Hot for hot yoga

For the past several weeks, I’ve become increasingly aware that I am in an exercise rut.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love me some running, but I’m starting to get incredibly bored with my cross-training routine.  There are only so many days that you can spend a half hour on the elliptical machine or stationary bike, staring at wall, without going completely batty.  I’ve considered taking up roller blading, but it’s starting to get cold outside and I’d like to pick an activity that I can do indoors during the winter months … plus I don’t like the idea of using my face as an air bag.

A few of my friends have chattered to me about yoga over the years, but I never took an interest in it because it just sounded too tame. After all of my years in sports, I need a good sweat and an elevated heart rate to feel like I’m really working out and pushing myself. However, last week my sister-in-law tried a hot yoga class and has been raving about it ever since.  Hot yoga sounds sticky and wet, but she was so adamant about how amazing it made her feel, I figured I could at least give it a try.  Plus, at that point, I was desperate to try something new.

One of Bloomington’s yoga studios, Know Yoga Know Peace, is celebrating its first year of business by offering 10 yoga classes for $10 throughout the month of October.  Considering the price of just one session is $13-15, the 10 for 10 deal is a steal!  I roped my buddy, Brittany, into going with me, and we went to our first class last night.

I wasn’t entirely sure how to dress or what to bring with me to yoga, let alone what to bring to a HOT yoga class.  The only thing I know about yoga is what I’ve seen in movies—skinny girls in tank tops and tight black pants sitting cross-legged on mats.  As I waited outside the building for Brittany, I noticed the other girls coming to the studio all had their own mats and giant bottles of water.  So I got the outfit down, but I didn’t have a mat or water. Luckily, Brittany had an extra bottle of water and I got a complimentary mat for it being my first time to the studio.

Our first yoga class was FLOW yoga, a class that was just like hot yoga, but slightly cooler.  “The room is only 96 degrees,” the woman at the front desk told us while we were filling out our paperwork. Brittany and I rolled our eyes.  Only 96 degrees.

Walking into the yoga room was like walking into a sauna.  The instant we stepped foot into the dimly-lit room, I started to sweat.  And it wasn’t glistening, pretty sweat. No way. It was hot, nasty, man sweat that left dark rings all over my gray tank top.  Some of the poses proved to be difficult because my skin was so slippery.  I decided that trying to look cute before a hot yoga is a fruitless labor.  No matter how cute your outfit, it’s going to be soaking wet and your hair is going to be plastered to your forehead.  I avoided looking at the mirrors the entire time.

The very first thing our instructor had us do was lay on our mats and get acquainted with the natural flow and rhythm of our bodies.  The idea sounded kind of absurd and hokey, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.  How often do I ever say, “Hey what’s up, Courtney?” and just feel how my body is in its natural, unmoving state?  Our instructor told us not to fight out natural breathing patterns or try to change them.  Rather, we should just listen and get to know them.  I immediately noticed that my body was rigid with tension and my breaths were quiet and quick.  I wasn’t surprised.

Then we began our series of poses. I can’t even remember all of them, but there were a lot of downward-facing dogs and warrior stances.  Considering I’m probably the most inflexible person on the planet, I didn’t find any of the poses to be particular hard or uncomfortable (but I don't think the moves were very advanced).  It actually felt amazing.  I stretch before I run, but never this thoroughly or by targeting that many different places in my body. What kept tripping me up was just how blasted hot I was and how annoying it was to be in the downward-facing dog position and have sweat pouring into my eyes.  I kept stealing glances at the other people in the room to see if they were as drenched as I was, and that’s when I noticed that one of the girls in the front row was wearing shorts that were so short, I could see the tan lines under her butt cheeks.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that I was staring at her vagina the entire time.

And there was a mouth breather. When our instructor asked us to let our breath come out as a sigh, he made sure to sigh the loudest and longest of anyone in the class.  I was thinking, “We get it. You’re very into yoga.  But next time, please bring a breath mint.” He reminded me of that kid from Hey Arnold!.

At one point we were laying on our backs with our knees bent so that we could curl our pelvises off of the mat and then slowly place it back down. “Be sure to lower you spine to the ground one vertebrae at a time, like stranding pearls on a necklace,” our instructor said as she walked around the room.  The writer in me was so intrigued by her strange metaphor that I totally stopped paying attention and missed the next pose.  For the rest of the class, every time we lifted our pelvises to stretch our spines and lower them back down, I kept awkwardly thinking, “I’m a pearl necklace! I’m a pearl necklace!”

But by far, the most bizarre pose of the night was “happy baby”, a pose where you lie on your back, spread your legs, grab your ankles, and roll back and forth on your spine.  I couldn’t do this pose with a straight face.  I just kept staring at the ceiling, willing myself to get through the next 30 seconds without laughing or passing gas.

Needless to say, my most fascinating observation of the entire experience is that every yoga pose places your body in prime gas-passing position. I swear, almost every twist and turn of my body was met with a close call. “Oh, please don’t let me fart in this tiny, 96 degree room,” I pleaded silently with God as I took the “table top” pose. Maybe I’m the only one who had that problem. I don’t know.  But there is very little that could be less serene or relaxing than the person on the mat next to you playing booty trumpets.

How I made it through that entire hour and a half class without laughing, I will never know.

The final ten minutes of class was spent doing savasana, a practice where students lay back down on their mats and focus on meditation and relaxation.  Our instructor walked us through some breathing exercises and encouraged us to let a little more negativity out of our bodies with every exhale of breath.  My mind kept wandering to the laundry list of things I needed to do after class and I had to focus really hard on bringing my attention back to that present moment.  I’ve never been able to put my brain on silent and almost started crying with the realization of how badly I wanted to be able to do that.  I made promises to myself to spend more time on activities for my mind and soul, not just my body.  Lying on that mat, in a pool of my own sweat, my body heavy with the weight of relaxation, I was almost positive that this is the kind of thing I need to continue to do.  Even if it’s with a silly yoga DVD I buy from the store or lying on the carpet of my bedroom with the lights off, I need to find a way to be able to relax and shut my mind off from its constant worrying.  I’m almost positive that if I went to a therapist or shrink, meditation would be something they would prescribe for me.  I need this.

I left my first hot yoga class feeling calm and yet somehow rejuvenated.  Brittany and I made a promise to go together again later in the week and take advantage of our 10 for 10 deal.  Feeling a yoga “buzz” of blissful peace, I went home.

Within ten minutes of walking through the front door of my apartment I got a phone call from my mother letting me know that my godfather passed away.

Any semblance of serenity and harmony I was feeling went flying out the window.