Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bikram Paris

The first thing that hit me in Paris was the cold – it wasn’t a touch of chill, either, but a full-on collision of freezing wind and rain that struck me dumb. I was used to the heat of Mexico, and my body had grown wimpy and complacent in the warmth. To think that I’d packed my favorite thin, strappy dress and even open toed shoes, I cringed at the wasted suitcase space and gave up on the idea of strolling elegantly through the city. I am a clothes horse and more than a little obsessed with my wardrobe, and layering everything I’d brought on top of each other wasn’t in the fashion plans for this trip. I had no choice but to bundle up til I was unrecognizable (though who would recognize me anyway...?) How you feel about yourself in a place is half the story, and both my pride and body were sore from being dorkily dressed and frozen stiff.
So I made a detour into a vintage clothing shop for some used and funky boots plus an eclectic, floppy hat that I will probably never wear again and one of those classy scarves that French women seem able to tie over fifty different ways. It was a start.

I’ve basically been doing the splits every day since I was six, so my joints were freaking out a little about being neglected and numb with cold. Luckily, I was pointed in the direction of a yoga studio in the wonderful Marais neighborhood. It was Bikram yoga, or “hot yoga” where the room is heated to 105 degrees and 40% humidity while you sweat yourself silly for an hour and a half doing 26 postures and breathing exercises. I’ve usually hated this style, since sweating from my eyebrows and elbows isn’t really my thing, plus Bikram’s competitive philosophies and legal controversies over the copyrighting of the founder’s teaching turns me off. I walked in hesitantly, and almost made a 180º turn right out the door again when I saw the prices. €25 per class! And that’s for a group class with about 30 other students, not including the rental fee for towels and a mat. Still, I was intrigued because this place seemed mega-popular, full of steaming, fit yogis and a sense of vitality, and I needed to feel alive again. I went for the introductory special, that new-student hook 'em deal that so many studios offer but that was just the right length of time (ten days) for my stay in Paris. For €35 plus the cost of a giant water bottle, I could come to unlimited classes with the added bonus of practicing my French comprehension. I was in.
Bikram class was an ordeal involving massive perspiration, special attention to hydration, and a full shower afterwards, but I was so happy to do it! I came away glowing and buzzing with new French vocabulary for words like menton (chin) and phrases like étirez vers la plafond! (stretch towards the ceiling!) I discovered that the whole thing was more mental than anything (which is what they always tell us in yoga, isn't it?) and that if I could calm down about the sweating, it could start to feel good, amazing really... how could I not? I was a yogini with a Paris address!