In a couple of hours, I'm supposed to unfurl my yoga mat at Bikram Yoga Memphis, yet here I am at Karen Wilder Fitness, considering a fling with the exercise machines. The Bikram studio still seems a little alien to me, but being in Karen's gym feels like being among old friends: There's Elliptical Trainer and Free Weights and Smith—and I'm so happy to see Kettlebell I want to pick him up and swing him like a favorite child. I haven't exactly hung out with these guys lately, but I'm pretty sure we could pick up where we left off, maybe even bump our relationship up a notch, get into some real commitment.
For more than four weeks, as I've settled into the 60-day Bikram challenge, my teachers have been telling me that this yoga is all my body needs, that a class per day for two months will renew me "from the inside out." According to them, and to founder Bikram Choudhury, I'm getting all the weight resistance and cardio (yes, cardio) I need, plus the active meditation of hatha, a centuries-old style of yoga. The deeper I get into the challenge, the more limber, focused, cleansed, and relaxed I feel, but I've started worrying to the point of obsession that I'm not losing weight fast enough, and that others agree.
I sense that they're looking me up and down in a certain way, judging. I started out 80 pounds overweight, and I'm losing one to two pounds per week—the healthiest and most maintainable kind of weight loss, doctors say—but nobody wants to hear this. All people seem to care about is what they see, not the process behind it. Reading doubt on their faces, I'm hurt, angry, ashamed. And now panicked.
A little weepily, I explain all this to calm, lovely Karen, who listens and nods, as if she understands perfectly the maniac sitting in front of her. As I babble on, I'm pawing through my absurdly enormous Timbuk2 messenger bag for a tissue and yanking out lipsticks and ponytail holders and free-floating receipts and a tattered Runner's World that I borrowed days ago from my brother-in-law and still haven't read. Later, when I listen to a tape of the conversation, I hear myself speaking in breathless bursts, barely letting Karen talk.
"Hold on," I say at one point, "I need to breathe."
"It's amazing you just recognized that," Karen says. "So you're already good at catching yourself in your breathing patterns. Now, every day, I want you to look at yourself in the mirror with kind eyes and with thankfulness and patience. Just allow yourself to do that."
Sentimentality usually triggers my gag reflex, but in this moment I make a decision not to go cynical. If I need to trade in my critical eyes for some kind ones, I may as well start today. While I'm at it, I'll stop what a psychologist would refer to as my "all-or-nothing thinking": If I'm still wearing gigantic jeans, Bikram must not work; if my most recent job was a disaster, I must be terrible at what I do; if my marriage didn't take, I'll never love or be loved again. "Your first prescription is, renew your mind every day," Karen says. "That sets the template. That will create harmony in your body."
Good. But what will create a waistline in my body? That's what I still want to know.
Next: You'd better not scream for ice cream