Frank M. Cahill '20 practices his yoga skills outside the SOCH.
Frank M. Cahill '20 practices his yoga skills outside the SOCH.


By Frank M. Cahill

I wake and clamber out of bed, seeking water. Drink. The sought-after Nalgene rests full on my desk. I return it nearly empty. Drink. Yesterday’s phone conversation echoes in my mind.

I had called, concerned. It was my first time, I explained. For years I had thought about it, but had never taken the plunge. And now I had been assigned. Would it be difficult?

The voice on the other end assuaged my fears. It explained the process (26 postures, 2 ways of breathing), the logistics (Tuesday, 8 a.m., 90 minutes), and made quite clear that I was to hydrate, hydrate as though my life depended on it—hydrate, for this is no mere yoga, not tepid yoga at all. This is hot yoga!


I raise the bottle once again and I drink, and this time squeeze every last drop from the plastic.

It is time to go. To depart my cool room, to make my way through the morning; through fog-laden streets, oft-tread by students but at this early hour empty; through this numb-cool Purgatory to the Hell-fires of 30 John F. Kennedy St, Cambridge, MA 02138. To Bikram Yoga Cambridge.

A waiver, my signature in black wet ink scrawled at the bottom; the gentle fingers of the mild-mannered man behind the desk pointing towards the changing room; the water fountain (Drink); the solitary door, behind which could only be the site of my doom. Clad in grey running shorts and a black tank-top, my bags stowed and red Nalgene refilled, I open the door.

A mass of heat crashes against my skin, rushing into my nostrils and down my throat. The heat, my god, the heat! My lungs fight to relax, and I step inside.

The lights are off. To my left, a raised platform presses against a wall of mirrors. Perpendicular to this wall are scattered mats, scattered corpses. No! Not corpses: they lie on their backs, arms by their sides and heels pressed together, yet a silent hand reaches up to scratch a glistening nose. The men are shirtless, wearing only tight biking shorts; the women, sports bras and spandex shorts. I am overdressed. I swallow my trepidation, roll out my rented mat, and join the bodies.

Suddenly the door swings open. Someone enters. I slide my eyes from the ceiling to see twin bare feet pad across the floor and to the platform. From his dais, the instructor—the mild-mannered man of before—regards us.

Melodious commands echo from his practiced mouth.


We stand.

This is Standing Deep Breathing. Raise your hands and clasp them beneath your chin. Glue your knuckles to your neck. As you breathe in, raise your elbows to your ears. As you exhale, bring your elbows together, keeping arms parallel to the floor and tilting your head back.

My neck strains; my head does not bend this far back. Pain blossoms—but what blissful pain! What relief from this oppressive heat, the numbing pressure of steamy air against my eyes and mouth, ears and lungs. It shoots up and down my tender spine.

The instructor speaks, and my body follows. I now resemble a triangle; now a half-moon. Outside thoughts intrude: term papers; my lack of BoardPlus; the too-cool-for-me cutie in my poetry class. Under some deviant internal calculus, I am more tense than before arrival. Is yoga not meant to wash away the stresses of the day? But I continue listening.

I find myself folded over, chest pressed against thigh and fingers trailing along the floor. Lungs strain to expand; breath is short. Sweat collects at my brow and threatens to spill onto the chaste mat—but refuses to flow forth. At the instructor’s direction I strain, and at last my head touches my slightly bent knees—

You are a Japanese ham sandwich.

Wait. Had I misheard? Has the instructor really, in this moment of great focus, invoked as Muse an item of food—and not simply common deli fare, but of all things a Japanese ham sandwich? Does such a thing even exist?

You are a Japanese ham sandwich.

Am I the only one who doesn’t understand? I press harder, forcing the contact between my torso and thigh into a continuous line. I am nearly there—

You are a Japanese ham sandwich.

The muscles of my legs are tight, shaking with fatigue, and as I attempt to straighten my knees I gasp in pain. Yet as soon as I do, the hot air fills my mouth, fills my convulsing lungs as they struggle for air. My vision narrows. Am I going to pass out?

I cannot fight anymore. I can only relax, and submit to the heat—

You are a Japanese ham sandwich.

I AM A JAPANESE HAM SANDWICH. Knees snap straight—and ecstasy! My body is sung electric; my very vertebrae vibrate at frequencies unknown. There we are, the five other yoga-goers, and I, and with the instructor seven, seven different bodies, seven different faces—and yet together, there we are: a single Japanese Ham Sandwich. The sweat finally flows forth, dazzling the black foam mat with liquid stars, perfect and symmetrical splays of victory.

Some time later—the final pose completed—I settle back, exhausted, into savasana. Corpse pose. It is finished. And from my languished body, this graying corpse, sweat blossoms forth like red roses.

From this hot abyss rises a perspiring phoenix.

I am Hot Yoga Frank.

Look on my Poses, ye Mighty, and despair!

—Magazine writer Frank M. Cahill can be reached at frank. Follow him on Twitter @frankmcahill.

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