, I assume I am misreading. I squint and look harder: “107 degrees.”  I feel my first moment of real anxiety as the thought crosses my mind that I literally may not be capable of finishing this class. I promise myself to not look at either the thermostat or the clock, as they are just basically mocking me.

6:40 pm:  I begin cheating and remain in child’s pose as the class moves through advanced sun salutations.  Sometimes I rise and hit the last pose of a sequence making it look like I was keeping up.  This is dishonest and very “un-yoga” but I have a bigger problem: I begin to notice a strange smell.  I wonder “is it some weird chemical reaction brought on when so much sweat hits the rubber mat, or might this acrid odor be seeping out of…me??”  I begin to obsess over whether I am I somehow…leaking??  As I break my rule of 6:35 and sneak another long look at the clock, I worry that I have never been so overheated and start to experience palpable anxiety that I will have to leave the room or, even worse, that I will simply expire.

6:45 pm:  Auditory hallucinations begin.  Is the classes’s Ujjayi Pranayama breathing becoming louder or is something happening to my hearing?  I begin to feel like I am in an isolation chamber, like the one William Hurt got in big trouble in in the movie Altered States (1980).  My breathing is now labored and any pretense of keeping up with the class is jettisoned as I frantically put my energy into not passing out.  This is made more difficult by dint of the fact that the oxygen in the studio is now thoroughly exhausted by the group’s exaggerated Ujjayi breathing.  As I weigh the possibility of leaving the class,  I glance up at Lauren who is, typically, upside down and probably due to some sort of endorphin rush, positively glowing.  I feel inadequate, but this is a secondary concern to my primary concern: remaining conscious.  I decide to stay in the class, as the task of carrying my heavy book bag out of the room no longer seems achievable.  I look at the thermometer: 108 degrees.

6:55 pm:  Fox hole prayers: “Dear God, if you just get me through the class without fainting I promise to never take hot yoga again.”

7:00 pm:  The class ends.  The door opens. I open my still-burning eyes from savasana (corpse pose) filled with equal parts gratitude and shame.  Lauren remarks that the room felt “too cool” today, but I am too out of sorts to craft a witty reply.  I am flushed and skittish.

An hour later, I wondered why it seems that all the things that are good for you are unpleasant while you do them but feel wonderful afterwards, and all the things that are bad for you feel good in the moment and terrible later?  Hot yoga definitely falls into the first category and  I did have the sensation that I had cleansed toxins from my body that had been there since the Clinton presidency.

I fully intend to continue practicing yoga.  But next time, maybe not so hot?  Namaste.

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11 Comments

  1. Roni Natov
    November 1, 2011 at 7:14 pm
    Reply

    David, that piece is hilarious.
    Great writing. Love, Roni

    • David Munk
      November 1, 2011 at 7:33 pm

      thanks Roni! That means so much coming from you!

  2. Johnny (John) Frazier
    November 1, 2011 at 7:56 pm
    Reply

    Thanks for sharing your journey with me. I’m sure it will be a lot of fun, with your spin on life’s adventures. Fasten your seat belts! 😉

  3. jon
    November 1, 2011 at 8:56 pm
    Reply

    That’s great stuff, Stravis. You are CRAZy to do that kind of yoga. Good writing!

  4. Lauren Zeifman
    November 1, 2011 at 11:22 pm
    Reply

    Congrats on your fabulous blog and website! i am so proud of you DM!!! Your writing is flawless and fun!! When are we practicing again??? Thanks for including me in such a great piece of work…. xxx

  5. Jayme Fort
    November 2, 2011 at 11:29 am
    Reply

    So, I am a tad nervous that I COMPLETELY relate to this entire post. Seriously… hilarious. I feel like you must have been tapping into my thoughts in the ONE and ONLY Hot Vinyasa class I will ever take. Love me some yoga, but prefer it at pre-100 degree temps.
    Favorite line: “I’m not trying to impress anyone (that’s the opposite of yoga), but if anyone does happen to see me, well of course, I want to look my best.”

    • David Munk
      November 2, 2011 at 4:25 pm

      Lauren, my dermatologist, swears by Hot Yoga. I understand the principal of warmth and muscles stretching etc., but I really worried for my safety. Maybe it’s a conditioning thing. Thanks for reading.

  6. Elayne Glick
    November 2, 2011 at 5:51 pm
    Reply

    Congratulations on your new blog! Love it! Lots of luck to you on this new endeavor. – E

  7. susan derwin
    November 3, 2011 at 9:32 am
    Reply

    as a (vinyasa, not heated, though it is miami so naturally warm) yoga instructor, i have some comments on the temperature and practice that i’ll keep to myself. as a connoisseur of blogs, i thoroughly enjoyed reading this entry and look forward to more!

    • David Munk
      November 3, 2011 at 10:53 am

      Nice to hear from you, Sue I was thinking about you a few weeks ago. My mother and I went to see West Side Story at Avery Fisher Hall. Through a miracle of digital technology, they separated the dialogue and sound effects from the score, and the Philharmonic played the score live, which was tremendously powerful. You were a very good Anybody!

  8. Natalie C.
    November 5, 2011 at 5:09 am
    Reply

    David…you have never been funnier! Love your dry wit. Love you even more, and the Clinton reference just cracked me up.
    G’ wan with your bad blog self….haha,

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