People spend a lot of money on luxuries. Mani/pedis, facials, cut-and-colors, and even prohibition-style fancy cocktails to name a few. Then there are the not-so-luxurious luxuries, like having someone else clean your toilet, getting your car detailed, and having the privilege to sweat profusely at a hot yoga studio. It’s this last one that is somewhat of a “luxury anomaly.” Hot yoga does not come cheap; it’s pretty costly to be able to stretch and drip alongside fellow yogis – and in a society where deodorant sales top $18 billion, one wonders why a practice that encourages such profuse perspiration prevails. Hot yoga beginners: join me as I explore why this is such a hot market (pun intended).
My first experience with hot yoga – Bikram, to be precise; and trust me, it matters – was in Berkeley, CA where I attended college. If you don’t do yoga there you may as well carry nuclear weapons and advocate for cruelty against animals. I attended a very serious Bikram studio where you were not allowed to leave the room, regardless of how faint you felt, so as not to disturb the other patrons’ practices. Just so we’re clear, this is a 90 minute hot yoga class (that’s a euphemism for an hour and a half, aka three episodes of Friends) at 105 degrees and 40% humidity. And you can’t leave. Perhaps even more overwhelming than these stats is the palpability of the air when you enter the studio. I mean you could literally chew on it. It settles on you like one of those hot wet washcloths they put on your hands and feet during a mani/pedi. And it doesn’t go away for 90 minutes.
You can imagine my initial reaction when all of this comes to my attention. Mostly, I experience fear and doubt. My thoughts run the gamut of “yeah so what – the temperature in here is only half the boiling point of water! I got this!” and “oh my god why did I do this? I feel like I am sitting on the sun and the class has not yet begun. Also why is the girl next to me so skinny and tan?” Furthermore, I have never been a flexible person by any means. I have come to terms with the fact that touching my toes is an enormous accomplishment for me and I can sort of maybe do that butterfly pose they teach us in kindergarten.
I should also mention as a fair warning for yoga beginners that there will be at least one man in the class wearing so very little that you feel you should confess to your significant other about what you saw. And you will most likely see his testicles during dancer’s pose. But I digress.
So, with all these fears (and speedo-ed men) in front of me, class begins. Like so many scary things in life, I quickly find that taking slow, deep breaths is an enormous help. I take it one step – and pose – at a time, and I pay attention to what my body is telling me. I start sweating. A lot. More than I’ve ever sweat in my life. Oh my god my Nalgene is almost empty. Wait I look kind of awesome all sweaty and strong in the mirror. Oh my god I just saw that guy’s testicles. My hands are slipping on my mat during downward dog because it’s so wet. And then, just when I least expect it, I reach down and I TOUCH MY TOES. I can never touch my toes! This feels amazing! I can feel my muscles, warm and relaxed, stretching to new and fantastic limits. I love it.
There were a few times during that first hot yoga class that I had to stop and relax into child’s pose because I could feel that I was pushing it a little too hard for a first timer. And that was ok. When I decided to be gentle with myself and face my fears – fears of the stifling heat, fears of being that girl that had to run out of class even though I wasn’t allowed to , fears of failing and looking stupid – I got through it.
I went back again and again. Similar to a runner’s high, I started getting a sweater’s high. You leave the yoga class with this incredible feeling of detoxification, flexibility, and accomplishment. The heat of the class allows you to get into poses you otherwise struggle with and, moreover, it challenges you on another level. Because the temperature can be overwhelming, you have to turn off all the little nagging voices in your head about picking up the dry cleaning and thawing the chicken for dinner and what your butt looks like in these yoga pants, and focus entirely on the present moment and experience. And then every once in a while your focus is broken by the image of yourself in the mirror – sweaty beyond words but looking amazing and strong and grounded in tree pose. It’s a not-so-luxurious luxury to take hot yoga classes – and worth every sweaty penny.