Lessons from Hot Yoga

Yoga Class at a Gym

Yoga Class at a Gym (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know I’m no superstar yogini, but I do have a regular practice– on my floor, with a DVD.  A few years back, when we were living in Taiwan, I enjoyed a few sessions of “hot yoga” (Bikram).  This is where the room was heated to 40 degrees centigrade and we swilled copious amounts of water, trying to keep up the water-to-sweat cycle, while pushing through an hour and a half of gentle but long-held poses. It wasn’t easy, but I could keep up and I felt great doing it.

A few weeks ago I Googled a few local yoga schools and found that there was a new, specially-designed bikram yoga place just a few blocks away. They had only one class- all levels welcome–what could go wrong?

I was excited when I got to class, the new facilities were awesome, the other students were friendly– this is going to be a lot of fun! Then I entered the room, into the wall of heat, and remembered that my 20 minute yoga-lite sessions don’t compare to an hour and half– not counting the temperature.  In the few minutes before the teacher entered I focused on my mental state, “don’t psych yourself out.” “It’s not a competition.” “Stay at your own pace.” I noticed the older ladies in the class, the girls that were overweight, like me, the two awkward guys in the back. “I’m cool.”

The teacher entered and walked to the head of the class, “do we have any new students?” I raised my hand. “Good, since we’ve all done this before lets go straight into blahblahsomesanskritword.”  What? Moment of paralyzing fear. But I snapped out of it, I’ll just watch and follow along, this is for all levels and I’ve taken all sorts of yoga classes. I’ve seen this stuff before. We get started.

We go through a series of poses. I wobble on one or two, but I’m ok. Sweat starts flowing immediately in the heat, but I feel good. Things are ok. Then the teacher says, “good, now we’re going to do those again, double-time.”

Double-time?” I mentally go back through all the classes and DVDs…nope, no ‘double-time’.  I have a bad feeling about this.

We continue. The sweat is dripping off my nose and into my eyes, but that’s ok. What’s not ok is my shallow breathing. I stop and reach for my water bottle for the first time. “NO!” “We drink water at particular times, it’s not time yet.” I stare, my mouth moving to respond but my mind unable to provide the words. I try to get back into the routine, now totally focused on my thirst.

I make it to the end of double-time and we are allowed water– which I chug while pointedly looking at the teacher.

Round 2: we are only 20 minutes in.  At this point my memory of events gets a little hazy. It’s the same back-and forth now, regular poses and double-time, no water. I get wobblier and wobblier, a few poses I only half-attempt. I stop a few poses early and rest. I look around and see I’m not the only one struggling. The teacher never steps away from the front-center of the room.

We stop for another water break and that thought spikes into my head: “I am not doing this for another moment.” I’m already embarrassed as I duck down and start rolling up my mat, hoping, “no one say anything to me, just let me go. No one say anything to me, just let me go.”

“No! Don’t give up! Just wait, take a break and lay down, drink some water.” I hate her. Two other women chime in, “stay, stay.”

I unfurl my mat by the door (I was so close) and lay on my back, concentrating on breathing normally. It takes a very long time.  I never stop pouring sweat and make few attempts to get up again. I’m almost in a trance of thoughts alternating between hatred for the teacher, bewilderment that the class was so unexpectedly difficult, and of course, total humiliation that I am laying in a sweaty, wheezy pile by the door of an active yoga class. My reverie is interrupted when the teacher tells me I can “at least” do the pose they working on at that point. I give her the dirtiest look I can muster and turn my gaze back to the pipe on the ceiling.

Finally the class ends and I remove myself to the bench by the check-in desk to further cool down.  The teacher avoids eye contact for the rest of my time there. I realize that the two women in class who encouraged me to stay work at the school. The other girl at the desk asks me if I ate bad food like chips before class (I did not) and I imagine that if I were a vampire I could rip everyone’s heads off in a blur of movement. I smile and thank her for her advice about good foods and bad foods. I’m too focused on regaining the strength to walk home to worry about if there is any judgement in her unsolicited advice. I thank the teacher for her class and she finally looks up at me and gives me a tight smile.

I finally walk home and cheer myself up by helping tourists find their hotel and noticing plants. (When I’m down I find focusing my attention on living plants and little creatures makes me feel better– perhaps that’s a story for another post.)

I realized how ridiculous it was for me to make such a jump in activity level like that and how silly it was for me to worry about what the other people in the class might have thought about me.  We all know better than that- but it’s so hard sometimes. I tell myself that I have to work up to some things and try to keep my expectations closer to reality.

Now that the sting of defeat has worn off I feel like I’m better equipped to make these kinds of decisions. Next week I start fencing- what could go wrong?