Berkeley, CA

A Love Letter to Funky Door, a Berkeley Studio

-Ellie-

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As more folks get vaccines and more studios and gyms open up, we're counting down for Funky Door, a local hot yoga/Bikram studio to re-emerge, hopefully soon.

Need more info? Read on. Bikram yoga is a 90-minute series of twenty six postures. The temperature in the studio is typically 104°F with 40% humidity. The studio I go to (pre-COVID-19) heats the room (a very brightly lit, carpeted, glass and mirror-encrusted chamber of doom) to at least 109°F. I see that thermostat at 114°F more often than I’d like to tell you. Don’t worry! Sometimes the teacher walks to the door (to which I cling, sucking cold air through the sill) and opens it for a second, and a fan recirculates the air with some cold mixed in. By cold I mean whatever normal-temperature air is in the hallway. Or they might go over to one of the large windows leading to the lobby and crack it—I kid you not—maybe half an inch.

The Script

The yoga teacher is also not your typical yoga teacher. Through Bikram* training, the teacher has memorized a 90-minute script and every teacher everywhere says the same words. I like it. It’s comforting. They say things like:

  • “Last chance, lock your knees, lock your knees, LOCK YOUR KNEES!”
  • “Stretch beyond your flexibility.” (I know, right?)
  • “You must touch your forehead to your knee.”
  • “Empty. Your lungs.”
  • “One leg, lamppost, unbroken.”
  • “…like a flower petal blooming.”
  • And, my absolute favorite, “Throat choke.”

I went to my first class about a year ago. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. These commands were insane. Toweling my sweating face, I even felt angry that they would expect anyone could touch their elbows behind their locked knees as their upper body folded completely over their legs while standing. (p.s. some people can) (p.p.s. being able to kiss your knees is an awesome feeling). 

The Postures

Here are the yoga moves I can’t do perfectly (other than all of them): Dandayamana Janusirsana, or Standing Head-to-Knee Pose;  Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose, Dandayamana Bibhaktapada Janushirasana; Sit Up ( Pada-Hasthasana); Rabbit Pose, or Sasangasana.

Here are the yoga moves where I have a nice time! Utkatasana, or Awkaward Pose; Garudasana, or Eagle Pose; Dandayamana-Dhanurasana, or Standing Bow-Pulling Pose (I used to not be able to balance at all and now I can almost hold on for the whole time. It’s just so hard, I whine.); Toe Stand, or Padangustasana; Camel Pose, or Ustrasana; and obviously, Corpse Pose or Savasana.

 Savasana is an important one, and some classes my chief focus is staying still in savasana and between poses. It keeps me focused on what’s important, which sounds cheesy but I’m talking about breathing. 

I go to yoga between zero and three times per week. It’s expensive, so I castigate myself frequently for not going, as is normal. In fact, it’s 6 am right now and classes started twelve minutes ago, but I’m writing this instead! Ha! 

The Secret to Bikram Yoga (and Life!)

After twenty classes or so, I found the secret to Bikram yoga. It’s in the trying and the trusting. I have to believe that if I try my absolute best in this posture, that in the next one I’ll be taken care of because different muscles will get to !!!burn!!!. So I try to do what the instructor says, but I know for some poses I can’t and I probably never will.

For example, since I had scoliosis surgery at thirteen, I have been a super-fly woman with two titanium rods and eighteen screws running along my spine and a dope scar on top. There’s nothing I haven’t been able to do! Except round my spine. It’s physically impossible for me to do that. Basically, I think I’m rounding my back as I do Separate Leg Head To Knee pose, but I look over to the mirror and realize a family could eat dinner on it with zero spillage. I talked with a teacher about this and she said to just do my best. “There are no alternative postures,” she said with a laugh that sounded exactly like Emperor Palpatine’s.

Here are some first-timer tips for Bikram yoga

  1. The most important thing in bikram yoga is going again after your first time. If you don’t do this, you’ll never go again, because by definition you never went again. But seriously, your chances of enjoying and growing and doing this practice do not depend on your first class, they depend on you going to your second. Not like, in a row. Although, some people do do that because drugs. 
  2. DO NOT WIPE YOUR SWEAT OFF. DO NOT. DO YOU HEAR ME? Unless you’re doing it to increase your grip until your fingers get stronger (Bikram yoga is so weird), DO NOT WIPE OFF YOUR SWEAT. Do not wipe your face, your arms, your legs, your ass, your stomach, your chest, your armpits, your head. I’ve had friends tell me they’re too sweaty for Bikram yoga but I say GOOD. Sweat is GOOD. You are sweating because your body is getting hot. Your sweat keeps your body cool. If you wipe your sweat off, you are allowing your body to overheat. I wiped my sweat off my first class (while accidentally placing my mat in the hottest part of the room) and I was red as a beet. I also left during rabbit pose, a pose I find annoying because I can’t really do it (see list above) and it messes up my hair, and I thought I would die. There were only ten minutes left in class. 
  3. Lean into the recommendation that you not leave the room. This means that you can lie there crying instead of doing the poses, or focusing on your breath, or whatever. I used to walk out whenever I couldn’t take it anymore, but now I try staying and going easy on myself. The result is I feel good about taking care of me (in a weird messed up way) and I end up jumping back in and doing more than I thought possible. 
  4. Don’t beat yourself up for not being able to do what the instructors are saying. Pretend they’re wearing clown noses and just try your best. It’s crazy but just try. They’re telling you to do something impossible and the point is to try, to aim for it with all your might. This is the same message as Zen Buddhism, my other non-writerly hobby.
  5. Oh yeah, you’re probably wondering about water. Drink a lot of water in the days leading up to and the day of class. That way, you’re hydrated before class. I like putting lemon “liquid IV” in my water during class. Chugging water during class will do very little unless your water is cold. If you’re actively thirsty, you’re probably dehydrated. Maybe sit down. If you’re drinking water to avoid getting into camel pose, good on ya!

*While many people associate Bikram Choudry, the founder of this type of yoga, with sexual assault (as is right), it is conscience-appeasing to know that when he and his wife divorced, she came away with the Bikram Yoga empire. So, when you go to BY, she’s getting your cash (30for30 podcast). (Please note: I’m in the process of fact-checking this more thoroughly)

I can't wait to return! What about you?

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SF Bay Area (formerly OC) writer, mindfulness educator, and life coach. Passionate about public safety. Big fan of improv, funny lawn ornaments, and truthiness. IG: @bigsisterco | https://bigsister.co

Oakland, CA
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