Treadmills, StairMasters, row machines, bikes, ellipticals, and weights. They’re all regular characters in my fitness routine at the gym five to six days a week. I’ve never been a fan of yoga – it’s slow and boring to me, and I never leave drenched in sweat like I do with other high-intensity workouts.
But after years of wear and tear from sports and vigorous workouts, sometimes my body screams “not today” with creaks, cracks, and sore, stiff muscles begging for a good stretch. I had one of these “not today” moments recently, so I decided to go easy on myself for a change and give my body a good stretch by trying hot yoga, something my friends have been doing for years and something at 27 I still had yet to try.
Probably the worst part of this idea was choosing to try hot yoga during a Texas summer that has been about as hot as the hinges on the gates of hell. But this type of torture is typical for me to do to myself, and today in particular, it’s 108 degrees outside. Lovely.
Walking into the small studio in a vintage building, I noticed the air conditioner was off even in the lobby. Small sweat beads are forming down my back before I even finish signing the waiver. “This is a mistake,” I think.
Ally, the owner of the studio and my instructor for today, speaks to me in a calm, yogi-typical voice as she tells me what to expect with my first hot yoga class: lots of sweat, detox, more flexibility, less injuries, and more. Before I walk into the practice room, she prompts me to remove my shoes and socks before entering. Great, I forgot about this part and I didn’t paint or clip my janky toenails. Oh well. Yogis are hippies anyways and won’t mind, right? I walk through two sliding doors into the sparsely decorated fitness room and notice the temperature feels the same as it did in the lobby. Hot.
A small heater in the corner across from me shows a temperature of 90 degrees, which Ally says is what we will practice at. She also says there will be no music until the end, as she likes to be able to talk to us during the class and help people get in their poses correctly. Only one other woman shows up for the class – it’s Thursday at 11 a.m. – and she greets me with a friendly hello as she sets up her mat. She goes into a closet and pulls out two purple foam blocks and walks over and hands me one. “Don’t you want one?” she asks. “Oh, yes, I forgot,” I lie. It’s obvious I don’t know what I’m doing, as I set the mysterious block beside my mat.
Class starts with a brief description of what we’ll be doing. The word “vinyasa” is used a lot and I have no clue what it means for my near future. We start with lots of sun salutations, down dogs, chaturangas, and upward dogs – all basic yoga moves that I’m thankful I know. The heat in the room is causing me to sweat a little more with each bend.
As we move into warrior poses and other twisty moves, Ally brings me another block for stabilization. “Try holding on to a block with each hand if you need,” she says. Great. It’s apparent that my balance and flexibility are non-existent. We move into side planks with leg lifts. “Easy, I used to do those all the time,” I think. Wrong. I can barely hold my leg up in the side plank for a few seconds before having to drop it back down on the other leg in a basic side plank. I look over, and the middle-aged yogi next to me is in an effortless side plank with her leg lifted up so high she’s almost able to grab her foot with her hand. Embarrassment runs through me as sweat drips from my elbows and my legs shake like jelly.
Ally shows me what frog position is, and we hold that for about four to five minutes as she tells us about the classes she teaches for women in detox programs. I don’t realize how long I’ve been in the position until she tells us, and my hips feel open and stretched. I feel good. We then move into inversions, and I have no idea what that means. After a brief explanation from Ally and a defeating “no” answer to if I can do headstands, handstands, and more upside-down, pretzel-style moves, I get into a wheel position next to the woman who could be my mom. As a competitive, “anything you can do, I can do better,” type of person, I am saddened that I’m not doing more.
After a great stretch from wheel position and Ally showing me how to properly do a crow position – even though I couldn’t hold the pose for anything – we move into the cool down stretches. Finally, something I can do with ease, or so I thought. As I sit with legs outstretched, struggling to reach my fingers down to my toes, Ally and the other woman grip the ends of blocks they’d placed at the ends of their feet “for extra reach.” Another blow to my confidence, but as this point all I can do is laugh.
As we lay flat on our mats with our hands to our side, Ally gets up and dims the lights. She turns on a song – a western-sounding melody with a violin – and we lay motionless with our eyes closed. She comes by and places a cold, eucalyptus-scented towel on our foreheads as we relax on the floor throughout the entire song. Afterwards, we all sit up with our legs crossed as Ally softly tells us about blessings, our bodies, and gives a “namaste” with her hands together and a nod.
I’m drenched in sweat as I slide my shoes back on and gather my things. I tell Ally thank you, and look down at my watch to see that I’ve burned 350 calories in the class. Not bad for light cardio and intense stretching. My muscles feel extremely relaxed and loose, a feeling I’m not used to after my normal gym routine.
Although I feel slightly embarrassed that I just got shown up by a woman double my age, I also feel grateful to have experienced the class and made a couple new friends who motivated me and helped me through something that was more challenging than expected. Maybe one day I’ll be the middle-aged yogi helping a struggling 27-year-old gym rat get through a hot yoga class. And maybe by then I’ll have painted my toe nails.