My decision to embrace the world of hot yoga post-christmas was met with some hilarity, and quite frankly, malicious disbelief, by friends and family. I am not flexible. The last time I engaged my quadraceps fimoris was squatting in the Gladstone Link to reach the lowest shelf of books. I ended up sitting on the floor anyway. Nor am I of the ‘zen’, ‘dedicate your energies to the person you love’ spiritual persuasion that ‘yogis’ tend to be. But I was beginning to feel like those American kids who forget what being hungry is like – something drastic had to be done.
So I signed up to a twenty day introductory offer at my nearest hot yoga centre and decided to embrace the heat. Hot yoga rooms are heated to 40 C and the heat is supposed to make you more flexible, regulate your appetite, and detox your toxins. The website showed a man with a Herculean figure doing a handstand on his elbows, which was nice. Perhaps strange parts of my body, like elbows and these ‘sit bones’ that kept being mentioned would be imbued with super-human strength.
For my first session, I don an outfit I imagine is appropriate for hot yoga: leggings and a crop top that just screams ‘I do sun salutations in my sleep’. The room the session is to take place in is mirrored and hot, but not steamy. Mats are laid out on the floor, and people are rolling around doing stretches. I don’t know any stretches but I don’t want to be the odd one out, so I flail my limbs around unconvincingly until the instructor walks in. He introduces himself as Mike. ‘Namaste, Mike’. Mike is topless, heavily bearded and resembles Jesus, if Jesus had a pot belly and could hook his foot around his head. This is his last day before he goes to India for three months to learn from the masters.
We begin with some basic yoga poses: tree pose, warrior two, downwards facing dog. I’m amazed at how difficult it is. Almost immediately I begin to sweat, and as we progress everyone is pouring with perspiration. Each pose has three levels of difficulty, 1 being the easiest, 3 the hardest. I get cocky and transition into position 2, and Mike gently taps me on the shoulder, whispering, ‘I think we should stick to position 1 today.’
It quickly becomes apparent that I am the worst in the class, even the very elderly woman next to me (she doesn’t even have a crop-top combo!) can do the tree pose better than I can. I leave my first session traumatised and on the brink of cardiac arrest. In the changing rooms a woman asks me if this is my first go and I pant the affirmative. ‘You just need to get your ujjayi breaths right!’, she sparkles, ‘it’s easy really.’ I wince politely and internally vow never to come back to this hot hippy hell ever again. However, after I escape into the cool night air, I do feel strangely cleared and light, as if my toxins really have been flushed out. By the third session I’m addicted; I leave invigorated, slurping on coconut water triumphantly. The next session, I am able to do something that has evaded me since I was ten years old. I can touch my toes, even the floor. I weep a sweaty tear, or a tear of sweat, it’s hard to tell. I am Gaia. I am part of the yogi cult. I want go and learn from the masters with Mike.
The next time I go I bump into an old acquaintance. It’s her first go and like most people, she comes out hot and disillusioned. I turn to her and smile benignly. ‘It’s all about getting your ujjayi breaths right. It’s easy really..’