Why I Did Hot Yoga and Why I’ll (Probably) Do It Again

HotYogaPicBorn and raised in the suburbs, my parents tried to expose my brothers and me to new things.  They took us to places including the Netherlands, Mexico, and Canada.  Granted, it was ArubaCancun, and I’m from Buffalo, so Canada was about 30 minutes away.  But nonetheless, I considered myself quite “worldly”.

Then I went away to college, where I realized that I was very, very sheltered.

But still, I’ve always felt like I’m a person who is up for new and adventurous experiences.  I love to travel, meet new people, and do new things (unless those things involve trying new foods, which I’m generally bad at).

So moving from the suburbs of Buffalo to East Harlem in New York City didn’t scare me too much.  It’s not what I’m used to, sure, but it’s a new experience, and so far it’s been great.  My roommate Selena is a Pilates instructor from Montana, and a wonderful person.  She’s been essential to helping me adjust to city life.  So when she invited me to take a hot yoga class with her, I of course said… wait what kind of yoga?

Now I like to exercise, but yoga has never been my style of fitness.  In high school I ran cross country, played basketball, and even did rugby for a year.  I’ve always been more into high speed/high intensity exercise– not saying that yoga isn’t intense– so Yoga’s pace just wasn’t for me.

Nevertheless, I was up for something new.  Selena persuaded me I would feel like a goddess when it was over, which appeased me.  So I went online and signed up for the 6:20 class.  The 6:20 AM class.  As in, the “it’s-still-nighttime-according-to-the-sun” class.

I borrowed a fitted tank top from Selena and wore a pair of spandex that I would never be seen wearing anywhere but a hot yoga class.  I mean, who is really going to be in a 6:20AM hot yoga class on a Friday morning anyways, right?

Still de-crusting the morning gunk off my eyes, I signed in. The man at the counter asked if it was my first time.  I said yes.  He asked me how often I practiced yoga and I said, pretending to count all the times up in my head, “Ummm… not very often”, meaning I’ve probably taken four classes in the past 4 years.  Probably.

He assured me I was going to be “great”, and told me the room wasn’t that hot today, only 103º.  I gulped and signed a waiver stating that if I died or seriously injured myself, they were not held liable.  Fine.

There were already five people in the hot studio, “warming up” on their yoga mats (I repeat, warming up).  One man was shirtless and had extremely defined muscles (his calves were probably bigger than my thighs), rolling on his back, knees to his chest.   There was a small Asian woman in a sports bra stretching her hamstrings, folding herself in two like a piece of paper.  Another man was laying flat on his back breathing deeply; his exhales sounded like a can of fizzy soda opening.   One girl about my age was spilling water on her mat, and I watched as it quickly dried up.  Everyone seemed to know what they were doing, and they were serious about it.  I realized I didn’t even have a yoga mat.  I felt like the kid in gym class who forgets her sneakers.

I borrowed a mat, trying not to think about how many people had sweated all over it before me.  It smelled like vodka, which I guess meant it had been cleaned.  But thinking about vodka at 6am without any food in my stomach made me a little nauseous.  I guess I’ve had too many bad experiences with vodka (at 6:20am) for it to evoke positive feelings.

I didn’t know how to “warm up” for yoga, so I decided to take the laying-on-back approach since it seemed the closest I would get to sleeping at the moment.  I lied there for what seemed like one second before an iPod started playing Dave Matthews Band, and the man at the counter became the man at the front of the room.

We very quickly moved into downward-facing dog, a classic yoga position. He corrected my, and only my, down dog.  But that’s OK.  I could do this.

For the next 60 minutes, the instructor called out poses, and everyone in the room (except me) seemed to flow into them with ease. There was warrior 1, warrior 2, warrior 3.  Then there was chair, which I remembered, camel which I didn’t, pigeon which I didn’t, fish which I didn’t, gorilla which I didn’t… you get the idea.  Sweat dripping from my forehead, stinging my eyes and tickling my nose, I kept frantically looking around the room as the man called out poses with either animal names or words I still can’t pronounce (or spell).

But finally, we all ended up in “corpse pose”, which sounds frightening but is actually really relaxing.  It involves laying flat on your back, arms and legs out, and just…breathing.  Eyes closed, I took deep breaths in and out and let the chaos of the past 60 minutes spill out of me.  I was quickly in a calm rhythm of breath and total nirvana, thinking about nothing.  The instructor came around and pulled at my legs,startling me out of my hypnotic trance.  I assumed he was trying to get me to move farther down my mat, so I scooted back the way he was pulling me. He stopped me, however, and told me to just “feel the stretch.”

And as I breathed in and out of my nose, letting this stranger pull my legs, rub my sweaty temples, and press down on my sweaty shoulders… I knew Selena had been right all along.  At that moment I certainly did feel like a sweaty, tired, but glowing goddess.

(To read more about Emily, click here.)

If you enjoyed this story, you’ll probably enjoy this man’s story about his first yoga class, even more.