Failure has no meaning in #bikram #yoga

When I started this blog I had two intentions: to tell the truth, and to be me. My hope was that in telling the truth I would sound like me; if friends read this they would hear me talking. In the playing out of writing about my yoga experiences I have reminded myself of something someone pointed out to me about 20 years ago, that I have a streak of self parody a mile wide. Often this is exactly how I tell the truth. Whether or not that is healthy is another discussion. I think probably in moderation it’s perfectly healthy but can become downright debilitating if it becomes a default position. Anyway, this is of no obvious significance right now. I just wanted it stated for the record.

Today was Day 20 of my 30 day challenge. I haven’t decided how I am going to finance my practice from here on, my preference would be to buy the next twelve months up front. It’s a lot of money to spend in one go and it’s a big commitment but – following my gut – it’s what I really want.

Anyway, I suspected I was going to have a tough class because I had what we in this country call “a few drinks” yesterday, but I had absolutely no idea. It was horrendous, easily one of the worst classes I have ever done. I more or less gave up after eagle, I was totally overwhelmed. I couldn’t do any of it. And the humidity and sweat – my word. Recently when I am in half moon back bend and I catch a glimpse of my forearms above me all I can think of is Apocalypse Now. Because of the sweat. And the funny part is I was scheduled to do a double. Yay!

So, long story short, I had two pretty hideous classes. But I stayed in the room and focused on my breathing and let the tears come and go and listened to the dialogue. And I refused to think about what my fellow students might be thinking about me and I refused to be too hard on myself. And tried to convince myself that these classes count and as long as I attend class I can say I did class today. I haven’t failed – even if all I can do is the belly down series.

It would be nice to think that Day 30 will be a good bikram day. Hopefully at least I’ll be able to stay in the room whatever happens, and convince myself even a “bad” class counts.



What is your yoga offering you today?

I used to love to practice with this particular teacher who had a habit of saying “be available to what your yoga is offering you today”, and another one of his favourites was “see where your head goes”. When he said it during savassana I had to ask myself  “Is it ok that my head goes straight to David Boreanaz?”

Anyway, today was day 25 and in savassana I was surprised to realise that I had no pain. Maybe a little discomfort and maybe my legs aren’t totally straight but no pain. And I recall that last week I did my first sit-up since my hiatus and the remarkable thing about that was that I honestly didn’t realise I was doing sit-ups again until I’d done a couple. So, that is what my yoga offered me that day.

In related news, I had a meeting regarding some new work yesterday and today I got a call saying I got the contract. Which is brilliant news all over and could mean a new direction for my career as a whole (if I’m very clever and work it right), but apart from all that there is part of me that is convinced that the yoga helped me get this contract. Helped me to prepare; to look at all I know about my field and stock-take what I had of relevance to offer; helped me in the interview itself to be poised and articulate, to speak with confidence and totally without embarrassment about my skills, experience, strengths, aspirations; helped me listen and respond intelligently; helped me communicate that I’m someone interested in hard work with a purpose and meaning and someone who is “in control”.

I have no evidence but I am sure of it; convinced. Also, it’s arguably significant that I got the message to call the agency a few minutes before class. The message was “please ring ASAP because we need to talk before the long weekend”. And I could have rung right there which would have made me late for class but I didn’t. I put that on pause and took class as normal, didn’t rush anything, kept my nerves and curiosity in check. And so after class I rang and it was good news. So, that is what my yoga offered me today. I grabbed it with both hands.

The Hot One.

Do you remember in LOST when Jack was about to operate on Sarah (was her name Sarah?) and he came back from running the stadium steps, where he’d met Desmond and twisted his ankle, and he was sweating and he says “I showered but I guess I didn’t cool” and she gives him a quizzical look and he says “I’m intense”. Which at the time drew a quizzical look from me, and I felt validated later when the TWoP recapper more or less called him a douche for saying that. Anyway, THAT.

I have showered and I am still sweating. Poor Jack. Sorry, my love, I take it all back. Hey, I’m intense.

Yet again I was home all day and only got my act together and got to class ‘cos I had booked online. Otherwise I would maybe have skipped. But, yet again, I am thrilled that I went to class. I feel I am, not to speak too soon, getting my standing series groove back for the first time since my bikram hiatus. Lots of things came up for me in class this evening which would make good blog material but the only one I remember is the sweat.

In a class which brought my half moon back to where I left off in early January and my first pain free spine twist, I also rediscovered my deeper sweat response. This class was, ladies and gentlemen, what we technically refer to as a hot one. By the end of pranayama I was more or less drenched. It was the kind of sweat that comes off you in sheets rather than trickles. The kind of sweat that gives you friction-free skin and makes it hard to keep your elbows wrapped in eagle. Indianna Jones in the jungle kind of sweat. Sweat that makes you think washing won’t do for this yoga kit, you’ll have to burn it. Sweat that makes your fingerprints so, so, so wrinkly that you might have well just swum the Channel. Sweat that makes you think you’ll be able to speed skate to the changing rooms ‘cos not even the soles of your feet are dry. Sweat that makes you think those nude yoga practitioners really had it right all along. Sweat that makes you frightened that you’re losing so much DNA that by the end of class your personality will be dramatically altered. Perhaps permanently.

Well, too bad, ‘cos I’m going back tomorrow. Unlucky class 13?

Just being honest.

We are well accustomed to hearing in class that it’s normal for postures to bring up different emotions; to be taken by surprise by emotions – and the advice I have always tried to heed is that I should not fight them but rather acknowledge them and let them go. By tasting what emotions my practice brings up for me on any given day and by relinquishing it I can help myself let go of the stresses and traumas held in the tissues of my body.

But what if “what my practice gives me today” is pain? We’re told don’t push through pain. But what about the emotions that the pain brings us? I think I am realising over the past few days that there is as much emotion in pain as there is in a stretch or a compression or a tourniquet release. Why this should be a huge revelation to me, I have no idea, as if you just think about it for roughly 40 seconds you realise that this is totally logical.

I heard a lot of interesting things in class yesterday. Teacher started by giving us a slight scolding about leaving the room during practice. It seems that the studio is getting a “reputation” (what? who cares? doesn’t the whole “reputation” concept appeal to ego?) for people leaving the room during class. I have to say I have been to class there five times now and haven’t noticed that happening. Whatevs. But the interesting thing comes next, teacher said that – I’m paraphrasing – many people, especially in the West, go through their lives never hearing the word “no”, so to hear “no, you’re not allowed to leave the hot room” can be the biggest challenge of all. I thought that was really interesting.

Class got underway and a couple of people were sitting down before warm up postures ended. Teacher said “if you are sitting out, are you focusing on your breath? Are you judging yourself? Or are you filled with love for yourself? We all love you so you should love you, too. You’re doing great.” And I thought, wow, that is awesome. That’s so awesome, truly. Sit out if you want, focus on your breath, don’t judge yourself, know that we love you. I thought, this guy is amazebags.

Then we got to tree and my back pain kicked in as it has been doing so I had to sit that out. Then we got to tortoise and I couldn’t do the sit up and I ended up sitting out the rest of the class til spine twist.

Now, bear with me ‘cos this is just how my head works, I knew I would have to sit out some floor series so I deliberately went straight to the back row that class. I’m already self-conscious because I’m new to the studio and I’m overweight. And I always think that when I can’t do a posture or have trouble with my back and sit out that people think it’s because I’m fat. Or, I should say “fat” because whilst a part of me self-identifies as “fat”, there is another part of me that self-identifies as “Helena Christensen”. I also think that when I don’t have a date on a Saturday night (a.k.a. Saturday night) or don’t get that last job I interviewed for, that people think it’s because I’m “fat”. “Fat” gets a great deal of blame in this house. Just so you know. Or hadn’t worked that out for yourself. If you hadn’t, it’s probably because you’re fat.

So there’s me, fat Helena Christensen, laying on my fat back with bent fat  knees in no small amount of fat discomfort with fat tears coursing down my fat face, focusing on my fat-person breath in order to quiet down the self-hate whilst the rest of the thin class is releasing thin emotions in thin camel. And teacher says “if you’ve been sitting out of postures, try and get back in, think of the group energy. This is bikram hot yoga; you’re not lying on the deck of Daddy’s yacht.” And, without losing a second of my inhale-for-six nor moving a muscle, I fly into a RAGE.

No offence but you’re an idiot if you think for one SECOND that if my Daddy (or Mummy. Sexist.) 0wned a yacht I would be caught DEAD within 500 miles of smelly London Bridge or London for that matter let alone you and your SMUG yoga class. If there is ever a yacht in my family you will know that there was one HELL of a fight and I went down swinging because that money should be spent on buying ME a house in Oahu which I only DESERVE. And what happened to “we love you” by the way? We only love the WIMPS  that sit down before the end of warm up? Cos that makes sense. Yeah, I believe it was Buddha who taught us to have compassion only for those who can’t do the easy bits. You hideous person. That’s it, screw you, there’s absolutely no way I’m getting up now. Even if you HAD asked at the start of class if anyone was working with an injury or condition (which you hadn’t) and even if you DO walk over and see if I’m ok (which you won’t) there’s no way I want to be a part of YOUR group energy now, thanks all the same. AND your tattoos are ugly. I’m in pain, you DICK.

It took me 24 hours of being offended and angry to figure out I wasn’t angry at him, I was angry at the pain. Which was stopping me from practicing and making me feel even more self-conscious. I didn’t even see his tattoos.

“You love it, don’t you?”

I’m learning to tell the difference between a tough class and a class which is sub par because my back pain is too restricting. The last three nights I have been so stiff and sore that I have sat out tree, toe, and everything after cobra series – or rather my modified cobra series. I feel very self-conscious although I have stopped feeling like a failure. Strangely – but in a positive way – it never occurs to me to leave. Perhaps partly because getting up off my back is so painful Whatevs.

For the second night in a row I had a new teacher – new to me, but clearly a veteran teacher. It was a very good class; dynamic and up; bright and relaxed with a lovely group energy.

Afterwards I just happened to be right next to the teacher in the changing rooms – our lockers were side by side. And she turned to me and said “you did great”. And I must have looked at her rather dubiously because I thought, I clearly did NOT do great, I only did about 50% of class. But I said thanks rather blankly, not wanting to appear rude despite being yoga stoned. And she said

“You love it, don’t you?”

“I love it”

“I can tell. You can tell. You did great”

“Thank you, I do love it, even if I can’t do it.”

“You can do it, you did it. Don’t worry – everyone’s on their own journey”

“Thanks a lot. I have a tilted pelvis so I get discomfort sometimes. And I haven’t been to class for four months, so. That’s my journey, I guess.”

“Yeah, seriously, don’t worry, it’s fine. You’re here.”

And we talked a little about loving the heat and then said see you next time and that was it. But walking to the tube I thought, she made the – probably minuscule to her because she is clearly someone to whom kindness comes naturally – decision to say something encouraging and kind to me. No drama, just a few nice words but clearly sincere. And that made a huge difference to me. To my experience of that class and my whole day. I do love my yoga and to think it was evident in my practice brings tears of joy and humility to my eyes. (I want to be clear that I waited to get home before welling up, I’m not totally losing my shit.) Not to mention the perfect example she is setting regarding respecting and encouraging fellow students’ practice for everyone earwigging in the locker room!

Anyway, know that if you make the split second decision to say something true and nice and encouraging to someone, you are doing a good thing, even if it seems merely like passing the time to you.

I believe it was Gandhi who said “Be excellent to each other. And. Party on, dudes.”


This could be a sign:

I’m not one to make rash decisions or pronouncements (that’s a lie) but I am stopping talking about bikram yoga from now on. I won’t talk about it, I won’t social network (yeah, that’s a verb now) about it, I won’t encourage my friends to try it, I won’t give it any credit or credence at all when I receive compliments or get asked what I’ve been up to. As far as I’m concerned from now on the official story is that I go horseback riding after work every night. In fact, I might even start a back-lash whispering campaign so that everyone knows what a thorough waste of time and constant disappointment it is. I’m not even kidding. I’m so worked up about this I just opened a packet of chicken breast cold cuts with my teeth. TOO MANY people are doing bikram. Studios are TOO CROWDED.  Stop publicising it, delete all the hashtags. Today. As in: now.

How busy was the studio, Caz? Well, thanks for asking, let me tell you. I got to the studio half an hour before class in order to register as a newbie at that studio and buy my intro deal (£35 for 20 days). I was met at the top of the stairs – it’s a basement studio – by an unfeasibly happy and smiling young man who was like unfeasibly happy and smiling. Can you imagine someone being sacked from the Disney Store for being too upbeat? Good, you’re there. Had I booked online? No, I was a newbie. Ah, well we’re fully booked, would you like to be on the waiting list, we’ll get you registered and keep fingers crossed. No problem, I’ll go on the waiting list.

Go downstairs, de-shoe, de-sock, complete form. Sit and wait. The teacher, an utterly brilliant teacher called Sanjay who I have practiced with before (and the reason why I picked this class) is at the studio door taking numbers off students. Literally, when you confirm your online booking you’re given a giant red laminated number and that gets you past the double doors into the studio. No number, no practice, cowboy. This, it strikes me, is inspired. It’s so good. It’s a perfectly simple system and it gives the teachers more face time before class. Awesome. Why don’t all the studios do this? Because, to be candid, they’re not all as good as Hot Bikram Yoga London Bridge. For real.

Finally I get called over, I can go to class. I get a number. I am number 81. I’m just going to leave that one there.

I get in class and I am last to arrive (as far as I noticed) and the first thing that strikes me is the sheer amount of mirror I am surrounded by. Secondly I am struck by the pleasing elephant grey carpet. But wait, a couple of steps in I realise this isn’t carpet, this is mats. The mats are already all laid out, not only squished up side by side like floor tiles but in some cases actually overlapping. Sanjay is already going through injuries with people so I just effing PICK a mat and kneel. The class was awesome. Truly and genuinely. That’s for another post though.

At this point (I mean right now writing, not in class. Woah! Fractured timeline. Call J J Abrams. So meta.) I take a deep breath and stop reacting because when I say the studio was busy – and it clearly was – it was totally FINE. Like, actually really lovely. For one, it’s easily the nicest studio I’ve been to (in the UK, which is still pretty big as comparing it to ground floor studios with an unobstructed view of the sunset/moonarc over the Rocky Mountains just isn’t fair). There are maybe three pillars which obstruct the view of the teacher from certain vantages but they are clad in mirror so it’s kind of ok. And the sound system is great. In fact it sounded to me almost the whole time like Sanjay was behind me (I couldn’t see him) which was a nice feeling. Even though it’s a basement there is much natural light, and it has windows that shjshjshjshjshjshj open and shut like a Miami beach house. And even though there was some brushing of thigh and elbow getting in and out of posture (there may have been a slight nose on calf muscle incident also) it was totally ok as everyone seems to accept the compact nature of the practice and the two neighbours were very sweet and smiley. In fact the atmosphere in the room was much different to the one I’m used to at my old studio. Different in a good way. It was chilled and not competitive or smug at all. And I’m already looking forward to going back.

However, and this is what made me a LITTLE fricking fractious, the changing room was an utter nightmare. I’ve never had to queue to get OUT of a changing room. It’s madness. Like, properly gridlocked. I’m not one to exaggerate (that’s a lie) but even if I were (which I am) I’m not right now (I’m really not). I have been turned upside down in mosh pits, I know what I’m talking about. It’s still the nicest studio I’ve been to in the UK, though.

When I managed to chin my way out of the changing room, as primally charged as the last person on the last chopper out of Saigon, my friend from before asked me how I got on. I said, that changing room is insane. And he smiled and said “I know, right?” Yeah, I guess it is what it is and now I know. I said I would be back tomorrow for Nicola’s class and he said to come at 9pm it’s a nicer and quieter class. So maybe that’s what I will do. Make a plan, stick to it, baby steps, do what you love, I can’t do this but I’m doing it anyway, it’s all good, breathe, smile, soften your gaze. Maybe breathe some more just to be on the safe side.

Conclusion, I wasn’t prepared for how busy it would be but I loved the studio and fully endorse it. Although, clearly, bikram is complete balderdash, Emperor’s New Clothes, license to print money – and you should be doing rock climbing instead.

I’m not sure if that this wasn’t more of a freeform organic venting than a studio review but I promise I won’t let that happen again (that’s a lie).

This is how close Hot Bikram Yoga London Bridge is to the Shard, I took this standing just outside the door that leads down to reception:

I practice yoga because my handbag is too big

Fairly typically, today I carried an over-sized leather shoulder bag. I believe people who decide these things call the style a hobo. For whatever reason, I can only carry bags on my right shoulder. No idea why. But I do think it’s bad for me to be so inflexible. No pun intended.

This is what, fairly typically, I had in my shoulder bag today:

  • my beautiful, shiny new BlackBerry (no, I won’t be getting an iPhone)
  • a Sony Walkman mp3 player (see above)
  • a Game of Thrones paperback (yes, I’m sure a kindle would be marvellous but if I buy just one more thing that comes with a USB charger then the terrorists have won)
  • my purse
  • Avalon Organics green tea and peppermint lip balm
  • my Starbucks thermos tumbler
  • my neoprene water bottle (both of which constitute my attempt to make up for the small wooded glen sacrificed for my Game of Thrones paperback)
  • small hair brush
  • house keys
  • baby wipes
  • a huge tub of home made dark chocolate peanut butter brownies (this is not typical, but were a necessary post-London marathon treat for the family)
  • sunglasses (and sunglasses case)
  • oyster
  • back up oyster ( i know)
  • mini A to Z
  • Hello Kitty make-up case (I never do touch-ups during the day but always take my make-up with me. My reasoning being that I never know when I might bump into Timothy Olyphant)
  • Hello Kitty make-up mirror
  • three pens (you know, for all that writing I do)
  • a big scarf (amost pashmina size, but not a pashmina)
  • I think that’s it

Discounting my nail polish collection, that’s more or less my entire life. And I carry it around with me more or less every day. In addition to my yoga kit, which I also carry on my right shoulder. No wonder I have back trouble – it doesn’t take a genius. But wait, there is a predisposition to back trouble. I have a tilted pelvis and an over extended S-curve in my spine. I guess I should take responsibility to know the names of the vertebra that are in trauma but what do you want from me? I can recite Point Break from start to finish, do I look like I have time to learn L2 from L4? Anyway, I get pain just below the small of my back, I suspect from bad technique picked up from 14 years of classical ballet, but I cannot prove this.

What’s my point? My point is that the yoga (bikram) didn’t exactly heal me; it alerted me to the problem in the first place. The pain is apparently a “healing crisis”. And I think a lot of people would say “yoga made my back hurt” and stop, but I keep going. Some classes it hurts so bad that tears roll down my cheeks. Why don’t I stop? I’m not sure except I know that I trust the process, and since I stopped going to dance class several lifetimes ago, bikram is the one thing I am truly passionate about. It’s alerted me to back pain, sure, but it’s given me so much more besides. That’s all. Perhaps not much of a point but it means something to me – and back pain or no, bikram is – some days – all I think about.

I know I’m meant to wrap up blog posts with some supposedly cute and witty call-back like “bikram is all I think about – well that and Point Break”. But, as simple as my point is, I don’t want to trivialise it like that. So I’m just going to stop. The blog post, not the yoga.

The Kingslayer: also right-handed.