My husband and I have this ongoing joke about me being a velociraptor; it started out because my stomach sometimes makes screeching noises that sound like a killer dinosaur, but the fact is, I think I’m actually cold blooded.
Unless the temperature is a steady 73-75 degrees, at least one body part of mine is always chilly. It can be a beautiful 70-degree day but my hands feel as though I’m working the graveyard shift in the freezer section at Wegmans. I wear my Land’s End “sleeping bag” coat steadily from November through March, and I’m pretty sure last year we had flannel sheets on our bed well past the first day of spring. A body temperature of 98.6 is most likely a fever for me, and my bare feet on a winter’s night in January can be used as weapons.
So you can imagine how excited I was last year when a new hot yoga studio opened right around the corner from my workplace. The fact that a yoga studio period had opened by my office was a miracle, considering that some of the only other signs of civilization in the vicinity are a doughnut shop, a cheesesteak joint, and a liquor store. Oil refineries are pretty popular too. But a yoga teacher was bold enough to set up shop in the area, and, clearly thinking of me, she decided that doing yoga at temperatures at or hovering near the three-digit mark is perfectly normal and acceptable.
It’s no secret that the human body moves more freely in warm environments, but since I’m also part reptile it takes more heat than normal to thaw my claws. I’m amazed at how many yoga studios still follow the “Winter: Heater, Summer: Air Conditioner” mentality, and I have actually “broken up” with yoga studios due to climate control issues. One studio’s a/c vents were level with the floor, which meant that during warm-ups (I use that term loosely) and savasana, I was getting blown in the face and feet with cold air. Another studio insisted on running both the a/c and about three high-speed overhead fans; because the class was gentle in nature, I spent the entire 75 minutes covered in goosebumps, desperately hoping the teacher would throw in some energizing kapalabhati breath.
Ideally, the yoga studio should NOT be a place where you want to use the blankets as Snuggies. And just because it’s called corpse pose doesn’t mean my feet should look like dead fish during savasana.
When I’m chilly or cold, all of my physical and mental energy goes toward trying to stay warm. But practicing yoga, dancing, or meditating in a warm climate frees up that energy, allowing me to sink into a deeper practice quicker and easier. Walking into a warm yoga studio is like using your car’s remote ignition on a frigid February morning 10 minutes before you need to leave. You just slip in, and ahhhhhhh. No need to wear socks the first 15 minutes of class.
The first class I tried at the new studio by my office was Bikram style. I wanted heat? I got heat—all 105 degrees of it. I’ll admit it was a little shocking to be sweating from my shins only 10 minutes into class and leaving the studio feeling as though I just took a bath in a tub full of perspiration, but I was in my glory. I dove head-first into Bikram for a few months, soon being able to differentiate a chilly 99 degrees from a just-right 105, but eventually The Hip made me seek something less focused on physicality. Luckily, the same yoga studio offers a hot vinyasa class, and the combination of flow, music, heart, and heat had—and still has—me hooked.
Some people love hot yoga for the “detox” nature of it, the promise of eliminating toxins via perspiration, and just the whole sweating = weight loss association, but for me being hot puts me in “zone.” It’s a little bit of chemistry—with just the right amount of breath, sweat, and flow, a reaction occurs and I am transported just a little deeper into my practice. Add some music to the equation, and sometimes my inner dance morphs into a trance. I am mesmerized, completely in connection with my body. My hair has slipped out of its braid and is plastered all over my neck and shoulders, but it means nothing to me. Sweat droplets fall from my armpits onto my mat and I do not flinch. I am bound in extended side angle and I know some students are moving onto to Bird of Paradise, but on my mat, on my little planet, I am stretching my heart to the ceiling and feeling pretty darn good.
We drop to our bellies, and I feel like a wet plastic bag sticking to the ground, but my legs are firm, my core is engaged, and our backbend poses become an almost sensual series of rising and falling. I keep a steady drishti. Sweat runs from my upper lip into my mouth; I’m not losing fuel—the sweat IS my fuel.
Heat makes it very easy for me to open up—physically and emotionally—but as someone with hyperflexible joints, I do have to be cautious of taking things too far during class. Sometimes the heat dulls my “warning” cues, and I may be too far into a stretch before realizing I shouldn’t really be there. Especially with my hip, I really shouldn’t be doing seated forward bends with external rotation (e.g., janu sirsasana) without support under the bent leg; I have to remind myself not to let the heat make me overconfident.
Before the hot yoga studio came along, my opportunities for a good, sweaty yoga class were usually limited to the months of June through September. Yoga in the winter meant socks on my feet, more layers than a bean dip, and minutes of mental preparation to disrobe in the locker room. But now, thanks to the little business sandwiched between a hair salon and a tax preparation office, this little velociraptor is slowly turning human again (although I’ll still be wearing my sleeping bag coat through Easter).