My relationship with yoga is spotty and fruitless. I attempted a prenatal class when pregnant with my eldest. After four months of inertia due to nausea, I needed to move my expanding body. Yoga sounded gentle and therapeutic. It started out fine until the third class when the instructor told us to breathe through our vaginas–and yell aloud while doing so. You’ve not properly tested your boundaries until you face a bunch of top-heavy women, seated in a circle, legs spread, barking through their girlie parts like a herd of beached sea lions.
I abandoned yoga only to return four years later after my second child. I signed up for a class with a celebrated guru. There was barely room to squeeze out a space in the packed local church. Women crammed head to toe, row upon row, at $15 a head for 50 minutes. The guru, an ex-hippie-dippie riding the wave of tie-dye, hemp and love beads, shall remain nameless. Suffice it to say most people in the class were closer to apostles than students. He seated himself cross-legged at the front of the room, his melodious voice conducting us through a series of movements. For those who were not leftover groupies from the ’70s, it was near impossible to keep up. My form was lousy, and he offered zero instruction, but I decided to stick it out. By the 4th class, I realized hippie dude liked to hear himself talk. A lot. It was more like orate. He also had us exercise inane body parts, like our eyeballs. He filled the air between movements with lengthy speeches about his lifestyle and body. I knew it was time to decamp when he spent an hour detailing the nine bowel movements he produced daily, and suggested we strive for the same.
Which brings me to now: six years later and a wary first attempt at hot yoga. Everyone says you have to find the right kind of yoga. So here I am. The idea is that stretching and focusing on movement in extreme heat will quiet my mind.
It doesn’t start out so calm. It’s downright harried as I forget my towel, then my water bottle. Is licking sweat off your arm permissible when close to death from dehydration? I debate taking my cell phone into class. One of my three kids may desperately need me at any given moment. I ask a woman in the locker room whether cells phones, on silent (I’m not a total idiot), are permitted. She looks at me as if I suggested she give me her first born, before stating: “They will be mad.” They? The participants? There’s not one person in hot yoga that needs to be reachable? Ooookay. I totally check out of my family for 75 minutes. That, in itself, is a meditation. Feeling alone and irresponsible, I head to class.
The blast of hot air feels more shocking due to the half-naked, immobilized students strewn about on multicolored yoga mats. People don’t wear many clothes in hot yoga. The hairy chests are a little off putting, and those biker shorts…. Nobody has cellulite. Maybe it’s the lighting?
I tiptoe between the bodies, super-duper quiet, because everyone seems to be meditating—or sunbathing. I can’t decide. Maybe they are meditating about sunbathing because there’s no real sun, but there is an exorbitant amount of heat. At least I arrive early so my body temp can adjust, I think as I set up my mat. Three times.
I lay down, trying to breathe. My mind races, struggling to subdue itself. I keep telling it, stop! Slow down! And it keeps telling me all kinds of weird shit:
Look at the ceiling– that spray foam kind of looks like sand. The whole room is an upside-down beach. That’s why everyone is lying around with so few clothes. Except, if that’s sand on the ceiling, everyone is lying where the sky would be. Hmm. This is like falling into a yoga rabbit hole. Ugh, it’s oppressively hot in here. Isn’t anyone else hot? Stop looking around. Focus. Okay, I’ll stare at the ceiling again. Hey, what’s that weird mirage next to the fan fixture? I think it’s a force field. It’s just like the one in the Hunger Games that Katniss shoots with an arrow. That means none of this is real. I could shoot an arrow at that fan, and it may turn on. There would be a breeze! Air! How can these people be so quiet? Maybe they are all quiet because they aren’t breathing. Am I breathing? OMG…
“Good morning everyone. I will be your guide today.”
Oh, thank fucking goodness. My mind stops talking to me.
The exercises are challenging, forcing me to focus on my body. The 75 minutes whiz by. Halfway through class I stand in a puddle, my mat the consistency of wet sponge cake. I have always been a sweaty person. In dance class as a teen, I dripped all over the floor during warm-up. Not the greatest trait. My brothers sweat. My dad is sweaty king. But this is perspiration on steroids. I can’t even link my fingers for some of the movements because they keep slipping apart. When I downward dog my palms slide, bunching my towel on the mat. I think I may pass out.
By the end of the class my body is supple and exhausted. I actually lie on the mat for the extra 10 minutes and don’t develop a multiple personality disorder. I focus on breathing. To be frank, I’ve never been a fan of the whole yoga mind-body-spirit thing. It’s always struck me as a little flaky. I’m a Pilates girl (yay Pilates North!) and love the straightforward athleticism that’s made me strong and saved my back. That said, it’s time to stretch myself, literally and figuratively. And, though I cringe a bit when the teacher tells us “the light in me honours the light in you,” I whisper Namaste–and not through my vajayjay– knowing I’ll return.