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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?
The other night I had to come face-to-face with something I am not normally comfortable with: my partially exposed body in a public yoga studio.
It was the first time in weeks I returned to the hot yoga studio for class, having given myself a break when the summer temperatures were at their highest. I was in a rush when I left for work that morning, and I packed my tote bag in haste. I thought I had packed my super-cool new pair of running/biking hybrid shorts, which are loose on the outside but have spandex biking shorts on the inside, and I thought I had packed a full-length, over-the-navel tank top, but when I went to get dressed in my office bathroom I instead found myself in loosey-goosey running shorts (with only built-in bloomers, no snug crotch-concealing spandex) and a cropped tank that was just a hair longer than a sports bra.
Now, I don’t normally cover up head-to-toe during a yoga class, but I do like to have some feeling of modesty (i.e., upper thighs, ass, and mid-section hidden from the public). That was not an option that night with my poorly chosen yoga clothes: My belly was in my face during every forward bend; every inversion, low lunge, and downdog was an opportunity for my sacred “bathing suit area” to say hello to the world.
At first, I was really uncomfortable. It’s one thing for me to dress minimally in the privacy of my yoga room at home, but here I was surrounded by mirrors and wandering eyes. My thighs in all their pale glory were just there for everyone to see. My belly, filled with the bran cereal I had sprinkled on my afternoon yogurt (note: not the best pre-yoga snack), felt like it was expanding minute by minute with fiber molecules.
However, about 30 minutes into the class, when my breath and movement started syncing, when flowing from pose to pose became more natural, that superficial paranoia about someone possibly catching sight of my imperfections began to dissipate. With each minute that went by, I felt more in touch with my body, proud of it for being able to hold steady in Warrior III, to sink deep into Utkatasana. It was then when I remembered why I do yoga, and why I love it so much–it peels away that outer layer of self-consciousness and brings forth my true essence. I am in yoga class, enjoying this movement, appreciating these 90 minutes of sweat and flow and mindfulness. As I fell more in love with the experience of my yoga class, I fell more in love with the feeling of just being me. I didn’t go to the extreme of getting all cheerleader rah-rah! about my body, but the mind-numbing chatter of “Oh god, my thighs, oh god, my belly, oh god, that questionable area where upper thigh and butt collide” faded far, far away. I was present. Here I am.
I had to remember that mantra the other day, as I stood in the locker room at the gym, contemplating whether or not I should step on the scale and weigh myself. I had just completed a 30-minute swimming workout and was still high on endorphins, feeling utterly awesome from head to toe. The period following a swimming workout is one of the few times I feel A-OK walking around tall and proud in just my bathing suit, sans towel or cover-up; the pride of just accomplishing a high-intensity workout boosts my confidence 100%, and I go from feeling eh to F–k yeah!
I had absolutely no reason to weigh myself (nevermind the fact that it’s kind of silly to weigh yourself when you’re drenched with pool water), but there was still a nagging curiosity to get on the scale. I hadn’t weighed myself in months; I just wanted to check in.
After a few minutes of internal debate, I finally left the gym without stepping foot on the scale. Because really, what good would it have done? I was relishing in my post-swim glow; what if the scale reflected a number that didn’t jive with that glowing feeling? How pathetic to let a three-digit number determine my mood for the rest of the evening.
Going back to the yoga studio, when I rose into headstand at the end of class, my paper-thin shorts swooshed toward my head, exposing my little bloomers for all to see. But at that point I was totally in the zone; in fact, that headstand was one of the most balanced, grounded, stable inversions I’ve ever done, and I played around with different leg positions without once wobbling. My shorts were falling in my face, but I was steady as a rock. I am breathing, I am in headstand, it looks like I’m wearing a bikini…yes, world–here I am.
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. 🙂
Do you ever take a yoga class and emerge feeling like there must have been crack in the ventilation system because you feel so damn high? I love those classes!
I was super excited when my yoga studio announced that it would be holding a vinyasa class this past Saturday morning. They normally don’t offer vinyasa on the weekend, but it was a special opportunity to welcome a new teacher. (Unfortunately, the teacher had to leave at the last minute for a family emergency so the studio owner taught the class instead.)
I needed this class to jump-start my weekend; our bathroom at home was in dire need of cleaning, and the rest of the house was begging for some TLC. I couldn’t dive into cleaning on my own–I needed a fuel source. I needed an hour and a half of sweat, breath, and concentration to bring my mind into focus. It was such a crappy day outside that morning, and I was crossing my fingers that some hot vinyasa (plus my usual cuppa morning joe) would get me going.
When class started, though, I felt sluggish. I’m not used to taking class in the morning, and my body still felt half asleep. I began to worry that I’d leave the studio in need a nap, not powered up and ready to go. But somewhere in the middle–maybe it was when the teacher helped me into an easier Warrior II stance or after that awesome heart-opening backbend–something awoke in me. Just like that, I was connected, plugged in, in the zone.
I walked out of the studio feeling a little loopy, came home for a quick little lunch (Trader Joe’s veggie burger–yum!), and then plopped my sweaty body next to the bathtub for some Soft Scrubbin’ action. After cleaning the bathroom, I dumped everything out of the linen closet and re-organized all of its contents. Then I moved onto the kitchen, cleaning the floor, counters, appliances. I was growing exhausted, but the magic yoga high still lingered–onto dusting the dining room and living room!
I didn’t get a shower that day until 7:30 p.m., at which point I changed from my yoga clothes straight into my pajamas. Yeah, it was a little grody wearing my sweaty yoga duds from 10 in the morning through the evening, but I was afraid that once I peeled off that tank top and spandex pants, the yoga euphoria would ::poof:: disappear, as if my saturated clothes were some kind of Superman cape.
Mission accomplished: Next time I have a big housekeeping task on the horizon, I’ll be sure to schedule a hot yoga class immediately beforehand! What does a good, sweaty yoga class motivate YOU to do??
So, I broke up with a yoga class.
I’m not sure of the proper protocol to follow (I never really made the split official with the teacher), but I do feel bad. But the fact of the matter is, every time I was with Kundalini I was daydreaming of Hot Vinyasa, and I hated not being able to devote my full attention to the one I was with.
Here’s the quick rundown: I take an awesome hot vinyasa class on Tuesday. Then a new yoga studio opened offering a kundalini class only on Thursday. I was all for it…until my hot vinyasa teacher began offering her class on Thursday nights as well. At first I was thrilled—I had the ability to take my two favorite classes each week! Vinyasa Tuesday, kundalini Thursday. The best of both worlds! That’s how it went. But the more and more I did hot vinyasa Tuesday, the more I wished I was there again on Thursday. Especially on colllllllld nights, when I’d go to the kundalini studio and the teacher would be arriving the same time as the students, so the heat wouldn’t officially kick in until the last 15 minutes of class. I’d sit there in sweatpants and a fleece jacket, thinking longingly of the hot yoga studio and its interminable tropical climate. And although I really dig the meditative quality of kundalini, some of the kriyas were just too hard on my hip and weren’t the most adaptable moves. Modifying poses in a hatha yoga class isn’t too difficult, but when you’re told to do 6 minutes of squats during kundalini, there’s really no easy alternative.
I felt so selfish for even considering breaking up with kundalini just to spend more time with vinyasa, but I just really like the way I feel after a hot yoga class. It’s one of the few forms of exercises I can do without hurting my hip; the heat is wonderful; and the class is 90 minutes long, as opposed to the 75-minute-really-60-minute-because-the-teacher-talks-for-the-first-15-minutes kundalini class. Back in the day, I used to take formal classes up to 5 times per week, so finally getting back into 2 solid days of studio vinyasa is an overdue accomplishment.
Next dilemma I foresee on the horizon: Being OK taking non-heated hatha classes. I’m afraid my body won’t know how to adjust when I step into a studio that doesn’t feel like Thailand in July. Perhaps my Under Armour Coldgear–once used for running outdoors in the winter–will have a second life as yoga attire for 72-degree studios.