I have never had any inclination to try out Bikram yoga. I have quite enough sweat and heat going on in my Ashtanga practice without needing to heat the room to 42 degrees. I certainly never imagined that I would join a class in Basel, Switzerland, on only four hours sleep, after an overnight bus ride from Prague. But this is what I did.
Basel was our stopping point as we moved from East to West, travelling from the Czech Republic to the South of France for the wedding of my friend Claire (that’s a whole other blog that will come later!). Our wonderful host in Basel was Roberto’s friend Antonio, a fellow Chilean who he had met in Bondi a couple of years ago. Antonio had recently moved to Basel to teach Bikram Yoga. He greeted us with a lovely breakfast of Swiss museli, fruit and yogurt and the suggestion of “why don’t you come to my 12 o’clock class?”
Sure, great, why not!” we said, obviously still delirious from the overnight bus ride. The studio was right near his apartment and before I knew it I was sitting on a mat, telling myself that it would be just like practicing in India in the summer. I tried to resist the urge to look at myself and others in the mirror, but I then realised that maybe we are meant to look in the mirror – I guess that’s why they are there. Giving into the desire to see how high my leg was in the “standing bow pose” was quite fun, catching a glimpse of my beetroot-red face was not. I also felt quite overdressed in black leggings and as the sweat began to pour suddenly understood the appeal of hot pants and bikini tops.
Antonio was a very enthusiastic teacher and I liked some of the explanations. Although the part about being like a Japanese ham sandwich had me confused and I lost focus as I tried to remember if I had seen a ham sandwich in Japan and what its distinguishing features were. Aside from that everything went along quite smoothly until I happened to glance at the clock and see that we still had half an hour to go when I was pretty sure we had been bending, twisting and panting for at least an hour and a half already. After that it was pretty much all over for me, suddenly the room was suffocating, I felt like I was breathing in fire and my head was pounding. I glanced at Roberto as I lay down in savasana after the second round of ustrasana – he gladly followed my lead.
We rejoined the class for the closing pranayama and endured a two minute savasana before fleeing the room to the change rooms for cold showers and fresh air. Despite all of this, I’m glad I took the class. It certainly was quite an experience. I was also very happy to set on my mat the following morning, resuming my normal practice, in room temperature.
(Antonio modelling the waterproof bag/floating device)
As interesting as the Bikram class was the real highlight of our stay in Basel was taking a swim in the Rhine everyday. The Rhine flows through the town, and amazingly is clean enough to swim in. It has a strong current that makes staying in one spot quite a feat, so you jump in at one end and let the river take you downstream. But what do you do with your personal belongings I hear you say? You put them in a waterproof bag that doubles as a flotation device and carry them with you. Quite ingenious!