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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

hot bodies in a hot city

Bikram Yoga Manila
88 Corporate Center, Suite 1503
141 Valero corner Sedeño Streets
Salcedo Village, Makati City
(632) 889–1011

Welcome to the first and only officially sanctioned Bikram Yoga studio in the Philippines!

By visiting our site, you have – without realizing it – begun a journey. It is a voyage whose sole purpose is to allow you to meet yourself in a totally different way for the very first time. Certain luggage are not allowed on this trip. Leave behind your judgments, views, opinions and criticisms. You are only meant to observe . . . . yourself.

one of the reasons why i'd never taken a bikram yoga class here in LA, despite the fact that the bikram world headquarters is only a few miles from my home, was because it's been referred to as "hot yoga"; in other words, as the bikram yoga website states: "The recommended temperature is minimum 105F degrees and about 40% humidity." even if i did spend many of my growing years in a warm tropical climate, anything over 80 degrees has me searching for the nearest fan or air conditioner to cool down. knowing that, why would i want to subject myself to temps higher than that AND throw in some strenuous exercise?

well, it looks like i've finally lost my mind. not only did i end up taking my first bikram class while i was on vacation, but it was while i was in the philippines, where the average temperature during the summer hovers around 90 degrees, and the relative humidity reaches as high as 80%! but curiosity eventually got the best of me, and since tristan choa's snazzy studio in makati seemed to be the talk of the town while i was there, i figured i had to give it a shot.

here are some recent articles in the philippine press:
How A Corporate Hotshot Sweated It Out To Find Himself
A yoga-guided, purpose-driven life

luckily, the relatively new bikram yoga studio in makati was close to where i was staying (a definitely plus in a city notorious for gridlocked traffic). not only that, but it actually has a pretty comprehensive website that includes the class schedule, the class rates, the studio policies, and for the uninitiated like me, what bikram yoga is all about. very professional, very organized. i was sold.

so the first chance i had to escape from my family duties, i dropped by the 15th floor studio located smack in the middle of the makati business district. as i entered the bright and spacious lobby, i was greeted by marc mead, one of the bikram teachers. he was a friendly enough guy with a british accent who handed me a registration form. a few minutes and less than $19 later (P990 for the "3 classes for P900" new student promotion, a bottle of water, plus the rental of a towel and a mat), he was handing me the key to a locker in the women's dressing room. knowing that i didn't have to leave the premises covered in sweat was a comforting thought. thank goodness i brought along a dry change of clothes!

i browsed through the items for sale on the shelves; after leafing through the bikram manual and contemplating whether or not to buy one of the "hot body by bikram" short-sleeved t-shirts, i realized that i really didn't need another yoga book nor yoga shirt (although if the shirt came in a tank, i may have forked over the cash).

by the time i had returned to the lobby after stashing my stuff in a spacious locker (and checking out the showers, which passed with flying colors), marc had been joined by christina stathis, another apparent import (whose accent i couldn't place at the time -- i later found out that she's originally from arizona but had moved around so much that she sounded like a mishmash of wherever she'd been) who was going to teach the class i was about to take. she was equally friendly and welcoming, and in the short introductory session she gave the two of us who were new to bikram that morning, she explained that it was a set sequence of 26 poses, each done twice, with instructions called out according to a set script (she also mentioned that if it sounded like pidgin english, it's because it was written by bikram himself). she also demonstrated the breathing exercises that bookended the sequence: pranayama breathing with the head/neck/hand/elbow positions and kapalbhati breathing with the diaphragm-controlled exhalations. keeping all of that in mind, we entered the heated classroom, and i prayed that i wouldn't pass out from the heat (where the room thermostat is supposedly kept at around 36C, or 96.8F, to compensate for the high humidity).

for the most part, i was able to keep up with the poses. obviously, i wasn't the most flexible nor balanced person in the room, but it wasn't for lack of trying. for some of the poses, i had to look around to see how others were doing them. for others, i had to figure out whether i was supposed to arch my back, round my back, or keep my back straight. many positions seemed contrary to what i'd been taught in my regular hatha yoga classes. i had to decide whether to do what i normally did or to follow along with what christina was telling us to do. in some cases, her instructions caused pain (ouch!), and noting the grimaces on our faces, she instructed us to keep holding through the pain because the poses were good for us (really?). whenever she noticed someone doing something incorrectly, she would call out their name and what they needed to do. she kept calling out the same names. i wondered what they were doing wrong...

after 90 minutes of being commanded to "kick", "lift", "push", and "go back", i was glad to lay in final savasana on my towel-covered mat, even if it was drenched in sweat. i had survived my first bikram class! yay!

one class down, two to go. that is, if i decided to use up my remaining bikram class credits. after all, there were other non-bikram yoga studios in the vicinity that i wanted to try out, too...

back at my parents' home, i managed to wrest the computer and its precious internet connection from my daughter just long enough to check the other studio websites.

there was bela lipat's sai shanti yoga sanctuary, the studio i had visited earlier this year where i had my first brush with ashtanga yoga. someone told me that bela was planning to relocate her classes to another island, so i thought i'd give her another shot and try one of her sivananda classes. unfortunately, they were all in the evening, and i already had dinners lined up for every day of my stay (if you didn't know it, filipinos seem to revolve their entire lives around food).

then there was soma yoga, another studio in makati. they had morning classes that fit into my schedule, but since the class descriptions were somehow left off the schedule and i didn't want to find myself in a class where everyone was twisted into some contorted pose while i looked on helplessly, i decided to pass. looking back, i probably should've taken the risk; after all, what damage could one class do?

i also heard that there were various private yoga classes held at homes nearby, but since i really didn't have the time to do the research, i passed on all of those, too.

long story short, i ended up returning to the bikram studio the next day for my second class, which was taught once again by christina. i was hoping that marc would be on deck that day, just to get another teacher's style (if that's possible in bikram yoga), but he supposedly begged off and asked her to teach in his stead. darn.

i don't know if it was my imagination or my mental state, but christina seemed more militaristic this time around. and i finally realized that the "joonee" that she kept calling out to the day before was me! annoyed that someone from the US was mispronouncing my name, i finally broke down and corrected her. after all, if someone's going to repeatedly call out my name in front of everyone to tell me what i was doing wrong, at least they should call me by my correct name (you can tell that the heat was making me awfully bitchy by then)!

tired of being told to do everything just so -- "put your right ear on the floor and look left", "put your left ear on the floor and look right", "your forehead must touch your knee", "keep your eyes open", "lock your knees", and so on -- i eventually felt the need to rebel and do my own thing. after all, what was she going to do? kick me out of class?

so when she had us do a seated pose, then spin around and lie down with our heads towards the front of the room, then spin around to do another seated pose, then spin around and lie down again, i got tired of all the spinning around and decided to do what made sense to me (and waste less energy): i lay down with my head towards the back of the room, knowing full well that she would point out that i was facing the wrong way. and she did. so i mumbled something about not wanting to put my head in the soggy wet spot at the front of my mat. and she stopped correcting me for the rest of the class. i had to spend an extra couple of minutes in that last savasana just to clear my mind and calm my nerves...

after that experience, i was tempted to skip my third, and last, class, but i found out that i was guaranteed to have a new teacher if i showed up later that week; the studio owner, tristan choa, was going to be back from his visit to bikram central in los angeles and both marc and christina were leaving town for a week-long vacation.

so on saturday morning, the last yoga-possible day of my vacation, i finally met tristan, who was still slightly jet-lagged from his trip. he explained that he had visited LA to recruit a new batch of bikram teachers since marc and christina's one-year tour of duty, so to speak, was coming up soon. there were a few bites, but no firm commitments. he also brought back with him the video of a recent bikram competition which he had loaded on his laptop so he could show us the winners demonstrating their compulsory and optional poses. ah, bikram and the need for perfection...

this time i behaved myself. i did what i was told (or at least tried to). i kept my eyes open. i looked at myself in the mirror. i kicked. i pushed. i fell back. i even lay facing the correct direction. i liked tristan's lighthearted, yet firm, demeanor. maybe there was another bikram class in the future for me? i kept wishing that i could stay in manila long enough to give marc's class a try. but it was not to be. oh well.

so what's the verdict? i wouldn't go as far as writing bikram yoga off completely, maybe not until i finally get a chance to take a class with bikram choudhury himself at his studio on la cienega. but honestly, all it stresses is balance and flexibility. i need power, i need strength. i need my up dogs and my down dogs. and more dogged attempts at headstands and arm balances. and depending on the mood i'm in, i need to be able to chant and/or sing along to the music. and maybe even meditate. and luckily, i can do all those right here in my back yard. i love LA...

postscript: obviously, i'm going to pass on this opportunity, but if you're committed to the bikram gospel and would like to try something just a little bit out of the ordinary, you might want to check out this job posting:

MANILA, PHILIPPINES: Bikram Yoga Manila is looking for full time teachers who can teach strong dialogue-based classes. The Bikram yoga community is growing here in Manila -- as a result, we are building more studios -- and we are looking for adventurous spirits to come out to Asia and share in this experience. We are offering an extremely generous package with a one (1) year commitment and we will pay for your housing, utilities and any travel to and from the studio. A paid vacation within the country is also a part of your compensation. If you are interested, please contact the studio director Tristan Choa at bikramyogamanila@yahoo.com.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like Bikram and I do Bikram. Mainly because its the only game in the little town of evergreen... but I'm looking for something more. I too need power and headstands and all the rest! If I could do ashtanga twice and bikram three times a week, I think that'd be perfect.

8:21 PM  
Blogger joni said...

i know many people who swear by bikram. maybe it's because once the class is over, after one has lost around 2 pounds of sweat and has successfully touched forehead to knee while in dandayamana janushirasana (standing head to knee pose), he/she then feels a sense of accomplishment. i would. but then again, if i'm going to do the same routine each and every time, i may as well buy the video (or audio) and do it at home on my own and save myself some bucks.

9:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

True. Video works. But I like the sangha aspect of practicing with others (as a former Zennie I still can't get used to the word "shala" that some seem to prefer. Anyway, welcome back. Sounds like a wonderful trip. Be well.

11:27 PM  

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