Sometimes, in fact maybe every second session, I reach a point about 75 minutes into Bikram where the barrier holding me back from a panic attack is rice-paper thin. I’m learning to recognise it; I lay back into shavasana for the 20th time in between asanas and as my shoulders lean towards the mat, my face suddenly feels like it’s about to ignite. The heat is so intense, it’s like being trapped in blazing sunshine, in front of an oven. Something pings in my brain and the first feelings of panic start breaking, little tiny waves, announcing a tsunami of something bigger and scarier just around the corner. I start to fight the desire to break down in tears and hyperventilate and escape this torture chamber.
But somehow I catch hold of myself with both hands, tell myself to breathe, remind myself it’s fine, remind myself I always get through class somehow, remind myself that the heat will break eventually, before I do. Even though instinct tells me to open my mouth and suck in huge, panicked lungfuls of air, I know from my teachers that breathing through my mouth will trigger the panic even further and that I must keep breathing through my nose, into my stomach, expanding my ribcage, filling every corner of my lungs with air, and then slowly letting it out through my nose again.
And so I overcome the fear, and suddenly class is over, and I survived. I think maybe facing that fear every day is one of the most important facets of Bikram for me.
Today, I almost didn’t go to yoga. I had had a long, emotionally draining day — James is off to his stupid Afghanistan, probably followed by Antarctica — and the lack of sleep, food and hydration meant I was afraid I would be too weak and dizzy and nauseated. But I told myself even just the 5km return walk to the studio would do me good, and that I could sit out the entire damn class if I so chose to.
But in fact, I didn’t sit out a single pose. I was all the stronger and more focused for wanting to completely disassociate myself from my emotions. I got that leg higher than ever in Standing Head to Knee pose, and in Standing Bow pose. I am so, so very glad I went.