The other night as I was getting into my car after a hot yoga class sweaty, hot, and tired I thought, “I love hot yoga.” And stopped midway into my car. Part of me couldn’t believe I had just thought that. I mean the room is anywhere from 95-100 degrees and humid. This kind of yoga is not what I would term nurturing. In fact, as a student you’re constantly being asked to push yourself, to go further than you did before. You’re not even supposed to take a water break until after the warm-up and by then, sweat has been streaming down your face for at least ten minutes. So why on earth would I love this kind of yoga?
Well, actually, there are a surprising number of reasons why I do love hot yoga and why you might as well. First though, let me clarify what kind of hot yoga I’ll be talking about here. There are a lot of hot yoga classes out there now that do all kinds of wonderful things. What I’m referring to specifically is Bikram yoga, and Bikram inspired classes. I also want to clarify that I am not speaking here about the specific health benefits to which Bikram ascribes. You can find those here [add links]. Rather this is my own account of how I have found Bikram yoga to be a useful part of healthy living.
So the reasons I love hot yoga, in no particular order:
There are only 26 poses in a 90-minute Bikram class. Yep. That’s it. And they’re the same ones in every, single class. If you go to a Bikram class every day, you’ll only ever do those 26 poses (plus two breathing exercises). Sound boring? It’s not. Every time I go to class, I find something new to work own. The structure of repetition allows me the freedom to work on whatever it is I need that day. Didn’t quite get a pose? That’s OK. I’ll do it again in the next class. The repetitious nature of the class allows me to check in and see where my body is that day. Shoulders more tense? Hips more open? And, I can see the progress from day to day, where I’ve improved and where I need to go.
Yes. I actually like that there are mirrors. It took me awhile to come to terms with just how much I like the mirrors in Bikram. As a somatic movement educator and a modern dancer, I am generally skeptical of mirrors. I like to use them as a check-in point, but never for an entire class or session. This is my general rule, because I want my students to feel what is happening in their bodies and not be focused on what it looks like. And in a Bikram class, you look at yourself the whole class. Sounds intidmidating right? To be honest, for the first couple of classes it was. I was constantly judging myself, feeling self-conscious, and watching everyone else in the class. At about the fourth class though, something changed. I forced myself to stop looking around, stop judging myself, and to just see myself in the mirror and accept what I saw. It changed everything. Suddenly, I wasn’t focused on what other people could do or on what I couldn’t do, I just worked on the poses and used the mirror as a tool. I was more accepting of myself. And not just in yoga class, in life too.
The self-acceptance through the use of the mirror bleeds into the next reason why I love hot yoga. In between poses, the instructor will ask you to meet your own eyes in the mirror. For me, that meeting of my own eyes in the mirror began to be accompanied by a mantra, “I am here. I can do this.” Because, let’s be honest. As much as I love hot yoga, it is hard and it is work. It takes a lot of willpower to make it through a class and even more to push yourself. It’s hot. I’m tired. It’s hard to catch my breath. And so, every time I meet my own eyes in the mirror and repeat my mantra three times: I am here. I can do this. I am here. I can do this. I am here. I can do this. I feel grounded in myself and my own self-confidence seeps in through my hot, sweaty pores and I feel renewed, ready for the next pose. I now do the same thing in life. Anytime I feel overwhelmed, I find a mirror and repeat my mantra and my self-confidence seeps in and I feel ready for whatever is next.
One of the hardest lessons to learn in hot yoga was to be truly still in between the poses. It is so hard. There’s sweat dripping down my face. My hair is sticking to my chin. My shorts are riding up. I want to stretch my back. I hear the instructor telling us to come to stillness quickly to have more time to rest. And it makes sense. But there’s just so much to do. Finally, I made it my mission to take one class and really find stillness. Don’t wipe the sweat, don’t fix the hair, don’t pull the shorts down. Just come to stillness. It made a huge difference. By coming to stillness quickly, I felt less panicky in class. I felt more ready for the next pose. I felt grounded. Finding that stillness truly helped in finding my center again to move to the next thing. I started doing this in life too—finding moments of stillness, true stillness, to center myself. And, you know, it helps. Even though there are some days where there is so much to do, finding stillness is still a priority.
Those are just four of the reasons I love hot yoga. What do you love about hot yoga?