Photo: Sarah-Ann Lee

A body of spirituality

Harry Tattersall Smith

… gets himself all tied up in knots at the Bikram Yoga Centre.

Photo: Sarah-Ann Lee

Yoga is for middle–class housewives, yuppies and people who are too lazy to do a proper sport right? Wrong.

It’s easy to stereotype ‘Yogis’ as a rabble of humming hippies, entrenched in some crumbling commune, high on hallucinogens and forever prophesying a world of free love and spiritual harmony.

I have found myself often scoffing at trashy magazines which tell of “real celebrity secret yoga diets — which actually work!” or at tales of the horrendously obese who, with the help of ten minutes of yoga a day, have miraculously transformed from being at death’s door to the door of some devilishly handsome man. That’s right silly, because fat people don’t have relationships. But anyhow I digress.

The yoga revolution hath cometh. And in a big way. And if yoga is the slightly quirky kid at school then Bikram Yoga is his cool, sexy big brother. Started by Bikram Choudhury, the self-proclaimed “bad-boy” of yoga, in Los Angeles, it has almost single-handedly reinvented the sport — and turned Choudhury into multi-millionaire. I guess it’s bye-bye to the idea that yoga is purely about spiritual wealth.

Not only does it involve bending your body into shapes it probably oughtn’t to, Bikram yoga cranks up the heat literally. Bikram yoga takes place in a sauna at temperatures pushing about 90 degrees — and with humidity reaching similar heights it all gets a tad sweaty. Someone jokes that when you finish you’ll feel like you’ve “stepped out of a bath” and after about five minutes I have the sheen of a man who looks like he has been thoroughly doused from head to toe in baby oil.

It is already an intrinsic part of American football’s NFL fitness guidelines, and it seems to be travelling across the pond as our very own Andy Murray cites it as one of the key reasons he has been able to achieve such a meteoric rise in his success.

Coach Stephen Clark explained how he first got involved: “I was really suffering from chronic knee pain, and I’d done just about everything from physiotherapy to doctors but nothing really seemed to be working.

“I remember reading Bikram’s book and seeing his promises of the healing power of his yoga. I tossed it aside thinking it was just another quick-buck fitness scam. But after six months of constant pain I gave it a go and haven’t looked back.”

He set up the company with his partner and became the first Bikram yoga company in Scotland, and despite opening only six weeks ago, Steven has seen a surge in demand as people eagerly try and snap up spaces for arguably the hottest (pun very much intended) fitness trend in town.

He discussed the real benefits: “In order to get the best results you need to keep coming back and doing it as much as possible. I know that sounds like I’m just saying it to get people to sign up for more, but it really is true.”

The group is of all ages and all standards, and there is unanimous agreement with this statement.

It’s tiring, and infuriating, and I constantly feel I am going to topple over and take out a fellow yogi. Yet looking around I realise there must be a reason for people to keep coming back to this torture, some light at the end of this long, sweat–filled tunnel. My looks of desperation are met by knowing smiles, smiles which simultaneously offer support and condolence yet also a massive two fingers up to me and everyone else who ever doubted the merits of yoga.

At the end I’m staggering around like I’ve done the rounds with Mike Tyson. My body starts tingling and I’m pretty sure I’m about to go into cardiac arrest. And then it happens. I’m not dying; I’m having an outer body experience. I can hear people talking but it’s all a bit of a blur. I’m euphoric. I’m about to have an epiphany. Am I about to discover God? The meaning of life? It’s the closest I’ve ever been to absolute clarity about the purpose of life and I realise I am standing in the corner of a tiny Glasgow flat, drooling, grinning maniacally, semi naked and with sweat flooding out of places I am pretty sure were not designed to sweat. It doesn’t matter though; this is bliss. And that’s when it strikes.

My confession: I, Harry Tattersall Smith love yoga.

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