I went to my first hot yoga class on Friday evening after a LONG day at work – we were rearranging our studio so I was lifting a lot of heavy weights around, moving furniture, etc. Then I decided to jump into a quick 30 minute cardio class (I only did the first 20 minutes) – for no other reason than I wanted to spend time with some of my clients. Afterwards, I needed some rest, relaxation, and stretching! I did not know what I was getting myself into.
Hot yoga is not simply stretching. My boyfriend says that yoga is “glorified stretching,” and in a sense he is right, but there is So Much More to yoga! Seeing the title of class (Bikram) next to the time frame (90 minutes) was very intimidating. Learning a New-To-Me yoga routine is hard enough…oh, but it’s also 90 minutes! Bikram, you may be wondering, is a certain kind of yoga. It comes from Hatha yoga poses. There are actually 26 postures and 2 respiratory exercises within the 90 minutes and the temperature of a Bikram yoga session is usually set around 100-110*F, but in California there are classes up to 140*F.
I arrived at the studio about fifteen minutes prior to class to “officially” sign up for my first month ($30). The website was specific in saying that for your first time you have to come at least fifteen minutes early to do some paperwork and get introduced to the hot yoga concept. I had to sign a waiver, pay, and that was it! So simple. The owner, Sarah, was the woman at the front desk and she explained what the workout would entail and gave me some pointers. As I was about to get set up in my spot for the class, I realized that I had forgotten a towel…whoops! Luckily, Sarah lent me one for free (usually $2); all new clients get to take advantage of the “free towel and mat on your first day” promotion lol!
As I got settled in, I realized that the studio was not what I had expected it to be like. The front desk was set up in a small corner and there was a private restroom and a private shower in a hallway behind a pretty curtain, all of which were in or connected to the actual practice room. Mirrors lined one wall of the studio and there were purple tape lines to designate where to put your mat down. That was it. So simple. I loved that about this studio.
Sarah had explained that some classes are instructor led, where the teacher is in the front of the room doing all of the movements with you. This class however, she would not be doing the movements with us, but rather instructing through cues and walking around the room helping with form. She said to watch people who were experienced and I should be fine. I looked in front of me and there was a very small, lean woman. I immediately knew that she would be my model for the class – she looked like she knew exactly what she was doing and we hadn’t even started the class yet.
Well, let’s dive right in. Hot yoga is HARD! I was sweating before the class even began – it was about 105* in the studio. We all stood and were told to look into our gaze in the mirror. Then we did this tricky breathing exercise (1 of the 2 Bikram breathing exercises) where you bring your fist under your chin and as you breathe in through the nose, you raise your elbows up high. Then as you exhale, you let your head fall backwards and bring your elbows in towards each other, trying to get them to touch. This may sound simple, but it was extremely difficult! My neck was KILLING me! I was watching the other yogi’s and the teacher was correcting form, so I know I was doing the movement accurately, but it was hurting my neck SO much! We did these breathing neck rolls for-EVER! Let’s just say that hot yoga was not winning me over.
Sarah explained that the first part of the class was all standing and balance posing, and then we would graduate to the floor routine. I love floor routines. Of the standing movements, my favorite was a balance pose. First you put your weight into your right foot, then bring up your knee so your thigh is parallel to the floor, ankle flexed. You then lace your fingers around your foot, with a bent lower spine (your thigh is tight against the body). Sarah was very specific in saying that we should do only what our bodies can do and not to push ourselves too far. I decided that holding my foot was difficult enough for me. Then out of nowhere, she says to extend your foot out straight in front of you! What!? Okay, I’m not going to be able to do that. I watched as some experienced clients easily pushed their heel out in front of them and continued to balance on their grounded foot. Crazy. Sarah cued for them to lean further over their front leg; they basically folded in half. It looked like their leg was sitting on an invisible table and they were laying over it. So, why was that my favorite balance pose? Because it is my GOAL! I want to make this my goal to be able to fully extend and fall over that extended leg for the full amount of time allocated.
Overwhelming, yes. Intimidating, not so much. These women I could tell had been coming to yoga for quite some time. However, there were other people, men and women, who were right where I was, judging their strengths and weaknesses and responding accordingly. People weren’t trying to keep up if they were unable. I was lucky: there were actually three other newbies in class with me, one of which laid down for about 25% of the class because it was too difficult for her abilities. There was also one woman who I chatted with before class who was on a weight-loss journey and was at about the same level or a level below, the yoga-awesomeness that I was. So, no, I was not intimidated. A lot of people have asked me this as I started talking about this challenge – “Aren’t you intimidated?,” “Aren’t you afraid you won’t be able to keep up?,” “What if you fail?”
What is a challenge without fighting failure!? Failure is a part of life and everyone has to fail sometimes. I failed when I could not extend my leg straight, but I didn’t really count it as a failure because it’s only day ONE!! I have time to work up my strength and I am okay with that! The only way that I can fail this challenge is by falling out of it. As long as I go to yoga all month long, I will succeed, no matter what my flexibility and strength levels may be. This challenge is about dedication and commitment.
Fast-forward through the workout – it was extremely hard. I don’t remember all of the movements, but I know that I was struggling. I was never bored though, which surprised me. I almost expected myself to get bored half-way through and beg for the session to be over – that never happened! After the “corpse” pose, that was it. We were told to lay in corpse for as long as we wanted, as we were the last class. We were told not to think too much as we lay there; try to have a blank mind. Well, I laid there and thought about what this hot yoga challenge could do for me; physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc.
Class #1 was complete.
After I left the studio, I remembered that I had put my heart rate monitor on. I was curious to see how many MEPs and calories I had throughout the class. Ninety minutes is a long time and I felt VERY challenged. In total, I got 161 MEPs! I usually get about 150 MEPs in an hour of high intensity exercise! I was shocked by that, but also the calories: 608. Over Six-Hundred calories in 90 minutes! Whoa!
Hot Yoga is definitely winning me over.