With two weddings to prepare for next summer, my family are on a bit of a health kick at the moment. My sister and her bridesmaids, of which I am one of five, decided the best way to spend the heatwave was to sign up to 30 days of unlimited bikram yoga classes. The irony of this is lost on no-one.
Only after I'd paid my dues did they tell me that the studio was owned by a cast member from the reality show The Only Way Is Essex. Now I am going to be completely upfront about this, I hate those shows and the fame-for-no-talent bullshit narcism that they promote.
I also went to school and university in Essex, love the beautiful county and people, hate that this microcosm fueled by fake tan is our calling card to the world. But a good friend swears by bikram, and as I'll give anything a try once, I found myself curiously excited about how this was going to play out.
Bikram Yoga Essex is the first and only certified bikram studio in Essex, and is owned and run by Billi Mucklow, a former TOWIE cast member. The studio itself is clean, welcoming and has the bedazzled giant buddha figures you'd expect in of a yoga studio in Loughton.
The other class members are refreshingly a mixture of men and women who have come to brush fingers with someone a little bit famous for being famous, and those who couldn't give a shit, plus some bikram fanatics. Guess which camp I fall into? Clue, it wasn't the bikram fanatics.
Describing the class afterwards to a friend, I told her it was a feast for the eyes. If you're ever looking for a perfect specimen of the human body, I would suggest starting your search at a bikram studio. The teachers, of which Billi is one, show you what practicing every day might possibly achieve, and it's one hell of a advert for the business. And in the spirit of sisterhood I will hold off on any other comments, aside from to say that some people must spend every waking hour exercising or grooming. Not necessarily practical in the real world.
Bikram classes are taught in 40 degree heat. The practices are 90 minutes each, and we're told the aim for beginners in their first class is just to stay in the room for the full session. A super-lean teacher in Speedos guides the increasingly sweaty class through 26 poses and 2 breathing exercises, and make no mistake my friends, this is no joke.
Ten minutes into my first class, sweat was pouring off my pinkening skin, at a rate that resembled Niagara Falls in the summer. Who knew it was possible to even sweat this much? I started worrying that I hadn't fully hydrated myself before the class, and that slowly my appendages would turn to prunes and my clothes would weigh a tonne with their additional liquid.
According to conversations I heard in the changing room I knew there were other TOWIE people in the class, but my complete lack of interest/knowledge meant I had no idea who they were. Luckily my sister is a fiend for Z-list celebrities and not only knew who they were, but knew who their cousins were and who their previous boyfriends had been. And they were as sweaty as I was.
In fact pretty much the entire class was dripping. There were literal pools of water puddling around the feet of 80% of the class. You feel less conscious of looking like a sunburnt hippo coming out of a lake when you're not the only lake dwelling mammal in the room.
The thing about bikram is that not only is it really hard, but it's also really hard. I've done my share of pilates, both mat, standing and piloxing (don't ask), so I felt I had some knowledge of what to expect beforehand. Thanks to my hate-hate affair with exercise I also knew there was going to be stuff I couldn't do. And I was right. But I kept breathing and kept trying to get bendier, and didn't have to sit down as some of the others did.
I'm pleased to report that some of the poses I couldn't do in the first class I have got better at. Some of them are just ridiculous and remain far out of my sweaty little hands for the meantime. And yes I say for the meantime because I'm actually really enjoying it. I feel healthier, my clothes are looser and my mood is better after the class. Some of this is clearly smugness at having completed another 90 mins in the sweatbox, but the sense of achievement is really high.