I do the modern day juggle. The children. The work. The marriage. The home. My life is full to overflowing. All wonderful. All time-intensive. But the pace can get a little, er, pesky. So when the opportunity came up to add another to-do to my list – I leapt at it.
Enter, modern day madness.
At the beginning of May I signed up for a month-long Bikram Yoga challenge. To put it simply, you do yoga in a very hot room for a very long time.
What you are about to read is a warts n’ all, sweaty, swear-y, intimate account of the month I spent getting to know my body the way a very bendy Indian man named Bikram, intended.
Day 1 – ‘The best thing you will do this year.’
I arrive on time for a 10am class. A pretty Irish boy is at the front desk.
I launch into a light speed explanation of what I experienced when I did my first class the week before… and how I went home, tired but elated and then I received an amazing phone call. And, and…
The teacher nods. Calm. Serene. Topless.
“Well, times that phone call by 31.” He says, “It will be the best thing you do this year.” He smiles and hands me my locker key.
A few minutes later, I’m lying on my back in the ‘hot room’ surrounded by other schmos, I mean yogis. The Irish boy is our teacher. His body is lean, skin is English rose – and stamped by a large, dark tattoo on his arm. I’ll come to realise most yoga fans flash ‘ink’. More on that permanent pastime later.
Within ten minutes, I’m sweating like I’ve been running uphill for half an hour wearing fleece-lined leggings, a fur coat and merino bed socks stuffed into stilletos.
I push through, posture after posture. The sweat is actually a blessed relief and by the end of the class I’m soaking and ecstatic. Like a weird religious experience without the clapping and tithing. Somebody praise me.
Day 1 done, I emerge, blinking into ‘the outside world’, refreshed. In the car on the way to school pick-up I yell along to the Bruno Mars ditty, Locked out of Heaven. Yes, yell. I don’t care who can see or hear me.
Day 2 – Let’s do the numbers.
I’m trying not to think of the long road that stretches ahead.
For the next four weeks I will put my 5’3, 52kg frame through 31, 90-minute classes of 26 postures in a room heated to 38 degrees Celsius with 60% humidity.
The figures jostle for space in my, already crowded, mind…
You’re nuts. Not a yogi. You need sleep. A proper job. Not body contortion. Are those your pasty, white thighs? No, the tight, black gym shorts aren’t disguising your passion for buttery toast. They your ribs or flab?
I can actually feel myself wanting to stop, sit down, and talk myself out of it.
What if your heart beats too fast to handle? What if you faint? What if you injure your neck? What if you…actually enjoy it, breeze through the postures and feel like a billion bucks when you emerge sweaty, stretched and ALIVE?
In Eastern philosophy, this constant chatter in our heads is called ‘monkey mind’. Well, throw me a banana and get me the hell outtahere. I don’t belong. And neither do my hirsute underarms (that match my monkey mind beautifully).
I take a breath and look at my reflection in the mirrors ahead.
‘Compare yourself to – you.’
The minute I have this thought, a buff man positions his mat in front of me. So I spend most of the class admiring his, er form… the rivulets of sweat that run down his impossibly perfect back. Who cares if he has the tiniest bottom in the world? The chiselled abs make up for his mini gluteus maximus.
Still, in spite of the eye candy, I go home deflated. My elation from Day 1 replaced with rage. Apparently this is normal. Yuck.
Day 3 – “If you need a hug, I’ll give you one.”
Weekends are going to be a challenge. I need to tear myself away from the comfort of being home with my boys, messing around with Lego, watching Willy Wonka and reciting the Oompa Loompa tunes.
As a result, I leave home too late today and miss the 3:30 class – in spite of sprinting up the hill, cumbersome leather yoga bag in tow. I accidentally drop my clothes halfway up and have to trudge back down to scoop them up again. Feeling so Zen now. Fucking NOT.
I hang around for an hour to do the 4:30 class and wind up in American Apparel. Inevitably, I buy a pair of overpriced leggings.
Today’s teacher is an ex-corporate lawyer. He’s small, wiry and lovely. Between floor postures, he reveals his ‘bad week’ and how he tried to do a class and just couldn’t cope with it. Even teachers are mortal – and this is reassuring as I attempt to push my right knee closer to my right ear.
“I want this studio to be a welcoming, safe place in a sometimes challenging world.” He says. “And if you need a hug, I’ll give you one. See me after class.”
I don’t know whether it’s the teacher’s soothing words, the ‘ceasefire’ of my monkey mind or the slightly cooler room, but today’s class feels easier. I’m enjoying pushing deeper into the postures, touching my nose to my thighs, easing my back down towards my ankles. No, really.
Oh and… I adore coming home to the gleeful sounds of, “Mama mou!”
Day 4 – When the stars align – next to your yoga mat.
I do a later class and arrive as the sun is setting.
Our teacher is a beautiful Asian woman with a body that would make a supermodel cry and devour more tissues for lunch. She’s slight in frame but her tone and strength is devastating. When she demonstrates a posture, it’s flawless.
As I settle into the class, I look down to see a tiny purple star next to my mat. I take this as a beautiful, encouraging sign. I pick it up and pop it in my sock.
“Feel your body open, your hips open like blooming flower petals.” The ‘dialogue’ – the teacher’s instructions – have become like a salve – an antidote to the daily crap that can sometimes swirl, unchecked, in my mind.
I finish the class drenched and relieved. But pre-menstrual mayhem is descending on me. I go home to find my youngest has emptied a whole bottle of talcum powder all over the ear buds. Lose my Zen.
Day 5 – It’s not 1,000-year-old sweat. It just smells like…chicken.
Everything aches but my sleep is deeper. My thirst for water unquenchable. The tone is returning to my belly – welcome back old friend.
When I stepped into my first hot room, the odour was confronting. My olfactories reeled. I remember looking around at the other people in the class thinking, can’t you smell this?! What the hell’s wrong with your nose?! But they were blissfully unaware. I was the crazy woman in the back row, sniffing on a face washer doused in lavender oil.
Well, Day 5 and I’ve let go of the lavender. I’ve decided I’m not smelling ancient sweat that’s probably older than yoga itself, but the really rich aroma of salty, roast chicken.
I call it, mind over nose.
Day 6 – The stainless steel sandwich.
Sometimes, no amount of water will quench my thirst. Sometimes, I’m crawling out of classes feeling more tired than when I stepped in. I thought bending like Bikram was the answer to a revived, re-energised me.
For some diabolical reason, today’s room is hotter than hell. Even Faust would’ve fucked off. But I persist with the postures and the heat. And my stainless bottle of water sits there looking so chilled next to my mat, calling me like a siren. I never resist. Glug after glug. Big, soaking mouthfuls. Get into that camel posture, feel your back strengthen. Push back, go back, way back, more back! More water. Ugh. Queasy. Yuck. Clearly, I can’t handle my water.
The teacher, a stern but warm Scandinavian chick with another one of those real-life, air-brushed bodies, interrupts my thoughts –
“This is a 31 day challenge. Take it slow.”
After the class, a strange feeling of pride washes over me. What’s this – positive self-talk? I speak to the teacher about my post-class fatigue and she suggests coconut water. Oh. That’s why the studio fridge is heaving with every imaginable flavour of the stuff.
“It replaces your electrolytes. Does more than water.”
From this day forward I’m a convert. And outside on the street, as if the Universe wants the last laugh, my stainless steel water bottle falls onto the road just in time for a shiny BMW to run it down. Crunch.
Days 7, 8 + 9 – My Menstrual Hiatus
My body yells, “No!” to Bikram. So I retreat to the daybed, cashmere blanket in tow, midday TV blaring and a vat of mint tea by my side. Strike that posture.
Day 10 – The rebirth of ‘Fearless’.
In my early 20s, an art director I worked with decided to call me ‘Fearless’. I hated it. But being too timid, too virginal, I stayed quiet and wore the ‘nickname’ uncomfortably.
Fast forward a couple of decades and I’m signing in for Day 10 of Bikram. Little do I know, my past is about to catch up with me. I meet a new teacher – a bolshie blonde with a thick Strine accent. She flashes a big smile and hands me my locker keys.
It’s been three days since my last class and I return to the hot room with renewed vigour. This place now feels like a sanctuary. Far away from the outside world and its relentless demands. I can’t be reached here. No mobiles. No emails. Peace and heat. Just peace and heat.
The teacher walks in, snaps on the lights and announces,
“Rise and shine yogis and yoginis!”
I jump to my feet and the class begins.
“Go to your limit and then push a little further.” She urges.
And then, mid-way through a posture, I falter and I hear a very loud,
“Arms pointing up, Fearless!”
Did she just call me Fearless? I ignore it – maybe she’s forgotten my name. But nope, a few minutes later, she calls me Fearless again without hesitation. What?? Does she think my name really is Fearless? Feels weird.
Day 11 – Did somebody say, Savasana?
Bikram yoga is made up of standing postures and then the floor series. The Tree pose signals the end of the upright stuff, a happy moment for me – since I’ve taken to calling the floor postures, ‘the lying down series’. No matter how deep the stretches, you’re lying down! And it’s cooler too. Heat rises, right?
The king of the ‘lying down’ series, is the Savasana – the corpse pose. Granted, it’s not a very dynamic pose – but it’s arguably the most powerful. This is when your body has the chance to ‘regroup’ and reset itself after you’ve stretched, contracted, twisted and inverted it beyond (your) belief.
Get into Savasana and… tension fades. Heart rate drops. Anxiety disappears. Yogis even report greater self-confidence and a deeper sleep… like me.
Ironic that playing dead can ultimately make you feel the most alive.
Day 12 – ‘Your body should look like a straight line, not a collapsing umbrella’
A different kind of fatigue is setting in. Am getting real tired of seeing these beautiful, slender yoga bodies covered in permanent doodles. Some of you may call them ‘tramp stamps’ – or, tattoos.
Well, it seems that nowhere is your Celtic cross, flower, feather, butterfly, Chinese characters, random series of Roman numerals or rabbits more fashionable than here in the hot room. They’re almost part of the yogi uniform. Sure, some of them look good, but others look so wannabe it’s laughable and a little on the tragic side.
I despair when I see a man’s finely honed yoga body, spoilt by a giant splash of dark ink. You’re messing with perfection and it’s pissing me off.
A couple of the teachers sport this permanent art. And I’ll admit I’m envious about how striking one of them looks. The teacher’s thigh I speak of, is superbly sculpted. She’s not fluorescent white – but caramel in tone with a single tattooed vine that curls and teases around her leg and up towards her hip. It’s lovely. But wouldn’t work on me.
My vine would do less curling and more creeping up a curvy leg festooned with fur and dots of cellulite. Sexy.
Day 13 – A little compliment goes a long way in the hot room.
You see a lot of interesting ‘fashion’ in a yoga class. Pubic-skimming swimmers on men with bellies crying out for Spanx. And microscopic bikinis on women with enough muffin tops to open up a Baker’s Delight. I’m not judging. I just wish I had that kind of body chutzpah.
I look across to my far left and see a Muslim woman – wrapped up tightly in a turban, long sleeves, and extra long leggings. That’s what I call faith.
The class feels fast today. During one posture I hear a, ‘nice one, Phyllis’ and it feels like someone has served me a drink of iced water with a sliced lemon garnish; simple, yet powerful, validation in a room full of yoga superheroes who might just be contortionists in their full time lives.
Day 14 – “From the side your body should look like a Japanese ham sandwich.”
I’m becoming very familiar with the ‘dialogue’ – the class script if you like. It’s spoken at such a rapid-fire pace – like a cross between an auctioneer and a race-caller – but the phrases still stick.
In the warm-up, we do a standing forward bend where you’re encouraged to rest your forehead against your thighs and beyond – if you can stretch that far. It’s body contact to the extreme, so the teacher intones,
“From the side your body should look like a Japanese ham sandwich.”
Hm. A ham sandwich from the people who brought us nigri rolls and sashimi? I never quite get this reference. But I go with it and on this particular day, talk of sandwiches and ham feels particularly poignant.
I look around at my fellow yogis and I spot her. I’ve seen these ‘creatures’ before. I look at them with quiet alarm… one false stretch, move, bend and she could snap in two like a cracker – which is clearly all this female survives on. She is the anorexic yogi – no point in mincing words. Those child-like limbs, her very visible vertebrae – no way is that natural weight loss.
As I try to focus on my postures, her body distracts me. And then she stops five minutes into the class and sits down. The teacher asks what’s wrong. I hear her say, ‘dizzy’. A few minutes later, the teacher escorts her from the class. But she returns soon after – determined to complete the session.
When the class is done, I ask the teacher if he thinks she’s anorexic.
“Nothing I haven’t seen before. But what do you say to them?”
I leave the studio wondering where the responsibility lies – and with whom.
Day 15 – Open your chest like a flower petal blooming.
The squillion dollar beauty industry will have you believe that youthful, dewy skin can only be found in a jar of $100 moisturiser or a Botox jab. And sure, I’ve made a career out of writing words that persuade life’s lemmings that yes, Virginia, eternal youth is real and L’Oreal sell it.
But one of the things that’s struck me about Bikram devotees is their skin – it’s immaculate. Yogis all seem to have that same bright-eyed, fresh-faced look. It’s a glow, a persistent vitality that doesn’t look manufactured. Coincidence? Maybe. Not.
Speaking of ‘persistence’, my husband joins me in today’s class. He hates the heat. And taking his top off. But he relents and impresses me with his staying power. No change there, then (!).
Day 16 – Like a pearl necklace twisting.
If you want to see how different our bodies are, the shapes, the sizes, the lengths the widths – step into a hot room. But beware… (body) comparison is the fast track to misery. If you’re a stickler for judging your shape against others, Bikram will burn you more than the searing temperatures ever will.
You can treat this unfettered display of human bodies one of two ways… let it depress you when you spy a male or female body you haven’t got a hope in hell of matching no matter how many camel poses you strike. Or you can be in awe of how gloriously different we really are – and that, ultimately, comparison is a pointless exercise.
With all the dimpled thighs, sculpted bellies and pudgy or pretty arms on show, I’ve realised that, we’re all ideal. Sorry for getting hippy on yo’ ass, but pearls ain’t perfect. And neither are we.
Day 17 – Make up your mind and charge forward!
One of my favourite postures is the ‘balancing stick pose’ otherwise known as Tuladandasana – infinitely more exotic don’tcha think? This is the posture of courage.
You raise your arms above your head, clasp hands together tightly, step forward on your right leg and then plunge forward. You wind up in a position where you look like a capital letter ‘T’. It feels unnerving and shaky and a bit painful if you’re not very flexible. But what I love is the thing the teacher says moments before,
“Make up your mind and charge forward!”
It’s the kind of encouragement you can’t help but take into your ‘outside life’. Think about it.. Anytime you look at a challenge and say, you gotta be kidding me, that’s nuts, I can’t possibly do that… stop. And make up your mind. Just make up your mind. Shrug off the dumb chatter that messes with hope. Move forward, with the fear and… plunge.
Day 18 – The business of busy-ness
On Wednesdays, getting to the 4:30 class on time turns into a mini marathon with all the spills, thrills and tantrums it deserves. This is how I roll…
Twenty minutes before my sons’ swimming lessons and a drop off to Daddy, I do a quick vacuum, make some rice, clean the kitchen, prepare bowls for dinner, dress the youngest for swimming, rush to Coles to get ham for next day’s school lunches, get waylaid at the Deli counter where an elderly woman deliberates over the corn beef or chicken slices. Then I pay, tear down a suburban street, clutching my son’s hand. We approach road works and I’m told to walk on the pavement. I ignore the worker and continue marching down the street. His eyes dart away as I hiss, “Don’t push me!”
Arrive at the pool. Meet husband and other son. Do the handover of pool bag, and small son. Jump into the car and hoon away eager to get hot. Or hotter.
Day 19 – It’s my challenge and I’ll (over)share if I want to.
I’ve made sure everyone in my life knows I’m doing this damn thing. Friends, family, even my sons’ daycare, school principal and clients are privy to my postures. The more who know, the merrier – and the less chance I’ll have of bowing out when the relentless, daily stretching gets too tough.
On a call with a client I hear myself say,
“I’m er, I’ll call you in a couple of hours – I have a yoga class to do.”
Career suicide? Well, the same client signs off an email to me with the words,
“Yours in hot yoga.”
Day 20 – My Sweaty Sanctuary
Nearing the end of the challenge – well, okay, 11 days to go but I’m in flow. Sure, I have to drive like a woman possessed in morning peak hour traffic – after two school drop-offs – to make the 9am class. Absolutely, my domestic life is run at breakneck speed – with sleep being the only downtime. Yes, I could be doing a million other things with my ‘child-free’ hours during the day. But the respite of the hot room beckons. It’s become my sweaty sanctuary. This is where I come to escape now.
Granted, it’s not immediately obvious that an hour and a half in sauna-like conditions, folding your body into shapes that even make your eyes perspire will feel like taking a break – but it does. I get to sweat out the day, the dumb thoughts, the nuts people that can occupy my imaginings.
I think of nothing but making the stretch, the bend, the compression posture work – and when you’re in the zone, time flies. Truly.
Day 21 – Forget the sugar, gimme the salt!
Feels all very fever pitch right now. Am pushing, pushing through all conceivable barriers and those delightful few I’ve concocted in my head.
I now see my life as pre-Bikram and post. ‘Pre’ is the life where I craved a sweet, milky latte once, twice a week. But 21 days into the challenge and this lust has deserted me. Now all I crave is water, chilled coconut water, litres of the stuff.
I don’t eat carbs at night – and no, I’ve never been a dieting, calorie-watching freak, but here and now, all I want to do is stuff my face with salads and olives and salmon and tuna and… kilos of Red Rock Deli chips.
Gimme salt, motherfucker!
Yes. I feel virtuous. And athletic and taller and leaner and more toned than I was when collagen and I were firmer friends.
See what I did there?
Day 22 – We’re not all lovers of Brazil.
I’ve been in many change rooms in my time. And the unspoken ‘rules of engagement’ are the same in gyms, spas and swimming pools the world over.
Avert your eyes, ladies!
The change rooms after Bikram are, as you would expect – busy, sweaty and filled with various states of undress.
I gingerly remove my drenched gear and dry off as quickly as I can. The halogen lights don’t flatter sun-shy thighs. Yes, we’re all perfect in our own way – but … welcome to the rollercoaster that is a woman’s body image!!
Anyway… In between trying to peel off my lycra shorts and leap into my undies before anyone can see I care more about hot rooms than hot wax… I steal a few looks here and there and – a-ha!
I’m quietly pleased that not all women who change alongside me have pledged their allegiance to Brazil. Don’t feel so alone in my fur anymore.
Day 23 – Meet Elastic Man.
A tough, hot class today – more than usual. And I find myself mesmerised by a man in front of me – let’s call him Elastic Man.
The postures this guy can get into are mind-boggling. Each time he gets into a pose, he stretches so deeply, he looks like his shoulders are permanently dislocated from the rest of his body. More like a sideshow attraction than a spiritually aligned yogic being.
Still – phenomenal to watch.
Day 24 – Faster than a speeding (sweat) bullet.
Can’t be bothered today. It’s a weekend class, so I’ve had to wrestle my heart and mind away from hanging out with my boys. Still, I’m here. And I’ll skip a few postures, just to take a breather.
Our teacher today is the studio’s owner; an amazing character with a physique that looks younger than his 40-something years. He rolls out the class dialogue so fast, even he trips up on the words – and makes a joke out of it. Nice.
At one point, he introduces us to his ‘parking karma’ concept.
“I can find the greatest parking outside any venue, house – anywhere in the world. I visualise it – and there it is.”
The teacher and his magical, mystical musings, helps move the class along apace. But I’m still hopeful for a long break during the ‘lying down series’. And then, the floor stuff starts and I look around to see two perfect little boys peering through the glass doors behind me.
They’re my boys!
This looks like a job for Super Yogi Mama. Faster than a speeding (sweat) bullet. More powerful than a standing bow. Able to leap tall tree poses in a single bound! Go back, push back, way back, more back…! My camel posture inspires
Dean, my eldest, to do the same. But he loses his balance and topples over, laughing. When the class ends, the door swings open, and Maxie, my youngest, proclaims,
“It’s really hot!”
Day 25 Less of a tree hugger, more of a tree.
I’m riding the rollercoaster. Some days I feel like the fittest me there is, other days I can’t possibly relate to the images I see on the yoga posters at the studio – dozens of postures depicting men in various states of contortion.
I wonder whether it’s normal for the human body to look like a paper clip.
Still, the one posture that’s always felt natural to me is The Tree pose – Tadasana. You stand tall and straight. One leg folded up to your bikini line. Hands clasped together in prayer position – Namaste. Beautiful. You can stretch up, taller, higher. Like a tree. Uncompromising. Still and true.
After class, I return to the posters on the walls and something occurs to me.
Maybe our thoughts, our Western society preconceptions of what a normal body does, or should look like – is a misconception.
Perhaps a lot of us have fallen into some 21st Century trap that has us believing ‘looking right’ is only associated with wearing overpriced designer garb with little polo-playing ponies on the front, LIKE-ing meaningless posts on Facebook, driving a fat European car and having a Smartphone surgically attached to your hand / ear / fingers.
Day 26 – “Shake your head yes and no, yes and no.”
‘Bikram rage’ has descended on the studio. Grumpy faces. Not many yogis making eye contact. But beside me in class this morning is, Patty. A 50-something woman with a faded blonde ponytail and happy, albeit tired, smile.
“It’s my second class today.’ She smiles. ‘I’m making up for missed classes.”
I have to catch up too. Three extra classes in fact. I’ll need to do three days of doubles but I can feel a sore throat coming on. I’m popping Vitamin C like a junkie and I’ve had four late nights in a row. It’s not looking good.
Day 27 – The whiteboard blues.
Aching thighs, arms – no I don’t feel like clenching my butt right now for tighter glutes, this is my 27th CLASS IN A 31 DAY CHALLENGE, LET ME BE!!!
Yes. Patience is wearing a little thin. So when I finish today’s class I take exaggerated glee in marking another class ‘done’ on the whiteboard outside.
There are probably about 100 names on the board – teachers included. And at this stage in the challenge, the board is filled with people marking off their classes – day after day. Some haven’t got a snowball’s chance in the hot room of making it so have taken to writing little pleas beside their name –
‘Somebody help me.’ ‘Does 7 classes count?’ ‘Sweet 16 and never…’
Day 28 – ‘Stand up on your toes, maximum like a ballerina.’
Today I do my first double class, which basically means I do a morning class and come back for another hit at 4:30.
During the ‘lying down’ series, the teacher reveals a few vulnerabilities, what makes her human and not this uber flexible, steel-thighed machine. Honesty prevails in the hot room. Killer abs does not a happy human make. Apparently (!).
Still, it’s not rocket science – we all know this stuff. Right? Practice makes permanent – not perfect.
Day 29 – Hot room dreaming.
Forget coconut water and salty chips, these days I’m craving more sleep and I’ll take it where I can get it.
I let my expectations go today and take a nap in class. It feels soooo good. The rabbit and the camel poses pass me by. And at one point I dream of my youngest son saying the dialogue – but he sounds like the teacher.
I come to, groggy and confused and realise oh, hang on I’m still in a Bikram class. Surreal.
Day 30 – ‘Looking for some hot stuff, baby this evening.’
Can’t believe I’m almost DONE. Driving to my second class of the day and Donna Summer provides some welcome inspiration – as the sniffles start to take hold of me.
Donna’s disco classic, Hot Stuff fills my old car’s anaemic speakers. ‘I need some hot stuff, baby, tonight!’
Well I get it along with a little comic relief. Outside the class tonight is a middle-aged, slightly overweight man looking very nervous.
“It’s really hot in there isn’t it?” He asks me.
“Er, yes.” I reply. “You should go in and get used to it before the class starts.”
Just then a small, young blonde pops her head out of the hot room, inviting him in – she’s been setting up their mats. Romantic fools.
This class ain’t my best. I sniff and sniff all the way through and wind up with an unattractive wad of used tissues near my feet. I become that annoying woman who has come to a hot yoga class with germs to share.
I slip into another nap towards the end. Feel queasy and tired. Regret not doing doubles earlier on in the challenge. Don’t think I can do this.
Day 31 – Stuff it. Today I will quit.
I wake up with a full-blown cold. Everything’s stuffed. Everything. I can quit now, can’t I? They’ll let me, won’t they? I’ve done 30 classes. They’ll make an exception, surely??
I crawl out of bed and send an email to the owner. A call comes through moments later from the manager.
“Sorry, Phyllis. You’ll have to do the final class – otherwise it doesn’t count.”
My heart sinks. I crawl back into bed. The busy noises of our home on a Saturday keep me awake. Thankfully, Daddy Day Care kicks into gear and the boys go out for soccer and breakfast. I spend the morning watching bad TV and drinking diluted lemon juice. It helps. Kinda.
At 2pm, feeling very sorry for myself, I take off my PJs and get into the lycra. 20 minutes later I’m walking up the hill to Bikram, sniffling, sneezing and wrapped up like I’m about to trek Everest. But… the second I step into the hot room, I’m ready.
In spite of my stuffed sinuses I pick up the comforting scent of eucalyptus, sprinkled on the carpet. The teacher walks in and loudly announces,
“Fearless pulled herself out of bed to be here for the final class in the challenge!”
Er thanks. I think. I look around and see Patty – here for her final double (!). She waves at me like a bouncy cheerleader and I give her the thumbs up.
Let’s do it. Let’s burn this motherfucker out!
The class begins and then something strange happens. Momentum builds, the sweat starts to pour and my determination explodes. I make up my mind not to nap today. I owe it to myself to complete every posture and really try.
The class seems to speed up and I keep thanking myself for the effort. Even my monkey mind is kind.
At one point I decide to smile at my reflection in the mirror and I swear for a millisecond I can see my late Dad’s big, brown eyes smiling back at me. His image carries me through.
And then, in the half tortoise pose – sitting on the floor, Japanese-style and leaning forward – the teacher pushes me deeper into the pose and massages my back. Amazing.
In the final Pranayama – the breathing – I sit up straight and as I push my breath in and out, in my mind’s eye I can see all the wonderful things I’ve been visualising lately. It’s like a cinematic montage of my dearest wishes – and my breath seems to punctuate them into existence.
At the final ‘ha’ breath I punch the air and everyone applauds. I look to Patty and I clap and woo-hoo! Crazy happy. I did it. So proud and relieved and thrilled and totally caught up in the delirium of the heat – and achievement.
After the final relaxation – Patty rushes up and hugs me hard.
I tick off my 31st class on the whiteboard. The teachers hug me like long lost sisters. And the first teacher I ever had at this studio, Belle, says,
“I’m so glad I was here for your last class.”
And she hugs me tighter.
In the car on the way home, I shriek along to Fame on the radio. Yes. “I’m gonna live forever. I’m gonna learn how to fly!”
So what did I learn? Well, it reaffirmed how deep I can dig when I really want to achieve something. And how paralysing ‘the monkey mind’ can be. But what’s stayed with me?
Is it the thinner thighs, more toned and defined than I’ve seen them in my fourth decade? The new abs that have risen up on my post-baby belly. Or the sculpted arms and smoother skin I’m in love with? Nope. It’s none of these things.
I’ve come away with something I needed to hear again. It’s something my feisty teacher said as we got into the final postures, in the final class… it made everything inside me, smile.
“You can do anything, Fearless.” Kristina said, at the top of her voice.
And I love the sound of that.
© Phyllis Foundis June 2014