Thursday, September 19, 2013

Slip Sliding Away...aka...Hot Yoga

This may come as a surprise to many of you out there, but I took my first yoga class in 1973. A gal pal of mine in grade 11 and I decided to add it to our repertoire in a vain attempt to turn our curvy butts and muscled calves into something they were not. We dreamed of long graceful torsos and ballerina gams when the reality was we were 5'3" and 5'4" respectively.  Damn her for being so much taller than me! 

No amount of spine lengthening shoulder-stands or downward dogs was about to change any of that, but we persevered nonetheless.  This of course was in the day of yoga studios (I use the term "studio" loosely here) above downtown commercial spaces in St. Catharines where we both grew up. You entered them through a darkened doorway and headed straight up a set of creaky old stairs and entered a large cavernous space covered in old worn hardwood or maybe some old vinyl tiles with the odd chip here and there.  Everyone would find a spot on the floor and wait while others arrived, while the instructor busied herself with her cassette player and lit some ghastly patchouli smelling incense. She had no doubt graduated from the "flower-child" school of Hatha Yoga and led some sort of alternative lifestyle that we found a bit weird yet fascinating. This Lola Granola gal was from another planet surely.

It was a mixed crowd.  In fact, I am quite certain we were the youngest in the crowd most evenings. One of the participants in our class was a man well into his seventh decade, a local eye, ear, nose & throat specialist that once treated me for ear infections as a child.  It is always strange to see one of your doctors in civvies, but I assure you it is well beyond creepy to see one curled up in Pavanmuktasana (wind-relieving) pose next to you and even more uncomfortable when said pose worked for him.  This of course sent the two of us into utter spasms trying to suppress our immature girly laughter and our own gassy emissions. 

Oddly, I do not recall bringing a yoga mat or a bottle of water to class. Maybe because the room was a normal temperature and not FIVE MILLION DEGREES! It was not referred to as a "practice", it was simply called "yoga class", and your wardrobe did not require a special trip to an over-priced shop for "breathable" logo-stamped clothing. I was even able to do double-duty with the same leotard and body suit I wore to my Jazz and Ballet classes that year. 

At the time, yoga was not cool (or hot for that matter).  It was out there and available, but if you did not do it, no one was going to think you were unenlightened.  Yes, that is how it feels now.  What? You don't practice? Oh, you really should.  It is sooooooo good for you. It has completely transformed my body. I cannot de-stress without it! Blah Blah Blah! The Cult of Yoga. That is what it is now. So, not wanting to miss out on this amazing life transforming, detoxifying, stress-relieving activity, I geared up last winter and signed up for a month of Moksha yoga. 

Let me start by saying I detest saunas and have been known to overheat in a hot tub. As I entered the "practice" room for my first class I felt the same shock you get when you exit the plane and descend the stairs to the tarmac when you land in the tropics after being holed up in a Canadian winter for 4 months. Gasp!  The shock of the heat and the thick moist air pushes a panic button in me and it takes gargantuan focus to talk my way through the moment. Remain Calm Deb, breathe slowly. Move slowly. You can do this. You will not drown in your own steam. So, I try to find a spot where I will still be able to watch the instructor, but not be too front and centre in case I do pass out from heat stroke. We are to lay in Savasana (corpse pose) until we begin. Great, I think as I just may be a corpse before the end of this. 

Before the class even begins, I am perspiring. Just a moist film covering my skin for now. Hmmm, maybe I can handle this. The instructor arrives just as I start to nod off and asks us to set an intention for our practice today. What?  An intention? Now my relaxed corpse body has tightened as I scramble to think of one. Not wanting to miss out on a chance to set one and have it manifest at the end of an hour, I want to think of something really profound or mind-blowing. I come up empty. Nothing. Surely there must be some issue or deep-seated emotion I need to vanish from my being.  But no, nothing. Then it dawns on me.  I know. I will set the intention that I will not let my beginner hot yoga self feel intimidated by the long-practicing yoga gurus in the class. I will not compare my skills (or lack of them) or my body, or my pace with anyone. Perfect. That is my goal for this class.

There is only one small problem with this. Mirrors. Not only can I see myself, but I can see everyone else as well, despite the dim lighting. The man with the crazy, hairy back, the tall sinewy pretzel girl, the Olga Korbut look-alike, the tatooed dude with the six-pack, and his big tits, no ass girlfriend, the serene looking east Indian woman who has surely been doing this her entire life, several perky, pony-tailed milfs, a couple of women my age with larger asses and a couple with smaller ones and those are just the ones I can see clearly. Ugh! There is no way in the world I will not be able to look and compare. 

And so we begin. I move through the simple poses, trying to keep my focus on how my body feels, my technique, my balance. I can feel myself getting hotter and hotter. The sweat is now trickling off my chin, droplets hitting the mat slowly at first, then more steadily. I silently thank god I wore a cotton headband to absorb what is now wet hair and keeping the sweat from dripping in my eyes. We stop to hydrate. Momentary relief. I cannot feel any air circulation. I need a fan, a breeze, something to cool me down. Nothing. Onward we proceed. Ugh. Dancer's Pose. I hate this pose. I cannot do it in the best of times, but now, my hand, slippery with my own hot bodily fluids, cannot grasp my leg without slipping. The instructor notices me struggling and comes by and helps but now I sense all eyes on me and it makes me sweat even more. Stop it. Stop it. Remember the intention. Fuck the intention. Now I just want to move on to the next pose. End my misery. Now I start wondering what time it is and how much longer I have to endure this discomfort.

I recall there were 2 choices for class length. Was I in the 60 minute or 90 minute slot? Please, please, tell me it is the 60 minute class. My foot slides on my mat as I lunge into Warrior pose and I can feel the groin strain and quickly pull it back in before I end up in the splits involuntarily. Relief arrives as we get down on the mat for some spine twisting pose and that is when it happens. The neck issue I was suffering from for months prior to this class, rears its ugly head and no amount of deep cleansing breathing will end my now stiffening neck. All I can think about now is when will we be able to lay in Savasana again? I want to be a corpse. 

Finally prone again, I wonder if it is actually even possible to re-hydrate after this self-imposed torture. Then it occurs to me that a post-session weigh-in might be in the cards. Surely I just lost about 5 pounds of fluid.  For a moment I am excited and feeling light and detoxed. The instructor has suggested we lay here for as long as we like. Although I want to roll up my soggy mat right away and escape this choking steamy atmosphere, I wait a few minutes,  not wanting to be the first one to leave. Leaving too soon disturbs the folks who are lying in some state of Nirvana it seems. One woman is a bit noisy as she departs and a couple of enlightened souls shush her, perhaps their intention to not sweat the small stuff and release all their anger did not quite gel in the hour spent in clammy contortions. 

I finally get up off the floor and start gathering my mat and water bottle and towel and head for the door toward what now seems an oasis of cool. The peeling off of the wet supposed breathable yoga wear is as difficult as putting a wet bathing suit on.  It all lands in a damp heap on the floor and I am so grateful for cool air on my skin, I don't even care that I am naked among strangers, my aging breasts likely shocking to the younger perkier gals in the locker room. No more shocking I suppose than the number of tramp stamps I notice on several of them. My head does a double take on the way to the shower. Did she really have Namaste inked above her ass crack? 

For the record, I actually did this 7 more times that month. I think there might have been one day that I actually did not hate it, but the feeling passed almost as quickly as it arrived and my neck actually got worse and worse. I clearly had hoped it was going to help but that was not my experience. This is one bandwagon I needed to get off. And I did. 

Namaste to that.

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