Written by Rebecca Humphries


Sweating like a pig, soaring like an eagle

Rebecca Humphries explains her current sporting obsession: Bikram yoga. No, not the one in the sauna.

Illustration by Louise Boulter

I’m Rebecca Humphries and I like to spend six hours a week getting hot and sweaty with other people, contorting my body into rabbits, tortoises, eagles and triangles.

Don’t panic, I’m talking about Bikram; a 90-minute yoga sensation flourishing throughout the country. And I’m obsessed.

Over my three years of regular practise, Bikram yoga has taught me many things. That I enjoy exercise. That it’s OK to sometimes like my body. That around 55 minutes into class, with my hair scraped from my face and make up melted away, I resemble a very hot, very ill, naked mole rat.

And that three years definitely does not make me good at Bikram. Let’s discuss.

So Bikram. Isn’t that the one where you do it in a sauna?
This is by far the most common question and the answer is a resounding ‘nope’. Saunas are dry, often uncomfortable and can reach temperatures of around 70 degrees. A Bikram class has a regulated heat of 40 degrees and humidity at 40%. Nowhere near as severe. Throughout the class it will seemingly get hotter, but that is just your body warming up from the inside. There is always a teacher present to regulate the heat, often opening a window if it becomes overwhelming. Once you learn to work with the temperature rather than against, ie allowing it to relax your body and mind, it’s actually pretty pleasant. Truly.

So it’s Hot Yoga.
Nah, Hot Yoga is normal yoga in a hot room. Bikram is a series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises that the heat is designed to compliment. It’s exactly the same class to class, wherever you go. Great for monitoring yourself and noticing improvement.

I find yoga intensely dull though.
Me too. I just didn’t get it, I’d be in downward dog frustrated out of my mind and the opposite of serene. Bikram is challenging; it combines relaxation with cardio with stretch while at the same time battling that inner voice screaming ‘I can’t, I CAN’T’. It feels closer to an assault course than sitting cross-legged and ommmm-ing. It may be many things, but boring it ain’t.

I’ve heard the heat is pretty dangerous, you stretch yourself too far.
This myth, frankly, does my head in and is constantly spoken by people who are clinging on to an excuse not to try it. It’s totally inaccurate. Common sense will see you through this class. If you’ve never done a backbend before, don’t throw yourself into it. If you’re dehydrated, hydrate. If you feel dizzy, sit down. Even experienced students live by these rules. Stop yourself before the ‘ouch’.

What should I wear?
As little as you are comfortable with.

I’m not sure 2015 is ready for me in a bikini.
Look, there will be flesh on display. There may even be budgie smugglers. I’ve seen it all. The truth is no one really cares what anybody else is wearing. I generally wear leggings and a t-shirt and I don’t feel like a prude. Sometimes I’ll crack out the posh sports bra if I’m feeling good about myself. JUST DON’T WEAR LIGHT GREY TROUSERS. Nobody else will notice, I assure you, but once you start getting sweaty and look down at your front-bottom-wet-triangle-of-shame you will want to run, run away and never return.

How much dosh are we talking?
OK. It’s undeniably expensive. Stay with me! Most studios will offer an introductory package, allowing you to try a few sessions and see if it’s something you would invest in long term. Generally these packages cost around £30-40 for a month, with unlimited access to classes. Which is a bit of a bargain. Thereafter things get a bit more pricey, but it varies studio to studio.

But I’ve got a gym to pay for!
My suggestion is see how you go. Many people (myself included) forgo gym membership in favour of Bikram. You work out your entire body head to toe, inside out. One or two Bikram sessions a week will serve you a lot better than three or four hours at the gym – in terms of health, wellbeing and mindfulness.

Break it down. What’s in it for me?
Easy question.
– Great skin.
– Near instant body results.
– Shockingly quick mastery of something you’ll initially find impossible (great for me as I am notoriously impatient and tend to give stuff up rather than admit I find it difficult).
– A desire to eat healthily. Seriously. You’ll spend the entire class dreaming of the eclairs you’re going to devour straight afterwards and when it comes to it you genuinely won’t want to.
– Healing of injuries and strengthening of muscles that will ensure it won’t happen again. (A knee injury I had for years has now healed itself as a result of regular practice.)
– 90 minutes of complete focus on yourself. Your time for you, your face, your body.
– Improved hydration. Water will be your best friend and coconut water your glamorous acquaintance.
– Awareness of tension/tightness in your body that would go unnoticed until you seriously injured yourself. Bikram is prevention as much as it is cure.

But let’s face it: yoga is basically a hippy Whole Foods love-in for beautiful people. Won’t they sneer at my hair plastered over my sweaty red face, giggle at my jiggly bits?
I wish I could truly sum up the diversity of a Bikram yoga room. Believe me when I say that every single age and shape will feature. There will be post pregnancy bodies, paunched hairy ones, teeny tiny waists, wobbly bums and thighs. And every one finds it equally challenging. I took great satisfaction in seeing a rugby team turn up, all rippling muscles and false confidence, only to find their bodies had many restrictions caused by the sport. On the other hand, a tiny Chinese woman who must be in her 60s often practises next to me and frankly puts me to shame.

In the true spirit of #thisgirlcan, I would urge you to do it. If you’re prepared to work hard and simply try, there really is no catch. Go on. Release your inner mole rat.

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Written by Rebecca Humphries

Rebecca is an actress and writer from Norwich. She likes her portions big and her dogs small. @Beckshumps