What’s worse than doing a type of yoga that requires a one hundred degree room with postures that continuously test your body’s physical and emotional stability, causes you to sweat like a marathoner and exposes ninety percent of your body to anyone who might want to look? That’s right, fifty more people with you in the room. That’s what a Sunday donation class at Bikram Yoga Harlem is-an uptown number four train during rush hour, but with bare midriffs and mirrors (if you can see any of yourself in them). On the four train, getting on early means you get a seat, and by the time you hit Union Square you’re so cramped sitting that you feel like you’re being punished for getting on early. In a Sunday donation class, getting there early means you get a spot, then by the time class starts you’re surrounded by late-comers who think it’s quite alright to be so close to you that there are postures where it seems you’re sharing your mat.
I know we’re all New Yorkers, but dealing with ten rush-hour commutes a week is enough human interaction to build a “Falling Down” type of insanity in the most centered yogis. When that sort of overcrowding is brought into a yoga room, it feels unfair. Bikram Yoga Harlem’s other donation class, at 12:30pm on Wednesday afternoon will get pretty crowded also, but that’s more because of the price. That class is at a time when most New Yorkers are hard at work, and the class is more of a treat for the teacher or student on summer break or the worker playing hooky. The Sunday 4:30pm class is at a time when it seems like everyone is free to do yoga, and everyone is even more eager to begin their week with the right sort of experience. Unlike most of the world, I was coming from work, and thought the class fit nicely into my schedule. I’ve made a huge mistake.
I was in the second row, to the right of the room. The first row had about three inches of space between the tops of their mats and the mirror. There was less space between them and the second row. The makeshift third row had the back row similarly pressed to the wall, and nearly every posture of the twenty-six began with everyone making sure they weren’t about to hit someone or splash sweat in someone’s face. In “balancing stick” one might have mistakenly stuck their big toe in someones mouth. In “final spine twist,” “using your arm like a kickstand” meant putting a hand print in the middle of the person on your right’s sweaty towel. Miss Megan didn’t even have her usual zest for holding the postures and scolding people who came out early because the class was uncomfortable enough, and for me, the entire class became a mission to be done and leave. I know that as owners, Adam Roper and Erik Cummings love crowds, but I haven’t met a student who likes classes that look like the teacher training. On crowded days, their studio may share many qualities with a packed subway train, but at least their business is much better managed than the MTA.