I keep my house at 68 degrees, year-round. My ideal state of being is cold, chasing warmth. Humidity is not my friend and I thrive in the fall and winter seasons.
Yet, at nine in the morning on a cold January day in 2019, I walked into Hot 26 Yoga with two friends. Hot 26 has been previously referred to as Bikram Yoga, or Hot Yoga; the room is kept at over 100 degrees with a shit ton of humidity. As mentioned, this was the first yoga class I had ever done in my entire life. For those of you that are familiar with Hot 26, I am sure you are screaming at your device right now. But yes, I wanted to enter the world of bendy, stretchy movement with a bang. In the past few days prior, I had taken up morning meditations and thought that yoga was the natural partner of the new, mediative life I was cultivating so… bang, bang, here we go!
The perk of being a novice to the yogi world was that I did not realize the extent of what I was signing up for. However, in one phrase I can tell you what it was like the second I sat on the mat: I was a fish out of damn water.
Eyes bugging, gasping for air, in an environment completely unbeknownst to me, I was Finding Nemo if Nemo was searching for the desert. I saw myself in the mirror and grimaced. Looking at myself was something I actively avoided due to decades of body issues and weight fluctuations. Looked like today, I wouldn’t have a choice as the circumference of the studio was lined with wall to floor mirror paneling. With gritted teeth, that I swear were actually sweating, I told myself: “If you make it out of here alive, you will never have to do anything like this godforsaken shit ever again.”
Momentarily afterward, the instructor asked if anyone was a first-timer, and I raised my hand, along with my two companions. He offered wise, apt words of advice that I could not tell you for the life of me because, at that moment, I was convinced that I was about to pass out in front of roughly twenty strangers and two friends. The bad part was there would be no way to get me up once I was out because my body was already so saturated and slippery. I had the feeling it would be the equivalent of trying to wrangle a seal onto dry land. But still, we began with hands under chin and gurgleations of uncertain breathing patterns.
Catching my reflection in the mirror again about five minutes later, my entire face was already the color of a hot tomato. Sweat was dripping into my eyeballs and I was suddenly worried that my contacts were melting into my eye sockets, fueled by my ever-rising body heat and the inevitable boiling point of the salted surge coming out of my body. At that specific moment, I was attempting my first-ever eagle pose and the concept of wrapping myself around, well, myself in that way that seemed all but impossible.
“If all you do today is make it through, you’ve done enough. Maintain eye contact with yourself in the mirror.” The instructor chimed in. Did I imagine that he nodded in my direction?
Revisiting the dreaded mirror, I noticed my curly blonde hair was fraying out of its bun as if it was escaping the mold I had it in to reach out for the hot air around. I couldn’t feel the breath hitting the top of my lip anymore; it was like my whole body was breathing through the sweat in my body and the entirety of me was exhausting it out- matching the temperature in the room with the hot release of exhalation. For a second my eye contact broke with myself to scan my mirror reflection and I thought I was going to pass out. I was scarlet all over now. Arms, legs, tops of my feet and toes.
I searched for my own eyes again.
You do not belong here with these people, a mean voice from within rose up.
I was the only size “XL” in a room full of “S” and “M”. Beautiful women in sports bras and compression shorts were contorting their bodies in pretzels and glowing like rare, precious jewels. They wore colorful tops and tie-dyed bottoms; they donned headbands that were staying in place on top of their head and the ladies were, overall, comfortable in their concentration. I, on the other hand, was not. Black leggings, black short sleeve, black sports bra sliding around my skin, my overly large head and frizzy hair could never keep a headband on it: while these other women were celebrating their colorful ability to contort, I was in mourning of what I could not do and where I did not belong
God, I needed to find my eyes again but I did not like the reflection of what I was seeing. I seemed too big. Too sweaty. Too tense. Too unbalanced. What was I thinking coming here? For a second I closed my eyes, attempted to ground down into my right foot, and reached for my left leg- which was kicked out behind at an angle. Shit, I was going to fall.
“Try to keep eye contact with yourself in the mirror at all times. Find grounding in yourself,” the instructor reminded the class for what had to be the eleventh time.
Frustration was building inside me. The instructor’s gentle prodding felt like a personal attack launched directly at the too-large first-timer. Suddenly, every acceptable suggestion he provided was morphed into something else, constructed by my own inner monster.
He’d say, “breath, find your breath.”
My monster would twist, “you have about fifty pounds to lose before you find any breath at all.”
He’d say, “feel into this pose. Take your time”
My monster would retort, “there’s no way you can do any of these. Better never show your face again in front of these people.”
He’d say, “connect to your core for this one, yogis”
My monster would clarify, “no chance in hell your big stomach will let you contort in this way. What are you even doing?”
I had to stop. Everything felt wrong and, at that moment, my body was no longer sweating- it was weeping. Weeping for not belonging and weeping for another reminder of the disdain I had towards my own body. Yeah, my monster was getting out of control… I had to stop for a second. While everyone else folded into floor movements, I stopped in my easy seat. I closed my eyes again and focused on the breath that was previously labored. At that moment, I found my choice. I could go through these moves while hating myself, or I could leave, in the name of survival.
My memory was jogged and I realized my second option was toast. I couldn’t do that. The instructor had previously warned us of the danger of leaving the room and going from intense temperature change, so that wasn’t an option. Ahhh, the feeling of not having a choice. Cue the claustrophobia. I couldn’t leave without the risk of certainly passing out. Panic crept in for a moment, and my monster perked up. I braced myself for the insults it was about to throw my way. Damn. How much longer in this room?
“No,” something inside me said. I found my own eyes again, in front of me.
The voice cut through the air, which felt palpable in the heat. Like a cool, refreshing cut through the heaviness of my surroundings, it caused me to cock my head for a second. Waiting.
“What would it be like to just let it go?” The voice asked; not the instructor, not the monster, something unnamed in that moment but, in retrospect, I can only title my “womb-soul”, spoke up.
Let it go? What was the voice asking me to release? Looking down, I released my fists clenched and my jaw was hardened, neither purposefully. My shoulders were high to my ears and even my sit bones felt contracted. What would it be like to let go?
So, I tried it, timidly at first. I let go of panning and scanning the other bodies around me. I let go of the immediate “hell no” voice as soon as we moved into another posture. I let go to survive, to prevail, to submit to that voice of peace from within. Relaxing my entire body, I breathed in with appreciation and out with liberation.
From cobra pose onward, I kept my own eye contact and listened to the instructor’s guidance. I, in no uncertain terms, did not complete the moves correctly. I took small sips of water when needed and did not even attempt a floor bow. But I held my eyes. And in that remaining hour period, after I released from my head, I didn’t think anymore. In an escape from the thoughts, I found a clarity I had previously never known.
What hot yoga offered was an opportunity to remove oneself from the mind, the future planning, and projected anxiety. When I was able to release to the eyes in front of me, I checked out of my head and stopped planning entirely. Feeling the spread of my toes on the ground, I followed where the poses took me. Allowing my limbs to bend and move, I was truly living in the moment. Although I had heard this cliched phrase before, I never understood it. To be firmly rooted in the present, though, with no expectation or desire, was incomprehensible to me. For an hour, though, that’s where I lived. While I would not want to move to this land of pure existence, it was nice to visit. I once believed that the constant and uncontrollabe state of my mind was that of a sprial; in that hour, I realized that there was plane of being that could be seperate.
Right before we all collectively closed in Shavasana, the instructor placed ice cold lavender towels over each of us. My entire body buzzed and hummed as the sweat started the process of drying over my body and I entered a trance-like state of acceptance and pride. I loved the way every cell in my body felt open and rested, tension a thing of the past.
Leaving, I was still in a trance. When I hit the ice-cold air of the day, I remember thinking that I wasn’t entirely sure if I would be able to drive home. My friends and I found our way back to my house, carefully, and ravenously combed through my pantry and fridge for some form of sustenance; I didn’t have much. Almonds, pepperonis, and tortilla chips became our post-hot yoga relief.
While providing our body with tons of hydration and protein, we celebrated our first time attempt. Comparing our own singular journies against each other, I was shocked to find simliarity in what we experienced. All three of us shared the feeling of presentness and all three of us each reached points in time where we thought we wouldn’t make it! The chilled lavander towel, as well, was a unimanious favorite; Carrissa even commented that she would do it again, if just for the towel. Silly and giddy like young girls, we shared triumph collecitvely and dreamed of developing a continual yoga practice.
After my friends left, I showered and floated into my bed, remnants of a bag of almonds lying beside me. “Hell yeah,” I thought to myself, “What a morning this turned out to be.” Pride was filling my body.
Navigating Netflix quickly I, interestingly, found a documentary on Bikram (the namesake of Bikram Yoga), and his many scandals, to watch as I rested my bones. Right before I got too comfortable, though, the half-smile that had been expanding, carefully, onto my face fell. The monster voice started to creep back in, shaming me for the need to rest after giving an, at best, half-assed attempt at hot yoga.
“What are you going to do? Just staying in bed for the rest of day? It’s not like you really even did anything,” the monster said.
Then, comparison welled up from my belly.
“Look at those women on the television. Doing all those poses. You will never move like that.” It said.
That was all it took. My mind delved back into the spiral it knew all too well: insecurity.
After roughly twenty minutes of self-doubt, my mother called me and broke the spiral. I almost didn’t answer; I was at the point where I hoped sleep would turn my mind off. Still, the impending guilt that would ensue from ignoring my mother’s phone call was enough for me to slide the “answer” button forward.
“Go outside!” she instructed, with no opening pleasantries, “it’s snowing!”
With my bones having the consistency of a limp noodle, I grabbed my warmest robe and plopped outside to my porch. The snow was falling like God Himself was shoveling it out of the sky. All previous harmful thoughts lifted, and I sat out there for what seemed like forever watching it fall. A beautiful juxtaposition of my morning fell before my eyes, and at that moment tears pricked my eyes. I didn’t know I still had any moisture left in me.
“What would it be like to just let it go?” The lighter voice from that morning emerged, asking again.
Surprised, I didn’t realize I still was enveloped in comparison and shame, my quickest go-tos for spiraling into self-judgment and depression. How could I let go of that? Comparison had always been a constant companion of navigating the world. I wanted to go where I was better than the rest, flee from places that I couldn’t excel. Shame had also always self-regulated me. Never letting me get too prideful, or fall too hard. Shaking my head, I realized I didn’t have to let it go forever. No, that might be too big. But, for now… I could try?
So I did. I watched the snow from its start to finish, about an hour later. During that time, in the core of me, underneath the doubt and uncertainty, I knew that something was changing.
What I didn’t know was this day was pivotal in bringing me into the person I am now. While the morning of hot yoga was not the first planned step in my journey towards aligned living, it laid the foundation for every single step I have taken since. Every movement forward belongs to the release: it is in the letting go.
Readers, my question to you is simple: what can you let go of?