Big Adventures with Paula McGuire

THE heat, apparently, is on. Maybe I just can’t feel it through these four layers of thermal underwear.

My problem, I reckon, is that I’m a direct descendant of Goldilocks. And while I’d never break into the homes of wild animals at breakfast, I’ve definitely inherited her exacting temperature preferences.

Short of setting my pants on fire and accepting the accusations of perjury, I’m pretty sure I’ll always be colder than a frostbitten flatfish. My goosebumps lack only the documentation to be declared a national mountain range.

So you’d be well within your rights to assume that I’d sell my shivering soul for a two-week all-inclusive at the centre of the sun. But you and I don’t need that kind of name-calling, right?

The truth is I really can’t stand the heat. In fact, I blame my complete lack of culinary skills on being continuously advised to get out of the kitchen. Anything above fair to middling and I feel like an ant beneath a magnifying glass – without even the joy of appearing taller to improve matters. There’s just a very narrow band of temperature within which I can operate and, unlike More Than Words, it does not support the Extreme.

For this week’s adventure though, I removed the thermometer and got my backside in gear with a few blistering sessions of Bikram yoga.

Bikram Yoga Southside is Glasgow’s answer to life’s burning questions – quite literally. At 105 degrees and 40 per cent humidity, the studio welcomes yogis seven days a week throughout the year to stretch their legs – and everything else – on its antibacterial flooring. Founded in 2014 by Linda Ibrahim and Louis Stewart, the Shawlands business brings Bikram yoga – colloquially, and accurately, known as hot yoga – to an impressive volume of participants.

With early morning, lunchtime and evening classes on offer, it’s difficult to find an excuse not to fit one in to even the busiest schedule. Believe me, I tried.

Not to say the practice of Bikram isn’t an investment: each session is 90 minutes of encouraging your body into positions a Plasticine gymnast would struggle with – and all with the heat of a Hades hot-tub filling the air.

But the list of benefits of Bikram runs further than an elbowed ostrich. Besides the standard yoga advantages of increased flexibility, improved metabolism and stamina, and, of course, the privilege of calling yourself a yogi, the baking of Bikram adds its own unique bonuses: elevated heart rate, more effective oxygenation of muscles and organs, and reduced risk of injury. Plus, you can burn between 600 and 1,000 calories an hour. And I mean burn.

The first thing I learned on arrival at the studio for my beginner lesson is that beginner lessons don’t actually exist. Saving me from disappearing into a journalistic black hole of my own creation, though, I was invited to take part in the main class, in which everyone from budding to best Bikrammer practises together, but each to their own abilities.

Wearing more than I ought but less than I’d like, I joined the gathering group in the quiet shadow of the hot room, slinking instantly to the back corner, from where I could hide my developing sheen.

Barefoot and pregnantly paused, I rolled out a borrowed blue yoga mat and took refuge on that spongy island, as the lesson drew ever nearer its borders. The warmth pumping from the ventilation system was already intense, and as the space filled up towards its 50 capacity, my inner fire alarm was beeping out an early indication warning.

Before I could waft a tea towel in its vague direction though, Linda broke into the silence with a gentle instruction to stand, and a flick of the light switch. Then began an hour and a half of bending, sweating and mild confusion.

Let’s just say I’m not skilled in proprioception so, when asked to bend the left leg, twist over the right and touch my knee with the opposite forearm, I quickly resemble a sailor’s knot after a night on the rum. Linda was ever present, running through the positions with the practised pace of a racing commentator; reminding us when to push harder and when to simply breathe.

Every Bikram session runs through the same series of 26 postures, bookended by breathing exercises. In sequence, the postures, performed twice during a full-length class, move fresh blood around the entire body and stretch every muscle in turn. But probably not the way I was doing them. By the time the standing poses had given way to the scant relief of the floor series, my bodily fluids were finalising a plot to drown me. But boy, was it liberating. It mattered not that I looked exhausted or that my vest top dripped with the proceeds of my efforts. I was a mess of my very own making and I needed to be nothing more.

With Linda’s initial advice to novices still ringing in my sweat-filled ears, I congratulated myself on managing to stay in the room for the full hour and a half; participating in the postures, however ungracefully, was simply a bonus. I left the studio heavy with water retention but light of heart. That first graze of cool air on clammy skin was intoxicating, like the only breath I’d ever really taken, and I recognised at once what would bring me back to there: not how I did inside that room, but the effects on what I do outside of it.

Seven sessions in and, while I’m pretty sure I’ll never be hot at yoga, I’m definitely warming to its charms.