We’ll Never Be This Limber Again
By. Shaun Hogan
Hot Yoga. Among the uninitiated, few words conjure such pointed distaste for the New Age. You do what? Torque your body for an hour in the heat? Listen to some instructor’s lame ambient playlist? To an outsider the positivity of such classes, replete with phrases like “honour your body,” is nearly saccharine, almost dripping with poorly appropriated Eastern philosophy.
Nevertheless, when I receive the text from my girlfriend––”Hot Yoga? 8:30?”––I respond inexplicably, “Yes!”
Call it curiosity.
Over the next few hours I’m told to “bring water, lots of water”. I’m told I’ll sweat more than I ever have in my life. I’m told, in short, to take this thing seriously, for the man who underestimates hot yoga is a sorry man indeed.
And true to form, some twenty minutes before class, I eat ice-cream, drink coffee, lap perfunctorily (and briefly) at some tap water, and feel certain that I’ve heeded exactly none of the warnings.
“Do you have shorts,” she asks.
“Yes,” I say and show her my long and weighty leg-curtains
“Did you bring water”
“Nope,” I explain. Unpreparedness has always been the vice of my life.
She laughs, unsurprised, checks her phone. The time has come to learn the limits of male flexibility.
Ascending the stairs to the studio, the first thing I see is a small rack with a sign above it: “Please Remove Your Shoes”. Barefoot is good, I muse. Barefoot works.
I pay for the class, rent a mat, change into pink and turquoise jogging shorts (goodbye curtains, hello blinds!) and soon find myself in a dimly lit roasting room, mat in hand, with thirty or so others stretching their bodies into preliminary contortions or else simply looking blissed-out in repose.
I roll out my mat beside my gal’s and smile as if to say “I don’t know what this is, but I’m here and let’s do this.”
Scanning the room, I spot a bevy of young women, a few older ones, a smattering of 20-something men– maybe five at most. Long drawn-out chords swim from the speakers, lending the room an air of pure ambient bliss. I stand on my mat, legs straight as planks, and bend over, bringing my hands as close as they can to my feet. (This, I realize, is the only actual stretch I know.)
My thighs tighten; I wince secretly and recall the breathing techniques a 17 year-old version of myself would have used for meditating during stoned school lunch hours:
Breathe in––two, three, four, five.
Breathe out––two, three, four, five.
The music stops.
A woman, probably in her late twenties, addresses the class: “Is this anyone’s first time doing yoga?”
A hand shoots up overeagerly and it’s mine. Moving like a clumsy kayaker’s paddle, my mop dips over each shoulder in search of another newcomer, someone sporting the same look of unease.
“Good thing you’re in the middle,” the instructor says. “You’ll have lots of people to guide you!”
I flash an awkward, dumb smile and through my teeth make an inaudible squeak of acknowledgement. I want to be the centre of attention like Brian Wilson wanted a reality show in the 80’s. But instead, when someone hits ‘play’ and the chords again swim from the speakers all liquid and loose, I feel suddenly relaxed, cut from the old nooses of anxiety and worry.
“Find your centre,” the instructor coaxes and directs us into our first pose – “The Downward Dog.”
Imagine forming a triangle, ass as apex, hands stretched forward with legs stretched back, head tucked between arms looking off to the tops of your feet. Holding ‘the Dog’, steadying my breath––two, three, four––I silently effuse about how easy this Yoga thing is, how precocious a student I am, how overblown the strain of it all seems on this apparently limber body of mine…
But if Yoga is grace under pressure (as I’ve heard from some) I am certainly not doing Yoga, or if I am it’s some dramatically altered, mutant version; because the instructor is telling me to stand on one leg––which is hard enough––take my loose foot in hand and move it around my body as though it’s not even attached, and I am failing expertly at this. “Push the foot out,” she’s telling us, “pull it close, press down on your thighs”. Again and again I fall until, walking past, still uttering a stream of ruthless directions, the woman straightens my posture. I align foot with knee, knee to thigh; I breathe hard and search for “my centre”.
And strangely, on several occasions, just barely balancing on one foot, I hear the woman say something––“Feel your weight through your big toe”; “tuck your thighs, but flare your knees”––and my body snaps into focus. Imbalance resolves into balance, led by the simplest acts of mental cunning. To be sure, in sixty minutes I’ve sweat more than I’ve ever sweat in my life; I’m water-logged by the end. My hands have swelled hideously, turning once shallow palm-lines into deep canyon rivers. But I feel good. Really good.
So say what you will about Yoga––Consumerism dressed up in a philosophy of abdication? Probably. (Think of the $5.7 billion dollar industry, the myriad yoga-specific products for sale). Another New Age venture founded on slippery notions of self-help? Perhaps it’s these things and yet something more––something less cynical.
Because not everyone has to buy into the weekend retreats, the Lulu Lemon wardrobe (although I’m told they’re supremely comfy), the pseudo-philosophical subtext. My girlfriend doesn’t. And I don’t either.
“We must remember to honour our bodies,” the instructor keeps saying.
A week ago it’s a fair bet I would have scoffed at this. But lying there with thirty others, soggy, tired, yet undeniably awake, I choose not to. Maybe after all the booze, all the cigarettes, all the other miscellaneous substances that find their way into me, a little “honour” is just what my body needs.