Class begins, I should point out, with the FunkySexual asking who was new. I raise my hand, and he asks me my name. When introducing himself, he made a point of adding a very latin trill to the ‘r’ in his name, even though his natural cadence is white-guy, and so I feel compelled to do the same. I pronounce my name properly, and to my surprise, he bounces it back fairly well.
“OK, Shumit, your job is to just stay in the room today, do the best you can, got it? Good, let’s pick up and gogogo, people!” *clap clap!*
Frankly, I’m a little put off by all this, as well as the fact that the guy from the last class left a patch- no, a puddle- of soaking wet carpet in his wake. ‘If every one sweats like this all over the carpet’ I think, ‘several times a day, then-
Some primitive form of denial abruptly cuts off this line of thought, perhaps my brain recognizing that if I consider this too closely, I’ll run howling from the room and take a Lysol shower. I’m not prone to germaphobia, at all really, but well….best not to think about it.
There is no mystic chanting, but it is the same “V” reptilian breathing as the other Bikram studio. In fact- as per Bikram’s precise orders and subsequent litigation, the whole series is exactly the same, the difference being now there is a little brown man yelling at me through a loudspeaker. Probably even closer to Bikram’s original vision.
He even looks a little like Bikram in his younger days, as he’s tan and wears his hair in the 1970’s Action Hero Part to the left. He even- I’m not making this up- slips into a faux Indian accent from time to time.
Does he get to do that? Frankly, I’m offended. FunkySexual can mock his own heritage all he wants, but that shit is crossing the line. But then again, Funky Door crossed the line a long time ago, and the fact that I didn’t turn my ass directly around when I walked in the door might be on me.
I’m not really sure what to say about the specifics of the rest of the class, but I’m definitely thinking about the whole enterprise. At one moment, in a brief repose in shivasana, I’m just glancing around the room, noting how much energy- the ‘pay the bills’ sort of energy- gets used here. The heat is on throughout the whole class, and a couple dozen fans are rotating above us. The speakers are bumping, both with FunkySexuals voice and some corny aerobics soundtrack. The on-site Laundromat is humming along, washing the towels from the previous class, getting them ready for the next. Fluorescent tubes illuminate the studio, giant metal ducts carry heated furnace air. There is a massive amount of fossil fuel being expended, and I’m here to tell you, it is almost all for naught.
This is the one moment where I get to speak with absolute authority, more than American yogis, more than full-blooded desis, more than Bikram himself, and this is not only despite the fact that I am a half breed, but because of it.
The story goes, Bikram was noticing how quickly Indians can get into poses as opposed to Americans. His solution was the heat- in theory, all this excessive sweating is to make the Americans more flexible, loosen tendons, etc etc. Anyone who has seen pictures of Indians in contorted positions will realize that those of Dravidian descent are built along different lines. I first realized to what measure they are by watching my 80+ year old grandmother doing the laundry in the pond by our house in Calcutta. She was squatting, knees next to her ears like a bullfrog while simultaneously slapping wet laundry on a rock. She would remain in this position for hours at a time, performing fairly arduous physical labor, and it did not bother her in the least.
This odd squatting position, so common among Bengalis at least (and Bikram is a Bengali) is a contortion that Americans find awkward, and frankly aren’t built for. Try it your self- squat down, with your heels still on the floor and your knees spread wide enough so that your arms are between them. Have something to do, maybe a sudoku puzzle or something. See how far you get. I’m not even willing to try, myself. I’d give myself 3 minutes. I got the English knees.
The question is, how much can the 105 degree heat help? It, along with the series of postures ( and while I will concede that it seems a fine series, so are plenty of other series) does it really make it easier for the American body to slip into Indian poses?
Not so much.
The problem is, the gulf between body type is too large to bridge with just heat, and I know- I’m one of few that can tell exactly how wide it is. I have a measure of both- in some ways I’m as flexible as any desi, in others I’m worse off, due to the odd mix of continents and genetics (then again, I’m a touch bulkier than your average Bengali, and I love visiting Calcutta, if only for the fact that, by a measure of an inch or so, I am actually tall). I have European arm sockets and Indian ball-joints and can dislocate my shoulders like other people crack their knuckles. If a punjabi – an Indian shirt- is fitted to my height and stature, I will rip out the arpmits the first time I lift my hands higher than my neck. Yes, I’m somewhere here nor there, sure, but at the same time I’m touching both shores, and there is quite a bit of water here.
I’m not trying to imply that the worlds are too far, the gap can’t be bridged, there will never truly be a yogic understanding amongst Americans- that’s just stupid. There are plenty who get it already. All I’m saying is, all that heat you are paying for? It ain’t doing much except contributing to global warming and making you feel as if you got a “real workout” because you “really sweated.” Perhaps a cleansing of toxins was mentioned as well. You can also get a ‘real workout’ and ‘cleanse those toxins’ by reading the paper in the sauna at the YMCA.
It is, I must admit, a wonderful cloak that has been pulled over our eyes. Bikram saw something in Americans and catered to us, and it is the notion of excess and control that was the button. Think about it. Drive a car? HELL no, an SU fucking V!! Cheeseburger? If you finish our 5 LB Monster Burger in one sitting YOU GET IT FOR FREE! We are the same nation that invented ‘wave pools’ instead of going to the beach, we walk on treadmills instead of actually walking places, and now we’ve applied our simulacrum technology to mimic the heat of India in the hopes that it will make our yoga a little more like the real thing, At least as far as the weather is concerned.
And the specificity and talent for waste deserve mention as well. What better way to get men ( and there is a much higher proportion of men at Bikram classes) interested in Yoga than to add a bit of engineering (105 degrees precisely) and conspicuous energy consumption into the equation?
In this all, I have to make the concession. Bikram saw us for who we are. For all my bleating about it, perhaps he gave Americans the very yoga that they wanted, and perhaps, could handle. I’m still not quite ready to say that his sequence has no merit, but it really is yoga tailored for Americans. Even in his 60 minutes interview, when his yoga was compared to McDonalds, and he was asked if this bothered him, he basically said ‘not at all.’
Truly something to consider.