Twice a day, we do 90 minutes -- or more -- of Bikram in the large room. You’ve seen the pictures: 300 people in an enclosed, heated space, working tremendously, sweating tremendously, the locked down room turning into some kind of tropical rainforest petrie dish, gloriously hot and humid. Just as it can be in my hometown of Port Arthur, Texas, you can sometimes literally feel the air with your fingertips.
Different people sweat different levels, but a lot of us are ‘two-towelers’… meaning, we use two towels on our yoga mats, instead of one, to try to soak up as much sweat as possible. One towel just won’t do. Even with two towels, the carpet around your mat becomes drenched with sweat. When you finish your Savasana after class, and pick up your mat, there is often a near perfect rectangle of dry on the carpet in the shape of the yoga mat. But outside of that perfect rectangle of dry, slowly spreading in every direction, is a small, fetid swamp. Imagine 300 little swamps, encroaching upon one another, merging together, since our yoga mats are often perilously close. Then, imagine going in that room sometimes less than an hour later, for posture clinic, or lecture. The doors have been opened, yes, and the heaters turned off. One huge fan is used to create a little bit of cross ventilation. But it would take a day or more for the carpet to truly dry. A day without a second swamp-creating class scheduled after said lecture or posture clinic. So the little swamp-patches in the carpet … little swamp-patches that bend in upon one another to create ever broadening swaths of wet … are never truly dry. Then imagine 300 people trying to find little dry patches on which to sit, because it is time for posture clinic or lecture and you have no choice but to sit and participate. But there aren’t enough dry patches. Not even by half. So you take your back jack and do the best you can and many days, yes, you sit in someone else’s sweat.
People try to get around it. Folded SmartWater cardboard boxes have been popular of late. Camping blankets are used. Tarps, even. Some of us try towels. I sometimes put a towel on the floor extending out from my back jack so I don’t have to put my legs on the wet carpet. It’s a thick towel. Really thick. It still gets wet. I used a white towel…once. I lifted it up after posture clinic and it had turned yellow. Not a bright, lovely yellow, though it wasn’t a dull yellow, either. It was a deep, chemical yellow; a shade of yellow I never even dreamed possible, a color out of some 50’s sci-fi movie gone mad. I was tempted to bring the towel home and turn off the lights to see if it might glow in the dark. Instead, I just stopped using a white towel. I don’t want to know what is growing in the carpet of the petrie dish, though I imagine a biochemist could have a field day in our room. It is a good thing we have all become so healthy. I imagine there is much for our immune systems to do given our life in the petrie dish.
Also imagine 248 women doing the yoga. You see, many of them have long hair. (A few men have long hair as well, hey, it’s yoga camp.) All these people with long hair practicing in the same room. As someone who doesn’t have to, shall we say, worry about hair issues anymore, I did not remember that hair doesn’t always stay in the head. So imagine all these longhaired people working out in an enclosed room and each person losing various strands of their hair every time they are in the room, a wet, hot room with air blowing all around. Circulating air is nice when you are in a Bikram class. It keeps you from feeling trapped, panicky. Circulating air, however, also circulates thousands of strands of hair. Strands of hair with no compunction about where they land, or should I say, where they stick. They seem to like bodies. A lot. If they don’t find an actual body on which to stick, though, it doesn’t matter. The strand knows eventually, if it happens to land on a mat or the carpet, a body will eventually find it. The hair is just happy to be back attached to a body, any body. It feels at home. The body, however, is often not too happy about the strand of someone else’s hair, which is weirdly impossible to remove from the body. And when you are in Bikram and being asked to remain perfectly still, in a posture or between postures, and get reprimanded by the teacher if you move, and yet you have a dozen or so random hairs, long hairs, all colors, on various parts of your body, it can be a little unnerving. Particularly when one is on your hand, and you wipe your face and...you get the idea.
I imagine everyone reading this has a few doorways in their home. Imagine every time – EVERY TIME – you walk through a door you have to make sure to check to see if someone – or ten someones – are about to walk through the door from the other side. Every time. It’s hard to stop, if someone is on the other side, coming in – and there is always someone – because there is always someone behind you as well.
And then for me there is sleep. I don’t mean going to sleep, although as you all know, that is also something we all long for. No, I mean sleep, or eye junk or eye-crusties, or whatever you might call it in your own vernacular. Since we are ridding our bodies so completely of toxins – a good thing, of course – we are all experiencing various bodily eccentricities. Some people are breaking out all over their faces and bodies, some people are cramping, etc. One of my most intense side effects has been the sleep in my eyes. Some mornings, no exaggeration, it has been so thick I have not been able to open my eyes. It is a good thing I have lived in my house for 7 years and know the layout. I have had to walk to the bathroom a few mornings literally unable to open my eyes and have to get to the sink to wash it out before I can see. It feels oddly good, in a cleansing way, though it is also bit weird. Some people have experienced even more intense forms of cleansing, which include…
Ok, I will stop. I am still happy to be here, and would not choose in any way not to experience any of this. I just wanted to have a little fun, though I am not embellishing about any of the above in the least. It is simply all part of the training.
This week was predictably intense, but for me in many ways better than Week Six. I seem to be working past the intense soreness I have been experiencing. I am still sore, no doubt, and wonder sometimes if I will ever touch my toes again, even as I get in the best shape of my life. But the almost crippling soreness I experienced in Week Five and even more so in Week Six has dissipated somewhat. I am also still tired, incredibly tired. And look forward to a lot of sleep when we are finished. But that also seems to be less an issue as we look at only two weeks left.
Two weeks. That is difficult to believe. I am so going to miss these people. Friday night, to end the week, we had a talent show. Anyone who wanted to sign up could do so. We went almost 4 hours, as over 30 people were each given 5 minutes (not everyone used up their allotted time) and the talent was pretty incredible and creative. People sang, of course, many beautifully. Not only the more traditional songs you might expect, but songs from their home countries, such as Yugoslavia and Scotland, or songs they wrote, amazing songs that really moved me. I pretty much fell in love with a woman named Courtney, one of the few people with whom I have never had any real interaction during the last seven weeks, when she sang a funny, moving song with an incredibly glorious voice. Adam did some great beat boxing along with some others who rapped or sang. People read poetry and prose. They did monologues. One woman, apparently one of the best-known hair stylists in Canada, cut a friend’s hair…blindfolded. Seriously. It was mind-blowing to watch and I know some of the women in our group had to have had nightmares that night when we went home. The cut was beautiful, though, she pulled it off without a hitch. Our Japanese contingent, of I think 50, did a huge dance number all together that started the night off with a terrific bang. Some of the people we knew had such talent –Paul, for instance, a stellar guy from Canada (his Bikram blog -- http://bikramboogy.blogspot.com/), is an actor and singer, terrific at both and it was no surprise, though also no less wonderful, to hear him do a song. But there were others who have been quiet or reserved during the training, people you would never expect to really put themselves ‘out there’ in front of a crowd, who also just blew us all away. I could go on and on, but it was a great way to end the week.
Lots of people were still struggling this week. Those who did not hit the wall and get mad or cry last week seemed to hit it this week. I had some intense physical challenges in class. Thursday afternoon’s class was for some reason the most difficult class of the entire training for me. I thought I was going to die. But you just get through it. That is probably one of the best lessons of the training, at least for me: you just get through and work your mind to survive when you think you just can’t.
We had two terrific lectures this week: One was from Bikram’s wonderful wife, Rajashree, who gave us part one of a lecture that details the medical and health benefits of each posture. She talked to us for about three hours, very detailed, very engaging, without any notes; she is a pretty incredible woman. The other was even better: a man named Jon Burras spoke to us about a variety of health and medical issues, fitness versus health (very provocative, something with which I am really coming to agree), eastern vs. western medical practices, holistic approaches to health, etc. There is simply too much to go into here, and I am once again getting long, so if you are interested, check out his website: http://jonburras.com. Also, for those not getting tired of Emmy stories, she told us this week, not bragging at all, just to encourage us in terms of the yoga, that she went to get her physical and so she did a stress test. They apparently ended up just turning it off, they could not get her heart rate to a place where she ‘stressed out’ for her age. Again, this stuff works, for those thinking about giving it a try.
As always, thanks for all the support and encouragement. This continues to be one of the most difficult things I have done, if not the most difficult, but also one of the most satisfying. I can feel a big old nellie cry coming on at the end, given how much I am going to miss these people when the training is over. They remain a remarkable bunch.