When hot yoga leaves you cold

Over the past few years, I have heard many positive things about hot yoga. People go into an insanely hot room and sweat their asses off. By the end of it, they feel clean and revitalized. While I was fooled at first, I now know how brutal this really is. I write to warn those innocent to the realities of hot yoga by telling you about my first experience with it.

When my friend told me that there was a one-week unlimited special at a Bikram hot yoga studio near my house, I decided to go for it. If people think yoga is a good form of exercise even though all you do is stand around in different poses, then sweating more must mean it’s more effective, right?

The reception area of the studio I went to was bright and clean, and the women working there were extremely friendly. I was so pleased that I was trying out the latest workout fad. I quite enjoyed the class at first, but that ended once the instructor walked in the room and we had to stop lying on our mats.

We began with a breathing exercise in which we “stretched and compressed our ribs while taking deep inhales and exhales.” Basically, we took huge lungfuls of air heavy with heat and moisture before exhaling it all back out where it stayed, stagnant in the suffocating room. We then began the standing poses. The sweat was officially dripping off me by the bucket load. I alternated between seeing spots and having a stomach ache. I loved some of the poses we got into and felt like I could be strengthening my body and increasing my flexibility. But that could have been a hallucination brought on by dehydration. The instructor was wearing a microphone like Gwen Stefani live and talked rapidly, plus she kept clapping at us to signify when we were done different poses. I’d never felt more like a dog in my life. And not the downward kind, either — doing that pose would have caused too much blood to rush to our heads in all the heat. When one person went into child’s pose to take a break, the instructor told her to lie on her back instead so she wouldn’t get lightheaded.

As we finished the standing poses and lay down on our mats, I was relieved that I had survived and would soon be released from this hell. Imagine my horror when I realized that this lying down was merely a quick break before we began the sitting poses. So much for making it out alive. These poses felt slightly easier than the standing ones; however, I couldn’t get over the fact that I was placing my face on the same towel that I had stood on and sweated all over for the last hour or so.

When the class finally ended, I could hardly wait to step into the normal temperature of the reception area. The cold air rushed over me like I’d jumped into a pool . . . but instead of feeling relieved, I initially was overcome with nausea. I made it to the change room and managed to peel off the clothes that I would likely toss in a dumpster — they were never going to be clean and dry again.

However, lots of fellow students told me, “It’s so great when you get used to it! Keep coming back and you’ll feel much better!”

I did come back a few times that week, seeing as I had paid for the deal. However, within the short timeframe I gave it, it didn’t get any more fun. Perhaps I wanted to vomit less, but that was about it. I figured it might eventually do wonders for my body, since wanting to die during a workout must mean it’s working. Yet for some reason I did not buy the year-long membership by the end of the week-long deal.

That summer, I took up yoga without the heat . . . and was amazed at what I had been missing. My body was tested as I tried new poses and worked to strengthen my muscles and increase my flexibility, but I did not want to faint while I was doing it. I could focus on these poses instead of focusing solely on the amount of sweat in my eye. The instructor spoke quietly and calmly without clapping at me like I was an obedient dog. And when the class was over, I felt calm and focused instead of absolutely wiped; plus, I felt I could go out in public and people wouldn’t stare and wonder what tidal wave had hit me.

I realize there are many people who love hot yoga, and I support pursuing the physical fitness of your choice. However, I will continue to do yoga without the inside-a-volcano heat. Hot yoga is not a magical solution for everyone.

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