My Life in Manchester – Reading Week Distractions or How to Survive Bikram Yoga

By Laura Németh

Dear readers in snowy Switzerland,

How sad to have missed the first snow of the year – there’s always a bit of magic involved in this moment that the first flakes are faintly falling (yes I do admit this beautiful alliteration is plagiarised from Joyce’s The Dead for the pedantic among you…!) from the sky and lend the city just a little more grace and tranquillity, isn’t there?

Well, here in Manchester there’s no snow in sight – it’s just very cold and so windy that my second umbrella in a row has broken this week! Other than that – I have no idea how! – it’s already midterm now which means that all students get what is called a “Reading Week” during which no classes take place. As the name implies, the idea is to give you time to catch up with all your reading and your lecture material, but actually it’s just a week where everyone is busy writing essays and assignments that are ALL due just after reading week and it’s also the time for friends and family to stay over and distract you most favourably from your work!
Our flat is no exception here which means that we had a very full house this weekend already: my boyfriend came over from Zurich for a few days, Vinita’s mum came all the way from India to stay for the whole week, Beki’s sister and Baraa’s “I don’t really know what to call him” guy from Lincoln were also here, and oh, not to forget, Akshi’s friends, who came all the way from Sheffield for one night – in a stretch Limo! It’s all good fun as usual but unfortunately I am not allowed to go into detail here about some of the funnier incidents that occurred owning to this culture and people mix – but with many of you being literature students I guess it’s just as well to leave it to your imagination!
However, let me to tell you about my personal weirdest incidence of the week – or probably the weirdest since I have arrived here – the truly freakish Bikram yoga experience.

I have been warned by several people – but of course I had to go and see for myself what all the fuss about this practicing yoga in a room heated to 40 degrees is about. My boyfriend was up for it too- so we seized the opportunity and headed to the studio in the northern quarter. “I mean seriously, how bad can it be?”, I wondered on the way; convinced that 40 degrees isn’t that hot after all – compared to a sauna. Well, it’s indeed a moderate temperature for a sauna but let me assure you that it is really hot – far too hot! – when you are supposed to do yoga for one and a half hours in a room with 30 other people. The first unpleasant surprise came the minute we entered the room. Not only the heat – having finally accustomed to the freezing Mancunian temperatures – came as a shock but also, and perhaps more so, the sight of lots and lots of half-naked people wearing no more than their sports bra and swimming trunks. Most of these individuals you would not wish to see like that on a beach, let alone practicing yoga in your closest vicinity.

My immediate impulse was to turn on the spot and go back home. But obviously I didn’t want to be forever labelled as “faint-hearted” so I forced myself to lay down my mat on the carpet (yes, there really is a carpet!) and wait for the class to begin. Then, upon looking around and observing all these people ambitiously stretching and desperately trying to force their foot behind their head even before class has started, I was seized by the desire to simply burst out laughing and I suddenly understood why the instructor forbid me and boyfriend to sit next to each other for the first few classes lest we should communicate with each other! The next shock came when the instructor reappeared with a microphone and explained that he wouldn’t actually perform the positions himself but just say what we had to do and that we – the “new guys” – could take a quick break from the exercises at any moment – all that was asked of us for this class was that we stayed in the room for the full 90 minutes! I must say I didn’t find this a very reassuring comment and suddenly felt trapped even though I had not intended to leave the room in the first place. Then it really started and I can only say that I have never experienced a weirder and more un-yoga-like lesson in my life – it reminded me much more of an ASVZ “super-fitness” class than an actually yoga lesson! Only that the heat made things much, much worse and probably even more hilarious to watch than our beloved “kondi” in the Polyterasse – if only I hadn’t been participating myself! The instructor – for that’s really what he was – was talking non-stop and apparently without ever catching a breath. There wasn’t a moment of conscious movement or any kind of flow because he kept talking at this incredible pace, instructing us to change position just as quickly while he was walking up and down the room like a hyperactive rabbit saying (or rather shouting) things like:

“Your mantra for today is: lock your knees! Lock your knees! Lock your knees!” “Now: lean back, stretch back, fall back!!” “Give 140 percent now – you probably feel like your heart is racing by now but don’t worry, it’s absolutely normal: this is soo good for you; this exercise helps to control your appetite, builds up your lungs etc.etc. And it’s absolutely beautiful that your heart is bumping blood to every cell of your body!” “You’re only allowed to drink water when I tell you to – HA – caught you there at the back Carl – STOP! This is a 90-minute active meditation (haha!), so please don’t interrupt this process at any time by drinking water!” And one of my favourites: “You now have one minute and 40 seconds to lie down in shavasana and do nothing but breathing!”

Occasionally, he did make an effort to pretend that we were doing something other than just a work-out in a far too hot room, surrounding by running to the other side of the room and enthusiastically exclaiming: “It’s such a pleasure to teach you guys, it’s such an AMAZING energy in this room! This exercise looks SO beautiful from where I’m stood!”

Well, these where the kinds of things that we heard through the course of the very, very long class but the visual effects were even more freakish: people sweated so much that their clothes were absolutely soaked and the sweat dripped from their shorts or from the tip of your toes just inches away from your face when they raised up their legs in certain positions. By the end of the lesson, the ambitious old guy next to me was not only looking as pale as a ghost but actually turned a very frightening shade of blue and I thought he is going to faint or suffocate any minute now. But no! I guess he must already be familiar with the surrounding and the emergency-condition of his body by taking part in the thing that they call the “The Ultimate 30 Days Bikram Yoga Challenge” where people have participate EVERY day in this horror (“Grab your mat and get ready to change your life!”) and are awarded a trophy in the end. In fact, a lot the people around me seemed as if they were taking part in this or else in the 40, 60 or 100- day challenge respectively; they looked crazy.

I can proudly say that we at least made it until the end of our first (and last) class but I was also immensely relieved when I finally heard the instructor deliver his ultimate piece of nonsense of the day: “Now- give yourself a good clap now and REMEMBER: If you can do ninety minutes of Bikram yoga, then you can do ANYTHING in life!!

Well, we barely managed to find our way to the showers. We promised to come back soon and were then gone for good – salsa dancing being a much nicer prospect for the next day or any day after that, really! Needless to say, I’d rather not do any yoga at all whilst I’m here than go back to this place. It was definitely worth the experience, though. Sort of. How I miss Marc! If any of you head to the CAB some time soon please enjoy the calm serenity of his class for me please, thank you.

And now I must really be off to do my reading and other stuff. Have a wonderful – and hopefully white – week and, of course, a very happy Halloween! Oh, and go and see the new Bond film Skyfall – it’s got Judy Dench in it and Javier Bardem as the evil crazy guy and it’s definitely worth it!

Best wishes from Manchester,

3 responses to “My Life in Manchester – Reading Week Distractions or How to Survive Bikram Yoga

  1. Oh God this sounds awful!!! Congrats for making it through at all! Eww. I don’t even want to know about the smell in that room XD Your imitation of the instructor was hilarious though ^^
    I’d love to hear more about your multi-kulti experiences with your flatmates but I understand the need to protect their privacy rights.
    We should get a reading week here too. And I don’t mean the excuse for an Easter break in the spring semester. However, whether or not any work would actually get done is another question…
    Good luck with all your reading & your due essays! I hope you can find a more agreeable sports class soon 🙂
    I’m already looking forward to your next post!

  2. This Bikram yoga sounds like quite a challenge! Good that you made it out of there alive! 🙂 Looking forward to your further posts 🙂

  3. Cheers you two!! I’m already looking forward to some more book tips and cooking recipes- they both sound really good!!:) I wish I’d had more time to try them out! But soon, hopefully..!
    And Carmen I did try to put some more about my flatmates in this week- Sara doesn’t mind!;)

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