Over the weekend I took a hot yoga class at Open Door Yoga Studio in Raleigh, North Carolina. The studio, which is donation based, focuses on Hot Hatha Yoga. I love the idea of an establishment that lets people pay what they can for the service provided. Plus, I’ve always wanted to take a hot yoga class, so I was excited to give it a try. When my sister-in-law, Kellee, told me that during the class she sometimes feels as though she might faint or throw up, I was only more motivated to try it. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps it’s the same motivation that makes people want to try “the scariest roller coaster ever.” At any rate, we went over to the studio together to take the “Hot 90” class.
The room we practiced in, which was the size of a shoebox you might put a pair of boots in, felt like it was about 85 degrees. Before we even started, I was gulping down water. I asked Kellee if music played during the class, and she told me no, only the instructor would be talking.
“Not even Enya?” I asked, rotating my ankles as I stretched my legs out on my mat.
The instructor walked in, and it wasn’t much longer before I was experiencing what Kellee was describing earlier. The room gets really hot. I don’t think I’ve ever sweated so much in my life. I’ve done yoga before, and was familar with the poses, but they were about 10 times as hard because I was dripping with sweat and trying not to throw up.
At one point Kellee asked me if I was doing OK.
“Yea.” I said. “I feel like I might throw up.”
“Me too. You want to keep going?”
“OK.” I said.
Here’s the thing about this class: I never get used to the heat, but I learned to thrive in it. It’s almost as if the amount of sweat that is leaving my body is leaving behind a new strength and energy. I begin to feel like a rubber band, and the heat, while still overwhelming, is also empowering.
I loved our instructor (I’m sorry I can’t remember her name). She was funny, and attentive, and knowledgeable. She said things like, “If you’re going to make a mistake, make it big. Really fall out of your pose.” I liked that. There was no room for mistakes because it didn’t matter if you made them. All that mattered was that you tried.
I think the hardest part of the class for me was practicing the camel pose. If I remember correctly, we were supposed to rest our fists on the lower part of our backs while looking backwards and sitting on our feet. This was difficult for me, and I immediately fell out of the pose and took a drink of water. I’m pretty sure the instructor was talking to me directly when she suggested to the class that when a pose gets hard, we should try counting to 5. “If you count to 5 and then fall out of it, then you know you can hold that pose for 5 counts. But give it a chance. Don’t freak out.” So I tried the pose again, and counted to 5 as sweat dripped into my eyelids and down my neck.
Of course, the hardest part of the class is where I learned the biggest lesson as well. What was hard about this pose for me was that my body didn’t like the tension it was experiencing. So my instinct was to get out of it. But the instructor said to try and hang out with that tension for a bit and see what happens. She tolds us that the thing about these poses is you reach a point where you can do them, and then you start all over. You try something more difficult next time.
Just like life. The tension will always be there. It’s what we do in that position that counts.
I wrote earlier that when Kellee described how hard this class would be, it only made me more excited to give it a try, and that thought stuck with me throughout the class. It seems as though there is a lot of talk about making life easier with quick fixes or easy steps to accomplish tasks. The truth is that every day when we wake up, there will be stress. But what if instead of trying to outsmart that stress, we sat with it and counted to five? What if we held that pose for a little longer just to see what would happen? We might surprise ourselves at how strong we are, or what we can do with that stress.