Thirty Days to Something Better

Thirty classes. Thirty days. One room, heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. A bunch of crazy, obsessed fitness-fanatic people. At least six percent of the water in the body evaporated during each class. One Bikram Yoga Challenge? Check.

Sounds like fun, huh? 90-minute classes, with a few simple requirements: Must arrive 15 minutes early to find a spot for your mat; stay in the room during class; breathe; ignore the people flinging sweat on you during the class; and allow a good half hour to stop sweating afterwards. Bonus: Possibility for hot flashes or sudden chills later in the day.

Actually, the challenge was a blast. This was my second time completing it and the best part was learning that it is physically and emotionally possible to carve out two hours a day for oneself for 30 days in a row. Not too hard, as long as you live by an Outlook calendar like I do and if you can set a schedule and then stick to it.

Of course, it was not without difficulty—or favorite moments:

Class #3, 6:00 am. Too early to be doing anything that involves stretching or cardiovascular effort. But I get up at 5:15 am and get my butt to class before I fully wake up. By the time we hit Hands to Feet pose, I’m finally awake. Yet, I’m nowhere near touching my forehead to my shins. Funny, I could do it last night in the 7:00 pm. What’s up with that? Plus, a guy next to me is breathing really loudly in a totally annoying way. He should be doing Ashtanga, not Bikram. No loud breathing in Bikram allowed except for the first and last breathing exercises. Get a clue, buddy.

Class #11, Saturday, it’s packed, one inch between mats. We’re lined up like a bunch of chickens in a hen house. Actually, it does smell like a barn in here. I try to not notice spots where the rug is squishy with moisture. What are all these people doing here? Our hands touch here and there as we fly like airplanes doing Full Locust and everyone pretends they don’t care. Or maybe we’re so delirious that we really don’t.

Class #15, Hump Day. I’m halfway there! The instructor congratulates us during Savasana and encourages us to keep going. After class, I spray my mat with something anti-bacterial and go to add the day’s sticker under my name on the chart on the wall. Feels like first grade. Except some people have done 20 classes already! How did they do that? I pick a sticker with a ladybug and decide to finish my last 15 classes with a little row of 15 bugs.

Class #17, Woohoo! I am feeling great today! No real low point yet—last year it was somewhere around class #7 or 8 that I didn’t think I’d make it all the way through. Here I am, sailing along like this is nothing! An experienced yogi, confident that I can do it! I make it all the way through Standing Head to Knee pose without having to bend either knee. A simple triumph!

Class #22, Okay, found the low point. Did a double yesterday to prepare for being away at a tennis tournament this weekend and now I’m paying for it. I slug through class feeling irritated; my lower back aches and my right knee feels like it might give way. Why did I do a double? Are all the classes going to be like this from now on? The sun is streaming through the window right into my eyes and the instructor doesn’t bother closing the shade. Could it be any hotter? Oh, add some sun! She comes by at one point and says, “Should have worn sunscreen today, huh?” Ha. During the middle of Cobra, I notice a small black spot on my left arm. I’m supposed to ignore distractions—that’s part of the yoga, staying present with the practice and not straightening clothes, wiping your face, picking lint off your arms. But I’m not that evolved. When we pause between postures, I brush the spot off anyway. A dead fly falls to my mat. Gross. Not only am I attracting blinding sun, but now dead insects. Better stop being annoyed. Aim for the ladybugs instead.

Class #26, Sunday afternoon. Back from the tennis tournament! Our team finished 1-2. I played three matches in two days, and I’m thinking I will be exhausted at 4:00 pm yoga. But surprise, it comes easy today. I think my poor body must be grateful that I’m not still dashing around on a hard court after a fuzzy yellow ball. The stretching feels good to my hamstrings. My muscles relax, and sigh in relief. Even surrounded by 20-somethings with tattoos and bikini Bikram tops, this feels like home.

Class #30, 6:00 am. Is this really it? This early morning class zips by because I don’t have to come in tomorrow if I don’t want to. I am not fantasizing about my Vita-Water during class the way I usually do. Just following it one posture at a time. As I lie on my mat during Savasana, reflecting on the experience at the end of class, I realize that I’m feeling more grounded, less stressed, more relaxed than ever. I’ve been eating better and sleeping better (well, at least the sleeping better makes sense—I’m exhausted!). I decide to treat myself to a massage at the local massage school later that day. Only $30 for 60 minutes to recover from my 30 days.

What next? A day of rest. Or two. Then back to the sweaty stables. I can’t stop now. There’s still a lot of work to be done on this body I came in with, and I’ve only just begun.