Hot Yoga: Confessions of a Reluctant Convert

I had spent probably six years wanting to look down my nose at hot yoga, with all of its purported smelliness, its special gear, its special words (Namaste, indeed), and the trendiness of yoga pants that you could or couldn’t see through. How could it be real exercise when it’s just extrapolated stretching? How can anyone take it seriously in that gear? Then I took up cycling and the gear argument went out the door. After you shamelessly go to the Safeway in clippie shoes and chamois-padded bike shorts, any sense of dignity in costume is gone.

The kicker for me was about a six months ago when my dad told me he had taken up yoga and it did wonders for his back.

I have inherited many things from my father, good and bad. I am stubborn, I can be very black and white, I am very plain-spoken. I dislike mayonnaise, I can be extremely pragmatic, and my knees and back are increasingly problematic. I didn’t get the piano playing skills, but I got the good hair and straight teeth. When I got to my mid thirties we started comparing knee injuries, back injuries, and what color of therapy bands we were using.

So when my dad said yoga really helped him with his back, I listened. I didn’t march right down to the gym to go try a class, because that would take actual effort, but I did listen. And then I did attend a class at the gym and it was pretty much everything you think of when you think of “hot yoga”: a 15×15 room filled with various bodies in yoga-esque clothing, a calming instructor, seventeen or twenty painful poses, everyone dripping sweat, and I could tell who was a fan of garlic and/or cheese. It wasn’t awful but it wasn’t great.

I left yoga to its own devices; I didn’t look down my nose at it but I assured myself it was not for me.

My best friend and I were chatting a couple of months ago and, as I pointed out the new Hot Yoga place just down the hill from me, she pointed out she had been going and she found it better than meditation to calm her mind. As someone who also suffers from chronic insomnia, this sounded like a good idea. The new place had a deal: 6 classes for $10 in two weeks. For the price of three lattes I could scientifically test the benefits of yoga! That this coincided with the last week of my old job, and a week off, made for an excellent test bed. And so I signed up.

It’s been a month now. I haven’t had back pain in that time. I have had only two (2) nights of insomnia. I am inelegant in class, I am not the lean-and-limber yoga Barbie; then again there are many in my class who are not. I have seen progress in my flexibility and balance, but frankly, the fact that my back doesn’t routinely go out, and that I can run again without pain in my knees, is selling point enough.

Then there are the personalities: I try to go every Thursday night (for a variety of reasons) but it seems I’m of a minority with a regular schedule. In six weeks of attendance I have seen maybe one or two people in any two classes, the rest of the cast members change out regularly. There are a couple of yoga Barbies — and they know it — but hats off to them because not only do they look it, but they can do that one pose where you balance on the ball of one foot while in lotus with your hands up. Or the other one where you fold yourself in half, and bend over (I think it’s called “sleeping eagle” but for me it’s called “impossible”). Then there was Tatooed Yoga Jesus: a man who looked like the Oxford-Christian Jesus picture but in yoga pants, no shirt, and tattoos all over his arms, back, and chest. Again, the inclination is to mentally tease him, but Yoga Jesus knew his stuff too. Even the inflated, gym-rat-football-player-looking-dude could get some of the more difficult versions.  And then there’s plenty of people like me: not quite with-it, but improving; dripping sweat and forcing muscles to do things they aren’t used to, secure in the knowledge of a pain-free back and a good night’s sleep.

That is worth any amount of self-imposed awkwardness.

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