I attended a hot yoga class the other day with a friend. My friend doesn’t run or ride but does hot yoga and kettle ball workouts religiously. I think the yoga brings out her inner Hindu, and the kettle ball brings out her Polish peasant ancestry. Her kettle ball teacher is a 30 year old, chain smoking Ukrainian who not only has her heaving 25 lb kettle balls but also slugging an old 18 wheeler tire truck with a sledgehammer like she’s alive and well in 1887 Galicia tending wheat fields. Somehow she melds these too desperate activities, and they work for her. She suggests I do yoga when I complain of tight hamstrings and the need for a good stretch. I usually respond I’m not yoga material. I’ve done it and enjoyed it, but I’m not elegant on the mat, and when contorting into my half prayer twist, my waist and boobs seem to greet each other a lot sooner than many of the other less endowed women I typically see. Plus, I’ve managed to beat up my feet so badly from running my toe nails are embarrassingly gross and beginning to resemble a scientific experiment gone awry. Although desperate for a pedicure, or possible surgical procedure, I won’t do it until after my half marathon so as not to disturb the calluses. In yoga, however, all women have perfectly painted toes. A lot of them run, too, and they must hide their ugly toes. But I’m in training! I’m 4 weeks away from my epic half marathon debut! I cannot screw around with my feet!
“No one will notice your feet,” she reassured me. “Everyone focuses on their own posture to pay attention.”
I seriously doubt that. I’m always looking around at other people, judging, assessing, admiring, wondering why I can’t turn my brain off….but I digress.
I assume the class is serious since it is an hour and 30 min., and my friend isn’t flashy or into trendy workouts. She’s been slugging the big truck tire long before you could find kettle balls in bright, assorted colors at Target. So when she told me at the end of the session about the brief meditation, I decided to just go with it. Anything to clear my head would be useful. The amount of crap that goes through my mind at any give time can be exhausting. It would be lovely to turn it off for awhile.
Upon entering, I am overtaken with Buddha and know this joint means serious yoga business. Buddha is everywhere; heads, torso sculptures, sitting in the lotus position. Can you buy Buddha at TJ Max or Marshall’s? Or do you have to import him? There is a picture in the entrance of that very heavy woman in India who smiles a lot and is famous for hugging people. Have you heard of her? I’ve read about her in several travel memoirs where long lines of sad people snaking around her chair wait patiently in smothering heat for a hug. I don’t know what kind of happiness you feel from the hug, but I imagine it’s hot. This kind of touchy-feeliness doesn’t appeal to me as I’d be too worried she might hug the cheekiness and skepticism right outta me, and I don’t want to lose my edge!
I hadn’t done hot yoga in a couple of years, but I know I need it. I’ve noticed with running, my legs have gotten tighter, and I lost a little flexibility. Obviously, the heat helps loosen your muscles, and I hope to do most of the poses.
The yoga instructor is upbeat and enthusiastic as she enters the sweatbox, wearing loose cotton capris, a tank top, and a scarf. I keep waiting for her to remove the scarf, even if it’s one of those lightweight, sparkly, skinny ones that are particularly adorned by yoga enthusiasts, but she doesn’t. My eyelids drip with sweat within 7 minutes of seated stretching, and she still wears it double wrapped around her neck. I get it. She’s a yoga badass. She can handle the heat, but I am becoming concerned for her safety. What does she have to prove? A strong tolerance to massive amounts of humidity and the flexibility to contort her body into ancient yoga positions whilst still maintaining an air of chicness? Let’s not even talk about the air in there ok? I’m sure she sports a tattoo of some kind of Asian script on the nape of her neck, but as she begins to sweat, her hair dampens in spiderweb like strands blocking my view. After a brief introduction, including announcing a new person (me—oh, please don’t point me out, I don’t do yoga, and I’m barely going to get through this without crumbling into a cracked yoga omelette) attending the class, she removes the scarf, and we start a series of standing poses.
I expect ocean waves crashing or New Age music, but class begins with an endless song chanting Bikram. I know this Bikram fella started the whole hot yoga craze in the US, and he must be laughing himself to the bank with songs now chanting his name to a Euro beat. I need to lose the judgment. I am trying very hard to take my friend’s open minded approach, experience the moment, and go with it. While other people stare blankly twisting into warrior poses and balancing positions, I worry the instructor will knock over the candle at the shrine in front of the room. What if it falls? And with the hot temps already in place, imagine the catastrophe! Did I mention I really need to clear my head?
The first 45 min. go well. I brought enough towels to keep the salt out of my eyes, and the low impact stretching feels really good.
Once we get up from seated stretching, I realize how inflexible and slightly unstable I have become. My warrior 2 is wobbly at best and the crackling wave of what sounds like Starbucks coffee stir sticks distracts me. I finally realize those pops are people’s joints or bones cracking away as they stretch. This distresses me. I hope for a satisfying back crack, but it never happens.
We hold poses for what seems like a long time, and for me, anything longer than 20 seconds is a long time. My warrior 3 in particular resembles a tree that would be better off chopped down, or pruned. The repeated ” Kundalini” does not help ease my mind. Nor does the teacher’s constant plea for “No judgement on the mat!” because I am not willowy or stately. I am blowing in the wind and humidity and afraid I might fall! Perhaps with repeated attendance, I can possibly flatten my back and not have to use my “branches ” to maintain balance, but these things take time.
As we focus on leg strength, sweat drips, my hair pops out of the rubber band and forms wet ringlets around my face. Again I’m distracted by the music because it sounds really familiar and I spend more time wondering if it’s Rhianna’s new song as background music. That’s right, Rhianna. When the instructor tells us that in LA people bounce to the beat while holding the prayer squat, I realize not judging will be difficult. All I do is judge myself and how lousy I am at yoga, but bending my legs in a chairlike position and putting the weight on the front part of my feet my judgement is, I may not be graceful, but I’ve got leg strength!
When the instructor says, “Relax your face,” she looks at me. Everyone else appears serene and emotionless. I can feel my eyebrows scrunch and my tongue sticking out as I balance. Sometimes, she corrects me, which is great. I wait for child pose or down dog to no avail. It’s not happening. The last difficult pose is pigeon which I don’t do. I’ve achieved this pose before, but it’s over an hour, and my focusing capabilities are rapidly diminishing. I quietly sit on the mat and watch. It’s truly amazing to watch people bend themselves into a Flowering Lotus. It’s like watching an outfielder make an amazing catch or a peloton climb a cobblestone paved road up a mountain. Grace.
Then the instructor pulls me out of my comfortable basic Lotus position and tells me to down dog or Savasana. I choose Savasana, the corpse pose, because while I achieve a relatively empty mind and complete most of the poses, by the end of the 90 minute session, I am dead tired!