“Oh listen to you. You’re becoming one of them. You’re going over to the other side – the land of sandals, spoon benders and yogurt fanciers, where everybody farts all the time because they don’t know how to laugh.’ – Bernard Black, Black Books
Over the last month, I’ve become embroiled in a steamy love affair. Now, obviously I’m not talking about the love of another human being – that would mean deviating from my busy schedule of howling into the void while waiting for my microwave meal-for-one to ping. No, I’m talking about hot yoga, which is steamy in the literal sense.
You step into a dimly lit room, heated to 40°C. At first glance, it confirms your worst preconceptions about yoga: namely that this is the exercise of choice for gullible hippies too peaced out to actually move. The air is heavy with aromatherapy oil and some kind of monotone Tibetan chanting. Bring on the herbal hallucinogens and be done with it, you think.
Your 20 or so classmates are already there, assuming ‘corpse pose’ and waiting for class to begin. You try out corpse pose. It involves lying flat on your back. You congratulate yourself on your ability to master hot yoga.
Of course, when the instructor takes charge, what remains of your arrogance is swept away in a deluge of your own sweat. Hot yoga is indeed sweaty; roughly as sweaty as abject terror. The poses, ranging from mildly strenuous to physically impossible, require sheer grit, and they are made grittier still by the enjoinder to keep a smile on your face.
I’d always avoided yoga in the past because I thought it was a little bit wussy. I’m a cardio nut. I thrive on the burn. So you like to cross your legs, and put your hands in a prayer, and call it a workout? Talk about calling a spatula a spade.
Nonetheless, I saw a deal on Groupon promising me 10 hot yoga sessions for £35, and in the interests of Trying Something New thought I’d give it a whirl.
Well, whaddya know, I fell in love. I loved feeling calm and strong and centred. I loved sweating out my purported toxins. I loved stretching my body into implausible shapes, as though playing Twister in three dimensions. I especially loved the instructor, who looked like he’d spent the past decade performing yoga in the hallowed ground of Zeus himself as opposed to eating KitKats in an office. I emerged from each session aglow with the sense of my own embodiment: alive to the fact I am not just some Cartesian brain in a vat, but have a back, and clavicles, and an iliac crest, and toes.
Some of the ‘science’ behind hot yoga is spurious. The aforementioned ‘toxins’ are emitted only in trace quantities. It’s unclear how much the heat raises metabolism, or for that matter, helps you stretch. If you google ‘Bikram Choudhury is a pervert’ (Bikram Choudhury being the founder of hot yoga), Google returns 5,770,000 hits.
All this said, it makes me feel amazing. And now that my 10 sessions are up, I’ll be signing up indefinitely. When payday comes around that is – for now I suppose I’d better resort to cranking up the heating in my room.
British freelance journalist living in the Netherlands