People LOVE hot yoga. It’s one of those things where if you’re in, you’re IN. People claim it works for everything from stress detox to curing cancer.
I’ve not been one of those people. Firstly, I’m a skeptic when it comes to cure-alls. Secondly, I prefer Iceland to Costa Rica. I own a beautiful cedar sauna, but that’s mostly ironic. I have to sit in a low chair near the floor to escape the heat.
In spite of my preference for exercising in temperatures that don’t cause heat stroke; and my disdain for humidity (my hair will not behave in it), I am always open to adventure. So when the opportunity arose to join a class while traveling in B.C., I accepted with a (sort of) open mind.
Besides, it’s been on my radar for some time after watching an acquaintance on Instagram attribute her ripped abs to a year of this practice. (I never said my motives were all pure!)
After paying the drop-in fee to the extra friendly employee at the desk (Did yoga make her so amicable? Or her good-natured Canadian blood?) I was shown the studio where I’d spend the next 75 minutes getting intimate with my sweat glands and bodily odors.
The sign on the door warned ominously: “Do not enter until you are prepared to settle in and stay the whole time.” Running late, I didn’t have time to think twice. Prepared or not, I was going in.
As I made my way into the aptly named “Sun Room”, I was overcome by two memories:
- Running out the door to play at my grandparent’s “over 55” mobile home park in Vegas. In July. In no time at all, my plastic rubber flip flops were melting to the asphalt, and my eyes, nose, mouth – anything previously fortified with natural moisture – were instantly parched. I lasted about 3.5 minutes before submerging myself in a pool.
- Eighteen years old and rushing from the baggage claim area in the New Orleans airport. I was a smoker then and needed to get outside for a cigarette. Once out of the chilly air-conditioned lobby into the sweltering marsh climate, breathing- much less inhaling tobacco I had set on fire- was not an option. My lungs rejected the 100% humidity and I choked on the hot air. Suddenly going without nicotine wasn’t quite so difficult.
In neither one of those situations did I think; “You know what would be really refreshing right now? A long, intense yoga session!”
Yet, there in the “Sun Room” – 99 Fahrenheit, 40% humidity, 30 human bodies exhaling hot breath – I lay on a mat and hoped to Buddha I was prepared to settle in and stay.
Taking a peek around, I noticed very little clothing. Women were clad in shorts and tank tops or sports bras and briefs. Most men were topless – shorts only. A couple wore loose cotton shirts, which I thought was smart. They could suffice as a towel, in case one didn’t have one to wipe one’s sweaty face. Which I didn’t. And that was unfortunate because within seconds I was pouring buckets of it.
Since it was winter vacation, I hadn’t really planned ahead for this scenario. My luggage contained one exercise outfit: long, black leggings, and a thick, double-layered top – also black. At least it wasn’t long-sleeved. This was the type of outfit you’d pack if you planned to power walk outdoors in near-freezing weather. An outfit you would layer under a sweater and match with gloves and boots- not proper attire for doing push-ups in a sauna.
So there I was. Bending, stretching, downward-dogging in my black ninja suit, with no towel to wipe the sweat rivers pouring off my forehead onto the mat. “Reach your arms up like branches. Become the tree that you are.” How apropos. As I became the tree, I realized I wasn’t sweating, I was oozing tan-colored tree sap.
OK it wasn’t actually sap. It was just the ONE day that week I chose to slather my face in a layer of “natural ivory” foundation. Only to have it seep off me into creamy puddles on my blue mat.
The instructor’s voice rose “As you inhale…” (This was a chore in itself, as inhaling meant sucking in hot air. See New Orleans, #2 above). “…plant your hands in front of you on your mat, and raise your hips high into the air.”
I planted my hands and used them to frantically rub the makeup/sap into the mat, in a desperate attempt to keep people from noticing and thinking
- A) I’m so vain I do my makeup just to attend hot yoga
- B) I wasn’t perspiring but in fact exuding a tan liquid dangerously close to the color of pus and likely due to an infectious process
I don’t know which of those is worse. Either way, all I managed to do was spread it around like finger painting.
“Hold your pose. Embrace the stillness as you enhance your posture.”
Hold the pose!? I was slip-sliding all over! Was everyone else holding still? I peered around, and sure enough, most of them were “embracing the stillness”. Not because they were expert yogis, or suffered from anhidrosis, but because all of them – every single one – had a large, thin towel laying over top of their mats, collecting the sweat and creating a textured, non-skid surface for their hands and feet.
You know who didn’t have one of these magic mats?
Me. The tree-sap leaking, makeup melting, yoga ninja. The puddle was growing, and I was non-too gracefully gliding through it. My head hung down between my lubricated hands, my eyes burned, blinded by sweat, and my butt perched high in the air. Every limb wiggled in different directions. Sort of like a newborn fawn might look on an ice rink. Only less graceful. And less cute.
I guess when I told the uber-friendly Canadian employee it was my first time and I’d need to rent a mat, she forgot the all too important hot yoga accessory: the “non-slip towel”. I forgave her though. She really was super nice.
I managed to slide my way into puppy pose without breaking my neck. As others dabbed translucent beads of perspiration off their foreheads with towels, I balled up the hem of my thick black shirt to wipe my face. When I stretched it back out, it was ivory tie-dyed.
I was hot, thirsty and drenched.
I felt unexpectedly good.
My body acclimated to the heat, like it’s meant to. And my thoughts, feelings and sensations all stayed right where they should – in the present moment – despite being somewhat uncomfortable.
One pose was particularly challenging: Standing on tiptoes, then squatting down as far as my butt would go towards the ground while keeping heels up and staying on tiptoes. My hands held in prayer then stretched up toward the sky as my thighs squeezed tighter and my butt lowered further.
It started to hurt like a mother…
The instructor encouraged: “You can stay here, just a moment longer. For 3….2….1…and now stand and allow your arms to fall, as you take the biggest deepest breath. Feel all those sensations fade away.”
And they did. I watched myself in the mirror experience the magic of impermanence…the burning “pain” sensations in my quads faded at the exact moment she said they would. We gently moved to the next pose, the tightness in my legs long forgotten.
For 75 minutes I was fully immersed in the practice of healing yoga (and my own aqueous material. Ew.) All my focus was directed at balance and breath; there was no brain room left for anything else. For 75 minutes, I was able to release everything in life but the Now.
Hot Yoga was mindfulness in motion. Maybe with enough practice, I could glide through the movements without thinking; distractions like dinner plans, work woes, or family drama could consume me while I posed. But I think the temperature truly helps counteract this. The heat couldn’t be ignored – it served as a constant reminder that I was right there, not in the past or future.
And after all, noticing distraction is the practice. Thoughts won’t go away, but we can learn to bring ourselves back to NOW over and over. As an activity becomes more familiar and automaticity takes over, it’s an opportunity to stretch our limits and push the edges to continue cultivating deep mindful presence.
When class ended, I was so tired, soaked, and buzzed from vasodilation and mild dehydration I could hardly carry my water bottle. I definitely could not pull my denim jeans up over my legs and was grateful for the dark color as I wore very wet leggings home.
But as we left I had an unanticipated thought:
“I want to do that again.”
I expected to mostly hate it. I thought I’d spend much of the time in “corpse pose”, flat on the ground wishing it would end. Like the heat of Vegas or New Orleans – it was alluring, unfamiliar and initially intolerable. But I adapted. And unlike visiting those areas, when it was over I felt invigorated – not wasted.
I felt the best kind of tired. The kind of tired you get after a day of bright sunshine, swimming in a glacial lake, or belly laughing with your girlfriends.
Not weary or lethargic. Just healthily wrung out, grateful, and content.
Two days later, I really did go back! (No abs yet though. Hm.) And I’ve been marking the days on my calendar that I can start attending regularly at my local studio.
This is not an advertisement for a hot yoga studio by the way (the one I went to though, is MODO in Kelowna BC and obviously they were Ahhh Mazing 😁) It’s not even a suggestion to do hot yoga at all. I know it’s not for everyone, and even physically dangerous for some.
I’m simply sharing an experience I expected to leave me high and dry, yet found surprisingly refreshing.
I’m encouraging you to try something new, even if you don’t have the right clothes, the right moves or the right towel. Attempt the unfamiliar and totally drench yourself in the moment. Your body is brilliant – it will adapt to surroundings, even if your mind doesn’t agree.
And those stretching, pulling, tugging, burning, and even uncomfortable sensations you’re feeling? Take a deep breath; they will always fade and pass.
If you do decide to give it a try – skip the makeup that day. Trust me.
I’d love to hear YOUR experience. Are you a Hot Yogi? Or do you prefer your baby cobra in cooler climates? Comment below! Or email me
Cheers and Gratitude,