Body & Soul

by Benjamin Malcolm
   

Hot Yoga

I am the world’s most inflexible man. I am inflexible like an antique chair is inflexible. Thus my choice on this bright Saturday morning doesn’t make much sense viewed in the cold logic of my perceived physical limitations. My wife has convinced me to attempt yoga, the sport of flexibility – specifically Bikram Yoga, also known as "Hot Yoga."

We arrive a half-hour early at Absolute Yoga Bangkok, ready to face the concentrated hour-and-a-half Bikram Yoga programme, which will take us through 26 yoga positions, in a room heated to 37 degrees Celsius. The idea behind "hot yoga" is that people will be less likely to injure themselves and will be more flexible if they practice in a heated chamber. The intense sweating is also designed to flush the body of toxins.

When we enter the yoga centre, we get a glimpse of the crowd already forming for class and it’s an interesting mix of young, old, foreign and Thai. There are even some Thai TV personalities wandering about (my wife points them out to me). The staff outlays the options for us. I can take a 10-day or 30-day course and there are other options at the Yoga Centre, such as Power Yoga, if I’m interested. I pay the one-day fee and tell them I’ll decide which option I’ll choose after class. This could be a one-day thing, after all.

After I change, I sit waiting for class in the air-conditioned comfort of the main room, while my wife thumbs through magazines. When Harreson, the trainer of the day, finds out I’m a "first-timer," he comes over to greet and counsel me before the 10 a.m. session. He tells me I should stake out my place in the room (there are designated first-timer mats in the centre) and drink plenty of water and electrolytes. He tells me that working out in the heated chamber is challenging even for fit people and that if I feel dizzy or sick, I can always take a break, or lie down if needed.

His advice makes me focus a bit more. I’ve often thought, as I’ve sat in saunas and hot tubs, about the idea of trying to do exercise, or even teach, in a sweltering sauna-like environment. "Wouldn’t that be madness?" I thought to myself. I’m going to find out how that madness feels, first hand.

I have time to peruse some materials before we get started. The founder of Bikram Yoga, and of the worldwide Yoga College of India, is Yogiraj Bikram Choudhury. Bikram began Yoga at the age of four with India’s most-renowned physical culturist at that time, Bishnu Ghosh. Under Ghosh’s tutelage, Bikram went on to establish yoga schools and took his yoga techniques to Los Angeles in the late 1970’s. The hot yoga technique is beloved by some of the elite in Hollywood; the magazine lists out several famous names. I assume they all started with a bit more flexibility than me, the antique chair.

I don’t have much time to ponder this however; the class begins filling up and my wife and I stake out a couple of mats in the corner, near one of the heaters. I can already feel the heat working its way into me and a solitary trickle of sweat begins its slow course down the left side of my face. We get started with some fairly simple yoga poses. The session starts with breathing exercises and then moves to some standing yoga positions, with hands held in prayer mode above my head. We soon move to a series of poses with my arms held straight out before me, sitting up and down while standing on my toes. Even this simple action is relatively painful, like holding on to a pair of weights for minutes at a time. This is the beautiful thing about yoga. It’s just you, the floor mat and gravity working together to make things difficult.

The twenty-six asana series are designed to scientifically warm and stretch muscles, ligaments and tendons in the order in which they should be stretched. According to the programme’s literature, Bikram’s twenty-six exercises systematically move oxygenated blood to each organ and fibre, restoring all systems to healthy working order.

The instructor pushes the class towards the ideal, calling out the positions and instructing how, as students move at their own pace. As we move through the series, I see all levels of perfection, people backing off poses, falling off stances and others that have obviously been doing this for a while. I, of course, am far from perfect, but I am led along with a few pushes here and there to get me into the right alignment and key words of encouragement.

Halfway through the session, we move out of the standing postures and into positions from the "dead body" pose on the back. I am drenched by this time, the sweat literally flying off me and my heart beats quickly during the more intense series (the stretching exercise where you assume the shape of an airplane taking off elicits a series of groans about the class). There are also positions I can’t even begin to get the hang of. One requires me to get down on my knees and then lean all the way back on the mat. That won’t be happening today unfortunately.

We end with the familiar twisting technique, with one leg crossed over the other and a big stretch of the back, looking to the rear. Harreson leads the room through a spirited closing breathing exercise, says "Namaste" softly and wishes us a good day.

I flop back on my soaked towel and stare up at the ceiling. Harreson has switched off the lights and people are either filing out of the room or resting on their mats. I am tired, for sure and drenched, but it feels good, like the end of a long day of basketball, when I know I’ve lost at least a significant amount of water weight and have thus definitely worked out. I pick up my towels and head for the door. After a cool shower and change back into street clothes, I head back to the front desk.

My mind is already made up. The world’s most inflexible man is going to try to upgrade his status above that of an antique chair.

"I’ll try the month package," I say.

Absolute Yoga Bangkok is located in the Unica House Building on Langsuan Road, just a few minutes from the Chit Lom BTS SkyTrain exit. In mid-December, a second branch will open near the Thong Lo SkyTrain exit.

 

 Benjarong Magazine – April 2005, Volume 8 Issue 4

 

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