I just got my ass seriously whupped in a hot yoga class. I'd been hanging out to go to Yoga to the People in Brooklyn, as they have an ethos about yoga and its availability for everybody and every body that completely resonates with me, with the tagline ALL BODIES RISE. I'd booked an AirBnB down the road from the studio and close to my favourite park for running, and was loving having excellent recreation options plus all the tasty treats in the one hipster neighbourhood. When I rocked up for a hot one hour vinyasa class, the instructor asked me if i'd done hot yoga before. I said yes. Of course I had, it was one of my preferred styles living in a (very) cold climate, and I had a mildly smug inner monologue about being an experienced yogi - i'm a yoga teacher you know. He mentioned again it was a hot class, and that it was hot for the whole session and once in you needed to stay in. Yep. Hot yoga. Got it. He talked me through some breathing exercises that they started the sequence with and off I went, ready for the session.
One of the things I loved about the marketing for YttP was they so actively endorsed yoga as a lifestyle choice that was transformational and accessible. Explicitly not at all about the outfits or having banging bodies. That made me happy as I think so many people don't even begin with yoga as they think they are too inflexible or uncool or chunks or daggy or whatever, and because of that miss out on the amazing benefits it can bring as a practice. I noted as I looked around the room that I was the only one not in a bra and hotpants. Even the men were in micro shorts. But there I was bringing the diversity with a t-shirt and leggings. The class started on time with the pranayam as i'd been shown. It was instantly clear that the teacher was excellent. I think we had only got about ten minutes into the routine when I thought I was going to faint or puke or both. Hot yoga. The whole class is hot. Must stay for the whole class. I pushed into the next standing posture in a slippery un co-ordinated way. I was getting that starry, blurry, about to hit the deck feeling. I went into child's pose, and the instructor discreetly told me to flip over as child's pose would make me even hotter. I slumped onto my back.
This was not my beautiful life as a yogi and yoga teacher. This was me, wondering if I would spend the whole class in savasana, bathed in my own vomit and tears. The ego was amazing. Roaring like a five year old inside my head about how it was too hot, how the website promised equity and equality but clearly I was not getting my needs met lying like a broiled whale in a pool of sweat. I swung from rage, to injustice, to indignant righteousness to limp collapse. But I kept on giving it a go. I made it into vrskasana, but went down for trikonasana. Managed natarajasana, but no way was I getting into ardra chandrasana. Did I mention how hot it was? The other yogi's in the class were also having some down time in meltedasana, so my ego recovered a little, and I kept reminding myself to shut the fuck up and do what I could with grace in the moment. To lie on the mat and listen to the instructor and really appreciate the lovely sequence he was doing. I felt like I was cooking from the inside, like those kids who do to many drugs at dance parties and end up with broiled organs. I wondered if I would be the first person to experience that at a yoga class.
Finally we moved into floor postures, which I had been excelling in for most of the class. An interesting thing had happened as I tried and rested, and watched and sweated, I had really connected in to the fact that it was ok that it kind of wasn't happening like I expected it to. I was doing only what I could, and owned that. I kept getting back up again, and working at about 20 percent, and hitting corpse pose in between and breathing. I really felt the heat, and I thought about the suffering of people who lived and worked like this, how uncomfortable life can be, and how incredibly lucky my life was that in minutes I would get up, have a cold shower and return to my life of comfort with my body that worked pretty good most of the time. It was hot and I was right there with it, not as me in boo hoo victim mode, but in the moment, knowing it would pass, and I could struggle or surrender, and simply catalogue the experience. The class finished. I wasn't lying in a pool of puke having my organs run through an ice bath. I wasn't elegant, or graceful, or a long cool streak of Lululemon. I was a beet coloured overweight yogi with a limited range of movement who had survived and thrived.
When I swung by the desk as I was leaving the instructor said 'You did so great, you really looked after yourself.' I couldn't have been more chuffed. It what we are trained for, in YTT to instil in our students. To simply work with what is possible on the mat that day, that hour, not heroic backbends that leave you in traction. I wasn't any better or worse than anyone else because everyone in the class was in their own version of 40 degree heated hell together, each wrestling with their own egos and insecurities and trying to wrangle their minds, bodies and breath into some kind of discipline. We were all one, all together, just moving from breath to posture to breath.
Now i've cooled down i'm still walking on air, that asana kicking really reminded me of what the practice is about, why its important, and why I choose it and the lifestyle that goes with it. There's another class on tomorrow. I think i'll go. All bodies rise.
Dr Polly McGee is one part writer, and many parts assorted thinker, do-er, talker, eater, chef, explorer, yogi, kirtaneer and dog wrangler. She has worked in kitchens, bars and restaurants from frantic to fancy, managed multi-million dollar innovation grants programs, advised hundreds of start-ups on how to refine their business ideas and source funding, and championed causes from a variety of soapboxes, lecterns and stages. She is currently the Strategic Marketing Lead for Global Edtech Startup Prosper Education. Her new book, The Good Hustle, is coming out in February 2018