I was at a dinner party a few weeks ago and ended up in conversation with a girl I’ve always admired. While I was stuffing cookies in my face like there might not be food again (literally, I threw up a little in my mouth from being so full and then ate three more, nothing wrong here), she was telling me about doing hot yoga at a studio nearby and how it has really helped her both physically and mentally. Suddenly it came to me: I had to do hot yoga. Right then. Or at least as soon as possible.
That translated to the following afternoon, several hours after finishing an incredibly cold, uncomfortable 3.5 hour ride. That’s a good time to try a 90-minute hot vinyasa yoga class, right? I prepared by Googling “yoga tips” and reading them while eating the last third of a jar of Nutella.
Armed with an old yoga mat left at my house by an ex, a cycling waterbottle, and a dish towel (since the website said to bring a towel and I figured they meant for dabbing sweat off one’s face), I headed to class. When I walked into the studio, it was like climbing into my oven, except that my pans are not clad entirely in brightly-colored lululemon apparel. My pans and I have that in common. Class started with everybody on their mats chanting three Oms, and I had to resist the urge to giggle and snort.
Then we started moving and I had to resist the urge to keel over dead. There was a LOT of moving, so much moving that my head felt fuzzy from the effort and the heat. I quickly realized that when they said to bring a towel, they didn’t mean a dishrag to refresh one’s face; they meant bring a huge swath of fabric to soak up the tsunami of sweat pouring off one’s body onto the mat. Within minutes, I was slipping all over, clawing at my mat with fingernails and toes for traction. A nice man (because it turns out that in yoga class, everybody is nice) eventually tossed over a spare towel and saved me from further humiliation. Well, slipping-related humiliation, that is. The yoga practice itself made me feel awkward and gangly and I kept wanting to announce to the room, “I’m good at sports, I swear!”
It was hard to remember that nobody else gave a shit about my yoga performance.
I settled in a bit as the class progressed endlessly and started to enjoy the experience. Sure, I felt like I was going to hurl a few times and my legs were burning, but that’s not unlike the joy of cycling, right? When the teacher called on us to chant three Oms to close our practice, I got a bit emotional from the moment (although that might have just been relief). Then everybody said “Namaste!” and clapped, and I felt almost happy enough to hug the people next to me, except they were drenched in sweat and smelled like old socks.
After that, I was hooked. Yoga made me feel limber, stronger, and refreshed. Think of all the toxins I was sweating out! Maybe I should even do a juice cleanse! Hooray for the natural high! I am so freaking Zen!
I went nearly every day for the following two weeks. When the studio was closed for a day due to snow, I panicked and then did yoga at home for an hour while listening to an iTunes radio station of gongs. Nothing was going to stand in the way of my chi.
Well, almost nothing. The shoulder injury I’ve been nursing for years started to hurt almost constantly. Lifting my arms became problematic, so I compensated by using the other arm more, both in and out of class. The collective fatigue of heavy training combined with 60-90 minutes of yoga each day also started to build, to the point where I had trouble sleeping, felt constantly hungry, and looked like I hadn’t slept in a month. People would comment, “Gosh, you look exhausted…” and I would think Excellent, I’m doing such great work! I even rearranged social plans to fit my yoga schedule and would insist on going to class even if a ride left me so gutted I was sprawled on the couch trying not to barf.
Unsurprisingly, I stopped feeling calm and refreshed from each class and started feeling like I had to grit my teeth and power through it. The teacher would say we were going to hold a pose for five more breaths, and if she started counting too slowly, I wanted to slap her with my dish towel. Other students would take harder variations of poses than I could handle and I wanted to push them over out of rage. You can do a handstand, GOODY FOR YOU. TRY DOING INTERVALS FOR TWO HOURS ON THE TRAINER, ASSHOLE.
I reached a breaking point last Friday. My bad shoulder was throbbing as always, but then the other side started to hurt. Stabbing pains in my chest through the back of my shoulder blade nearly brought me to tears during class, and I spent the rest of the day barely able to breath, laugh, or use either arm. I decided to take the next day off from yoga, and then the following day, and then the day after that.
It has been three days since my last yoga practice. Forgive me, Shiva, for I have sinned.
To be honest, I miss it. Not just for the exercise or the stretching, but for the feelings of calm and happiness it first brought. I squished those feelings with my aggressive approach, like a child who accidentally snuffs the light out of the firefly he loves. I couldn’t just do some yoga, I had to do ALL of the yoga, and now I’ve put my body in the position of being unable to do any yoga at all.
This makes me sad. I want to go back to the studio, sit in the oven, and have the self-control to just stretch, enjoy the moment, and not feel like I have to chataranga better and harder than ever before. It would be nice to find a way to be a normal person that does not feel compelled to take the things I want to do and club myself over the head with them. Not least of all because I paid $50 for a month of unlimited sessions and those sessions are just dangling there in space, droopy and unused.
There is a lesson to be taken from this experience: everything in moderation. This is a concept with which I am generally unfamiliar. Sure, I’ve heard of it, but the execution is difficult. Look at the beginning of this post – all of this started while I was eating myself physically sick on cookies. If only I could learn to have a few cookies, enjoy them, and then step away, I suspect life would be much more enjoyable.
Until then, I will allow my injuries to be my guide. At least until this Ibuprofen kicks in.