I went to a Bikram yoga class in Amsterdam yesterday at the invitation of a new acquaintance. This is the "hot yoga" -- 105F, 40% humidity -- literally wrings out toxins while you're in ludicrous, excruciating postures. With plenty of toxins to spare, I thought I'd put the technique to the test.
I arrived, signed up, went to the dressing room ... and found I had forgotten my shorts. (If this were a live story, here is where T would mention how I once went solo camping, brought my three-foot pet cactus, forgot the tent.) Men are to wear shorts -- women, leotards. I brought a towel, a shirt, change of underwear, shampoo, water, my iPod, a book -- everything but the thing I actually needed. Armchair psychiatrists, read into that what you will.
Back at the counter, with a cheerful shrug, I explained the fact that I am an idiot. "So, I guess maybe next time--"
"Oh, I think we might have a pair." The instructor, a sturdy blonde Dutchwoman with staring blue eyes, dragged boxes out of lost and found. I went through them. No shorts.
"I'll just go naked."
"Okay! Why not?" She seemed serious.
"Well, actually I can think of a few reasons."
"Wait," she said. She disappeared and came back with what looked like a black handkerchief. On closer inspection, it turned out to be shorts that might fit a gnome. I held them up, wincing toward her.
"They stretch," she affirmed.
Indeed they did. But at what cost? I regarded my reflection with hair-raising dismay. Was I smuggling hacky sacks? And given my build, which conceals all evidence of my skeleton, the gnome shorts appeared as a sort of mid-body tourniquet.
But it seemed I had committed, and my new pal had arrived, the Bikramites were gathering, and it was time to start. The studio was a large room containing 20-25 people. Blowers in the wall blasted hot air, and I was dripping sweat before I had even arranged my mat and laid the towel over it. Immediately the instructor began the breathing exercises, which involve interlacing the fingers and stretching them as high and as far backwards over your head as possible and trying to look at the wall behind you, while standing on tiptoe. Of course the notion of breathing in such a position is preposterous. And I had not exercised, besides riding my bike, for three months. By the end of the breathing exercises, I was speculating on the chances of a heart attack.
But I kept on, trudging dutifully through approximations of the 26 postures (skipping the ones that could worsen my damaged knee), some of which tangled my limbs into impossible pretzels, and all the while the drip drip drip of sweat, the pounding of my heart, the hot pumping of my blood into outpost regions that had not seen it since the Clinton Administration. My vision went dark, and dark also was the feeling of the toxins being roused in their lairs. I turned off my mind. I became a dying lizard writhing in scorched desert sand. "Ninety minutes is the length of a movie" is the one thought I had to keep beating back down into the murky depths of what was left of my sputtering consciousness.
But it did end. And a line formed for two dozen glowing red people to use three showers. I returned the soaked gnome shorts to the instructor, who told me I did a good job. "Many beginners flee the room before the halfway point." Staggering outside, I blinked at the pitiless sun, and scanned right and left. Okay, a street. I remember those. They are long and you can go two directions on them. Concentrate. Pick one direction and go. I waddled off like a hypnotized penguin.
At home, the headache began before I'd even climbed the stairs. Wretchedly recalling that we were out of ibuprofen, I collapsed and slept like a corpse for two hours. I woke disoriented and cranky, my sleep-wrinkled face scowling at T when she asked how it had gone. I felt like I had been hit by a semi. The headache persisted.
I don't think it rid me of toxins. I think it merely stirred them up, hassled them out of their hiding places to rampage through my body every bit as grumpily as I shambled into the Irish pub later that night. I needed to placate them, to soothe their anger by replenishing their ranks -- before they could do real damage. Thanks to Arthur Guinness and the product of his extraordinary vision, it seems I succeeded at least in that. I woke up today at the crack of ten-thirty feeling, more or less, normal. I don't know if I'm going back. I need to finish the job, but am I up to it? If you strike at the king, you had better kill him. Merely dredging up the toxins to go wilding through my kundalini was like catching a wolf by the ears: You don't dare let go.