Hot Yoga on a Cold Day

I just experienced my first hot yoga class. Either that or I joined a cult.

I walked into my friendly neighborhood Birkam studio and was told by the shirtless yogi at the front desk that shoes were not allowed past the reception area. Fabulous! Shoes are the worst. I love this place already.

Shoes are the worst except when they protect your feet from public locker rooms. Socks are apparently not allowed in hot yoga. I hate this place already.

A spunky hot yoga veteran warned me and two fellow first-timers that the 105-degree room we were about to enter was “hot as hell,” “hotter than anything you’ve ever experienced,” “it smells like feet in there,” “you can’t talk, you can’t breathe, you just sweat.”

“You’ll love it!” she said.

It’s dark in here, and feels like D.C. in the summer. People are lying on their yoga mats achieving Zen or something. It reminds me of a preschool around naptime, except that people are actually staying still with their eyes closed like they’re supposed to. Someone starts to snore and we’re reminded that we all still have at least a little preschooler in us.

I feel vulnerable as it is without my socks. There’s no way I’m pseudo-sleeping in a small, dark, foreign space surrounded by a bunch of strangers. I take this opportunity to scan the studio for people (men) who have been made hot (ripped) from stretching themselves in this inferno. I see an unlikely guy in baggy basketball shorts. He’s very pale and practically glowing, even in the dim light. He feels no embarrassment in going shirtless and exposing his plentiful chest hair. Beside him is another male with a shoulder tattoo I think is a dragon. In the light it turns out to be a lizard of the SoBe variety. I am confused but also supportive of his apparent commitment to capitalism.

There are actually a lot of men in my class. As a believer in stereotypes, I presumed it would be mostly women and their subservient SO’s. The instructor is also male. He makes sure we all have our water bottles and mats and towels ready to go. Paying special attention to the three newcomers, he informs us that during the next 90 minutes we may experience dehydration, dizziness, and nausea. “If you feel like you’re about to faint,” he hums calmly, “feel free to sit down. That’s perfectly normal.”

Wait, what? I thought this was supposed to be a chill experience, not something a high school football coach dreamed up for two-a-days.

We start out with some breathing exercises and basic movements to warm up. There’s stretching, balancing, and something I love called “awkward pose.”  It’s slow-going at first and a little silly, but when you realize everyone else is taking it seriously, there’s less temptation to giggle. At least out loud.

It’s actually pleasant once you stop thinking everything is a weird ploy to try to trick you into worshiping an eastern deity. There’s one position at the end which I’m pretty sure was taken from a scene in “The Exorcist,” but when it’s all said and done and we’re lying on our backs in the dark, back to where we started, I feel limbered, relaxed, and, most importantly, oh-so trendy.

I didn’t buy into the hot yoga conspiracy theory that the exercises would “detox” me (it’s just sweat, guys), help me burn 1,000 calories (turns out it’s closer to 350), or provide me with an “internal organ massage” (ah!!).  But I had hoped it would provide me with a respite from running in the tundra. And that it did.

Would I do it again? Definitely! So long as there’s a Groupon offer going on. There are way cheaper ways to become overheated and contort oneself in the company of people you don’t know. It’s called public transportation.

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