If you stop wanting to try new things in life, you’re really just marking time until the end. It was in this spirit that I, just turned 46 and wanting to get healthier and look better for my wedding next spring, agreed to try yoga. Not just any yoga, but this hot yoga you all have been hearing about, and some of you have been scoffing at.
What is hot yoga? Spoiler alert: It’s hot. Not so much the yoga itself, but the room in which the venerable technique of breathing, stretching and strength-building exercises is practiced. (I have a sneaking suspicion that in the steamy land in which it was born, “hot yoga” is just “yoga.”) Monday morning, as hydrated as I could be, a little nervous but a lot more curious, I presented myself to Stephanie Nystrom, instructor at The Hot Spot at Signature Fitness on North Front Street. Stephanie knows her stuff — she’s been teaching yoga for almost 10 years and was great at explaining things and assuaging anxieties. I had been wanting to give yoga a spin for a while. But as I closely resemble a resident of The Shire and am about 100 pounds away from anything resembling the skinny people presented as typical yoga enthusiasts, there was shyness to overcome. And the fear that an abdomen-squeezing pose would cause a mortifying and completely uncool flatulence incident.
But I digress. The class, like Stephanie, were really welcoming and supportive. We entered the room, which was heated to a toasty 105 degrees Fahrenheit. In my on-again, off-again battle for fitness, I have been to just about every gym in Poughkeepsie, Rhinebeck and Kingston. I judge them on how much I like the sauna; the post-workout bake session is vital to my gym-satisfaction. So I was not intimidated by the heat and I fully embraced how it would help with the stretching aspect of yoga. What came as a surprise was just how much I could sweat during an hour-plus in a 105-degree room — I had no idea, really. A new personal record for perspiration.
Stephanie expertly led the class and kept an eye on the students, especially the new one in the corner. There was nothing mandatory about the poses, no pressure or cause to feel shame. You’re free to take a pause or leave the room at any point if you feel the need. I did the best I could, and actually better than I thought I would as a total noob.
The heat didn’t just help me feel more flexible; it became an immersive experience. As I moved my body this way and that and the sweat started to pour out of my pores, I felt elevated in a new way, like my consciousness was opening up and the distinction between self and surroundings diminishing. But then I would bend over and get brought back to myself by almost barfing up my Kashi. Had I actually read the webpage Stephanie suggested I read before the class, I would have known that eating before class was not recommended. Definitely no second breakfast for this distant Baggins cousin, and not even a first breakfast either.
As writers do, when I am having an experience, especially a new one or one I know I’m going to use later for material, I am writing lines in my head as the experience unfolds. This time, I found that hard to do, as the yoga and the heat made me let go of the conscious/processing part of my mind so I could just … be. Stephanie at some point said something about yoga’s purpose being to touch the divine. While that means different things to different people, for me, who thinks a lot all the time about everything, “just being” feels close to godliness. I spend my workdays and too much of my free time in the space between my eyes and a computer screen. A total bodily experience such as this was a very welcome change.
When the class was done and we went into the next room, two sensations enveloped me: coolness (literally, I could see vapor rising from my skin and those of my classmates) and a blissed-out euphoria which, I learned, is called “yoga brain.” It was an ordeal, sure, but not a negative one by any means — much more of a cleansing and unburdening than anything else. We all chatted for a while; I heard about how hot yoga had helped them in both body and mind. For several hours afterwards, I was happy and freakily serene for a Monday. I was a little sore, but no more than I would be from a regular trip around the weight-circuit.
So here’s the takeaway: hot yoga is hot, it rules, and I will be back, if for no other reason than to compile notes for my upcoming book “Hot Yoga for Hobbits.” Check out Stephanie’s website at hotspotkingston.com for more info. And really — don’t be afraid to try something new. More than any exercise technique, lifestyle habit or nutrition trick, learning something you didn’t know will keep you young and make the world seem forever new.