I joined a yoga studio in the first week of January. It wasn’t even a New Year’s resolution. I tried to make plans with a friend, actually a former student from Bryn Mawr, and she said she was going to the yoga studio she just joined, so I said, ok, I’ll do that. It’s a hot yoga studio, as I mentioned in my post about how hot yoga made me think about cold running again. It’s really hot, like 105º in 40% humidity. The first yoga classes I ever went to were in a Baptiste studio on Walnut right down from the Penn Book Store in University City in Philadelphia. The classes were packed. But it felt like a serious workout. I’d run the mile and a half from my apartment to the studio to get warmed up. I don’t recall ever having had a conversation with a teacher there, except this one time when I was hungover and smelling of cigarette smoke when I must have looked like I was going to fall over and pass out and a teacher looked at me with a kind of smirk and asked me if I was ok. I might have still been drunk.
In Crawfordsville, I went to a small studio where I had an amazing teacher who taught me how to do individual poses correctly. I thought I was strong because I run all the time, but she kind of destroyed that illusion. I learned that I had feet issues because I had weak inner thighs and that just by pulling up from the tops of my knees I could relieve a lot of pressure in my feet. She cared about the anatomy and explained all that stuff and it was so helpful. But she moved, and I stopped going even though I remained very happy for that studio’s continued existence.
But those classes weren’t quite like the classes in Philly. While I was probably always doing the poses incorrectly, I liked those classes because we kept moving the whole time. I liked the flow. Bikram–the main game at this new studio–is a whole different game. It’s a series of the same 26 moves and 2 breathing exercises. It operates, as I learned when I went to a workshop on the thinking behind it, through a tourniquet method. Pose in such a way that you stop the blood from coming to an area of your body and then when you release fresh blood flows into that area with new oxygen. This is supposed to be good for you. I don’t know if it really is. I feel stronger. Yesterday I went to my tenth class and I feel already more solid. Maybe that is just going everyday–they offer Baptiste too and some of the classes I have gone to are the Vinyasa power yoga classes that I’m comfortable with. The Bikram feels so foreign to anything I know.
The first couple classes I really kept thinking through the whole class, when will this be over? I looked around for people who were wearing watches. I heard one teacher say when you want to leave that’s when the work begins. So the work begins really early into class for me. Also it’s hard to breathe. I think it was in my seventh or eighth class where I felt like the breath came easily and my heart wasn’t jumping out of my chest that I thought oh, maybe this is good for me. They tell you to follow the precise prompts that are given to go into each position and I think that this grates against my oppositional defiant self. I mean I’m definitely a rule follower but I have a hard time accepting the directions that do not make sense to me. Yes this is a metaphor for life.
In fact, it’s pretty obnoxious how much yoga is a metaphor for life. If you stick with the difficult things, they won’t be as difficult. Don’t work the pose, let the pose work you. Don’t hurt yourself. Stay in the moment. The harder you kick the easier it will be to stay in the pose. If you fall out, just get back in. Go somewhere you have never been before. Come back tomorrow.
Last night I was sitting in class, soaking wet with puddles of sweat on my mat and the surrounding area, slipping as I moved from pose to pose, heart pounding, breath short. I couldn’t keep my standing leg like a lamppost in Standing Head to Knee. I can’t get my foot behind my leg in Eagle. I cannot do Toe Pose, let’s not even talk about it. But I could tuck my hips a little better to make my back straight in awkward pose. I could balance a little better by pulling the muscle up from knee caps. I finally followed the actual instructions for Eagle Pose instead of what I wanted to do and it really was a different thing.
I only have a month membership. I don’t know if I’ll continue when it’s over. It hurts and I am a little concerned I’m actually hurting myself. But my core is stronger. I’m sitting up straighter. I’m leaving my ego at the door.