Friday, May 01, 2009

Hot (warm) yoga

So for the last six weeks or so I've been doing lots of hot yoga, or, as I call it, warm yoga, since the room is only 95 degrees, not 105, like the Bikram place down the street. The studio is called Shiva Sakti Power Yoga and I went for the first time the week after we were laid off. I didn't think I liked hot yoga, but my closest friend at work loved it, and raved about it, and couldn't believe how great she looked after just a couple of months.

And I hated it. The teacher talked through the whole class, and he was a nut. The room was so hot I thought I'd die. And the class moved fast through the poses and I couldn't keep up and I was afraid I'd get hurt. But I couldn't deny that I felt better afterward, and not just for the rest of the day, but for the next three days. My left shoulder, which I injured doing weights with a trainer last summer, was actually not sore. I wasn't stiff. I flashed on, oh, this must be how I felt when I was 25! May be. I don't remember.

Still, I didn't go back. "Worse teacher I ever had!" I told everyone, scoffing. Still, I couldn't get the class out of my mind, and when I saw my chiropractor, Megan Hudson, a few weeks later, I told her about it. She said, "Your body felt that much better? Then you have to go back once more and see if it's just your head." Meaning, if it's just your head that's turning you off, then you can ignore that. See if it helps your body. What I love about Megan is that by appealing to my left brain about my right brain, she's helping me connect and integrate them both, and my entire body and mind too. After a couple of years working with her, I trust her opinion, and I knew she was right.

I also talked a lot with Lily's flute teacher, Sarah, who by the way has the sweetest sound I've ever heard anyone make with a flute. She'll play a scale and this golden notes just pour out. Play it again! I say. It's wonderful! Sarah's certified in Kripalu yoga and has a great deal of experience with Anusara, and she agreed with all my complaints. But she was going anyway, because she felt so much better afterward.

So I went back. Once more. And once was all it took. I was hooked. I still didn't like it much. But I immediately noticed that that the heat didn't bother me as much, and that the constant talk actually helped me get out of my head and stay in my body. And I loved how my body felt afterwards, how I slept well and my joints didn't creak their usual way.

Today I find those things still to be true. I miss the detailed instruction (apparently the Sunday morning foundations class is helpful in that regard but I haven't been able to get there yet) that I took at the local Iyengar studio that moved into the end of my block, Yogasana. What a remarkable studio! I liked everyone but will always have a special spot in my heart for my teacher, Erin Fitzgerald, and if you are local, check her out. I loved how detailed she got, how we would spend the 90 minutes working on the vertebra at the top of our skull, in one way or another. Same variety of poses, but always with a focus on that specific point. Or a half an hour rolling a tennis ball under our feet. Or how we'd do a downdog early on, and she'd stop at us and say, try this instead. Six poses later she'd say, okay, now do downdog, and what a difference that would be! I never knew yoga like that.

But I bring that sensibility and knowledge into class today, and it makes a difference. The guy who teaches is a nut, but I love him now. Isn't that funny, how that happens? His non-stop, new-agey, Marianne Williamson chatter makes me laugh, and he gives a lot more instruction than I realized, which I find I can incorporate it into this practice, having had some prior experience. I love his girlfriend too. They are both very kind and thoughtful and they have beautiful bodies--and ha! they can't do every single pose! They use blocks and straps and they modify and fall into child's pose, just like the rest of us. I love love love their focus on the breath, the breath, the breath. When one of them comes over to push me or help me find a pose, it makes a difference, in a good way.

Now, class speeds by. I don't bother trying to keep up with everyone else, but every day I am keeping up more than before. The heat is soothing now, not oppressive. Comforting, even. I know I can drop into child's pose whenever I like. I don't make myself hold down dog for hours, like everyone else seems to be able to. I give myself lots of permission not to attempt a pose I've never been able to do, or that I fear will hurt my shoulder. But actually, I've being trying some of those poses I didn't think I could do, and some I can do, like table top, and some I am learning to do, like wheel. Go figure.

The accepted wisdom is that hot yoga, or power yoga, often leads to injury, and I have a deep fear of injury. But as a friend who teaches Bikram in Connecticut says, of course it can lead to injury, but so can any yoga. The trick is keeping your ego out of it. Well, there's a life lesson for you. Keeping my ego out of everything is crucial and essential and powerful, when I can do it. Anything can lead to injury, right? Even not exercising at all. My new teachers say the heat really helps injuries, and my shoulder sure feels better. I have much more mobility and flexibility in it. Wonderful!

And, I did get injured last week. I had twisted my back before class and then went to class anyway, thinking it might help, but it just got worse. Fortunately, I got in to see Dr. Megan, and she did what she could--my L-5 vetebra was twisted the wrong way, against all the other L's. I could barely turn over, or get off the table, and that night, to get up from the sofa after lying on an ice pack, I had to roll onto my hands and knees first. But after following Megan's suggestions of ice several times, and then heat, and ibuprofen, I slept fine and woke up with a spasm or two, but able to walk comfortably. I went to New York for my reunion that evening and had a great time. Walked all over, which I'm sure helped, although then my hips and knees hurt. Can't win.

Sarah talked me through it, or rather, emailed me through it, and said, actually she was injured and once she healed it felt better than ever. And that she had quit yoga for a year because of an injury, and she doesn't recommend that, and that this class helps with the injury.

For me, besides "get your ego out of it," the lesson is to do twists correctly, and to pay complete attention to my body, and not to get overly excited or feel overly pressured into doing something or trying something or pushing just a little harder, if it doesn't feel right. And for that I must have body awareness, and that, my friend, is the bottom line of the whole thing. I am after body awareness. And this class sure helps.

Now I go three times a week only because I can't find the time to go more often. It's a huge time suck but I love how I feel afterward. I love the routine, knowing mostly what will happen, with an occasional new pose tossed in for fun. I hope to increase the frequency, and to spread my classes out over the week. I wash my workout clothes every day and soak them--never seen so much sweat in my life--along with my towel and mat for my yoga mat, called, don't you hate this, Yogitoes, a skidless, durable towel to sop up your sweat and prolong the life of your mat. I drink tons of water on yoga days, but on other days too, now. I want to move more, hike and walk and bike, and I even try to, especially on off-days. Something is shifting.

It's working for me, much to my surprise and delight. As I was leaving the other day I got a little "go Sasha, go Sasha!" cheer after class. It made me so happy. Funny how people change, eh?


  1. It occurs to me as I sit down to write this that I set out originally in this Challenge to do 60 classes. But here I am with 30 more to go. So, in celebration of this milestone, I’m making a list.

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