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The Exfoliator: 30 days of Bikram yoga, part two

April 9th 2013 / Ahmed Zambarakji

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Ahmed Zambarakji has committed himself to practising hot Bikram yoga for 30 days in a row - here's part two of his diary

Day 11: Mirrors

I have what I can only describe as a ‘difficult’ relationship with the use of mirrors in Bikram Yoga. They cover every inch of every wall, forcing students to see their whole body from every angle and, as if to add insult to injury, in desperately unflattering lighting. On a day like today, I’d sooner be outdoors racing through the streets of London and lost in my own thoughts than confronted with every inch of my sweaty, pasty flesh for 90 minutes. This, clearly, is a hangover from my teens and early twenties when I struggled with some pretty damaging body image issues.

The mirrors, however, are a pivotal part of the practice. While the Botox brigade tend to use them for preening (you know who you are), they are there to help students correct their alignment and, as was painfully obvious today, confront the parts of yourself you’d sooner brush under the carpet. I’m not talking just about the physical affectations – the random bit of blubber or the unsightly hairy patch – so much as the whole Self: the painful emotions, the self-criticism, the fear and so on… This adds a whole new dimension of pain of to the class.

Day 12: Gas

Informal conversations with non-yogis about my Bikram practice inevitably lead to the topic of farting in class. I should begin by saying that I have only been asphyxiated by someone else’s flatulence once in two years which, given the law of probability, really isn’t too bad.

The release of trapped wind is inevitable given that many of the postures including Pavanamuktasana (translated from the Sanskrit as ‘Wind Removing Pose) actively wring out the digestive system.

I practise on an empty stomach in order to avoid having to deal with any digestive mishaps (though newcomers are recommended to eat two to three hours before a class). I’m a little confused, therefore, as to why I feel like I’m about to belch a hurricane in today’s class. Perhaps I gulped down my water too quickly in between poses – a beginner’s mistake - or maybe it’s the fact that I chewed my way through a pack of gum the day before. There is no doubting it: I am gassier than a hot air balloon and petrified I’ll explode mid-asana.

MORE GLOSS: 30 days of Bikram yoga part one

Throughout most of the spine strengthening series, for which students lay flat on their stomachs pushing the abdomen flat against the ground, I’m keeping both ends firmly shut. Before I know it, the postures actually relieved the cramp in my solar plexus and triggered a series of oral eructations that, I hope, went unnoticed. I leave class feeling right as rain, without reaching for a gallon of Gaviscon.

Day 13: Beyond the limit

13 consecutive days has been my normal Bikram ‘limit’ so tomorrow marks the day I go beyond my comfort zone. In other news, the amount of laundry I have to do is officially killing me. Washing, drying and packing my gear for class has become part of the daily repertoire, meaning I can’t leave the thought of this challenge in the studio. I’d hire some help but I don’t think it’s acceptable to ask a complete stranger to handle my sweaty smalls.

Day 14: Lock your knees!

AM: Why am I doing this again? Last night I could literally feel my pulse throbbing away in my kneecaps as I tried to get to sleep. I’m not sure whether the sensation is indicative of an injury in the making or my body building up new strength after years of catabolic exercise. As with all endurance activities, there is “Ouch!” pain (good) and “Shit!” pain (bad) but my track record with exercise suggests that I have no idea how to differentiate between the two – it’s a guy thing.

Bikram teachers generally make the distinction by saying short sharp pains are bad while dull aches – which appear to be plaguing my knees – are manageable. “The goal,” they remind me, “is to challenge yourself, not damage yourself.”

Regardless, the idea of being able to respond to the dreaded “Lock your knee!” command feels beyond me today and I just don’t want to go to class (locking one’s knee is literally and figuratively pivotal to the ‘balancing series’, a series of three postures executed while standing on one leg.)

MORE GLOSS: Practise yoga at home with this brilliant yoga app

PM: Not only did I make it through today’s class, happily locking my knee through the aforementioned postures, but I actually felt re-energised afterwards. When I first started Bikram some years ago, I recall a teacher saying that regular practice would actually give you energy rather than zap you of it. At the time, that was hard to believe: the idea that sweating in intense heat for 90 minutes would re-energise me was hard to believe. On the days I would practice, I’d spend 90 minutes in class and the other 22.5 hours lying down in a darkened room trying to recover. Today, however, I’m actually buzzing with energy after class and, oddly, have no pulsating pain in my knee. Go figure.

DAY 15: Breath

Nothing challenges me quite so much as maintaining ‘normal breath’ during those days when my body has given up. Students are required to maintain slow calm breaths in and out through the nose while holding tricky postures. In 40C heat. When pushing myself to my limit, my impulse is to gulp down as much air as I can, a habitual reaction that only sends my sympathetic nervous system into overdrive.

It stands to reason, then, that my nose has developed a weird ability to vacuum up air with more gusto than Ronnie Wood in a crematorium. I’ve snorted so hard, in fact, that all the dry air has started to trigger nosebleeds. Yes, my nasal cavity started hemorrhaging over dinner this evening. Delightful.

Day 16: Clockwork

One bonus that comes with regular yoga is, er, ‘regularity’. Time on the porcelain throne was once a fairly spontaneous and unpredictable event but daily wringing and contorting of my internal organs has made them work with the efficiency of a fine Swiss timepiece. In addition to that, it appears that there is nothing my once fragile gut can’t handle. I could eat my way through a cardboard box and I don’t think my gut would flinch.

After years of struggling with a sluggish digestive system, this is nothing short of a miracle. Work has led me to some of the best specialists, dieticians, nutritionists etc over the years but none have had quite as dramatic an impact on my metabolism as Bikram.

DAYS 17 – 19: The wall

The dreaded wall has appeared. Just as marathoners get to a point when their energy reserves deplete and they have to rely on sheer mental power to get them through the remaining few miles, I’ve been struggling to make it through the 90-minute classes. I’m nauseous, irritable, sleepy and, frankly, a bit over the whole idea of a 30-day challenge. This feeling continues even once class is over.

The really frustrating thing is I’m getting weaker, not stronger. I can’t even hold many of the poses that I used to find a breeze. I’ve also started sweating within the first five minutes of class, which is unusual for me. As a result, I’ve given up my hardman shtick and migrated from the front row to a cooler spot in the middle / back of the glass, hoping that the tougher teachers (well, CB) won’t notice me (doesn’t work). Now is not the time for me to start pushing myself beyond my limits.

Day 19: War wounds

It’s a good thing I’m not in a relationship right now. I caught sight of myself in the mirror getting out of the shower today and my body looks like it’s spent the night in the bloodthirsty clutches of a dominatrix. My back is bruised and raw, as are my hipbones. I’m not a big guy and the pressure I’m applying to certain parts of my body is starting to leave visible reminders. Will have to double up on the mats from now on and start bathing in pure Argan Oil.

Day 20: Breakthrough

Have broken through the wall thanks to lots of rest, crates of coconut water and a quick revision of my eating habits. Have incorporated a ‘Sole’ into my pre-class routine on the advice of Olga Allon, a seasoned yogi, who also happens to be Hot Bikram Yoga’s founder. Made by saturating water with organic Himalayan rock salts, a tablespoon in the morning replenishes essential electrolytes and salts. It’s also supposed to be a cure for everything from asthma to gout and herpes. I’ve bought sacks of the stuff.

The third and final part to be continued next week...

Go to hotbikramyoga.co.uk to find your nearest class.

Click here to read part one of Ahmed's diary, or click here to see the final entry. See all of Ahmed's articles here.

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