I was finally able to admit something that I’ve hidden for many years. It’s quite shameful and once I tell you, I’m sure you’ll see why I waited so long. I hate going to the gym. I hate to make myself go. I hate having to keep track of what I’m doing and what calories I’ve burned. And I hate how it makes me feel most of all. Like a failure. Like I don’t have enough discipline or gumption to make it happen. So yesterday I left my last gym behind or at least until May 13th when my membership actually ends. What am I doing instead? Hot yoga. I’ve talked about it before but a few classes ago inspiration struck on why yoga keeps calling me back and the call of the gym is so easily ignored. It’s all about the breath.
If you haven’t been to a hot yoga class, or any yoga class, my experience is that the room is normally quite quiet and dimly lit. It’s an intimate experience entering a yoga room. Almost like slipping in to someone’s bedroom when you know they are there sleeping or potentially up to something. No, I haven’t done that – this is for illustration purposes only. Dirty people – really. What I mean is that after a few sessions you realize what’s happening on the mat when the class starts. It’s the chance to unwind, unbend, un-stress. It’s a chance to be somewhat vulnerable. You lay there, clad in spandex that leaves not much to the imagination in some cases. Eyes closed, you begin to feel the warmth penetrate the muscles and bones you abuse the rest of the week. You feel the mat and its connection to the floor and by extension to the rest of the people in the room. And then you breathe.
At first, for me anyway, the sound can be annoying. Some people are quite expressive with their breath. Some sigh like they just had monkey love and are dropping in for an after coitus stretch out. Some are mouth breathers which is actually a yoga etiquette no-no in case you decide to attend a class. Some … well, some I just can’t figure out yet but I’m trying. I try to be a quiet breather, respectful of those around me who also dragged their hiney’s to the mat today. While to my family this is “my” time, it’s actually a time to connect to the yoga community and that is done through the breath. You can see the change as the class progresses. At first, it is all raggedy as those of us newer to the mat struggle to distance ourselves from the outside and let the mat hug our toes and let us become mountains or eagles or trees. But as we reach the apex of the class you can feel a synergy happening. A quickening. The community breath takes hold and the outside slips away over the mountain, skimming the trees like an eagle soaring on a thermal.
I find this quite an intimate experience, this sharing of breath. Breathing in and out, sharing energy, taking strength or calm from our mat neighbors. This act of trust that no one is going to laugh if your tree topples over. No one is going to stare if your spandex isn’t quite doing the lift and separate job you hoped it would. No one is going to judge your camel pose and how far back you can bend. They are there for the same reason you are: to share the breath. To give and take in a positive environment that, to me, is about as intimate as a group of strangers can get without breaking any laws.
When the final warrior is done and the chaturanga’s finally end, we slip in to shavasana. Some of the better instructors I’ve had lead the class in a final breath before we say a grateful namaste. A final time, as a community of yogi’s, to breathe as one before the outside world comes crashing back over the mountain and drops eagle poop on our day. I love this last time on the mat. A time to congratulate myself on sticking it out and not losing my stink when an extra chaturanga gets thrown in the flow. A time to thank my body for still being able to bend and twist and sweat despite my gym aversion and love of comfy chairs. A time to recognize the people that gathered today as strangers and are leaving as a yoga community all the better for having attended and shared a breath. Now that’s a call I’m willing to answer.