This all started with a conversation about my back. Often hunched over for my work as a writer, a bartender, and an all-around tall guy with bad posture, my spine gets angry with me. I was telling a tale of woe and pain to my future yoga partner, Kate. She suggested that I try out hot yoga. She used to do it and she would join me. “Okay,” I told her.
When I was young, I dismissed yoga as some hippy dippy thing I didn’t understand. When I got older, I realized it was probably a beneficial practice, but my assumption was that I was too gangly, uncoordinated, and inflexible to get any enjoyment out of it. And that was just regular yoga—this hot yoga stuff sounded a bit crazy to me. In my life I’ve become more open to new experiences, so I decided I would humor Kate and try it out.
“Your goal for the first class is just to be able to sit in the class until it’s over without leaving,” Kate explained to me in a text.
“My goal is to not simultaneously shit my pants and fall face first on the floor,” I responded. But what was there to worry about? I’m definitely a guy who prefers being too hot to too cold.
“Was it not I,” I thought, flexing my biceps to the left, “who spent five days on a hot, humid, bug-infested mountain in Missouri, camping in a hammock this June? And was it also not I,” I thought, flexing my arms to the right, “who also spent an additional five days camping in a tent under the scorching hot sun of the Mojave Desert?”
How hard could sitting in a hot yoga studio for 90 minutes be?
Day 0: Sweat
About 30 minutes into my first attempt, I’m laying still on the floor of the 105-degree Hot Yoga studio. Sweat is pouring out of me, completely soaking my swimming trunks, yoga mat, yoga towel, and the floor around me.
I follow along doing the poses as best I can, but there’s a lot of self-doubt the hotter I get. Looking in the mirror I feel fat and clumsy. I don’t belong here. I have yet to master the proper way to breath while doing yoga and soon my brain gives me an offer—lay down or pass out. I lay down on my back and stare at the white-ish/grey-ish cotton candy-textured yoga studio ceiling, a big black plastic tube shaking as it distributes hot air.
Suddenly, something happens—a micro-nap, lucid dream, hallucination—that lasts a few seconds. I can clearly see me and Kate wearing khaki safari gear, trekking through a tropical rainforest. Kate turns to me and smiles. “C’mon,” she says, and disappears into some large, fern-like plants. I open my eyes and stare at the ceiling, then turn to look at Kate. “Are you okay?” she mouths. Using much of my energy, I nod.
Time ticks on. I can hear the yoga instructor speaking, but I can’t move. I turn my head to look at Kate again. “Almost done!” she mouths. Next thing I know, I’m rolling up my yoga mat and quietly shuffling out of the studio. The door opens and I’m hit with what feels like a blast of cold air (just room temperature). I turn to Kate and can think of only one word to say: “Whew!” I walk into the locker room (equipped with a gigantic fan) and take a shower, one of the top five showers of my life. (Fun fact: I discover a bar of Irish Spring soap lasts me almost exactly 30 showers.)
Afterward, Kate and I walk across the Humboldt bridge to Bel Air. I’m suddenly extremely hungry and I’m experiencing a pretty wonderful sensation—I feel like I’ve just gotten five massages in a row. The air is delightfully crisp and the streetlights and neon signs are vibrant and beautiful. Inside the restaurant everything is fantastic—even the water tastes amazing. Kate looks radiant, the food is super tasty, and the bottle of Negra Modelo I drink is the best tasting beer ever. What a time to be alive!
Over dinner, Kate explains that the real benefits of hot yoga come from continuing the classes and getting better and better at mastering the 26 postures of this practice, Bikram (instead of just crashing on the floor in a pool of sweat). She has done Hot Yoga’s 30-day challenge once and recalls the day she was able to get through class and not feel drained afterward—it was a level of energy she was enthusiastic about. “So,” she asks, “you want to do the thirty-day challenge?” My brain throws up two equal-sized signs in my brain at the same time. One is green and says “YES” and one is red and says “NO.” I choose yes.
Day 1: More sweat
The official start to the hot yoga challenge is a week later with another 90-minute class. I do better. I can’t make it through all the poses and don’t even attempt to try some, but I’m able to stay upright without falling out.
Day 2: Bikram express
Day two is our first 60-minute “Bikram express” class, in which most poses are performed once instead of twice. After the 90 minutes, the 60-minute class is refreshingly easier. In Bikram, you do the same 26 poses every class, in the same order. This is beneficial because you begin to learn what poses are easy for you and won’t require much exertion, and which poses are going to require more concentration and stamina. Standing Bow Pose (Dandayamana-dhanursana) is a challenging long pose which involves standing on one foot while kicking your other leg back and pushing your body forward. Triangle Pose (Trikanasana), in which you bend on one knee and hold your arms like a 12 and 6 on a clock, is another tough one for me. You learn to appreciate and utilize Corpse Pose (Savasana) breaks in-between poses—this is a short break where you lie on your back and breathe. Your body slowly grows accustomed to the routine—breathing exercise, warm up, standing poses, Savasana, floor poses, animal poses (Tortoise, Camel, Rabbit), sitting poses, closing breathing exercise, and then shower.
Day 4: Temptation
My first temptation to skip class. Kate can’t make it because of her work schedule, and a little cartoon devil pops up on my shoulder.
“Heya bub,” it tells me. “Why doncha take the day off, too? Yer a busy guy, pal, relaaaaax. Here, have a cigar.” But poof, the devil disappears.
Doing the challenge with someone is beneficial for its peer pressure. If I bail on class with no real excuse, Kate will be disappointed, even if she says she isn’t. Equally important: I will be disappointed in myself. It’s not called a challenge for nothing.
Day 8: I touch my toes
“You touched your toes! I’m so proud of you!” Kate exclaims after class. There is a challenging pose (for me) called Floor Bow Pose (Dhanurasana) where you lie on your stomach, reach your arms around your back to grab your feet, and raise your head up. At first, it’s more of a Beached Walrus Pose for me as I’m not flexible to even touch my fingers to my toes. But I try each day, and each day I get closer, until I can touch my toes and eventually grab my feet. By the end of the challenge, it’s a pose I can’t perform perfectly, but can do well. The best takeaway I get from Bikram is improvement to my back posture, standing tall instead of hunched over. Work is noticeably easier, and I find myself more flexible and bending more with my knees.
Day 15: Hydration
Bikram will also influence other areas of your health. If you eat junk food, if you drink too much alcohol, if you don’t hydrate well enough or get enough rest—you will feel like crap in the yoga studio, like I do today. Keeping hydrated is a challenge and I find myself constantly drinking water.
Day 21: 28 out of 30 ain’t bad
Sorry, the title of this article is a bit of false advertising—I only did 28 of the 30 days. Thanksgiving fell within the challenge and I had to close the bar I work at the night before. Hot Yoga did offer two classes, but they were both early morning ones, and I just wanted to take off and enjoy the holiday. I missed my second class two days later when I had a long 12-hour work day doing a special event and couldn’t make any of the offered classes. Kate missed about three days because of her work schedule. But every day we could make, we did.
Day 27: Yoga talk
By the end of the month, hot yoga is just a part of my daily routine—packing my bag, rolling up my mat, returning home and hanging the sweat-soaked mat and yoga towel over my front porch. My house has a consistent smell of sweat in the air. There are good days and rough days and days in-between in the yoga studio, but we’ve done it, we’re almost there. Today, we’re driving to the yoga studio when Kate is telling me that lack of rest has made her feel a little unmotivated, and we exchange some yoga language about it.
“Zip up your cobra tail,” I tell her, trying to motivate her by quoting instructions for performing Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana).
“H.A. Ha,” she responds, quoting part of the exhaling sound instructions for Standing Deep Breathing (Pranayama).
Day 30: Namaste
There has been a yogi that chats with me in the locker room, and I’ve told him I’m doing the 30-day challenge. Whenever he has seen me he’s asked what day I’m on, and I’m a tinge disappointed he’s not here today, so I can say “Day thirty!” Last class was a good one. I do all the poses—some of them not perfectly, but incredibly better than I did Day 1 or 5 or 20. With our month trial membership over, Kate and I opt to buy some 10 class packs, so we can continue to practice Bikram, but at a more leisurely rate of maybe once a week. The 30-day challenge made me feel healthier and better about myself and there’s not much more to say on that except…Namaste.