Week 5: Oh my god it’s hot (yoga)

They are not exaggerating when they call it hot yoga.

The idea of hot yoga was brought to me by a friend I used to work with, Sienna. She’s been doing hot yoga for about three years, and had a “free buddy” pass, and suggested that I join her. I’ve done yoga before, and I’ve been in hot places before, but never have I thought, “you know what would be fun? Combining this unbearable heat with a good workout.”

We set up a day and time to attend the class. And then she warned me. “I should warn you that you might feel nausea.” Great. Instead of making me feel prepared for this, the statement made me a good deal more nervous.

While attending an improv show, I mentioned to someone that I would be going to my very first hot yoga class. And then she, too, warned me. She said that bikram was very intense and pushy and she didn’t like it as much as moksha. Which would I be doing? Oh goodness I hope moksha.

Saturday morning finally arrived and I met Sienna at Yonge and Bloor to make our way down to Bikram Yoga Toronto. Perfect. Sienna further warned me not to drink too much water during the class, and that the first half of the practice was done standing, and the second half was done sitting. There would be no clock in the room so this would help me gauge how long was left in the torture session… sorry, yoga practice. I had brought my own yoga mat but borrowed a towel for 2 dollars (which turned out to be the best idea of my entire life). I got changed and Sienna and I chatted for a bit, and then we entered the room. To be honest, my first reaction was, “oh good, my toes will finally be warm.” I constantly have cold feet.

My next thought was, oh my, I might be overdressed for this. It was only that morning that I realized I had no exercise shorts. I’m a fitness instructor, and I only own capri length exercise pants. In fairness though, I don’t know that fewer clothes would have made much of a difference. Everyone got real sweaty in this class, regardless of their attire.

Our instructor was very good. His name was Richard and he was a pretty big dude (for a yogi), who wore only a pair of pretty small, grey, leopard-print shorts, and who spoke constantly and with a slightly Jamaican accent, and remembered everyone’s names. This proved to be extremely helpful because he would call out “Katharine!” if I need to shift my pose a little, or if I was doing a good job.

We started with some breathing techniques, which probably also helped us get accustomed to the extreme heat warning. We then moved through 26 poses, twice. Full disclosure, I googled the difference between bikram and moksha yoga today. As it turns out, bikram was invented in 1946, and moksha was developed in 2004. So much for the ancient practice of yoga. Fun fact, Bikram Choudhury called the hot room a “torture chamber.”

Honestly, I did not find this enjoyable. There’s been a movement in the fitness industry lately to move away from spinal flexion (bending the spine forward) and hyperextension (bending the spine far back). While I haven’t read the science behind this (it’s real complicated), it’s been explained to me by several very smart people, and it seems logical to me. We spend so much time hunched over our phones and computers and desks, that our spine experiences flexion excessively throughout the day. What we don’t need is to do this action more (it can cause herniated discs and back pain for a lot of people, as well as contribute to worsened posture because the muscles become overstretched instead of strengthened). Spinal flexion is especially advised against in the lower back (yay, no more crunches!).

But the fitness industry is pretty slow to change. So I had gone into the bikram class expecting to have a lot of spinal flexion moves, and I was not disappointed. What did surprise me is that some people bounced in these moves… which is really not a good life decision. I was also a little surprised to hear Richard encouraging us to stretch beyond our flexibility. Here’s the thing though, our muscles stop us from going beyond a certain point in order to prevent injury. So… hard pass.

One thing that did make me laugh was when Richard told us that once we had “improved our skeletal system” a certain pose would be easier. OK, how is my skeletal system going to change from yoga? I’m 27, so my bones are pretty set at this point. Unless he’s walking around with a baseball bat and a bad attitude, I don’t think my bones will change before I leave.

While I had thought the class was 60 minutes, I was a little disappointed to find out it was 90 minutes. It was a hard class! During the second half of the practice, I had to take it easy and sit some poses out. There was a lot of lying down/sitting up motions, and my stomach protested against this. I guess Sienna’s warning of nausea was warranted. Richard walked past me (he didn’t perform any of the poses, with apparently is how bikram goes) and checked on me a few times, which I greatly appreciated.

I also noticed that I wasn’t quite as flexible as I would have been after a workout. The hot room was heating me from the outside in, while a workout would warm me from the inside out. I can touch my toes better after a good weight lifting session than I can halfway into a bikram yoga class.

At the very end of the class, Richard left us lying in a meditation/relaxation pose, and then propped the door to the studio open. I loved Richard at that point because cool air slowly began to filter into the room and I felt like I could breathe again. I was completely soaked in sweat, as was my towel, but I was not as sweaty as some of the other participants. A couple of people had a small moat around them and their mats.

I slowly got up and made my way out of the studio. I drank a lot of water. Sienna and I caught up a little more, and then I changed out of my sopping wet clothes to go home.

I deliberately waited a day before posting this because I wanted to see how I felt the next day. Answer… OK, but not great. My side is pretty sore where I overstretched it. Would I go back to hot yoga again? Heck no. But I’m realizing that one of the benefits to my challenges challenge is that I’m getting to see some old friends I haven’t seen in a while, and that’s pretty awesome.

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