Mark S. Albury: It was a stretch
A friend had suggested on several occasions that I join her for a yoga class. While I do some occasional light stretching, the fact remains that I am still a little less flexible than a telephone pole. I figured I could probably benefit from stretching in a structured setting, so I decided to give it a try.
“You’re going to want to bring a towel and some water,” my friend said. “This is Bikram yoga, where they turn the heat up for the routine.”
This sounded good to me. I am known as a tightwad when it comes to heating my own house. So much so that I have been accused of living by an “If I see your breath, there ain’t no death” philosophy with my family. I’m proud to report that there have been no documented cases of hypothermia in the Albury house, and I have saved a substantial amount of money in fuel costs over the years. To go to yoga, stretch a bit and get warm on someone else’s nickel would be a win/win situation.
A short time after I arrived at the yoga class I began to suspect that “Bikram” was a word meaning “slow roast” in another language. I introduced myself to the instructor, signed a waiver, and was pointed in the direction of a room down the hall. When I opened the door for the class, I was immediately hit in the face with a blast of hot air.
“Wow. Anybody else feeling warm? How about I open a window?” I said attempting to break the ice. But there wasn’t any ice to break. It was hot as hell. Maybe even hotter.
As soon as I found a spot on the floor to put my mat, the instructor came through the door and everyone got into position for the first stretches.
Bikram yoga is a series of 26 postures that take 90 minutes to complete. The poses have names like the “Balancing Stick,” the “Standing Head to Knee,” and the “Dead Body.” I wasn’t sure how I was going to fare with the first two of these, but I was certain if they didn’t turn the heat down, I would nail the third one. Five minutes into the routine I was sweating like Lindsay Lohan at a probation hearing.
The instructor talked the participants through the various poses. At one point, we were to stand on one foot, raise our other leg straight out in front of us, and lock our fingers under the extended foot. The reach to my toes seemed so far away my foot might as well have been in the next room. I had a better chance of grabbing the foot of the woman on the mat next to me, but I was certain this would violate some sort of Bikram yoga protocol.
Before long I was sweating profusely. Eventually, the instructor told us to take a quick rest, and I sloshed onto my back.
As I lay there I couldn’t believe how much this situation reminded me of the classic children’s story about a boy in India who is chased by four tigers. The quick-thinking child takes off his new clothes and throws them to the ferocious beasts before climbing to the relative safety of a tree. The tigers fight over the clothes and chase each other around the tree until, as you would expect, they are reduced to a pool of melted butter. The boy puts on his clothes, brings the butter home to his mother, and they eat pancakes and live happily ever after.
My situation in the yoga class was exactly like this story. Except that I was in Vermont not India, instead of tigers it was me that was melting, and I was turning into a large puddle of sweat instead of butter. Oh yeah, and it didn’t look like I was going to be living happily ever after. Otherwise, the similarities were uncanny.
“OK, for the next pose ...”
And we were right back to more stretching and sweating. While my routine did not look pretty, I was getting through and starting to gain a little confidence. Then I got a cramp in my foot. Scientific studies have proven that there is no graceful way to handle a foot cramp. Having said this, in hindsight rolling on the floor and whimpering might not have been my best option for dealing with it. The cramp passed in a few minutes, and I got back into action in time to stretch some more and donate several additional quarts of sweat to the cause.
By the end of the session I was exhausted but felt very good. So good that I’m thinking of going back to the class again. Especially when it really starts to get cold on the homefront.
Mark S. Albury lives in Northfield Falls.