Last week, a group of friends and I attended a hot yoga session. We, as a group, meet once per month to do an activity, and the October leader chose to have us join him for hot yoga. I had some prior experience attending yoga classes, but this was my first time in a “hot yoga” session. By the end of the hour, I looked like I had jumped in a lake. My Fitbit tracked my heart rate and it had looked like I was running sprints.
It was challenging, uncomfortable, and brutal. In other words, it was awesome!
I’m not saying that I’m going to sign-up with my local studio or start buying into the lifestyle; I’m still paying for a gym membership that I don’t use, so I don’t need another cost to my monthly budget. However, I found the experience interesting and invigorating, and I’d gladly go again in the future.
Cultural appropriation concerns aside, I’m fully on-board with the physical practice of yoga for health and fitness. Western yoga tends to have a lot of stereotypes and negative perceptions attached to it, but the act itself can be a legitimately hard, physical activity that raises your heart rate, requires a lot of strength for the body-weight movements, and provides the same calming effect you get when you focus on process movements.
I’ve attended a handful of classes and tried routines at home a few times, so I’m not qualified to offer any opinions on yoga. However, I’ll offer a few observations and thoughts on my experiences as a beginner:
- While I’ve never had a bad instructor, I was incredibly thankful that the two people I’ve had leading classes were super friendly, approachable, and accessible. You feel incredibly awkward walking into your first class, and you assume that everyone is silently judging how bad you are at it. Having a good instructor in front of you really helps you get into things, and their ability to break down the poses and movements with verbal cues really aids in immersing yourself in the experience.
- At the recommendation of a friend, I’ve attempted doing yoga at home by following along with an instructor’s video on YouTube (my go-to channel is Sarah Beth Yoga). While doing yoga at home is more convenient, cheaper, and less awkward, I still find value in doing yoga in a group setting. It feels more rewarding in the end to share the experience with others, and having a dedicated time to show up makes you more accountable.
- If you are going to buy anything, I recommend buying your own mat. I’ve used it for yoga as well as doing tabatas at home. I also recommend buying a thicker mat (the standard mat is really thin) because being a heavy guy, it helps cushion my wrists and knees in the various poses. Bring a towel because the thicker mat doesn’t appear to have the same grip when you’re sweaty.
- BRING WATER! STAY HYDRATED! This applies to non-hot yoga as well.
- I found the act of yoga to help clear my mind. Again, cultural appropriation questions aside, going through the motions intentionally and being mindful of what your body is doing or “saying” to you helps with the mind-body connection. There is something about focusing on your breathing and your movements that creates a singular focus that pushes extraneous thoughts out of your mind. The added layer of music and sanskrit words pulls your attention away from the past or future considerations and instead into the present.
- Speaking of sanskrit, I don’t get too bogged down in the culture. When in the yoga studio space, I try to be mindful of others and the practice, but because I don’t know too much about the history or origins of yoga, I remain agnostic but open towards the cultural or spiritual side. It’s not my place to judge, and smarter people than I can weigh-in on the validity of different kinds of yoga practices. I find value in the physical movement and the slower pace of the activity.
- Having said that, I know that as a white dude participating in an appropriated practice from Hinduism, India, and the Desi people, it is loaded with problems (see the link above). My participation adds to the watering down of a rich culture from which the original practitioners were forced to suppress their ways at the hands of their colonial occupiers. I can’t square that circle and have to acknowledge it for what it is.