Today was the day for first timers. There were maybe 25 people in class, and 12 of them were in their very first Bikram class. And I think almost 5 more were veterans with a single class under their belt (so attending for the "free" second class). I can't imagine how hard this is for a teacher, but Miranda pulled it off beautifully. No-one left the room. And she didn't coddle the class at all, it was hot and humid especially during the standing series.
I don't typically look at other people that much during class, but today I pretty much could not resist. Before class, there was a very fit guy who came in with a really, really nice woven rug. I asked him how he was going to dry it, and he just said that it would dry eventually. Someone then told me that he was a Yoga instructor from another discipline (I don't know which) who was visiting town from New Mexico.
When I came into the room, he was warming up in the back, doing some amazing bendy things. He then did a really great lotus posture, a handstand, and some other very impressive warm-ups. So I'm thinking to myself that here is a newbie who is really going to nail this yoga from the start
Wrong. The first thing I notice is what I mentioned before. First thing you hear in Pranayama is "feet together nicely, heels and toes touching". I look back at him in the mirror and his feet are about 4-6 inches apart, and never get any closer, even in the later poses. This doesn't make him any different than any of the other beginners, including me, but it does show that people are somehow incapable of actually listening to instructions and taking them seriously. By the way, the guy had truly amazing yogis feet, his toes all spread apart perfectly, and his feet looked really strong and flexible.
Then, in first set of Awkward pose, I see that he can't go down into the chair. By the second part he's suffering as much as anyone, and in the third part he can't keep his knees together as he's going down. By the middle of the second part of awkward pose, he is down for the count. And through the rest of the standing series, he managed maybe 1/3 of the postures.
No matter how strong or accomplished you think someone is going to be, the first exposure to a Bikram class is just as likely to knock them on their ass and kick the crap out of them. It's really an amazing thing to see. There was another guy about 20 years old who looked like he was in great shape, but a bit muscle bound like lots of the atheletes who come through. He didn't go down until Standing Head to Knee.
And here's the other surprise: a slightly overweight woman who looked to be pretty out of shape was next to the two of them. It was also her first class, and she didn't go down until Triangle, and missed only one set of it. So you never do no. By Triangle the carnage was pretty intense, I think almost 2/3 of the class was down for the count at that point. Miranda managed to rally most of them for the end of the standing series, and nobody left, so like I said before she did a great job keeping them together.
Two things occurred to me during all of this. Watching the advanced yogi struggle, it became clear how different what we are learning must be from what is included in other yoga schools. So, while it was clear that he had areas of weakness where a typical Bikram yogi would be strong, that got me to wondering where I am weak and could be stronger if I were doing something else.
The thing that was even clearer is that the hot room develops a kind of toughness and focus that probably does not come any other way. We've had professional athletes, yoga teachers, fitness instructors and personal trainers come through. In some ways it seems like the more fit and more confident a person is going into the room, the more badly beaten up they are in the first classes (and the less likely it is that they will return). The ones who come back, it seems to me, go in either expecting to get beaten up or not expecting much at all one way or the other. They don't pretend to know anything from the outset, and as a result are more willing to listen, and because they are is such bad shape (as I was), the benefits are almost immediately apparent.
Now for a couple of words on the class itself. I felt great. I did really well in the balancing series. I only fell out of Standing Head to Knee and Bow once each. Balancing stick clicked for the first time in weeks, partially because my hip is totally better now, and my knee was feeling better as well. The floor series was solid throughout, except I cramped up in the right foot in first set of Camel, so skipped it. I made up for it with a really strong second set.
My knee was better today than yesterday, and it seems to be improving by the hour. I haven't felt any pain in it at all tonight. Fixed Firm was slightly better today than yesterday, but it's going to be slow going. But Japanese Sitting position was almost back to normal, just a slight hitch to the right still, but its getting to be barely noticeable.
Even better, the whole staying still routine is becoming second nature and its really helping with everything else. It's amazing how much energy you lose by trying to do little things that you falsely believe will conserve energy. The obvious ones are wiping sweat, leaning forward to suck air, shifting feet, etc... The more I try it, the clearer it is that the best way to approach the class is that you are either doing the postures as best you can, or you are doing nothing at all. Everything else just detracts from progress. The nice thing about this approach is that its simultaneously so simple and so hard, and that's how I think this yoga should be, very simple and really hard.