Seriously, Sam? is a monthly column that takes a lighter look at suburban life. This month, Sam takes us through her “not so hot” yoga experience and why she will never do it again.
There are many things that happened during my time as a hot yoga teacher that neither my training, nor a multi-decade yoga practice, had prepared me for. Like the time I was giving a student a neck massage/adjustment at the end of class, and a huge drop of sweat blobbed from my chin onto her forehead. Was I supposed to pretend it didn’t happen? Apologize and offer her a towel? I decided to say nothing and gently wipe it away with the corner of my wet tank top in a flourish that made it seem like it was part of the experience. They don’t teach you how to manage all that sweat in yoga school. They also don’t give you a heads up about the smell.
“Eau de Hot Yoga,” is a powerful musk that can best be described as sweaty socks meet cooked mold. This signature scent gets trapped for eternity in the clothing of even the most diligent launderers (trust me, I know). Even yoga gear washed daily (like mine) forevermore emits the perfume of the hot yoga room the moment it gets wet; and, because the room is heated to around 100 degrees with the humidity of central Florida in August, profuse sweating is inevitable. Add to this the fact that breathing deeply is one of keys to a proper yoga practice, and you have a whole new definition of “endurance sport.”
Before I continue to expound upon the peculiarities of my least favorite type of yoga, let me tell you how I found myself in the hot room in the first place. When I gave up my high(ish) powered corporate job to be a stay-at-home mom, I started spiraling. Suddenly, my life seemed to have no meaning beyond toilet training, appeasing separation anxiety and policing snacks for traces of the milk or eggs my kids were allergic to. I had been practicing yoga since my 20’s and taking a teacher training had long been on my list of “things I would do if I didn’t have to work.” So when, as luck would have it, I was no longer working and my local studio was offering a training during my free time (i.e., free Mon-Fri after drop-off and before pick-up), I signed up. At least I would have something new to do for six weeks other than skulking around the playground before pick-up trying to hit on new mommy friends.
Hot yoga was gaining popularity, but I had successfully avoided it. Years earlier, when I was semi-cool and living in the city (and by semi-cool, I mean my 400-square-foot apartment was in close proximity to Magnolia Bakery,) I tried Bikram, a precursor to today’s hot yoga. It was not for me. I liked yoga because it was a counterbalance to my type-A tendencies; I was encouraged to go at my own pace, “honor my body,” and do what felt right for me. Bikram was different — a set series of poses, in an oppressively hot room, where you were strongly encouraged not to stop, drink water or leave for air, until the 90 minutes were over. A boot camp in the Amazon was not the ideal place for a neurotic to find inner peace. Plus, I sweat like an animal. Like, at the end of a yoga class in a regular room, I look as if I’ve just completed a marathon; so, after the Bikram class, I looked like I’d showered in my clothes.
After my one and only experience with Bikram, I planned to never enter a hot yoga room again. Nearly a decade later, I moved to Connecticut and became a not-quite-a-stay-at-home-mom-because-I-was-also-a-newly-minted yoga teacher. I was subbing classes and getting lots of positive feedback on my teaching; so, my studio offered me the highest honor that could be bestowed upon a new graduate: a regular, weekly class, in a prime timeslot…in their new, hot, yoga room.
In spite of my aversion to hot yoga, I loved teaching. I loved it so much that I overlooked a lot. Like, the fact that I usually spent the whole hot class feeling a nausea akin to the first trimester of pregnancy. Or the many times that I had to leap over moats of sweat
Sometimes I struggled with the fact that hot yoga attracted more of the “worker-outers” than the “worker-inners.” Since my own yoga practice served to keep my perfectionism in check, it pained me when students seemed more concerned with hitting the calorie goal on their fitbit than finding space in their bodies and quiet in their minds. Over time, I was able to get some of these people to slow down, do less, and be kinder to themselves. For a while I even coerced my crew to sit briefly for meditation at the end of class. Plus, everyone loved my playlists. I guess The Who, Eminem and Mumford and Sons makes almost fainting slightly more palatable.
I also grew close with many of my students. I knew who needed to do pigeon pose on their back because of their bad knee, and who was suffering from insomnia because their kid was in the middle of college applications. I was friends with these people. I guess sharing that much sweat creates a real intimacy.
Still, something felt wrong; here I was teaching my students to listen to their inner voices and do what felt right to them, in a place that I fundamentally hated. I had no beef with the people who chose to take classes in the hot room but, for me, the physical experience of hot yoga was tolerable at best, and the intensity was ideologically at odds with everything that drew me, personally, to the practice.
If I were more enlightened, I might have had this epiphany and taken action. Instead it took 6 years of teaching and a hard kick in the face before my path was clear. Literally, a student with zero body and spatial awareness (which was common amongst the “worker-outers” in the hot room) kicked up into a handstand and whacked my nose so hard I was nearly knocked unconscious. As I lay on the floor in the (air-conditioned) hallway, my student-friends cleaning the blood off my face with cold compresses, I finally realized that I was violating my own best advice. So, I quit.
Occasionally, I see some of my former students practicing next to me in regular yoga classes. I am always thrilled. I miss them. And I’m proud of them for doing their thing, hot or not. And then I go home and feel wistful about the time I spent as their teacher. Fortunately, I have an antidote to my nostalgia — one small hot yoga towel that I run under a little water and remember, in an instant, why I’m never going back again.