I’m standing on my left leg, with my right leg in the air and my sweaty right hand clasping my right foot. My left arm shoots up straight beside my ear. I can hear the sweat dripping off my body like a faucet as I desperately try not to fall over and disrupt the person beside me.
“Remember to breathe,” says the instructor, and at that, I lose my concentration and awkwardly stumble out of my position, cursing the instructor and everyone in the room (in my head at least). I was hot, perspiring like a fat middle-aged lawyer in a sauna and, 10 days in, I was seriously regretting signing up for the 30-Day Moksha Yoga Challenge.
Just like a kid looks forward to the first day of school, I started off with high hopes for the challenge. I imagined myself at the end of the 30 days as one of those happy yoga people, all blissed out and toned.
As I proudly put my first sticker on the chart the owner had put up to track challenger progress, I thought, how hard could it be? I already work out regularly and eat pretty healthy, so I couldn’t imagine doing hot yoga every day would be that much of a diversion from my regular routine.
I left my first class feeling positive and refreshed. Nothing was going to bring me down. I even decided to attend the challenge’s opening ceremonies that night.
But to my dismay, as I sat down in what looked like the set up for a power point presentation, in walked in the motivational speaker my middle school used to force us to listen to at assemblies, who then introduced himself as the owner of the studio.
As I listened to his philosophies about staying positive and not giving up — and some regurgitated generic quotes from Mahatma Gandhi that people now use to sell coffee mugs and magnets — I could feel the old cynical Sarah punching the new, happy go lucky yoga Sarah in the face, metaphorically speaking.
Then I thought to myself, I could let my cynicism win or I could ignore this guy’s cheesy presentation and continue with the challenge and continue improving upon myself.
Although it was not an easy one, I chose the latter path. When the mid-August heat wave rolled around, I could barely stand sitting in my apartment with the air-conditioning at full blast. But still I voluntarily went to contort my body into a series of challenging postures in room heated at 37 C? That must be the definition of insanity.
My Facebook post about this started a massive debate on my profile.
“Blarrg, it’s not healthy, Sarah. It’s bad for your organs,” commented my friend Ben.
I prompted him to explain.
His following post that claimed hot yoga was a scam and that “science dismisses all its claims” ignited the wrath of my yoga loving buddies.
“I have seen in my own practice benefits that directly contradict your claim,” said my friend Dale. “I don’t know where you are getting you information from, but I have a feeling you’re just finding what you want to find.”
“You guys should try getting out more, reading a book or two,” quipped Ben.
This argument progressed until eventually I had 32 comments on my profile, with other friends giving their two cents along the way. Apparently my friends had nothing better to do with their time.
Now, I’m not a kinesiology student and I’m definitely no doctor, but after doing some of my own research I concluded that while there was a risk of becoming dehydrated if I didn’t drink enough water or injuring myself if pushed too hard, I was probably not going to do serious damage to my internal organs.
I’d heard some horror stories about other studios where they push you to the point of collapse. One girl told me she’d switched to Moksha after almost passing out and then being told she wasn’t working hard enough. I should also add this girl informed me she had a benign brain tumor that caused her to have migraine headaches.
I found Moksha to be quite the opposite experience. The instructors encouraged us to take a break if we were feeling overwhelmed and that it was important to enjoy our practice, not push ourselves to exhaustion.
So I kept with it. My stickers gradually made their way across the chart, a visual reminder of how far I’d come.
While I didn’t transform like a magnificent, Lululemon-clad butterfly, I did find myself confident enough to take on the more advanced poses and succeed. Stealing a glance at myself in the mirror one class, I also realized I looked pretty damn good.
In addition to the physical benefits, I saw a change in my mental and emotional state as well. Sure, I still got angry at bad drivers or when my volunteers didn’t send in their articles on time, but I was able to calm myself down a lot more quickly and not let it ruin my day.
Most importantly though, I’d learned to breathe and enjoy the importance of just relaxing for an hour. Being a university student who’s trying to simultaneously pursue career in journalism, I feel like I’m constantly in an atmosphere of go-go-go, push-push-push and that stopping to rest makes you weak or lazy.
Yoga taught me that while it’s important to be ambitious, tenacious and give it your all for the people you care about, sometimes you have to take time for yourself too so that you don’t get exhausted and burn out.
It’s hard to truly be the best person you can be when you’re running on a quarter tank of gas.
I hope I remember that as another hectic school year begins.