Yoga. The very word conjures up a picture of smug serenity accompanied by a faint whiff of mung beans. One variant, however, had always appealed: Bikram yoga. This was the most badass of yogas; 90 minutes of exercise in a room heated to 42 degrees centigrade. If Chuck Norris did yoga, it would be Bikram.
So when Hot Bikram Yoga opened a branch in London Bridge (just a 10 minute walk from my flat) and threw in a heavily-reduced 30-day introductory offer, I decided that it was my time to shine (literally). Over the next four weeks I would contend with buckets of sweat, glimpses of contorted ball sac and extraordinary skin abrasions in my quest to become more bendy.
They say that horses sweat, men perspire and women glow. In Bikram, we are all horses. The sorts of horses that have to use Mitchum deodorant and carry handkerchiefs around to mop their glistening upper lips. It's possible that you may have experienced 42-degree heat, but we tend to make every effort to avoid it through the medium of swimming pool or air conditioning.
In Bikram, it's about embracing the heat. Within 10 minutes you'll have a bead on. 20 minutes in, you'll have glistening arms and shins. After 60 minutes, you'll have sweat dripping from the tip of your nose and into your eyes, your clothes will be utterly sodden, the compulsory towel on top of your yoga matt will be well on its way to saturation. If, like me, you decide to rush home to wash rather than contend with 60 women trying to use communal showers at the same time, you'll notice the sort of steam emanating from your body in the cool air conventionally associated with a racehorse after a particularly exhausting few furlongs. This is certainly not a first date activity.
All this sweating means that drinking water starts to become a full-time occupation. I'm generally more of a coffee and fizzy drink person, but Bikram requires you to drink a couple of litres before and during class. If you do the early classes (6.30am) you need to start thinking about rehydrating the night before. Wine doesn't count.
After a couple of weeks of vigilance I decided that it was OK to go on a hangover. Big mistake. Huge. Halfway through and a particularly strenuous backward bend spurs my salivary glands into action. A wave of nausea envelops me like a urine-soaked sleeping bag and I have the overwhelming urge to be sick. In front of 70 people. Thankfully I contain it to a small mouth spew before the wave of nausea ebbs away.
90 minutes and 26 poses will pass and it's likely you'll have considered, in no particular order: fainting, running away, puking and marching up to that man at the front to tell him that his scrotum is making a bid for freedom from his shorts and it's proving to be extremely distracting.
On the flip side, you'll also have thought "hey, it's not as hot as I expected", smiled maniacally when you find the one pose you can do as well as the graceful ballerina type (despite being advised against comparing yourself to others) and considered jacking in the day job to become a full time yogi. It's after the class where the real smugness starts. Once you've showered, you'll feel energised and calm and will feel as though you are glowing from the inside. Warning: some may find this new-found tranquillity offensive.
In 30 days, I went to 24 classes. This was partly because I am a faddy exerciser and partly because the post-Bikram Cheshire Cat cheer is intoxicatingly addictive. In that time I became noticeably bendier, stronger and leaner. I may have developed some strange towel-burn abrasions on chin, lower back and hips, but overall my skin is much clearer (although the mince pie and mulled wine onslaught is doing its best to address that). Most importantly, it's the best way to de-stress this side of Xanax.