I am not, nor will I ever be, a “yoga person.” I’m self-conscious enough working out in front of other people at the gym, let alone contorting my brittle, lumpy body in front of an entire room of half-naked granola crunchers who are in far better shape than I. Plus, there’s the infinite joy of having to see your pathetic reflection in the mirrors that line the walls.
People will tell you the mirrors are there to help you with your poses, but I’m convinced their true purpose is to break your spirit as you gaze at your own hanging man-tits down the neck of your shirt while you struggle to maintain the downward-facing dog position. These torture chambers are referred to as yoga “studios,” as if they’re places where artists go to create beautiful works of art — if you consider 30 strangers trying to hold in their farts for an hour “art.” I, for one, don’t, but there are a lot of people in this city who do.
They’re easy to spot in the wild, with their brightly-colored yoga mats flung smugly over their shoulders as they juggle a gluten-free scone in one hand and a $10 organic juice in the other. But within this contingent of overly-dedicated squatters is a splinter group that is even more perplexing — those who partake in Bikram, or what is colloquially known as “hot” yoga, in which participants go through a series of 26 postures for 90 minutes in a room that’s been heated to a crotch-melting 104 degrees Fahrenheit. If people who practice standard yoga have drunk the Kool-Aid, those who practice Bikram have drowned in it — and once, and only once, I foolishly dared to take a sip.
Rewind to early September 2012. It’s the first Sunday of the NFL football season, but instead of settling in to watch the Giants, I was walking with my girlfriend — now, fiancée — to a Bikram yoga studio on 116th St. She had expressed interest in trying it, and I obliged by purchasing for her a week’s worth of classes. The woman from the yoga studio who I had spoken to over the phone convinced me that I should also buy a package for myself so that my girlfriend and I could experience the wonders of hot yoga together as a harmonious couple. She even offered to give me a discount. Being a sucker for a good deal, and someone who can never seem to fend off an up-sell, I agreed. As I would come to find out, it was one of the worst purchases I’ve ever made — and this is coming from a guy who owns multiple CDs by the band Korn.
We walked up a steep staircase to the yoga studio on the second floor of a slender East Harlem building. Immediately upon walking through the door, we were hit with a hot, humid wall of air that seemed to cling to our faces and suck the life from our lungs like the baby xenomorphs in the Alien movies. The amazing thing was that we weren’t even inside the studio yet; we were merely in the lobby. A woman who worked there instructed us to remove our shoes and socks and place them in the cubbies below the reception desk, where — the paranoid New Yorker inside of me was convinced — they would be promptly stolen.
Once we were barefoot, we were permitted to enter the studio, which lay beyond a glass door that had been turned opaque from the even hotter air inside. As we swung it open and crossed over the threshold, we were assaulted with the stench of wet, hot feet. There was so much putrid moisture in the air that we didn’t walk through the room, we seemed to swim through it instead. The heat and humidity was the kind one could only experience in the bowels of Florida on a late-August day, if Florida was located in the sweaty skin crevice between Satan’s scrotum and inner thigh. We found an open spot on the floor and laid down the towels we had been given, and waited for the class to begin. I took a look around the room and immediately realized I was woefully unprepared. People dressed in spandex were limbering up, while others were meditating, or hydrating themselves with huge, liter-sized bottles of mineral water. I, on the other hand, was sitting Indian style (that’s a yoga pose, right?) sweating through my mesh shorts and t-shirt and cradling a small Poland Spring bottle that my girlfriend and I had brought to share.
We were fucked.
Our instructor finally entered the studio — a small but intimidating-looking Asian woman who inexplicably spoke with a German accent, which was as scary as it was confusing (think Tiger Mom if she were in the Luftwaffe). For the next 90 minutes, she barked out orders from atop a raised platform, commanding us to bend, flex, stretch, and contort into positions that even Pink wouldn’t attempt during a Grammy Awards performance. My girlfriend and I tried desperately to keep up with the rest of the class, but our aching, dehydrated, sweat-soaked bodies began failing us within the first 30 minutes. We were gasping and flapping around like a pair of wounded seal pups, and our hardnosed instructor zeroed in on us quicker than a Great White off the South African coast (sorry, I wrote this while watching Shark Week). She called us out on our slacking, and demanded that we maintain our forms.
Public shaming is normally a great motivator, but when it’s 104 fucking degrees and you’re near heat death, you really don’t care how weak you look. We got up and tried to leave, but she wouldn’t let us. Instead, she told us to sit down and concentrate on our breathing until we felt well enough to continue. I felt like saying, “Bitch, I’ve been gasping for air for the past hour — believe me, breathing is the only thing I’ve been concentrating on.” But I didn’t, because all of the saliva in my mouth had evaporated. Around minute 60, my head began throbbing and I was beginning to feel dizzy. I collapsed onto my towel, my back flat on the floor. I pivoted my head to look at my girlfriend. She had moved closer to the door in a feeble attempt to get a whiff of the cooler air outside. My crusty eyes met hers, and at that moment we could both tell what the other was thinking: “Never again.”
What happened after the class ended is an absolute blur. All I can remember is grabbing our shoes and bolting for the door. Our clothes drenched in sweat, our hair clumped and matted, and our knees weak, we emerged from the building looking like a pair of abductees. I reminded my girlfriend that we still had six more days left on our membership package, and jokingly asked her if she wanted to go back on Monday. She told me to go fuck myself, and we walked home in silence.