Silver Lake, Los Angeles
I have to admit when it comes to yoga, I’ve been on-and-off into it for years. When a friend begged me to come to her Extreme Bikram Yoga class, I decided why not. This muffin top wasn’t going to stay away for the sake of being gone, and what better way for two girls to bond than through awkward contortion exercises in a hot room full of half-naked people? I signed up for Extreme Beginners: one month unlimited for $45. Considering each class costs $20, I figured that was a deal. I could come every other day or so. And I’d have the “she must go to yoga all the time” body.
So before we got there my friend texted me and told me to bring a bottle of water, a towel, a mat, a box of gauze, and a can of pepper spray. I knew Bikram would get hot—I mean those rooms are heated to 105 degrees—but pepper spray? She said it would make sense later.
We got to class ten minutes early, and it was already two-thirds of the way full of sweaty bodies doing stretches and taking sips of water. A lady in front of me had a really large knife (a machete?) beside her; another person, a man in his forties with a ripped torso, had literal scratches all over the right side of his body. Some people are really determined to be in shape! Even if they have injuries… like bruises all over their lower back and shoulders (like the woman had next to me). More power to these people—it takes a lot just to get me ride an exercise bike for ten minutes!
This Bikram class, on the other hand, would be over in an hour and a half.
Our yoga instructor Bobby walked in just as the clock hit noon. Rumor had it he was tough. Like really tough. My friend said she’d had classes with him where she was dying and begging him to open the door. (Exaggerate much? Haha.) She said he usually didn’t, but instead started singing the instructions or making silly jokes to get her out of her head and back into her practice. Well, Bobby—was a hottie! In a The Rock meets Prince kind of way. He was petite yet muscle-y and looked like he could do a couple standing somersaults without breaking a sweat. Lacking formality but with charm, Bobby’s first words were: “Who’s ready to die a little?” To which the woman besides me started… crying?
The first poses were simple enough: arm stretches, deep breaths, then these standing backbends which made me break my first real sweat. Then Bobby walked across the room, locked the door, and flipped a switch, which activated a loud whirring noise.
“Are you ready to get extreme?” said Bobby, who was now wearing a safari hat and holding a whip. Then a wall around us began to rise, revealing a hidden room. Something screeched in there, but it was dark and the only thing I could make out were colorful items in a basket near the front. (It was hard to focus while in Eagle Pose.)
Just then the ripped-torso guy with scratches all over the side of his body grabbed his water and took a sip. Bobby seemed to be agitated by this and said: “I didn’t give anyone permission to have a drink of water!” When torso guy shrugged his shoulders, Bobby grabbed a bunch of bananas from nowhere and started chucking them at the guy: “You want some potassium with that?”
Before we knew it, three orangutans sprinted out of the secret room and began dropkicking the guy until he fell down unconscious. Two of them grabbed his feet and dragged him into the room, while the third gathered the bananas, giving everyone dirty looks. Then they were gone.
Let me tell you something, it’s weird seeing orangutans attack a yoga class, but by the time we entered Standing Bow Pose, the only thing I could focus on was not passing out. I had to have lost half my body weight in sweat! I reached for my water, thinking the orangutans were probably full of bananas already. But my bottle was snatched away by Bobby’s whip so fast I didn’t even see it until after the fact!
Bobby sauntered up to the secret room, grabbed the basket I had seen before, and let all the yoga pros in the front row grab whatever was inside. I couldn’t see what was in there until, on the count of three, they unleashed water balloons my way. I managed to dodge a couple and a few pro yogis were crappy shots, but one balloon got me right in the leg, and when I looked down a rock the size of a golf ball had ripped my shin open. I immediately wrapped my leg in gauze right before it was time for Toe Stand.
By the time I was in Cobra Pose, whatever hallucinations I heard told me not to stray from the program. I’d caught my stride and instead of letting myself pass out, I focused on the others who were doing much worse than me. When one guy didn’t laugh at Bobby’s “bear walks into a bar joke” he got tasered and had to stand on one tiptoe for forty-five minutes without falling over.
A lady who prematurely rose from Half Tortoise Pose had a bowl of honey dumped on her before rolling around in a pile of tacks. By the time we got to camel pose, a third of the class had been dragged out by orangutans, two people were placed in cages made of ice, and one lady who got tasered didn’t seem to be breathing, though Corpse Pose is known for its dead-like position.
With ten minutes left, I looked over at my friend whose Spine Twist made her look like a corkscrew. I whispered: “We did it!” To which she replied by opening her eyes wide and shaking her head as if to say: No, no no! Then it was dark, like really dark, like I had something heavy over my head, something moist that smelled like copper pipes. With one of my free hands I reached in front of me to assess the situation and felt something thick, cool, and scaly. It was definitely worse than I thought. I was trapped in the throat of a giant anaconda! I groped at the floor beneath me for a weapon, thinking: Great, I’m going to die in a damn Bikram class. Though I was having a hard time hearing, I could hear Bobby say: “If anyone is feeling ‘choked up’ right now, you have permission to take a sip of water.”
Now? While I was occupied? Out of all the times I wanted to drink, now I couldn’t because a giant snake was trying to swallow me whole while crushing my bones with its coiled body?
Not today, snake-o. That’s right, I maced that bitch. Right in its big snake eyes. Right in time for the final breathing exercise.
As far as Extreme Bikram goes: Do I regret going? No. Not really. Will I go back? Well, I guess I have to, seeing that I paid for the beginner’s package already. I want to get my money’s worth out of the whole ordeal. And honestly, my abs have never looked better.
Sabra Embury is a book critic for Brooklyn's L Magazine. Her confabulations and fantastications can be found in the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Rumpus, Tottenville Review, NANO Fiction and other places. Follow her antics on Twitter @yrubmEarbaS.