Monday, June 6, 2011

Sweating with the Yogis

Anyone who knows me, knows I am NOT an athlete. Never have been; never will be. I have tried any number of fitness programs over the years -- Spa Lady, aerobics classes, weight lifting, mountain biking, swimming, Curves, yoga and, very briefly running. In the last couple of years, I have accepted that my fitness abilities are best suited to walking my two canine units, short-term yoga classes and the occasional adventure in virtual sports on the Wii.

Now, the reality is I am approaching 50 and I would really like to be around long enough to see my now teenaged daughter produce a grandchild or two (in the far, distant future). I also want to be healthy enough to spoil the said grandchild and return it to my dear daughter.

My elder sister who has ten more trips around the Sun than I do started doing 'hot' yoga about three years ago. Shortly thereafter she started proselytizing like a recently reborn Christian just back from an encounter weekend with Billy Graham. Like most of my family members, I rolled my eyes and figured she had clearly cooked her brain in the yoga class.

I had concluded several years ago that my view of exercise is like my view of sex and spirituality. It is a private matter and I am most comfortable pursuing it in privacy. I have never been into performance in any of these pursuits. Quite simply I like to sweat and to pray in private.

So, when I moved to Calgary several months ago I was surprised to discover my new residence is less than 10 minutes from a hot yoga studio that is affiliated with where my sister goes in Edmonton. Before I moved I had attended a yoga class and found that I was comfortable working on my flexibility and strength with a small class. Practice and not performance being the philosophy behind the class.

After several weeks of trying to find a yoga class near my house with a schedule I felt I could manage without driving myself crazy to rush home and get to class after work, I was slightly frustrated. At many studios (and particularly the ones in my neighbourhood), classes were run on a set schedule where it was necessary to commit to a specific time each week. Anyone with a child knows this is hard to maintain. Add to that I now have something that occasionally resembles a social life and things get dicey. How do I find a place where I can bend and twist on a regular enough basis to get some good out of it but that does not tie me to a schedule?

On a lark, I decided to check hot yoga studio's class format. Well, it is essentially set up with all classes being 'drop in'. It also featured a "$20 for all the sweating you can do in one week" introductory offer. Seemed like a good idea so I scoped out the class times and emailed my dear sister to get her advice on 'sweating with the yogis' etiquette.

Take a towel. Just like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- always have a towel and DON'T PANIC. Actually, two towels are the best idea. One large one to go on top of your yoga mat, which will get as slippery as an eel in a canola oil plant. Without a towel for traction, just standing upright on your mat is a challenge. A smaller, hand-size towel is good to have to wipe the rivers of sweat off your face during class. Both towels will be drenched by the time you are done.

Remove all make up before class. Seriously. This is not a time for vanity and not removing eye make up has a couple of undesirable outcomes. First, rather than giving you an attractive, doe-eyed look, the profuse sweating will result in a goofy raccoon-eyed appearance. Second (and more important), melted mascara and eye liner will be washed into your eyes by sweat. You will experience excruciating pain and you will cry.

When I arrived for my first venture into the land of sweaty bending, there were more than a few other people waiting for the class as well. I was comforted to see that while a few of them looked like refugees from a dance studio, there were more than a few who looked like normal (read "slightly fluffy") people.

Clothing choices ranged from the latest from Lulu Lemon to Costco brand yoga wear to t-shirts and shorts. Everyone carried a water bottle and the requisite towel or two.

After shedding my outer layer of sweatshirt and track pants, I eased my way out of the dressing room wearing yoga shorts and a top I'd picked up at Winners. Upon entering the yoga room, I found subdued lighting, a slightly rubbery floor and several people already quietly laying on their mats and relaxing. I found a spot near the back of the room and rolled my mat out lining it up with the stickers on the floor designed to keep rows straight.

As I rolled out my mat and covered it with a towel, I was surprised by the temperature in the room. Hot yoga is practiced in heat of between 35 and 45 degrees Celsius, or 100 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Perhaps my internal thermostat has gone wonky in my advancing years, but it did NOT feel terribly hot to me. In fact, given my druthers, I would gladly keep my house close to the temperature in the studio.

I am now several weeks into regular attendance at hot yoga. I can almost balance on one foot for more than a millisecond and there is a definite improvement in my flexibility.

Yes, I think I've found my 'sport' is non-competitive, calming and warm.

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