Sweating out stress, finding calm in hot yoga

Andrea Joseph

What the heck is this popular phenomenon called “hot yoga?” Thanks to the company I work for, I now know. For Christmas, the company offered its employees an annual membership to their choice of several area fitness and health centers. On the list this year was Bikram Yoga Morgan Hill – I decided to sign up and see what it’s all about.

Let me preface this by saying I’ve never been to a yoga class. And hot yoga? I wasn’t even sure what that meant. So days before the first class, I did a little research to see what I should expect.

Hot yoga isn’t some sort of cutesy term for the type of people you’ll see in class. It’s literally hot yoga – the studio is set at a toasty 105 degrees with a 40 percent humidity level. I could feel beads of perspiration forming on my forehead just thinking about it.

Aside from the heat, my mind began to wander to other aspects that added to my nerves. By no means am I considered “fit” and the thought of wearing crop pants and a snug tank top made me uneasy. Would all the “hot” yoga folks smirk and wonder what I was doing in class?

I’m also a mild germaphobe. I have a friend who teases me and calls me Howard Hughes, but I’m not that extreme (not yet anyway). I knew that new students could borrow a yoga mat from the studio, but that idea didn’t sit well with me, so I bought one. No way would my sweat mingle with that of other students’ who had borrowed mats.

My first session came on a chilly Saturday morning when a friend and I went to the studio – nerves on edge. We were welcomed with a friendly smile, given a rundown of what to expect and told to head into the hot yoga room and put our mats down.

I opened the door, walked into a large, darkened room that was warm – very warm – and surrounded in mirrors, and scouted out a place for my mat and water bottle.

“Ohhh, this is actually really nice,” I thought to myself, absorbing the warmth of the room since it was literally freezing outside that morning. As others filed in and the room filled up, I began to feel more comfortable sitting in the dark, warm and quiet room.

But it didn’t stay that way for long.

The yoga instructor walked in and the fluorescent lights flipped on, shocking me out of my warm and sleepy daze. The exposed areas of my fair skin, which were indeed white in the darkness, now glowed. Is neon white an actual color?

I’ll admit, it took me several minutes – as the class began breathing and stretching – to get somewhat comfortable.

As class continued, I was so focused on myself and keeping my breathing and movements as accurate as I could get them, I barely noticed the people around me. I imagine everyone else experienced a similar feeling.

Then the heat began to get to me. I indeed felt a little dizzy a time or two (as I was told might happen) and had to pause and “take a knee.” Once the feeling passed, I joined back in. Some of the 26 poses were quite awkward for me, but I gave each one my all. And there was one pose that I found difficult due to previous wrist surgery and inability to twist it to the degree necessary.

As the lights went off at the end of the 90-minute class, and we lay on our backs for a final moment of relaxed breathing, my mind seemed to flip back on and, of course, the doubting began.

“I wonder if anyone noticed my lack of flexibility?”

“Wow, that was intense. I’m not sure if I can do that again.”

But deep inside I knew I could – and I did. Now, a few classes in, my doubts are easing and my comfort level is increasing. The friendly instructors with their encouraging words give me that little extra boost I need to continue to hear that voice in my head saying, “I CAN do this.”

Do I have all 26 poses down? Nope. But each session I’m learning. I still get a little dizzy in the heat and need to pause for a moment, and that’s OK. And doubting thoughts still creep up on me, but I’m learning to push them aside.

What else is creeping up on me – that I’m not pushing away – is the enjoyment I get from each class. It’s difficult, but it’s actually fun, which I didn’t expect.

I doubt I’ll ever master yoga, but this hot yoga phenomenon is something I’m excited about and I find myself anxious to get to class. Maybe eventually I’ll be able to touch my forehead to my knees, but for now I’ll be content just doing the best I can – neon whiteness and all.

Namaste.

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