Imagine the scene: it’s 105 degrees with relative humidity of 40% and you are wearing the absolute minimum clothes you can personally tolerate without feeling naked. You are barefoot because shoes are NOT allowed in the studio past the door. Also not allowed are cell phones, car keys, purses, talking, fidgeting, eating, or most importantly leaving the room once the 90 minute class has begun, which is important to note because there will be times in Bikram’s Hot Yoga class that you will want to flee with an undeniable urge that you can barely contain. This feeling increases exponentially when it is also hot outside as it has been here in California where I go to class. I’m not sure why this phenomena exists as the temperature inside the room is consistent whatever the outside temp is – but let me assure you it is absolutely game changing to take an afternoon Bikram class when the temperature is over 80 degrees. You need to be a certain kind of crazy.
Apparently, I am just the right kind of crazy to take this on whether or not it is hot outside. I’m am not even clear on whether or not I enjoy taking hot yoga. I literally debate this with myself each time I shed off all of the above mentioned items and step into the warm, clammy, often odoriferous, climate of the studio before class starts. After I enter the room I will share a little secret with you: I am obsessed with the bottoms of all of the other participants feet and find myself measuring the level of peeling, or shedding they are, or are not, doing. I am interested in this skin sloughing for no reason that I can ascertain, but I AM interested. It concerns me that there may be a reason for the shedding that partners well with the inability to wear shoes in the room and I am constantly checking out the heels of my feet for any evidence that there may be a potential problem. So far, I have been lucky in this regard. But I digress.
The truth is that I put myself through the rigors of hot yoga 2-3 times per week because it keeps me feeling stretched out and injury free in a way that I cannot duplicate in my hiking, strength training, running and doing interval training. The other incredible benefit for me is that it pushes you to entirely clear your mind and let go. “Clear your mind, let go of everything you have done before”, “Focus on your breath”, “Quiet your thoughts”. Hot yoga is as much about mindfulness as it is about your physical body. It is the integration of both your body and mind into an intense art that requires years to master, at least for me. I think I will be working on this “practice” of hot yoga for many years as my progress is slow and often frustrating.
What is the most frustrating for me is that I struggle with being able to clear my mind pose by pose, minute by minute, and second by second. I anticipate the next pose and often dread it. I cannot stay present in my body. I cannot often breathe at all as I am curled into a sushi roll type object. I can find my mind wandering at the littlest thing such as someone off to the right of the class falling out of a pose and having it throw me off balance. I begin to think about a meeting later in the day and forget to breathe. I find myself “squirreling” all the time and losing my focus on what I am supposed to be doing. Today in class I had an especially challenging experience that I had not encountered before. There was a fly in my Hot Yoga class that proved to be the biggest challenge to my monkey mind that I had yet to face.
One cannot underestimate the horror of a fly in Bikram class unless you have taken a class with the strictest yoga teacher there is who demands that you do not move in between the poses. You learn in hot yoga to surrender to the heat, the sweat rolling into your eyes, the inability to flee the room – all of it. You do not, however, learn how to tolerate the irritation of a fly who continues to land on different parts of your body to stick out it’s proboscis to lap up the droplets of dewey sweat that are there. Just think for a moment about the word proboscis and try to tell me that you want something named that licking stuff on your body while you are supposed to have an uncluttered mindful thought process. It is impossible. So I fell out of my pose after a 7 minute battle of me vs. the fly and began to look like I was having a small seizure in class while everyone else tried to stare into their own eyes in the mirror and pretend they didn’t see me twitching and jumping in the corner.
I lost. The fly was a masterful opponent and I decided instead of ruining my class, I was going to challenge myself to be able to test my ability to stay calm, focus on my breath and surrender to the stimulus of not only all of the dripping sweat, but also the prickly legs of the landing fly. (Thankfully, I could not actually feel the proboscis when it stretched out to lap).
I would like to share that I was successful and able to overcome this human being’s desire to kill all irritations in class, but I failed. I used all of my mindfulness skills to slowly, with ninja like skill, attack that little black annoyance and smash it across the flooring where it curled up in a ball after a brief last buzz and shiver of its wing. I felt amazing. It was one of the best triumphs I’ve had in hot yoga class to date. I made it for the next 70 minutes of class until the final shavasana (dead body pose) where you lay flat and soak in all the benefits of the class. It was then that I looked over about 8 inches to the right of my face and noticed movement out of the fly body. It started to twitch and clean off its wings before it stood fully up and began to fly into the air. I could not believe it had come back to life until it flew up to my hot/sweaty/salty face and landed back on my cheek. It had been reborn. My newfound triumph had been lost.
I took the fly rebirth as my clue to leave class before the recommended 5 minute final resting pose. I realized that as much as we try to practice mindfulness skills and fight to clear our heads (or work to improve upon our ability to stay present in the moment and with the breath) that there will always be external forces that we are not prepared for that throw us a curve ball. As much as we practice doing everything in the moment with the best of intentions the reality is we really have very little control of the outside forces that will present themselves to us in our day to day. We just have to try and do our best while being patient as our best is different from day to day. This is the all we can do and is likely a skill to practice for the rest of your journey in this life.
If you haven’t tried a hot yoga class it’s worth a try. I doubt you will have a fly in your class as typically there are usually only spiders that hide in the floor mat and those you can just tuck under your towel.