Bikram yoga is designed to upset our thermal regulation. When we spend ninety minutes in a 110 degree room, we invert our customary condition of internal body temperature. The outside world is actually hotter than our internal temperature. This allows us to warm the body ‘from the inside out’ as the dialogue states. It makes us more flexible. One would think that by class number 805, on the day I plunk down the annual membership fee to start my fourth straight year of this yoga, my body would be pretty used to that inversion. But today everything conspires against it.
The rain falls hard this morning, the humidity saturates, so instead of bicycling to Harvard Square’s big, glass-filled space, I take the subway to South Station and attend the small brick and wood studio within walking distance of my office. We are only seven, all regular practitioners. I get my favorite space, in the front corner where sometimes a slight breeze filters through the bottom of the door to the adjacent mat room. For all that I love Bikram, I do not love the heat and I make no apologies in seeking out the coolest spot in each studio, if only measured by a single degree or a slight increase in the breeze.
Tomo, our teacher, is tough today; she runs the class hot and never opens a window or door for relief. Some masochist installed new weather-stripping under the door, so that does not help. Class starts hot and only got hotter. By the third posture sweat drips off my nose, by the water break my towel is a swamp. The main reason I dislike extreme heat is that when the heat overwhelms it dominates my head space and I cannot set my mind in other, calming directions. Today my mind is completely occupied by this heat, I am destined to count every pose and every breath until I can escape.
Even when the heat is intense, it usually levels off during the last third of the class, the floor poses. But not today. It just gets hotter and hotter until the final sabasana, when I slouch myself off to the bathroom and stick my head under the cold shower.
One of the ways Bikram yoga tunes me to my body is through more delicate fever regulation. I used to get fevers when I was sick. Since I started Bikram I have never been sick, but I get fevers, tiny spikes, if I am fatigued or very hungry or stressed. They are useful reminders that my body needs attention. This morning I have such a fever. As I shower and wash my skin does not feel hot, but my insides are burning. So much heat is built up inside that even as cool water splashes over me I continue to sweat.
I think I have come to stasis; I change into my street clothes and walk to work. I have a rubber raincoat and an umbrella and the rain is not heavy. I ought to stay dry. But when I arrive at work I am drenched. My white shirt is a wet rag, my undershirt is soaked. I realize that while my poncho kept the rain off of me, it trapped the sweat emanating from within, far more moisture than the sky sent my way. My breath is hot. Thirty minutes after class and I am still expelling the fire.
Eventually my thermostat settles down, though my shirts are damp all day. The usual looseness that comes from yoga is exaggerated; I am floppy as Raggedy Andy. I chalk up my extreme internal heat as an example of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’, though I am in no rush to burn quite so hot anytime soon