I don’t want to come across as judgemental here, people (don’t get me wrong: I am very judgemental, but I try to hide it), but we all need to lighten up.
Yes, us yogis, full of joy and vigour from pranayama breathing and endless camel poses, need to learn to laugh at ourselves.
I shall start with myself. One of the main things over ten years of yoga has taught me is that nothing is ever promised. You can walk into a class feeling like death (and smelling suspiciously of last night’s gin) and have the best class of your life. You can walk in, cranked up to the eyeballs on enthusiasm and caffeine and find that you’ve got the mobility of a 108 year old tortoise. I’m always trying to drive home acceptance of the moment: Accept your body the way it is at that moment. Don’t compare it to yesterday’s body and don’t expect it to be the body of the 23 year old dancer in front of you.
But I think I’ve been missing out something vital: Adding a dash of humour. After attending a class with Martin, a teacher new to HYS, some of the encouragements he gave kept repeating around my head after class: Relax your facial expressions. Why are you frowning?! Save the energy from frowning and use it for your postures. If you can, smile… Relax your breathing. If you’re breathing to hard, and frowning, then you need to back off.
How often do you check your facial expressions in life? I have only just started checking mine, as I creep towards 40 and some interesting crevices are etching themselves into my forehead. It took vanity for me to realise that I spent most of my time whilst at my desk (like now!) frowning with a weird, pursed mouth, a bit like my Granny when modern day “nonsense” collided with her Victorian-era values.
It took Martin in a yoga class to get me to think about my face. Frowning? Yup. Strained face? Definitely. Smiling? Most certainly not. Breathless with spiralling out of control heart rate? Constantly (although that could have something to do with being cranked up on caffeine, but that’s another issue altogether).
So I took Martin’s advice: I let my face soften, I concentrated on breathing s-l-o-w-l-y in and out through my nose and I thought about the ridiculousness of standing in a hot basement room wearing next to nothing with complete strangers and that I’ve been coming back to do this every week for over a decade. And it made me smile.
The intensity of the posture changed- but it didn’t diminish. Rather than pushing the physical aspect of the class to my limits, I backed off from the contortions and allowed relaxation to seep in and take over parts of my brain and body that desperately needed it. As a nice side effect, I stopped caring about how “good” my posture was (I will keep saying this. And I won’t stop. Ever: There is no such thing as a good posture or a bad posture. There is coming to yoga, listening, taking part and enjoying it. That is all.) and saved myself one extra totally unnecessary stress of the day to just disappear and allowed myself – gasp – some fun at the same time. Coming to yoga and having fun? Who knew?!
When I tell people I do hot yoga, and explain what it is, a common reaction is for them to tell me I’m mental or that hot yoga itself is mental and that it’s a ridiculous way to spend one’s time. Yes, it is a bit ridiculous; but what is even more ridiculous is to go to hot yoga and spend 90 minutes frowning, huffing and puffing like an irate billy goat.
So here’s my suggestion. No matter how rubbish work was; how crowded the changing rooms were; if you’re in that really horrible hot middle bit of the room where it feels like the heat scorches your eyeballs; if your body is “rubbish’ (no such thing! See above about good vs. bad postures!); if you can’t see the mirror, you’ve decided you hate the teacher and the rest of your classmates smell funny and you just cannot be arsed to cook when you get home but you have no food… No matter what, just relax your face, take a few deep breaths and smile. Remember you’re in a massive sauna with semi-naked strangers and it’s wonderful. And the best thing to do; the only thing to do is to smile and enjoy every single sweaty ridiculous minute of it.
Yogi since 2005, Alex has practised hot yoga in studios across Europe and the USA, but Hot Yoga Society is her favourite!