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August 2, 2014

In Praise of Hot Yoga: How a Skeptic Fell in Love.

hot yoga woman sweat

I’ve practiced yoga casually for over a decade, but until recently I’d steered away from heated classes.

When we recently moved, I began attending restorative and yin classes at a nearby studio.  The studio’s signature class was heated vinyasa flow, but I’ve always hated the feeling of being too hot. “At least when you’re cold, you can keep putting on layers,” has been my weather mantra.

But on the cusp of turning 40, I tried a class. I needed to believe my middle-aged body could learn something new.

I went back the next day. And the next.

One by one, the misconceptions I had about heated yoga melted into my mat:

The heat will make me pass out/crap my pants/die. 

I’m pleased to report that none of these horrors have occurred. But the biggest surprise? Once class gets started, I don’t feel the heat.

My body acclimates. Usually I arrive several minutes early. The moment I walk through the studio doors, the heat washes over me. I spread out my mat and lie down, closing my eyes. It’s as if the heat soaks into my skin, warming my muscles—and then I forget about it. I know it’s hot, because of the satisfying droplets of sweat that plunk onto my mat. I know it’s there because my body can move deeper, my muscles loose and active.

And lastly, I know it’s there when I step out of the studio and into a hot summer day and it feels breezy.

That’s not to say the class isn’t challenging. More than a few times, deep into a sequence of postures, I’ve peeked between my back legs in down dog to check the clock—phew, only 15 more minutes until shavasana.

On the few times that I’ve felt overheated or dizzy, I’ve simply sunk into child’s pose for a few breaths; the instructors frequently remind students that resting poses are always available throughout the class.  

Hot yoga is stinky.

I imagined a crowded, heated yoga room would reek of body odor, farts, and feet. Instead, the studio is immaculate. The occasional waft of my own or someone else’s sweat doesn’t bother me. I will admit that I am often rather spicy after class; perhaps I smell no one else because I’m in a haze of my own aroma. But I’m pretty sure they just take really good care of the studio.

Hot yoga is only for super stretchy yogi types.

I was pretty sure I’d be walking into a room full of young, taut Gumby-like super yogis who would spend the class standing on their heads or crouched on their forearms in crow position, while I strained to release my hamstrings o’ steel enough to touch my toes. While some students are advanced, plenty aren’t. And once I really reach the flow of my own practice, I stop gawking at the advanced students so much. I can show up, and give it my best at each class.

Meanwhile, I’ve noticed dramatic results in the three months that I’ve been practicing heated yoga. I’m not sure how this happened, but the heated classes have released my lower back. Backbends have always been be painful for me, and often I’d suffer from low back pain following a challenging class.

But after several heated classes, I noticed positions like cobra and upward facing dog didn’t hurt. Maybe it’s that I’m attending several classes a week. Maybe it’s the heat. Maybe it’s the vinyasa strengthening my core. Whatever it is, I’m grateful—it feels like someone has taken a key to my locked spine, and I am free to flow.

Heated yoga is showier and not as “spiritual.”

Besides thinking I would crap my pants or die, this was the myth that proved to be furthest from the truth. I thought the heated classes were trendy, more for exercise than spiritual growth. But the challenge of the heated classes have me more rooted in my breath and body than ever before. It takes all of my concentration to sink into the poses and align my breath with movement.

To flow from inhale to exhale, my body dancing with my breath. With my mind steadied on my breath, there’s little room left for other thoughts. Emotions, however, abound: I’ve experienced grief, elation, connection, and gratitude on the mat.

And perhaps my favorite part of class, shivasana. After all that meditative movement, all that balancing and deepening, collapsing feels so damned good. I lie on my mat, palms facing skyward. My body is still and sleek as a seal. The skin of my shoulders sticks to the mat, my skin cool with sweat but hot-muscled.

I feel wrung out. I am all muscles and heart. I am all breath and love.

Often the teacher offers a short reading about openness or about emptiness or about growth. The content almost doesn’t matter—with my brain still, my body surrendered, I receive.

Besides finding this sweaty new practice that I’m smitten with, heated yoga has lent me increased flexibility, a quieter mind, and a sense of community with other people who, like me, seek wellbeing. And again, it feels so good to know this old (upward facing) dog can learn a few new tricks.

 

 

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Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Google images labelled for reuse 

 

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