I had always heard good things about yoga. One long-time writer for the Weekly told me that six months of daily yoga classes helped him get to a point where he could almost quit smoking. And one of my basketball players who suffered a serious back injury while playing hockey said that the hot yoga classes really helped her get back on the ice, as though that were doing her some kind of favor.
Now, I'm not crazy enough to play hockey, and the last time I had a sore back was after I put up my kids' jungle gym/swing set, and that was around the time that Ronald Reagan was lying about Iran/Contra. (Yeah, yeah, I know: Did he even know he was lying?) But I thought I'd give it a go, anyway.
My wife, Ana, said she'd like to go, too. I was actually concerned for her well-being, afraid that she'd have a seizure laughing at my efforts to contort my doughy frame into some kind of Figure 4.
We went to Bikram Yoga, which is right next to a Domino's Pizza in a little shopping center just south of the Post Office on Oracle Road near Orange Grove Road. I'm not sure, but I think "Bikram" means "as hot as the surface of the Sun." You walk into the lobby of this place, and you feel like you're in a scene from Cool Hand Luke. Sweat glands that even an Arizona summer couldn't activate suddenly spring to life. I can imagine people taking that class on a July afternoon and running outside to cool off in the midday sun.
I personally like to sweat; I especially like a hot exercise environment. This past summer, at a basketball league I was running, these two high school basketball players walked in and said, "Where's the air conditioning?"
I replied, "It's at the mall, you wimps. This is a gym. In Tucson. In the summer. Now sack up and go play ball."
Those poor girls are probably still trying to figure out what "sack up" means.
On the wall in the lobby is a picture of some guy from the Indian sub-continent. He doesn't look anything like Ben Kingsley, but there is a slight resemblance to Margaret Thatcher.
We were greeted by our instructor, Diane. She was impossibly friendly, outgoing, polite, fit and strong-looking, with body fat of around negative 4 percent. I liked her, anyway. She took our money and calmly explained what to expect, including instructions on what to do in case of spontaneous combustion.
The classes are incredibly inexpensive. I figure that either they own the building, or they're selling the residual heat to their neighbors to help bake the pizzas.
We went into the yoga room, where it was deliciously hot. I started sweating immediately, to the point where I eventually removed my beloved and omnipresent sweatshirt. We had been urged to wear "yoga clothes," but in my case, that ain't happenin'. Everybody else took off their socks, too, but I don't go barefoot, except in the shower, and sometimes not even then. Back when I was a lifeguard at Zuma Beach near Malibu, I wore socks, which created the ugliest tan line of all time. I told my kids that I want my tombstone to read simply, "Tom: He Never Wore Sandals."
We started with some basic breathing exercises, which I aced since I've been breathing for as long as I can remember. Then things got tougher. They wanted me to move and stretch and stuff, which I'm not known for. Then they even wanted me to touch my toes! Even back when I was a high school athlete, in shape and weighing in at around a buck-thirty-five, I couldn't touch my toes. It probably has something to do with the way I'm built. As I've mentioned here before, my arms are so short, I have to bend sideways from the waist at a 45-degree angle just to retrieve change from my pants pocket. While everybody else was grabbing their toes, I latched on to the tops of my socks and hoped for the best.
Diane kept guiding the class from one posture to the next with a voice that was calm and reassuring. It's the kind of voice that one expects to hear when it is his time to move on from this world to the next. Although, in my nightmares, the voice always sounds like Norm MacDonald on The Family Guy.
As the postures became increasingly intricate, I got lost. Diane would come by and suggest alternate postures, although the best one would have been for me to stand there in the hot room until I had sweated off about 60 pounds, so that I could at least then see my toes.
Ana and I both liked it, and we went back for a follow-up class a few days later. I'm thinking of making it a permanent part of my exercise regimen. As I get older, it becomes increasingly more difficult to maintain this physique of mine.