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No, not the Lambada.
I’m talking about physical heat, dancing in a climate where your muscles relax and release the moment you step into the room, when the high temperature and humidity make your body want to speak with the same intensity as the fiery atmosphere surrounding your skin.
There’s hot yoga.
So why not hot dancing?
The “Dance From the Inside” class I attended Friday night was not intended to be of the hot variety, but because we came into the room immediately following a hot vinyasa flow class, that it became. The teacher opened up all the windows, propped open some doors, but still—the room never really cooled down until the final 15 minutes of class.
This “hot” theme is exactly what I was craving. Physically, my hips opened up without resistance; emotionally, I was able to let go and dance my own dance, despite being in a room full of people I’ve never met before. Even the bamboo floor was warm, so starting the practice on my back, rolling from side to side, was a little like floating out in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, my body following the natural rhythm of the sun-kissed waves.
The teacher’s instruction was just as warm, encouraging us to move from the inside. Rather than telling us “move like this” or “move like that,” she asked for us to respond to the music and listen to our body’s wants and desires. How do our fingers want to move to this music? Where does the body want to take us when the tempo picks up?
This theme of warmth and heat had me glowing. I felt myself connect with people in ways that I never would have allowed 2 years ago when I first started this journey of conscious movement/ecstatic dancing. I smiled. I made eye contact. At the teacher’s request, I danced “really silly” and didn’t have an ounce of self-consciousness hold me back. The heat was a reminder of all the warmth that I’ve built up along the way, and I felt myself wanting to share and pass it along to everyone I crossed paths with.
I danced with a man in jeans and a polo shirt, whose unusual choice of restrictive dance attire didn’t hold him back from letting loose. A grandmother seated in a folding chair who shared a happy foot dance with me. An 8-year-old girl who allowed me to twirl her and copied the moves I hoped she would follow. When the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” come on—a song from my childhood that I remember playing throughout every roller rink in the late 1980s—my body opened up in ways that the 9-year-old me didn’t even know about yet back then, even though she had known that song was about something big and important, because of the way it made high school girls swoon and smile and hold their hands to their hearts.
That eternal flame was evident even outside, as the sun began its late end-of-spring descent. “Look at the sky!” someone had commanded during class, and when I approached the door, the clouds were ablaze with orange, and for a moment all of the heat and warmth and glowing of the cosmos consumed me, hypnotized me, both weakened my knees and made me stronger. I stood in the doorway and did my own dance version of a sun salutation in response to the fiery explosion of astronomy in front of me.
It made me think: What is stronger, the heat of the sun or that which resides in our human circuitry, waiting to be released when the right music plays?
I’m going to kick myself when I read this in January but here’s the truth: It’s too hot for hot yoga.
Up until three weeks ago, every Tuesday night was cleared to make room for my hot yoga class. The studio is right around the corner from my office, so I’d stay a little later at work, change into my duds in the bathroom, and head off to class with 15 minutes to spare. Hot yoga was my savior during the winter and into spring, especially those evil April days when it would rain cold rain for hours and end with a blast of chilly wind. Thank god for hot yoga, I’d think, walking into the heated studio wearing sweatpants and a hoodie to “keep myself warm” before stripping down to capris and a tank.
Three Tuesdays ago, however, things changed. First, it became July. I walked out of the office that Tuesday in my yoga gear, and I was so happy to be warm. Yay, summer!, said the cold-blooded yogi. Then I entered my car, which had been sitting in the unshaded parking lot for the past 8 hours.
Sitting in a 100-degree tin can is no motivation to drive yourself to a yoga studio that’s 5 degree hotter.
So I drove home. Now, I wasn’t being lazy. I ended up doing a 90-minute Jivamukti podcast in my yoga room upstairs. The room was hot, but it wasn’t intentionally set to eyeball-melting degrees. I rose from savasana feeling sweaty but not saturated.
Last Tuesday, it was still July, but now it was creeping into mid-summer, which adds a new element to the mix: Humidity! I had gone outside earlier that day for a 30-minute lunch walk and knew right then that I would not be going to hot yoga class that night. I felt bad–I was now missing my second class in a row–but again, I wasn’t taking the lazy person’s way out. I went home and did yet another Jivamukti podcast. Still sweated, but not to the point where I’d absolutely need a shower afterward (which is pretty much standard after every formal hot yoga class).
And so we come to today. I pretty much knew at 7 a.m.–when it was already 81 degrees outside–that hot yoga was out of the picture. That’s when I had just returned from a relatively mild 20-minute walk covered in sweat. Things did not improve throughout the day. I went out to lunch with my department and ate a giant turkey burger that put me into a post-meal stupor. Then the air conditioning in my office broke, which made that turkey-burger stupor even more difficult to overcome. It got so hot inside that we were actually permitted to leave early, at which point I drove home in my 100-degree tin can and collapsed on the living room floor, red-faced and kind of stinky.
However. Although I didn’t make it to class for the third week in a row, I still committed myself to yoga. I found a new podcast on iTunes (an 80-minute vinyasa flow) and went upstairs to my yoga room…which was pretty much a hot yoga studio in itself at that point on this sweltering day. I sweated, I dripped, rubber mat bits stuck to my slimy feet, stray strands of hair were plastered all over my arms and neck, and, by golly, I needed a shower when it all ended.
On this third week away from the yoga studio, my guilt about not attending class is finally dissipating. As a regular student, I tend to get all kinds of anxiety if I have to miss class. I’m afraid of upsetting the instructor, of unintentionally making the studio owner think I hate her business, of tricking myself into thinking I’m lazy. But it’s none of the above–I’m just hot, and I don’t want to do yoga right now in an even hotter room.
This same studio started offering Saturday morning classes, and at first I was really excited. I went to one class and had every intention of making it a regular thing–until it became summer. And then I had a 5Rhythms class one week. And then I slept in the following Saturday because I had gotten to bed really late the night before.
I feel bad because I was once a yoga teacher and know how it feels to see someone one week and not the next. Or the next. All kinds of crazy things spiral through your mind–Did I say something offensive last time? Was my class too hard? Did I touch her feet during savasana and maybe she has a weird foot thing? She thinks I’m a dork. A diva. A doofus.
But sometimes (most of time), it’s just life that’s keeping us from the studio. Or the weather. Up until three weeks ago, my body craved hot yoga class. I’d be in my cubicle at 4 p.m., thinking Yay, yoga class in two hours! When my body doesn’t do that, maybe it’s time to take a little break and try something different.
I slept in again this Saturday, and then on Sunday I tried something totally different (and terrifying)–I went to a new yoga studio! (Ahhhhh, yoga studio anxiety kicking in again!) It’s just a 15-minute walk from my house, so I went over there on foot, took what turned out to be a challenging but manageable and fun vinyasa flow class in an un-air-conditioned (warm but not hot–just perrrrfect in my book) studio, and came home feeling great…until my yoga high (and the caffeine in the iced coffee I grabbed for my walk home) caused me to dance uncontrollably for an hour in my living room, to the point where I was almost as sweaty as my husband after his 4-mile run.
So even though it’s too hot for hot yoga, I guess it’s never too hot for a yoga-induced dance party. 🙂
Lately I’ve been discovering that some of my best workouts happen when I’m just winging it, when I leave the house for work in the morning with not a clue of what I’m going to do for that evening’s workout. I’ll always leave with a bag of random gear in hand–yoga mat, sneakers/socks, shorts, combination lock for the gym. Sometimes I use ’em, sometimes I don’t.
Don’t get me wrong, structure is great. In fact, it is somewhat scary for me NOT to have a solid plan, because I am normally a very.structured.person. I like to be home by 8 on weeknights, ensuring me enough time to stretch before bed, get the next day’s outfit together, prep the coffee maker, make tomorrow’s lunch. I wake up by 5:30 every morning so I can do my “routine”–more stretching, some breathing, a little yoga, a few hip exercises before hitting the shower. I have difficulties being spontaneous, because in my mind, I already have a plan.
When it comes to working out, though, I’ve been finding that I get discouraged if I start the day at 8 a.m. thinking, “OK, tonight you will ride the bike for 30 minutes and then do 10 minutes of abs and an upper-body workout.” My body doesn’t respond well to repetitive motion exercises like biking or the elliptical, so the instant I tell myself that’s what I have to do, I already start hating it. Nine times out of 10 I’ll still follow through with it, but I’ll leave the gym feeling meh instead of yeah!
As I mentioned in this previous post, sometimes just tossing a medicine ball for a few minutes sparks a spontaneous and exhilarating workout. So this week I’ve been making an effort to just wing it, or–to tie in with my blog’s mission statement–to go with the flow. Here’s what happened:
• I woke up early last Saturday because I thought I’d go swimming before my friend’s pool party later that evening (hey, what’s wrong with a little double dipping?). But as the morning wore on, it was clear that I was never going to get my butt to the gym; also, it was beautiful out that day, and I hate wasting sunny skies and summer weather by being inside. So instead of a bathing suit, I slipped into some shorts and sneakers and headed out for an aimless walk. Two bathroom stops, one organic juice purchase, a red iPod Nano on the fritz, and 7 miles later, I arrived back home, in just enough time to clean myself up and change into that bathing suit for my friend’s party. There, I played around with a kickboard in the pool and treaded water in the deep end for a bit. Long walk AND some light swimmy-swim. Score!
• With my hair still heavy with chlorine from the previous night’s party, on Sunday I headed back into the pool for a lap workout. But because I got a decent night’s sleep and had coffee recently infused in my system, my body was primed for anything but light swimmy-swim. A huge burst of energy came out of nowhere, and my normal ho-hum out-and-back lap routine turned into fast-forward, high-powered workout. In my workout log, I actually termed it the “Woah, Speed!” swim.
• Monday was probably the most satisfying of winging-it days. It was the day before the summer solstice, the weather was warm, the sun was brilliant. I felt like I had to honor this day and soak up as much daylight as possible (aaaah, the bittersweetness of summer solstice, the commencement of my favorite season yet also the beginning of the end of what feels like round-the-clock sunlight, happiness, and rainbows). I drove to the nearby Red Bank Battlefield, which is ever-so-gradually becoming my go-to spot whenever Mother Nature is dressed to the nines (Side note: It’s a national park, so there are rangers on site. Rangers, with government patches on their shirt sleeves, wide-brimmed ranger hats, and official-use golf carts to drive around the property. I love rangers! It makes the place feel so official. It reminds me of Ranger Rick magazine!) There, I threw together an impromptu workout of walking around the many winding pathways, climbing the steep steps several times, doing some triceps dips on park benches, and attempting to do a chin-up on a tree branch (FAIL, because the branch ended up being a lot higher than it looked).
The sun wasn’t ready to set yet, so I set up camp (plopped down my yoga mat) on the big lawn that faces the Delaware River.
I did some basic yoga stuff (lots of sun salutes), but I had on my iPod and the music was calling for me to dance. I did stand on my yoga mat and do a lot of dance-inspired asanas, but the sprawling lawn, glowing sun, sparkling river, and overall beauty of the day were just begging me to bust out some free-form moves. I’m ashamed to admit I was held back by fear of what others in the park would think of me, this girl dancing in the grass. My body ached to express itself in such a picturesque environment, and even though I felt insulated by the iPod ear buds that separated me from any passersby’s comments, I held back and did not dance how my body was requesting to. I moved and grooved with reservation; it was nice, but not 100% fulfilling. How come I think it’s acceptable for someone to sit on a park bench and play the guitar while singing along, but I fear that dancing is totally weird? Argh. Still, a pretty decent combination of random stuff that made me sweat and get my heart rate up.
• Tuesday morning, I was listening to my otherwise chill Grooveshark playlist as I did my morning stretches when Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” clicked on. Suddenly, I was on my feet and dancing. Hard. What was supposed to be a few minutes of gentle yoga postures turned into a spontaneous dance party, and by the end I really needed my morning shower. (Note: This happened again this morning as I was listening to Florence and the Machine’s album [Lungs] for the first time. Seriously, how can one NOT be moved to dance to “Cosmic Love”?! Note II: It’s the song they’re playing with the trailer for Elephants for Water.)
• Thursday night is supposed to be my non-negotiable hot vinyasa class. The studio is 2 minutes from my office, I love the teacher, and it’s one of the few studio class I get to take each week. I had my mat and change of clothes packed, but when I left the office I suddenly just didn’t want to go to class. It was insanely humid outside already. I wasn’t looking forward to getting home no earlier than 8:00 p.m., missing the group number of So You Think You Can Dance as I showered, and rushing to make dinner. I still wanted to do yoga, however, so instead I came home, took the laptop upstairs to my yoga room (which, given the weather, already felt like a hot yoga studio), and did a 75-minute Jivamukti podcast. I love that the classes are recorded live, so when I Om, other students are Omming along with me! (Many thanks to all the yoga teachers out there who record their classes and put them online; taking a “live” class is so much better than listening to someone speak into a microphone in a recording studio.) I still feel like I’m getting that community experience…plus it makes for a wild experience when the music the podcast teacher plays during savasana is the same as what my hot vinyasa teacher would have been playing at that time!
I was winging it, but that security blanket of familiarity was still rolled up under my knees, supporting me along the way.
Visions of days like today are my “happy places” on dark, icy nights in January, when I’m sitting in yoga class, not really 100% sure if I’m actually there for the yoga or just the 95-degree-plus-humidity climate. During opening meditation, when the teacher tells us to imagine ourselves in a place where we feel at ease, relaxed, happy, I ditch her suggested visualization of a tropical beach, hammock, and ocean and instead envision a more realistic scene that includes our kitchen, with the sun streaming through the open windows, ceiling fan making the wispy white curtains dance; our bedroom, where I wake up at 5 a.m. in nothing but a t-shirt and underpants; my car, where the windows are down, my legs are bare under my flowing skirt, my feet sockless. I imagine driving down the main road in town, the path ahead of me a clear stretch of blacktop lined with flourishing green plants and canopied with flowering trees, no longer an obstacle course of snow piles and ice patches and bare tree limbs looming over me like giant skeleton hands ready to crack and tumble onto the roof of my car.
THAT’s my happy place, and I’m there right now, folks. April has been kind enough to bless South Jersey with a little preview of summer, a preview during which the digital clock outside the bank flashes 88, the shower dial isn’t turned all the way to the left, and the frozen yogurt Bryan and I dish ourselves for dessert starts softening just a little quicker.
Mornings like this make it more difficult to decide how to best wake myself up—it feels like the opportunities are endless! Do I do sun salutations synchronized to the sunrise? Do I put on my sneakers and walk around the neighborhood as the sky transitions from dark blue to turquoise? Do I bike? Dance? Swim in the sunny, salty waters of my gym?
This is the time of year when routines are broken, when just because I planned to do such-and-such this morning, you know what? It’s so beautiful out, I’m inspired, and I’m going to do THIS instead. I went to bed with every intention of waking up at 5, doing my meditation challenge, and heading outside for a 2-mile walk, but after assessing the way my body was feeling, I decided to dance instead of walk. I had just gone on a nice walk the evening before, and I was reluctant to change out of my comfy pajamas. Meg from Spirit Moves Dance recently posted a great 5Rhythms playlist that I have been itching to try out, so this morning my way of waking up included a little bit of Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness. Forty minutes later, my pajamas were saturated in sweat, my heart rate quicker than any walk could have given me. I felt like I was partially responsible for helping the sun rise, like my 7 minutes of thrashing around in Chaos shook the earth just enough to pop the sun from under the horizon.
Although I changed my planned routine this morning, I do have morning rituals that are very hard to break. Aside from the basics (brushing teeth, getting dressed), my morning essentials include:
- Drinking a big cup of warm water. Apparently warm/hot water gets the digestion tract going, and I also believe everyone wakes up dehydrated, so it’s important to get liquids in the system ASAP!
- Rolling around and stretching on the living room floor like a cat, which usually involves some kind of yoga moves (downdogs, supta matsyendrasana), as well as using my foam roller to knead out muscle kinks.
- Standing warm-ups, such as Breath of Joy or Empty Coatsleeves…something with a hara breath.
- All or some of my physical therapy exercises. Doing the entire set takes about half an hour, so usually I’ll abbreviate each exercise or do only a few.
- Showering. Even if I shower the night before and do nothing in between then and leaving for work, I still need to stand under warm water for a few minutes. My muscles aren’t the same otherwise!
- Finally, meditation. This is relatively new, but I’m trying to get it to stick. I started the Chopra Center’s 21-Day Spring Meditation Challenge 10 days ago, and I’ve actually been looking forward to the 10 to 15 minutes of quiet reflection each morning. I’m hoping that one day meditating in the morning will be as easy as drinking a glass of water!
QUESTION: What are your morning rituals?
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).