Bikram Yoga: Chronicles of an Utter Novice

by Ranim Elborai

I’ve known that there’s a Hot Bikram Yoga studio ten minutes away from my place for a good few months now and I’ve managed to avoid signing up until I was graced with a recent visit from an incredibly active friend. A committed athlete, she wanted to do all sorts of sporty stuff. Horrified at the thought of being made to run in the mornings, I agreed to sign up for yoga.

Now she’s gone, and it seems that I’m still holding up the Bikram Yoga banner. For the time being.

Those of you who aren’t at all familiar with yoga or yoga-related matters, Bikram Yoga gets its name from its founder, Bikram Choudhury, an undefeated All-India Yoga Champion and all-around unsavoury character. Bikram’s concept is a simple but very successful one: practitioners are to complete a series of 26 yoga poses in a really, really hot and very, very humid room. These conditions help to make practitioners more limber while drenching them in sweat. You leave the studio feeling invigorated and detoxified despite having made a not-so-great human being that little bit richer.

I’m attending classes quite diligently (huge progress for me!) but I have so many complaints about the studio and I’m unable to resist the urge to air them out. I suppose I could do something constructive like place my comments in a suggestion box or write an email to the manager, but what would be the fun in that?

I’d done Bikram Yoga a few times before during college and recall really enjoying it. The studio was set up like a massive sauna and the air was scented with wonderful essential oils. As we all know, saunas smell awesome. So when I was hit squarely in the face by the scent of festering bacterial funk when I opened the door of my local studio, I thought that this had to be a mistake. But everyone else already inside the class was laying on their mats taking deep breaths in preparation for the lesson — was I being overly sensitive?

I could have turned around and walked away right then and there but something propelled me forward.

When my feet touched the floor I was treated to another surprise: although it looked like hardwood, the floor was carpeted in a strange spongy material that felt as though moisture had been slowly seeping into it for years. “Flotex.”

Somehow, Athletic Friend and I managed to valiantly wince our way through that first class (including two rounds of deep breathing exercises). And the next day we came back for more. And then some more the day after that.

Don’t worry, we looked into the standard of hygiene practiced by Ye Olde HBY.  Turns out that rather than using a trusty old disinfectant like Dettol (a personal favourite) or more natural alternatives such as baking soda and vinegar, my Bikram Yoga studio uses something called Pro-B, “a cleaning product made from live probiotic bacteria found in the healthy microflora in our gut.” Which sounds absolutely disgusting and explains why this one time the waiting area outside of the studio smelled as though someone had been baking 40 cheese soufflés inside the room. 

So why do I persist to frequent such a noxious establishment?

For one, it’s somehow the only bit of strenuous physical activity I can bring myself to do and god knows I’ve been atrophying away on my couch/bed/chair for far too long. Second of all, I’ve now learned how to smell past the smell, if you will. The first five minutes are hell but then I think my olfactory sense just gives up and dies on me.

Until some other odour comes along to revive it violently — but that’s a story you’ll have to hear about some other time.