A yoga class is a place where you get turned inside out, twist, balance, challenge yourself, sweat, breathe consciously, and finally learn to relax. It is also a tool to teach you how to listen to your body – on some days you feel stronger, on others you don’t have that much energy, so you can adapt your class to your energy level. This is also important when you are trying really hard to do a pose but feel a sharp pain (on an injured knee or shoulder) and decide to back off. Maybe you don’t get to accomplish certain poses that day or you don’t get to do that advanced variation for a pose, and it is all okay.
As I enter the yoga studio, I usually get already ‘in the zone’, and many times I have not even noticed some friends that were attending class right next to me. I feel like I am in a quiet place with someone saying instructions on the background while I focus my gaze on something to help with balance and concentration. This shift almost always happens already when I enter the room. It is a peaceful spot that brings me much inner calm and positive energy. There was a phase I went through once when I wanted the instructors to not even notice me in the room; I wanted to stay in my zone, alone and focused on the poses to bring me the most benefits. When the teacher called my name to give me extra instructions, he/she usually had to do it more than once… I would be disguised among other students hoping I had blended in with the crowd so much that teachers would not recognize me or remember my name, just so I would keep my focus all the way. And, I must admit, there were a couple of times when I fell asleep in a relaxing pose, so the teacher had to come and poke me to see if I was okay… Fortunately, they did not take it personally, as they knew this was the way my body made me realize it just needed to rest at that point. Especially because I took many classes at 6:30am during that time!
Now I need to tell you a little bit about me, so you will understand better what a yoga class done in the heat does for me. I grew up in a coastal area of a tropical city, so my weekends were pretty much spent at the beach. I learned to love it and to even depend on it to fill me up with enough energy to take on the very busy studying/working week. When things got hard during the week, I could just think of a weekend coming up, soon to be spent with good friends under the sun and by the ocean, and that thought would get me going through such tough situations! As I moved to a cold location years later, what a shock it was! I thought I had it all figured out, but no… Gone were the days spent playfully at the beach, plus the sun became a rare visitor. Where could I find that energy again? After five years trying to find an answer, it finally found me. A friend invited me to join her on a hot yoga class. She warned me room temperature would be around 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) plus your internal heat that builds up with the breathing exercises. “Perfect!” I thought. At least the heat I would find! I promptly agreed to try it with her. I found so much more than heat in there!
The beach I visited the most while growing up had a long path, on which we would walk sometimes under scorching sun to finally reach sand and ocean. It was hard, but we knew it was worth it, since once we got to the beach, everything would feel perfect. Even tired legs would feel re-energized by a quick dive in the ocean. My mind quickly associated that long walk with the hard work under scorching heat done in the first and longest part of the yoga class. I would happily try my best in those challenging poses knowing my peaceful spot would be reached in no time. I was not forcing this at all. My mind made the connections, and it seemed to settle me down a lot. After all the hard work, I would lie down in the relaxation position and it felt like being at the beach. The warmth, the towel under my body, there were days when I could even hear the waves! Call me mad, but visiting your peaceful spot every time you take the yoga class without needing to go through long and expensive airplane flights, long lines waiting in the customs, or even packing is very gratifying, to say the least.
Since I currently live in a place that is mostly cloudy or rainy at least 80% of the time (my own statistics), I found my own sun in the yoga studio. I really stopped to look anxiously (or should I say desperately?!) at the forecast, wondering when the next sunny day would be, so I could get everyone out of the house to breathe fresh air and get some vitamin D. But after years (I started it in 2003) practicing yoga, it turns out yoga did more to me than just fill up that part, because when I actually visited warm places and beaches, I still felt like doing yoga. Nowadays, I carry my practice everywhere I go. When my body calls for it, I can do some poses wherever I am (of course, not in an elevator or middle of a food court!), but I have to admit I have done it inside an airplane more than once. Yoga is a way to actually let the sun rise inside me! Really! It might sound too poetic, but I did not mean it that way at all. Every time I practice it, I feel the sun rising inside me. And if the sun has already risen inside me before I get there, it just shines even brighter during and after class. Throughout the years I’ve been practicing yoga, I have heard from different teachers that they actually saw me glowing while doing the poses in class. That probably came from the sun inside me reflecting on the outside. My point here is, once you have your sunshine inside, it doesn’t matter how grey or blue the sky looks out there!
Another highlight of my yoga class is the sweat. I don’t know what I love about it, I just do. And during class, when I feel that drop of sweat sliding down my back, arms or legs, it feels really good. There are poses that align some of my joints and bones, and when the sweat drips from one place to another, it feels like bliss! I smile instantaneously. I don’t mind even if it also goes inside my nostrils when I am upside down. Sometimes when I stay for too long on my tummy, a puddle of sweat forms on my lower back; then I wait patiently for the moment I am supposed to turn around, and that sweat just pours out of there… it feels so good!
After every class I come out feeling better than when I entered the yoga studio. And this is not just me, you can ask anyone that does yoga regularly, and they will confirm that. Of course newbies could still be on the fence answering that because they haven’t realized the wholeness it brings to them. On many days I remember coming into the studio to do yoga with a problem or worry in my mind. At the end of class, I would try to recollect what I had in mind before class and had no clue… All worries were gone! Sometimes very creative ideas pop up in my mind during class, when I am not even looking for them. There are other times when I am able to look at situations with a totally different point of view in the middle of class, usually followed by a smile.
Another big twist most yoga classes bring, not just for me, is the fact that there is no competition. You try your best to do the poses because you want to, not because the teacher will put you on a podium or because you just want to be the best in the room. Maybe you will be the best in that particular class, but by the time you reach that level, you will know there is no real competition and if you strive that much is because you now feel open enough for more challenging poses, having gained enough strength and flexibility to perform them. But the main purpose is not to impress the person next to you or do the same impossible pose the person next to you is doing. You will become an inspiration once you achieve that, but it was never the goal. And that alone was a big twist for me, who was used to aerobic classes, where there seems to be a competition to be the fittest and the one with most endurance and best performance. While in yoga (most of them, at least), you do what you can, and do not feel ashamed if you can’t. Especially because no one will be paying attention; except for the teacher, who might come and help you better understand the pose you are aiming for.
And, just to wrap up this post, after I stopped visiting the beach during my yoga classes (it probably lasted about a year or two), I can always still find something for me in every class I go – physically, mentally or spiritually. It fulfills me, it calms me and gets me ready to face daily challenges. There has never been a yoga class which felt the same as another one in all these years of practice; and it’s been more than eight years now! So, whatever you need (we always seem to need something, don’t we?), do try yoga, and see if you find it there; even if it is inside you, yoga will act like a mirror or microscope to show it to you. I would love to hear your feedback when you decide to give it a try, and I hope my enthusiastic post motivates you enough for that. One hint: I am not trying to sell you anything, so it might really work!