30 Days of Yoga: The good, the bad and the ugly

Monday was the final day of my 30 Days of Yoga mission, which I’ve been doing at the Fierce Grace hot yoga studio in Primrose Hill (which you may remember from my previous post). The idea of reviewing a fitness system after doing it for a mere 30 days is ridiculous, so instead I thought I’d give you some idea of what to expect if you decided that spending an hour and a half per day trapped in the bastard love child of a boiler room and a sauce, trying to contort yourself into unnatural positions was a good idea. 

One confession, before I go any further: whilst I’d love to say that I researched the hell out of what yoga/pilates/similar restorative training to do, and that I found Fierce Grace topped the list after hours of tireless reading, that would be a lie. The fact is their studio is a mere three minute crawl from my front door. I can  get out of bed, knock back a coffee and crawl there before my eyes have fully opened. That said, although yoga systems differ in what their emphasis is on (breathing, flow, athleticism etc. etc.) I was pretty confident that any system would benefit my broken ass, and have been spectacularly lucky in this one being well-suited to me (although perhaps I should’ve twigged with the name…).

Bikram_Choudhury-creditBoingBoingActually, another confession: I’ve never been at all convinced by Bikram – the “original” (if you discount the fact it’s been practised in a country whose average temperature is in the 30’s for millenia) hot yoga – and have so far actively avoided it throughout my training life. I thought it was a fad, was unconvinced that heating bodies to thermonuclear then bending them around was very safe, and also because I just don’t like the look of its founder, Bikram Choudhury (left), who’s franchised the ass out of something that I don’t should be monetised – a system based on years of history, with a deep tradition, culture and that which has an inherent purpose to better people and enrich their lives. And, if the allegations are to be believed, is also a creepy perve. So you can take this from the point of view of someone who was reasonably sceptical from the outset!

Luckily, at Firece Grace there wasn’t a whiff of Bikram to be seen, apart from the fact that founder Michelle Pernetta was a personal student of his and consequently one of the first to open a studio in the UK. They’ve obviously split from Bikram now and no reasons are given, although frankly I don’t care – Bikram himself must be a good yogi and a good teacher to have got so far, and having been taught by Michelle, I would certainly say the same is true of her. Also, in yesterday’s class she talked about constipation, then forgot the next posture as was apparently wondering whether she should’ve have brought up that subject in class. Anyone who is not only confident enough in their knowledge to bring up bowel function during class but to also be comfortable with making a mistake is ok by me. 

So here we are: the good, the bad and the ugly of 30 days of hot yoga.

The Good

Things happen faster
Daily practise means picking up the postures relatively quickly, thus freeing up your mind to suck up all the details of how to actually make them better. One of the advantages of this system is that it’s taught verbally – there’s no teacher at the front demonstrating; instead they talk you through what to do. This is excellent when you have very clear directions, although with a big class of very mixed abilities can result in a lot of information coming your way, so the faster you can digest it all, the better.

Getting inspired
There is a lot to be inspired by, from amazingly bendy graceful women who give you a glimpse of what you could have if you work at it for another ten years, to guys who are in their 50’s and look totally and utterly broken but turn up to try and make themselves better. And yeah, you’re not supposed to be look around at everyone else, but hey – I’m only human!

No planning!
Woohoo! A total luxury for me, who pretty much plans and executes all my own training. It’s so nice just to turn up, work hard and leave, and really means you can focus on what you’re doing instead of what you’re going to do next.

Learn more about teaching, and learning
I love teaching and I love learning, and find the endless ways of sharing and gaining knowledge fascinating. It’s been a chance to experience a huge range of different teachers, and to not only learn yoga from them, but learn how they teach.  I have to say I don’t like all the teachers: some sound more like a preacher in an evangelical church, others like a late-night radio show host – all weird intonation and husky voice – but their classes are just as full as the ones of the teachers whose style I do like, so there is no doubt someone for everyone (there are five or six classes a day, all with different teachers).

The birds and the trains
Occasionally you can hear pigeons underneath the studio – it’s actually on a bridge, and if it’s quiet and you put your ear to the ground, you can hear the cooing. Also, far less frequently than you would expect for central London, you can hear the odd train pass underneath. Even better is that you can look out of the windows directly onto the track. Yup, simple things please me!

You time, on the cheap
It’s 30 days of yoga. 90 minutes a day to focus on yourself, to get stronger, fitter and more flexible. And, most of all, to be challenged. For a mere £1.30 a go. It’s got to be one of the best value offers in London.

The Bad

The growing pains
There have been some bodily changes and unidentified things going on. I hadn’t really anticipated the intensity of doing yoga every day – like a dumbass, I figured it would be all stretchy ‘n’ bendy ‘n’ chill. But no, every few days I discovered a body part that just felt…off. Not so much sore, but weird – tight, stiff, a bit tender, just different. It’s more disconcerting than bad, but wasn’t really something I was anticipating. Also, (sorry guys – TMI incoming) I was a whopping ten days late with my period, which hasn’t happened for a very long time, and would suggest that it was pretty taxing on my body. 

The washing!


Holy shit and a half. All that washing… It’s only comparable to summers in Japan, doing karate and having to come home and dry my gi before it could go in the laundry basket, then having to do a huge wash every three days. Except this time you need two washes: one for delicate lycra and the other for sweaty towels. On the upside, it has meant my favourite knickers are always clean.

The comprehensive walk-through of your body’s failings 
The bulky muscle, tight chest, totally dysfunctional hips… You get reminded of all of these, every. single. day. Leave your ego in bed and bring humility, a smile and a willingness to learn, and this won’t be so bad. 

The breathing
I’ve always had trouble with breathing properly (deeply, rhythmically etc.) in yoga, and now with my emphysema diagnosis, I understand why. I’m not sure whether it’s reduced lung capacity or to do with getting the air in and out, but any posture where I’m bent over or the front of my body is squished makes it hard to breathe. You’re supposed to breathe through your nose, but I invariably end up feeling slightly panicked and opening my mouth! I was hoping yoga would help the situation, but I’m not sure it has really.

The hated postures
I’m sure everyone has one or two postures that they hate. For me it’s one called the locust. You lie on your stomach, interlock your hands behind your bum, then lift you legs, head, shoulder and arms all at the same time. Ugh. Seriously uncomfortable. I have now managed to get my hands an inch off my arse, but dammit I’d be happy to skip this one entirely!

The Ugly

The smell…
No article about hot yoga would be complete without mentioning the smell. Lots of sweaty people, most of whom haven’t showered before class and some of whom have feet “issues”, stuck in a 40 degree room with a humidity machine. At first I found this gross, and sometimes I still do, but you do get used to it (and I’m sure at times I have contributed, certainly in a more gaseous manner).

Nearly naked fat people

If you’re one of those people that don’t think fat people should take their clothes off, you won’t like hot yoga (and if you are one of those people, you need to have some words with yourself).

The sweat 
yoga_mat_sweatI like sweating, but it does get distracting when you’re upside down and you can feel drops of it running up your nose.

Glimpses of ego
There are occasional glimpses of people’s egos, other students and teachers a like. That’s ok though – we are all just human – but sometimes, when you’ve employed all your supernatural mind-calming devices to get to class, on time, not feeling like you want to hide inside with a bottle or wine and hug your pillow, a glimpse of someone else acting like a shithead is kind of jarring.

Making like sardines


Things can get a little… cosy. When class is busy, you’re crammed in like the above, with under a foots space on each side of your mat. At first I absolutely hated this, and would employ all my Fuck Off vibes and evil dagger-shooting eyes to keep some space round my mat, but after a couple of times I didn’t mind it so much. Everyone’s going through the same thoughts, and at the end of the day all it means is that you have to concentrate a little harder on what you’re doing, and not accidentally hitting your neighbour.

Having to face yourself
You’re literally faced with yourself. In big fricking mirrors, directly in front of you. I actually avoid going in the front row as I find it too distracting – “oh god if only I didn’t buy that 1kg tub of almond butter I bet I could see my abs right now” or “oh shite I really need to shave my arm pits” being two of the more frequent utterances from the Mind of Fi. I’m sure many people give less of a crap than me, but I prefer not to have to spend the class staring at myself. bikram-yoga-shortsThat said, it is quite useful to see your alignment, so going diagonally behind someone is the optimum place for me.

What’s next?

Funnily enough, after a month of daily yoga I feel totally, utterly, fantabulously ah-mazing. Day-to-day, the thing I’ve noticed the most is that my bodyweight squat has dramatically improved, which wasn’t something I had even considered would be improved much. My body feels better, shoulder impingement is lurking but I’m not doing any pushing in the rest of my training at the moment, so that’s ok. Back feels ace and my hips considerably looser. I did a 28km trail run about half way through (I had already signed up for it before my enforced month off) and the knee pain wasn’t even noticeable. And I finished top 10, so yay :)

I’ve signed up for another two months, in which time I hope to make a significant difference to my mobility and flexibility, and to get myself to a place where I can start to self-manage and self-practise yoga and other activities to ensure I don’t get back to the wreck that I was. I can’t afford to pay their full rate fee, otherwise if it was the same price as my gym I would probably sign up for life!

My focus for the next few months will be (this is as much for my own benefit as anyone else’s!)

  • work on getting my feet a few inches closer on my squat
  • nailing the side crow properly (I can brute force it now – check out my progress video on both types of crow after this month here) but I’d like to get that balance down properly
  • work on touching my toes. At the moment my hands and wrists are so tight that it’s likely that my back will melt before my hands are actually flexible enough to sit flat without pushing them down hard!
  • work on opening my hips and stretching my hip flexors more, especially on the single leg balances like bow and also the pigeon stretch and pancake stretch
  • work on opening my shoulders and my chest – I would love to be able to get my arms lower than vertical in this (horizontal, like in the picture, is but a distant dream of decades to come!), and to be able to touch my hands in this one, and to be able to get my hands together behind my back, like in this one (some good progressions in that link too). Not that I want very much from my practise, but y’know, it’s good to have aims!

Anyhow, they’re all pretty lofty goals at this point, so I’ll just continue doing what I did for the last month: going to class, concentrating on what I’m doing and finding a good balance between pushing myself not enough and pushing myself too hard ;)

I’ll leave you with this very cool video I found on the Fierce Grace website:

And if you want to try the 30 days, you can sign up on there as well.

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