I am just back from a lovely extra long weekend in the South of England, where we visited Brighton and London. The purpose of said break was for a friends’ 30th birthday party in London, but since we were going to travel all that way we thought we’d make a good trip of it and spend some time by the seaside.
I’ve had a soft spot for Brighton ever since I visited as a spotty gothic teenager, and wandered the streets in awe as I was surrounded by interesting, tattoo’d, pierced people and alternative shops filled with wonders stretching far beyond my pocket money. It’s a city filled with the weird and wonderful and has been a haven for all things weird for decades.
It’s no surprise then, that there is a big yoga scene. One of the things I desperately wanted to do on my holiday was take some hot yoga classes as it’s something you just can’t do in the North East of Scotland. The nearest hot yoga studio to me is 120 miles away in Edinburgh which is a bit of a commute really, so I try and take a class whenever I’m in another city.
I have ‘practiced’ yoga for 3 years in the loosest sense by attending the classes at Aberdeen Sports Village, which has meant I’ve learned a lot of the postures, flows and correct alignments but without any of the more holistic benefits that one might get from the atmosphere of a traditional yoga studio. I find it is an excellent cross-training activity as it strengthens my whole body which the stretch it gives on a Monday after a back-to-back run weekend is perfect.
Whilst I’ve done several Hot Yoga classes I had never had the opportunity to try Bikram Yoga, which is an entirely different discipline. Hot Yoga consists of traditional Ashtanga or Vinyasa flow yoga in a heated room (usually around 35-38 Degrees), whereas Bikram is much more strict and regulated. All over the world classes consist of the same 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises done in the same sequence, completed in the same amount of time (90 minutes), in the same conditions (40C, 40% humidity). I know several people who are complete devotees to the Bikram movement and swear by it as their only source of exercise so I was really keen to try it whilst in Brighton. It’s extremely tough and presents a challenge for the beginner to even stay in the room, so I was nervous but excited for the new experience.
I looked up Hot Yoga and Bikram studios in Brighton and was presented with such a variety that I turned to Twitter for advice. Yoga Haven quickly surfaced as the leading candidate for Hot Yoga, with Bikram In The Lanes being recommended for my Bikram needs. As luck would have it two of my blogging twitter pals are active yogis in Brighton; one is a regular at BITL and offered to take us along and show us the ropes. The plan quickly took shape and Jen, Cathy and I booked ourselves into the 1130 class last Thursday!
It was lovely to meet the girls in real life, and we got signed in and took our places in the back row of the class. Immediately upon entering the room the heat hits you like a brick wall and there was a heating system in the ceiling expelling hot air throughout the class. My previous experience have been warm rooms that have heated up more throughout the class by radiators, usually with an incense stick or two burning away and pretty wall hangings. This room was big, rectangular and carpeted; if it weren’t for the mirrored wall which we faced, it could have been a classroom.
The instructor entered the room after everyone had arrived (around 30 students) and took her place on a podium at the front with a headset microphone. She introduced herself and asked for myself, Jen and another brand new person to raise their hands and welcomed us to our first Bikram class. Her manner, whilst welcoming, was very straight-forward and blunt – we were not to drink until a certain point in the class and were not allowed to wipe ourselves with a towel. This set the tone for the rest of the class which was conducted clearly and briskly with no margin for error. It was a totally different manner and atmosphere from the other yoga classes I have taken – Bikram is incredibly strict about the format his classes should take and what the instructors should do. He also takes a zero tolerance approach to adapting poses or not getting it quite correct; in his words “99% right = 100% wrong”. (read the rest of his rules and standards here).
I was familiar with many of the poses already and found my years of practicing other style of yoga very beneficial. Jen and I even earned ourselves a shout-out compliment where the instructor highlighted how well we were doing, and were we quite sure that we’d never practiced before…!? The most challenging part of the last for me, was actually the floor series which take place in the second half of the class and are interspersed with 20 second savasana (a resting pose – lying on your back basically). Going up and down between lying down and being twisted in a knot was making me really dizzy and I was so completely hot both inside and out that I was beginning to feel sick.
By the end of the class I felt like I had been pushed to my limit in the heat, but no further. I was satisfied by how I’d managed to cope with the class and truly amazed at the amount of sweat I had produced. If you think about how wet you are when you first turn the shower off – that about covers it. It was mentally and physically exhausting but hugely fulfilling; I could tell that the studio had a great community and that coming together to practice with the same people several times a week would quickly build strong bonds and friendships as you progress together.
I think holistically I might get more from the traditional approach to yoga where you can adapt as you progress, either to make poses stronger or easier, and each class comes with a contemplative message or thought. I suppose you could get the same from Bikram once your mind was in the right place and you didn’t have to panic about whether you were doing the pose wrong or if you’re going to fall over. Being told that if you don’t have your knee locked then the pose hasn’t even started when you’ve been wobbling around for 15 seconds desperately trying to get it right felt a bit harsh, but I suppose it comes with the territory; this isn’t yoga with a gentle, soft approach – if it’s not right, it’s wrong.
All in, it was a great experience and as usual after a Hot Yoga class I’m left craving more and feeling disappointed that there is nothing like this in Aberdeen. Perhaps it’s a signal for me to drop the day job and start my own business – after all if anywhere needs a HOT yoga facility it’s the frozen North of Scotland, right?!