Four years ago, I tried Bikram yoga. A studio close to my house had a deal for thirty days of unlimited yoga.
I went twice.
I didn’t do yoga again for three years.
The class was too intense, too much, too fast. I couldn’t deny that I did feel good after the class, but that feeling wasn’t good enough. During the class, I was on the verge of panic at almost every moment. I would try to breathe, and would start to calm down, but another wave of heat would wash over me and I’d be back into crisis-control mode, angry at myself for not being able to do it Right. Not worth it, I told myself.
In time, I found my way back to yoga, and I have so far stayed away from anything calling itself “hot” yoga. Now, the paradox here is that I am a heat lover. This cool Toronto summer has been a big disappointment, and the 40 degree hot room at The Yoga Lounge has been a sweet temptation. It’s been whispering to me since I started working the front desk in July. I’m still a solid beginner, but I’m starting to feel more confident in my practice… So, today, I decided to face the challenge of hot yoga head on.
Michelle is a nice and gentle gal, with a twinkle and a sweet sense of humour. Her 6:00pm Hot Vinyasa on Monday nights is described as “A strong, fluidly sequenced class with the extra challenge of heat. Expect to build strength, flexibility, and core stability… and sweat!” I talked to her before the class started (always talk to your teacher when trying something new!), and she advised me to take it easy and to be gentle with myself.
Here’s a secret. Don’t tell anyone. But I sweat. A lot. I know, everyone sweats, but you need to understand that I sweat a LOT. I’m a really skinny guy with a high metabolism and a high internal body temperature. Even in regular temperature classes, I perspire heavily. Heck, sometimes I’m dripping just sitting down.
As we float back into maybe our second downward dog, my very own salty river poured into my eye. And in case you didn’t know, that stiiiiings. Boom, there goes my focus, there goes my breath.
But this time, it was a little different. It was okay that my attention shot up to my eye. I found my breath again, I slowly wiped the sweat away, full inhale, deep and complete exhale. There. I was back.
Later, my internal heat rose. I could feel my heart racing, my breaths getting shorter. I started to shake… but I paused. I let myself feel the fear in my chest, and then full inhale, deep and complete exhale. Again. I’m okay. There, it’s passed.
As the class went on, I tried to treat the shifts between being okay with the heat and feeling overwhelmed like a game. When I started to feel anxious, I’d try to smile instead, and would take an extra moment, wherever I was, to have a full inhale, then a deep and complete exhale. Maybe two if I needed it. And so I made it to the sweetest Savasana you could imagine.
Biking home, I thought about the difference between my two experiences with hot yoga. Four years ago, I would be frustrated with how overwhelmed I felt by the experience. My frustration fueled the anxiety from the heat, and kept me battling the entire class. Today’s class showed me that I have begun to learn how to, in Michelle’s words, be gentle with myself. I tried not to fight with myself. Instead, I went back to the one thing I know I can always do, no matter how hot it gets: breathe. And smile. That was all I needed. That was just enough.
My route home takes me along Davenport, right below Casa Loma. There’s this great stretch by Spadina Road, where these huge trees bend down over the road. Tonight’s sky was fading from the palest blue to the simplest gold. I was still sweating from the class, but that slice of beauty reached out to that place of peace deep in my heart. My body felt good. My mind was calm. Hot yoga was hard, there’s no denying that. But I learned something very good from it, and I don’t doubt that I and the sweat in my eyes will be back in that studio before too long.