Published on May 12th, 2015 | by Rachel Scanlon0
Terror and transcendence: Bikram yoga is more than working up a sweat
Originally published in June 2012.
Anyone who has driven down 6th Avenue in the last ten years has undoubtedly noticed Hot Yoga of Tacoma. For the past decade, Hot Yoga of Tacoma has been the only heated yoga studio teaching Bikram yoga in town but recently two more have opened. Expand Yoga, located downtown on Pacific Avenue, and Simply Hot Yoga Wellness Center opened in University Place.
But even with a 66% increase in its hot yoga studios, most Tacomans remain unaware of the practice. Case in point, a new acquaintance found out that I practice hot yoga, so she asked me the seemingly innocent question, “What is it like?” which immediately sent me into a manic diatribe on why I love hot yoga. I’m surprised she didn’t back away from my zealotry slowly, perhaps spraying mace into my eyes for good measure.
And I do. Love hot yoga. Like the way people love other people who are meaningful and important to them. Shoot, maybe even the way some love Jesus. And my fanaticism isn’t even rare. It’s pretty standard for those who regularly practice hot yoga to be extreme in their appreciation.
What is it about hot yoga that causes an almost religious reverence in its practitioners? Why do the eyes of “hot yogis” widen in excitement as they gush about their beloved, becoming more animated as they speak, an ever-growing smile on the lips, insisting that it has changed their lives in indescribable ways, and swearing it will do the same for you? And why don’t people who run on a treadmill have the same reaction to their form of exercise?
But that’s the thing right there, see, for to call hot yoga “exercise” is high heresy to those who practice it. This is not to say it doesn’t strengthen and improve the body; it does so in spades. But it does much more than just improve balance, strength, and flexibility. Much more.
Because of hot yoga, I lost a stubborn thirty pounds which I’d been hauling around through my twenties. I became toned and fit. I’ve even been complimented on my triceps. I’ve become uber-flexible, folding in half this way and that. I can even do the splits, a feat I last accomplished when I was four years old. My posture’s better, I breathe more naturally and easily, I get sick more rarely, I sleep better, eat better, drink a ton of water everyday, and my skin, hair, and body thank me for it.
But the most pronounced benefit I have received from practicing hot yoga is what it has done to strengthen me mentally. The room is hot. And humid. And often crowded. They say it’s 105 degrees, but I have taken classes where I swear I could actually see the heat waves in the room. My first three months of doing hot yoga, it took all of my mental discipline not to bolt from the room, battling the running monologue in my head to: “Get. Out. Now.”
And Bikram yoga itself? Intensely hard; humbling even. Try being thirty years old and having to balance on one foot in a room full of strangers, in front of a mirror no less, where you can see the fat jiggling, and not hang your head in shame when you wobble all over the place and almost fall on your face. Muscles shaking, sweat not dripping but pouring from your body, while a slim, pretty instructor sternly barks at the room: “Strong leg, lock it out, focus!”
Maintaining certain poses would work far better than water-boarding when interrogating a prisoner-of-war. Sometimes I feel I would rather the instructor kick me in the side than do locust pose.
I walked into my first hot yoga class very aware of the fact that I was terrified to try it, but that is why I went. And that is why I kept going back, even when I felt like a complete fool with no flexibility and a crybaby who couldn’t handle a little bit of heat. So I could face my fear. So I could overcome it. And so I could apply this lesson to every other aspect of my life.
I forced myself kept going back, and eventually the day came when I realized I was in love. I saw what the hot yoga had done for me. It helped me to reach into myself, and pull out the strength which resides deep inside, and which is present in all of us. The experience becomes transcendent. It becomes, dare I say it, spiritual. Not in a raucous tent-revival kind of way, but in a very personal and very powerful way.
Kristine Borden, who is a devoted practitioner of hot yoga and teacher, puts it like this: “It changed me as a person. It has taught me so much about myself…and made me comfortable with surrendering. You get so engrossed in your own world. You put down your ego, and you realize you’re connected with other people.” Borden smiles broadly then adds, “You become kinder to yourself.”
Brienna Calaway is only twenty-one years old, but she has been practicing yoga for eight years. She discovered hot yoga four years ago. When asked what hot yoga has done for her, she replies: “What hasn’t it done?” Besides helping her lose weight and increase flexibility, Calloway says hot yoga was the only thing that kept her sane while she was in college and working at the same time.
But, says student Kim Long, despite all of the benefits and wonders that hot yogis swear by: “You just have to do it to see if it’s for you.” And, includes Long: “You have to try it more than once. At least a few times” before you should decide whether or not hot yoga is for you.
Luckily for Tacoma, all three hot yoga studios have fabulous introductory offers for new students: Hot Yoga of Tacoma and Expand both offer a week unlimited for $15, and Simply Hot Yoga has coupons for a free week of classes. Now a curious student could even try out all three studios and decide which one is the best fit.
Hot yoga: it may not be love at first sight, but it’s the best marriage in the world.