One of my very first blogs described the beginning of my exploration into Hot Yoga titled, Should I Namaste or Nama-GO? If you missed it, you may want to read it quickly in order to get a better understanding of where my head space was then compared to now, one year later. Click here to catch up!
But if you just want the cliff notes:
I started practicing yoga out of desperation. That’s the truth. I was desperate to make a change in my life. I needed the repetitive noise I was hearing to go away or at the very least, I needed it to sound differently. Turning forty (or the dreaded anticipation of turning forty) was the catalyst that had spun me out of control. I was tortured with constant self-analyzation of what my life should be versus the would be versus the could be. On a daily basis I’d silently second guess my answers to questions like: What defines me? What is my purpose? What is this path (or the lack thereof) that I am on? Aside from being a wife and a slave, (aka a Mom) what else am I?
It was a struggle to differentiate setting realistic goals for myself from unrealistic expectations. In the past, I had always been able to work through uncertainty in a logical way, but this time I could see myself spiraling into an irrational state of mind. I knew for the sake of my sanity, I had to snap out of it.
A special friend swore if I tried yoga it would help to de-clutter my brain. Yoga was the last thing I wanted to do, but I trusted her and she inspired me to give it a chance. Though it was a long shot, I had nothing to lose so I tried. It didn’t take very long before I was drunk on the yoga Kool-Aid. However, what clinched it for me was hearing one of my teachers relay a message that was so powerful and so accurate it brought tears to my eyes and chills up my spine in the middle of a Raja class. In that moment I knew there was hope. I knew if I stuck with it over time the yoga could, should and would help me to make sense of the mental static. It was almost as if he was telling my story in just a few short sentences.
His words are engrained in my brain.
“I would suspect that some of you, most of you, found yoga because you were in a dark place and a person, who you now refer to as your Angel, encouraged you to try the yoga. You hesitated at first but then you gave it chance. Once you began the journey internally and it clicked, you felt compelled to pay it forward by sharing the experience with others; And thus in doing so, you then become someone else’s Angel as their mind is now open to the miracle that is yoga. We become connected so deeply to those with which we practice yoga…….” -P.C.
Setting Your Intention
My intentions have changed a lot over the past year. I haven’t had to rely on my lust for Doritos or kale salad or a stiff alcoholic beverage in ages! Now, I use single words like strength or gratitude or patience or courage when I set an intention. Sometimes I dedicate my practice to a loved one or a friend whom I suspect might benefit from a little extra energy. Sending out positive thoughts into the universe in hopes of making others feel better always makes me feel good in return.
“Let your mind rest. Listen to your breath. As we begin, soften your face and your jaw and just melt into a child’s pose. Reach forward with your fingertips getting more active in your arms. Press down to your palms. Keeping your elbows a few inches off the mat, maybe take a walk over to the right side and open your side body. Hold the stillness. Come back to center and breathe. Now if it feels good, take a walk over to the left side of your mat pressing down to your palms. Holding the stillness. Slowly come back to center and start to connect movement to breath as you gather your awareness. Notice what’s happening in the body. See how your belly expands on the inhale. Recognize how it softens on the exhale. Close your eyes. Breathe. Take a moment here to set your intention.” -C.P.
Hot Yoga Survival Tips
After a solid year of yoga, I still haven’t gotten used to the Africa hot temperatures of the room. However, the anxiety over feeling like I might go into cardiac arrest in the middle of a Trianga Flow has substantially subsided!
To avoid passing out, I try to strategically position myself in the far back corner near the exit so that if the humidity starts to make me hallucinate I can take advantage of the cold backdraft from the opening door when someone shows up late or has to leave early before the end of class.
I learned the hard way what it’s like to take a ninety minute Vinyasa Flow without properly stocking up on the necessary supplies. First and foremost is hydration! One plain bottle of water just doesn’t cut it. I need variety in order to survive! To hedge against the unexpected wave of nausea or low blood sugar, it’s also smart to have an Emergen-C pack readily available. I’ve convinced myself that the more stuff I stack at the top of my mat, the easier it will be to get through a class.
Speaking of mat, if the room should ever get so unbearably hot that I’ve temporarily lost my mind and have forgotten who I am, I’ve had my name embroidered on top as a convenient reminder! Wanna personalize your own mat too? Lemme know. I’ll hook it up!
Even when the sacred space isn’t Sahara Desert scorching, it’s still hot enough to get soaked. That said, tools for proper hygiene are mandatory! I always have a bunch of small towels handy and at least one extra headband on reserve so that when I flip my dog I don’t have to worry about my ears getting waterlogged from the buckets of dripping sweat.
Just in case I’m having trouble focusing and can’t seem to find my Zen, a quick spritz of some shit I bought on sale in the yoga aisle at Whole Foods lifts me right up! Feel like you’ve been neglecting your Solar Plexus lately? I’ve got the perfect solution to restore and empower! Feel slightly off kilter and need some help with balance? A dab or two of Grounding Root does the trick! Your Chakrahs will be centered before you can say, “Does this crap really work?”
I recently bought a new yoga strap that I use for stretching when we hit the floor. It also doubles as a snazzy way to keep my mat securely rolled up but only after I’ve sanitized it and wiped away any remaining yoga stank with my Calm Lavender Yoga Mat Freshener.
Have I gotten a bit carried away with the paraphernalia?
The Yogi Has Choices: Hand To Shin, Foot, Floor or Block
One of the great things about yoga is that I’m never forced to do anything I don’t want to do. I can modify or amplify a pose depending on how I feel. As a student, I am frequently reminded that within the four corners of my mat lies a safe place with no judgement.
“….. Stay or play. Take a half bind. Or maybe take a full bind. Or maybe just exalt today if that feels right to you. If you have an arm balance or you’re ready to fly… then fly yogis fly! Maybe you play with your twisted scissors or your crow pose. Maybe you want to try a headstand from your crow. Maybe, you just want to stay in a wide yogi squat. Whatever expression you practiced on one side, try on the other. Recognize if it feels differently from one side to the other. Yogis who are playing, take your time. When you’re done windmill your hands back down to the earth and meet us in a downward facing dog. Four on the floor. Breathe. Remember, modify if you need to. Honor yourself. The yogi always has choices. You do you.” – D.H.
Where The Eyes Go… The Body Follows
If I’m being honest, there are times in a yoga class when I hate where my eyes go. There are times when I’m so shocked by what my eyes see that I wish I could permanently erase the images from my brain. Sometimes it’s like a bad car accident. You don’t want to look but you just can’t help yourself.
Here’s an example: Picture a crowded class. Now imagine that it’s eight thousand degrees Fahrenheit. There are puddles of water everywhere from the amount of sweat in the room. The air is heavy and the place stinks. Standing at the front of the mat, imagine the teacher asking for a quarter turn to the right facing the side wall followed by a large step with your right foot to the back of the mat so that your legs are separated with your arms spread open like wings. After a brief pause, you are instructed to fold forward and hold a Prasarita Padottanasana. (Or in other words, a Wide-Legged Forward Bend.)
Suddenly, the crown of your head is dangerously close to your neighbor’s ass. One wrong move and the next thing you know you are gazing directly into her crotch. If that’s not enough to make you gag, she happens to be wearing a pair of those barely there shorts that are so itsy, bitsy, teeny, weeny, pretty-much-half-the-size-of-a-Barbie-doll’s-bikini that she might as well be stark naked!
This sight automatically launches you into total panic mode because there’s an extremely high probability that on the next big exhale her vagina could fall out and land directly onto your mat!
Alas, have no fear… Thank goodness my Calm Lavender Yoga Mat Freshener is here!
There’s Hot Yoga… And Then There’s HOLY HAUTE Yoga!
You don’t have to be religious to know that Sundays are typically rest days. At least that’s what I thought until I started practicing yoga. Sundays are now Fun Days and there ain’t nothing restful about it! “Sunday Fun Day” as it is affectionately called in my town, is not for everyone! Of course there are people OHM-ing and Namaste-ing in class, but most of the yogis I know who show up on a Sunday are gangster warriors of love who are ready to get their asanas kicked with a hardcore Power Hour!
Loud, base-booming music. Deejay-mixed beats. Consecutive, fast-paced Vinyasa Flows. Choreographed poses that when cued by the teacher correspond to the song lyrics blasting from the current playlist. Coincidence? NO WAY! That takes special talent, creativity and lots of time consuming preparation.
Our fierce, loyal leader claims to be our mentor, though he’s more like our tormentor as we beg and plead for permission to melt into the pose of child after a well deserved water break!
“… And so it is.
The advanced yogi smiles. With straight legs fire walk your feet to the front of the mat. Forward fold. Hang heavy. Grab opposite elbows. Sway side to side. Round the body. Inhale and draw it up one vertebra at a time. Hips square. Throat visible.
Biceps glued to your ears. Interlace fingers. Shoulders back. Standing firmly in your foundation. We salute the Gods and Goddesses.” – C.S.
“Find plank. Low Chaturanga and hold. Push through. Tuck your toes. Up dog. Hold. Tuck your toes. Plank. Don’t anticipate what’s coming, yogis! Low Chaturanga. Plank. Push through. Tuck your toes. Honoring your breath through the nose. Push back to downward facing dog. Holding it here.
Take Three. Quality. Breaths.
WALK, STEP OR FLOAT TO THE BACK OF YOUR MAT. GET THERE HOW YOU GET THERE. WE’RE GONNA PUSH THROUGH AN UNINTERRUPTED VINYASA FLOW.
HERE WE GO
CHATURANGA DANDASANA. PUSH UP! CHATURANGA DANDASANA. PUSH THROUGH. YOU CAN ALWAYS DOUBLE DIP IF YOU WANT TO. IF NOT, TUCK YOUR TOES, LIFT YOUR HIPS. FIND YOUR DOWN DOG!” – C.S.
I’ll Betcha 100 Bucks That Sigmund Freud Practiced Yoga
Some days my body wants that insane asana beating, but there are also days that my mind requires some spiritual healing. Yoga allows an opportunity for a work in as much as it allows for a workout! In the past I would run away from painful emotions that I did not want to deal with by pushing them down or blocking them out. Now, practicing yoga forces me to address these feelings from the inside out.
Trust me when I say you can run but you can’t hide if you’re in a class led by a true spiritual healer that has passion and is enlightened with the gift of helping his or her students release the demons from within.
“We start by coming cross legged toward the back of the mat, palms face up and open. Sits bones are grounded. We simply breathe. Feel the sits bones grounding into the earth. Feel the palms face up. Feel the heart as it shines forward. As you start to breathe and the sits bones root, breathe in to the base of your spine.
I am rooted. I am abundant. I am trusting and strong. I surrender limitations and illusions and the poverty of myself. I embrace my abundance in every way and it shines forward as a beautiful red ray of light from the base of my spine.
Breathe in vitality.
I see your actions and your emotions, but I CHOOSE my reactions. I CHOOSE my emotions. I CHOOSE my vitality. I am vitality. I am the life force within and I shine forward as a beautiful light.
I surrender unhealthy boundaries, limits and a distorted self image. Instead, I embrace my beauty and my brilliance. My brilliance shines faith forward as strength and willpower. I burn away afflictions and surrender fear so that I can embrace my faith.
I burn away shame and embrace my confidence.
I burn away limits and embrace limitlessness.
I embrace my truth.
With my hands at heart center, I am all things balanced. I am the gateway to consciousness. Everything I say becomes my reality and I shine my light of compassion forward.
Even when I rage I come back to the love because I am compassion.
Limitlessness and self expression of love is who I am.
Send out that love to anyone who may need to surrender trauma. Send it out to them so that they may leave it behind and help them to embrace the wisdom of the experience.” -A.M.
INHALE LOVE. EXHALE HATE.
INHALE STRENGTH. EXHALE FEAR.
INHALE COMPASSION. EXHALE EGO.
INHALE FORGIVENESS. EXHALE RAGE.
INHALE GRATITUDE. EXHALE GREED.
Basically, the first time I took a class like this I thought I had walked into a meeting for a Twelve-Step Program. I was not prepared for this kind of intensity. Even though I was supposed to keep my eyes closed during the meditation, I kept peeking in an attempt to catch the attention of the yogi on my left. I knew I shouldn’t talk, so I silently signaled a puzzled look that I hoped would be simple enough to decode.
“Um… What is happening here? Do we really have to surrender ALL of our trauma right now? In front of everyone? When do we get to the actual yoga part? I’m not even sweating. This is some serious deep shit. It feels like I’m in a major heavy duty sesh with a therapist. Hmm… maybe I should find out if my health insurance covers yoga.”
Suffice it to say, no one has been more surprised than me to learn that this type of yoga is what I’ve connected with most. I can’t even imagine what Dr. Freud would say about that!
Lions & Lizards & Pigeons OH MY!
Dancing Lions. Lizard Lunges. Hissing and Arching Cats. Bellowing Cows. Three and Four-Legged Dogs. Crows. Cobras. Flamingos. Grasshoppers. Eagles and Birds of Paradise. OMG! There are so many animal-named poses that I often wonder if I signed up for a yoga class or a morning excursion on Noah’s Ark!
I think pigeons are dirty, sneaky little creatures. However, according to Animal Aid, “the most widespread misconception about urban pigeons is that they are carriers of disease. The truth is that the vast majority of people are at little or no health risk and probably have a greater chance of being struck by lightening than contracting disease from a pigeon!”
In yoga, the Pigeon Pose is a hip opener. It’s been said we hold on to childhood trauma in our hips and it is within our hips where we store those emotions. I suspect if done correctly, one of the benefits of the pose is to help flush out those feelings so we can let go and release what no longer serves us. I find it ironic that I have such a love-hate relationship with this position.
At first, like the real Columbidae species, the pigeon doesn’t seem like it would be confrontational. Yet, once I’ve moved into the final expression I am in excruciating pain. Holding the posture for more than a split second seems impossible but I try to breathe through it (aka moan and groan and huff and puff) as best I can. When I physically can not stand the pain any longer, I try to pull myself up. I see the teacher’s feet walking toward me from the corner of my eye and I’m relieved because I know she senses my agony and she’s come to save me.
I think to myself, “Finally, help has arrived. I’m dyyyying. I fucking hate pigeon!”
Apparently, my yoga teacher is confused. I think she has mistaken me for a terrorist and our classroom for Guantanamo and is using the Pigeon Pose as a means of physical and mental torture! Rather than rescue me, she proceeds to push down on my back holding me hostage. There’s no chance in Hell she’s allowing me to come undone.
“Ow, ow, ouch, ow, OW. OWWWWWW!
Stop! Mercy. Pleeeeease! I give up!
You’re killllllling me!”
It’s only after she unshackles me from the pigeon prison that I realize how much I really needed the stretch! The gurus teach us the poses that hurt the greatest and are more difficult to perform are the ones our bodies benefit from the most. There is such a fine line between pleasure and pain that the masochist in me doesn’t want the teacher to stray too far away when we switch legs. In order to stay balanced on both sides, I actually need her to torture me all over again!
Hot Yoga: It Does A Body MMM MMM Good
A regular yoga practice can offer all kinds of health benefits. Improved flexibility, muscle tone, strength, balance and better breathing are just some of the physical perks. Some postures are meant to help boost immunity and increase metabolism. To encourage total health optimization, it is suggested that some poses are safe enough to practice everyday. Why sprinkle flax seeds on a salad when you can simply massage your internal organs via the Wind Removing Pose? That’ll surely keep things flowing regularly!
The mental benefits of yoga are endless. Specifically, the emphasis that yoga places on being mindful of the here and now can greatly help to relieve stress. Yoga also helps to increase the awareness of your personal body. Better posture, alignment and movement can lead to a better sense of self confidence over time.
And then of course, there is that other benefit… A regular practice most definitely does a body good. Really good! I don’t know if I can speak for everyone, but a killer yoga class followed by a hot shower followed by a quiet house does wonders for my libido. If you’ve been practicing for a while and you haven’t noticed an increase in your sex drive, maybe you should consider signing up for a private lesson. I mean, wouldn’t it suck if you were missing out because you were doing it all wrong? Just saying.
Yoga Stank… Smell Ya Later, Alligator
I’ll keep this short and (not so) sweet. The one spoiler of hot yoga is the gnarly stench your clothes have after class. I’d sooner leave a carton of milk and a turkey club sandwich in the backseat of my car during the height of the summer before I’d consciously leave a bag of sweaty yoga clothes anywhere except straight into the washing machine!
Do you sniff my drift?
Kids: “Ewwww. Mom, what is that smell? It stinks in your car.
I can’t breathe. Put the windows down!”
Me: “Oh fuck! I must have left my yoga bag in the trunk yesterday.”
Kids: “It’s sooooooooo gross in here. I’m not getting in. Can we take Dad’s car?”
No matter how many yoga classes I take, I never get tired of Final Savasana. It is my favorite pose of all time and I crave the feeling I get when I lay down with my feet to the back of the mat and let go in this corpse-like posture.
The feeling of Savasana can’t be manufactured; It is truly organic and that is how you know the magic of yoga is really happening. I listen as my teacher shares the last morsels of information and I try to absorb it all.
“The spine is the tree of life. The hand is our heart and the shoulder is the gateway to our heart.
The left ear is understanding. The right ear is wisdom.
The place where they intersect is called knowledge.” – P.C.
With my left hand on my heart and my right hand on my belly, I end practice with some personal Reiki. On the inhale my belly rises. On the exhale my belly falls.
“Happiness is not external; It is found within.
Inner bliss is achieved when you are inwardly happy.” -A.M.
As the teacher begins to recites the final words, I am at peace. The saliva that is drooling out the corner of my mouth is indication that I’ve entered into my own personal yoga coma! It’s doubtful I could be any more blissful. Softly under my breath I repeat the phrases that are spoken aloud.
“I bow down to the divine spirit in you which bows down to the divine spirit in me.”
“Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.”
“Peace. Peace. Peace.”
Slowly, I roll onto the right side of my body and curl up into a fetal position. I inhale deeply as I open my eyes. It feels like I just awoke from the best nap ever. I’m rested and calm. Even though I know class is over, I can’t help but to hear those repetitive noises inside my head again; Except this time those repetitive noises sound so differently from the ones I heard just one year ago. My inner voice has changed and now I love it when it speaks to me:
“I wanna NAMA-STAY here all day, and I never wanna NAMA-GO!”
JUST TO LET YOU KNOW… Words cannot express how grateful I am for the gift that is hot yoga. I have learned so much over this past year, but I’ve realized the greatest lesson of all is that I still have so much more to learn. In the yoga world, there is always room for growth. There is always a new place to go. I am a work in progress, but my roots have been planted. As long as I continue to show up, roll out my mat and nourish my soul, I trust that all will be okay!
It is humbling to be part of a community that is unbelievably accepting of others. I am forever indebted to my Angels, for without whom I would never have embarked on this journey. I am also so blessed to have met some of the most wonderful and inspiring people whom I now have the privilege of practicing with and learning from on a continual basis. There is no better honor than to be able to call them my friends.
“To share our weakness is to make ourselves vulnerable.
To make ourselves vulnerable is to show our strength.”
– Chris Jami